When Joey Battelline was growing up in Bucyrus, Ohio (23 miles from Republic, Ohio where I grew up), he likely didn’t say he wanted to be a photographer – poet – career coach – adventurer. That’s who I found when I met with Joey after we connected with one another on LinkedIn. We connected after he commented on a video I posted, and when scrolling his profile and noticing his job experience in Bucyrus, Ohio, I knew we needed to connect. Learn all about Joey in this interview, and for more, check out his website, Career Coaster.
Where did you grow up? Joey was born in Jacksonville, AR while his father served in the Air Force, but soon after, they moved to Bucyrus, OH (population 12,362) where his mother was raised.
What is the most important lesson you took with you from your small town upbringing? The most important lesson Joey has learned is that life in a small town does not equate to a life of less importance, less rigor, or less happiness. You don’t need to live in a metropolis to build a meaningful career or life. As Joey moved from place to place over the past decade, he started to long for something more: roots and community.
Sometimes, you really do need to leave in order to understand what you had.
What has been your geographic and professional journey from the time you left your small town? Joey first left Bucyrus in 2004 to attend The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. He wrestled with the decision to attend OSU or Bluffton University – a small university centered in another small town. He knew he had to shatter his comfort zone in order to grow, so he chose OSU and the urban culture that came along with it.
In 2007, Joey moved to Nashville to pursue a music business internship before graduation. While he had high hopes of pursuing music business upon graduation in 2008, the Great Recession led him to return to Bucyrus where he worked at the city’s newspaper. After working for the paper for a couple years, he departed for Los Angeles in 2010 to try his hand in the music business. Again, the big city and music industry eluded Joey, which prompted him to apply for graduate school.
He attended Missouri State University in Springfield, MO where he earned his Master of Science in Student Affairs. He had the chance to intern at an Arkansas college just 20 minutes from his birthplace during graduate school, a complete full circle moment for Joey. Upon earning his master’s, he lived in Peoria, IL for nearly five years while working at Bradley University where he advised business students. It was at that time he realized how much he longed for family and roots, so he made his most recent move to Pittsburgh for a career consulting role at Carnegie Mellon University, which brought him much closer to family.
This journey helped Joey realize how complex job searching and career planning can be for young professionals. His initial post-college experience could have been easier had he known the right tools and strategies. That’s why he has been dedicated to helping students along their own career path for the past 8 years. He’s not afraid to challenge them to “think about this” and “don’t do that” from his first-hand experience. Not only does he do this in his 9-5, but he also shares his insight on Career Coaster, a platform he launched this year in order to share the twists and turns of the 20 jobs he’s had across 7 states before the age of 33.
When Joey’s not busy helping students and young professionals navigate their own career coasters, he can be found doing tough mudders, day tripping to historical places across Pennsylvania, snapping beautiful photography and penning poetry along the way.
How has your small town upbringing allowed you to be successful in your professional life? Joey’s upbringing – and family – taught him how to be personable and maintain awareness of what’s really important in life: family, community, and health. Because of those lessons, he feels empowered and prepared to protect his personal balance for the sake of being mentally and physically well. He knows if he’s not personally well, then he can’t do well for anyone else. Joey thinks that’s the value of small town life; there’s more focus on the whole person and taking care of each other versus getting lost in the noise of a larger city.
When did you have your first “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” moment? It wasn’t until Joey moved to Los Angeles in 2010 that he truly felt out of his element. When he moved to L.A., he didn’t have a job or an apartment, nor any connections to his name. All he had was a car load of belongings, a few thousand dollars in savings, and a deadline to make something happen. He was truly alone – and scared – for the first time in his life. He stayed in a hostel for a few days and eventually ended up living in a 6 bedroom house with people from all over the world (I got a sense of MTVs Real World when we spoke about this). They were from Italy, Finland and China all there trying to make a dream happen. Joey gave himself a 4 month deadline to “make it” in the music industry. Looking back, he said the reason he didn’t succeed there is that he didn’t understand the fundamentals of finding a job. The silver lining in the story is that this has led Joey on his current career path, taught him about resilience, allowed him to meet interesting people, and helped him realign his values system. (Plus, he said it was a whole lot of fun.)
What experience is the most memorable from your time in a small town? Like many teenagers, Joey was itching to leave his small town for “bigger and better” things. However, when he returned upon college graduation to work for the local newspaper, he had the opportunity to truly connect with the people of Bucyrus. His job was to sell and create advertising space for local business owners, so this allowed him to interact with many community leaders who shared stories about their needs, dreams, struggles, and successes. That job helped him understand the value of community and what you can really achieve in a small town.
How have you brought the small town spirit with you in life? Whenever Joey has moved to a new city, his immediate instinct has been to find a local grocery store, a local post office, a local gym, and whatever else feels familiar…whatever helps that big place feel small and feel more like home.
What advice would you give kids who are growing up in your hometown today? Joey would tell them that their circumstances often depend on their attitude, so be careful with how you shape your reality. If you think your hometown is a boring place that must be left behind, then that’s what it becomes. If you think your hometown is a great environment for launching your own business and building relationships, then it can become that too.
What has been your greatest observation from working with other rural and small town leaders throughout your career? While Joey’s primary role is to assist college students with career development and job searching, he also works with employers hiring college students. In working with rural employers, he’s observed how difficult it can be for them to recruit young talent to their area. Despite having exceptional opportunities, many college graduates are seeking the amenities of a bigger city upon graduation. These rural employers have become more flexible and innovative in order to compete with urban employers. They are often more receptive to trying new things whereas many larger urban firms may be less flexible due to deeply rooted policies or because of “the way it’s always been done”. This seems counterintuitive because we may assume that small town employers are somewhat stagnant or slow-paced, which isn’t the case. It’s clear that small town employers are just as innovative, if not more innovative, because their survival depends on it. As author Colby Williams noted in his book, Small Town Big Money, “Small towns look like yesterday, but small town people are decidedly tomorrow.”
How can small town alumni who moved away from their community continue to provide support to those in their hometown? A couple years ago, Joey had a conversation with a business attraction professional who worked to improve the quality of life and business opportunities in rural Central Illinois. He asked her how he – an average Joe (no pun intended, I’m sure) – could help reverse the decline of rural towns. She said he could help by simply sharing positive stories and comments; positive discourse is critical to success when so much of what we see on social media is negative. When alumni and current citizens start discussing the positive attributes of their small town and what it could become, change begins.
In 2017, Joey took this insight and helped his hometown launch a campaign to become a Top 20 Finalist for $500,000 from the Small Business Revolution Series on Hulu. This campaign began because he decided to write a simple nomination letter for his town with the support of many other city leaders. Even though he was living seven hours from Bucyrus at the time, he was able to make an impact through emails and phone calls. Many Bucyrus leaders and citizens were shocked that Bucyrus could be nominated for such a national recognition. That’s when he realized the importance of positive discourse and attitude; you really can make a difference with a little belief, hard work, and community support. It gave people a renewed sense of pride, and that goes a long way.
You really can make a difference with a little belief, hard work, and community support.
What Joey has done – and continues to do for Bucyrus – shows that change happens one person, one conversation, and one positive belief at a time.