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There could have been many titles to this post: “From a Small Town to Slightly Bigger Towns”; “From a Small Town to the Big City”, and my favorite; “From a Small Town to Around the World in 90 Days.” I’m excited to introduce you to Keith Sbiral, city manager turned coach, consultant and world-wide photographer. Check out Keith at and

Where did you grow up? Keith spent his early childhood in the farming town of Spillville, Iowa – population 300. When he was 10, the 1980s farm crisis led his family to move to Calmar, Iowa – population 1200.

What has been your journey from the time you left your small town? After graduating high school with a class of 52 students, Keith headed 10 miles from home to Luther College. His first job out of college led him to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. While he was in Cedar Rapids, he became involved with political campaigns and met Democratic Senate candidate David Osterberg, who was also a professor in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Iowa. When the campaign was over, he encouraged Keith to pursue his graduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning.

After graduating, Keith moved to Chicago and has been there ever since. Keith has spent most of his career in city management, working for three municipalities in the greater Chicago area.

The world wants to know – are you still rocking boots like this?

Keith’s “ah-ha” moment came five years ago when he realized he was spending more time on HR and disciplinary issues than spending time with high potential employees who were trying to grow their careers. This led Keith to seek out his Certified Professional Coach designation through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).

Keith founded Apochromatik, along with his wife Amy Gardner, in 2016. His specialty is working with younger clients early in their career trajectory and mid/late career clients looking for a career change or sunset.  He finds that many people have a lost sense of direction and a disconnect with their “why” and their values when it comes to their career trajectory. He not only helps them uncover their true purpose and passion, but also helps prepare them for potential pitfalls that they could experience throughout their career, like following money over mission. Ultimately, Keith’s goal is for his coaching clients to get where they want to be quicker by understanding their purpose and values.

How has your small town upbringing allowed you to be successful in your professional life? Keith said he has a knack for hiring people who naturally operate with good judgement. He credits this to seeing how people showed good judgement and fair treatment in his small town by showing respect for others, treating people well and helping those who are in trouble without a second thought.

How has your upbringing shaped your view on relationships? Growing up, Keith didn’t experience “us versus them”. Even if people disagreed, they would still run into each other at church or the local establishment.

Your neighbor might be crazy, but he’s still your neighbor.  

Keith said that he witnessed his dad and dad’s friends having ridiculous political arguments, but 30 minutes later they would be playing cards, having coffee and talking about the crops.

This kind of upbringing reminds Keith to keep an open mind that people have all kinds of issues going on. They cannot be defined by one thing.  

Small town styling

When did you have your first “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” moment? During his senior year in college, Keith spent a semester in Washington DC, and with him came a semester’s worth of suitcases. After flying into Dulles airport, he and his friends took a bus to the Metro Station in order to get to their apartment. As Keith was standing near the train platform with his stack of luggage, he said,

“How in the hell am I going to get on the train with all of these bags.”

In hindsight, Keith knows that the train conductor was looking out for the passengers, but at that moment, he knew he wasn’t in Iowa anymore.

It’s fun for Keith to reminisce about this time, because he’s now been to over 40 countries. Most recently, Keith and Amy embarked on an extended trip that took them to Columbia, Peru, South Korea, Japan, Eastern Europe, Spain and the Middle East. You can learn all about their adventures at

What have you learned most from your around-the-world experience? Traveling extensively has allowed Keith to see how similar people are to where he grew up. He can sense the bond of community in small, rural areas across the world, which is something he doesn’t think he would pick up on as readily if he had been raised in a big, diverse city.

What Keith knows for sure is that when everything else is different, how we treat each other is the same.

We have a worldwide ability to welcome others, and to be welcomed by others, no matter where we might find ourselves.

Keith makes a friend in Iceland

How have you brought the small town spirit with you in life?  Keith has lived in the same condominium for 12 years, which has become his small town in a big city. While he said it’s easier to create community in a small town than a city condo building, he always reminds his neighbors that they are part of a community and have a responsibility to show up for their community.

You can take the boy out of the small town, but you can’t take the small town out of the boy.

What experience is the most memorable from your time in a small town? Keith’s most notable memories usually involved starting things on fire with his best friend, Aaron. The fire department only had to come one time. The lesson Keith learned was that you can start things on fire when you live in the middle of nowhere and not get arrested for it.

What is the most important lesson you took with you from your small town upbringing?  Don’t ever give up. Keith saw a great deal of adversity in his rural community. People lost their homes and farms and started over in new jobs and new homes. They didn’t even contemplate playing the victim. They had a strong work ethic, picked up the pieces and moved on.

What advice would you give kids who are growing up in your hometown today?  Use your small town upbringing to your advantage. People may underestimate you because of where you have grown up, but that’s to their detriment. You can always gain a world view, but you can’t teach the soft skills that you learn growing up in a small town. Work ethic, respect, and being part of something greater than yourself go a long way when you are building a career and life.

Above all, stay true to your values. They will serve you well wherever you go.

Growing up a small town, Keith had never heard of coaching. Now he reminds us that we invest so much time and money to make our life comfortable – like buying a nice car, hiring a housekeeper, or paying for a gym membership – that we don’t spend enough time or money on our own careers and self-worth.  If you are questioning whether or not to hire a coach, or you think it’s fluffy and something that weird people do, get curious. Keith would be happy to talk to you if this sounds like you. Contact him HERE or find him on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Imagine if every kid living in a small town today thinking “I’m just a kid from a small town destined to be average” read this? Do your part and share it with someone who could use the motivation!

Do you know someone who has a great small town success story? Contact me and let me know!

Do you know a small town kid who has huge potential? I’d love to connect with them to find out how a fellow small town girl can coach them to success.


Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.

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