While I certainly do not see myself heading back to my hometown or moving to another small town post-graduation, I do think there is a lot to be said for growing up in a small town. Our population is 3,600 people and we live for Friday Night Football, wave to each other at our four stoplights, and you might as well plan on adding 30 minutes to your grocery shopping for visiting purposes.
Until I got to college I never realized the uniqueness of growing up in a small town. You were frequently featured in the newspaper starting when you were born with your birth announcement, to letters to Santa in elementary, to sports and organizations in junior high and high school. Not to mention headlining the front page with your first buck….
Outside of being a celebrity in the newspaper, you could also be a celebrity on the radio. The whole town knew when it was your birthday, how many points you scored at Friday night’s basketball game, and how much rainfall your land received from the recent downpour. I had the opportunity to be the voice of radio advertisements for school and every Wednesday morning you could catch the FFA Minute with Holly Melvin! I mean looking back that was all really cool!
Besides the newspaper and radio fame, it was truly unique to walk into to any business in town and automatically see a familiar face and strike up a conversation. We waved at everyone and if someone waved and you didn’t wave back the next time they saw you they wondered if you were okay “that one day I waved at you between the softball fields and high school about three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon when it was sprinkling rain”….I mean we have the time, location, and current weather condition down when referring to that “one time you didn’t wave back”. Additionally, teachers referred to you by your oldest sibling’s name and your parents knew about any misstep you took in school before you had the opportunity to tell them. Not to mention, my Dad’s office is right in the center of town at our main stoplight. His greatest joy was seeing where I was going, coming from, what my friends were doing, and smugly asking what I did after practice because he knew good and well what direction I was heading….just to keep me honest, but even more so just to give me a hard time.
So how does all this translate to where I’m at now and where I’ll soon be heading? Well I’ll admit I miss the small town media fame, but there is so much more to take away from how I grew up the first 18 years of my life:
1. All we hear these days is networking, networking, networking! And it’s true, we are college students and we should be networking. Looking back I’ve been networking my entire life! Growing up I would walk into a store and know someone who then introduced me to their friend and the next time I saw that friend they would introduce me to their friend, etc, etc. At 15 years old I just didn’t know there was an official name for it! Today I use the same practice of taking a conscious effort of remembering who I met, what they do, and keeping in contact. While it is a little more challenging since I’m no longer dealing with a pool of just 3,600 people, giving a casual wave at the stoplight doesn’t qualify as “keeping in contact”, and utilizing these contacts as conversation starters at the post office isn’t the best use….I at least have a foundation of how to go about networking. I’ve learned how to talk to people and trained myself to remember who I’m talking to, all to continue to add value to the relationships I’ve created and the network I’m continuing to build.
2. I don’t plan on having a career in radio, but having the confidence to grab the mic and have my voice broadcasted across three counties has really helped me be able to think on my feet and speak in a professional manner to potential employers. It was a great ice breaker to help take out the awkwardness of what I once considered uncomfortable situations. It’s difficult to talk on the radio if you’ve never done it, just like it’s difficult to talk to professionals if you’ve never done it. But once you do it, you gain a little more confidence, and every time there after you keep building your confidence until you are comfortable.
3. Everyone has different moral compasses, but a good way to measure where your morals are is by asking yourself if you would be comfortable with that action headlined on the front page of the newspaper. Now I mentioned all the good things you can get featured for in the small town newspaper, but rest assured we are a small town and like our small town gossip, so all the bad is in there as well. It puts things into perspective for me that before I act I ponder the thought of former teachers, local businessmen, and neighbors reading about it and if I’m comfortable with what is said. I’ll admit I haven’t been faced with an “ethical dilemma” thus far, but as my career fast approaches I feel sure questionable encounters will arise.
In conclusion, I believe small towns are like an introduction to a book. It gives you a summary of what to expect, but until you read further in you don’t quite know how you connect to the content and how it all comes together. In my 18 years of small town living I knew I would head off to college and then begin a career, but I didn’t quite know how talking on the radio, “networking” with the townspeople, or being featured in the newspaper was going to benefit my future. Now on my third and final year of college and my future right around the corner, it is all coming together. The introduction has started to make sense and while my book may never be completed I’m far enough in to see how it all fits together.