I’m typing this entry on a plane to Oakland, CA. Ten years ago to the day is when I returned to Ohio after living in Palo Alto, California for four years. As I fly west again, I’m reminded of my initial flight to California in 2002. I was a newlywed with no job, no apartment, no car and no friends. I had my new husband, a new degree from The Ohio State University, and a bucket of emotions – hope, fear, excitement, nervousness. What I also had was my small town spirit – a spirit that leads me to seek out community, mobilize my network, and get to know people. That’s how this small town girl made Silicon Valley feel like home for 4 years.
Professional View: 2002 was a tough job market in the Bay Area. I knew I wanted to work in nonprofit or higher education and had been diligently looking for roles in those fields for the previous 6 months. Little panned out and I knew I’d be spending my first several weeks applying and interviewing for jobs. One of our first stops after we landed was to my husband’s lab. I checked my email for the first time in 7 days and I had received a message 7 days prior letting me know about the informational interview I was invited to at Stanford. I missed the window during my wedding and honeymoon. I was not deterred and replied that I was on my honeymoon, missed his email, and hoped he could meet me that week. I ended up getting that job and to this day have the greatest respect and admiration for my former colleagues and friends at the Stanford Alumni Association.
Personal View: After 4 years as an over programmed college student, I took full advantage of my only obligation being a 9-5 gig during my first few months in California. I took step aerobics classes, read for leisure, and watched TV. A lot of TV. It was during one of my marathon-show nights that I realized I had to stop this bad habit. That led to some amazing opportunities getting to know people in my community. It included stops at the Palo Alto YMCA, where I served as both a board member and a personal trainer. I joined and eventually led the Bay Area Buckeyes OSU alumni club. And the crown jewel of my time in California – completing a triathlon through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training program. I met amazing people during this time. Some like me – small town implants only in town for a few years, some native Bay Area residents who were thankful they bought into the housing market earlier in life, and many people from other countries who were able to call the Bay Area and United States their home.
World View: A lot happened in Silicon Valley when I lived there. Facebook was born. Google went public. Apple invented the iPod. I didn’t appreciate that this was happening around me. It wasn’t until I read the biography of Steve Jobs and watched The Social Network that I realized how close I lived to innovators and entrepreneurs who changed the world. I was just a 20-something girl from a small town trying to get by in order to pay my $1800/month rent.
Small Town Leadership Lesson: You can make it anywhere – you just have to get off of the couch and become part of the community. I went from no job, no apartment, and no friends to 4 years of amazing experiences and lifelong friends. None of my experiences came to me. I had to make them happen. Whether you are a recent college graduate in a similar situation or an empty nester wondering what to do to fill your time, you don’t need to look that far around you. Your community needs you. And you need your community. If a small town girl can make Silicon Valley feel like home, you can make wherever you are feel like home, too.