A perspective for when things get tough

You ever have a bad day? How about a whole string of them in a row?

Silly questions, I know. We’ve all had them and there are more to come. That’s life. 

I’ve been on a pretty good run of turbulence in my life lately. There have been times that I’ve questioned whether I’m cut out for the work I do. Certain parts of it, at least. I regularly hear of other opportunities in other places, often with better pay and less responsibility. And on those bad days, it’s sometimes a fun mental escape to consider the possibilities. To ask, “what if?”

But then the workday ends. I close my email and hang up my phone. I leave the confines of my office and I see where I really am. 

I’m home. 

This community, this place, this landscape, these people…this is home. This is MY town. My community. And no matter how isolating those crappy days can feel, I know deep down that I’m not alone. I know there are many others out there wading through much deeper stuff than I am, pushing through bigger struggles, fighting a bigger fight, relentlessly pursuing a dream to make our little place in this world just that much better. 

Sometimes I need reminded of that. And sometimes the universe sends me those little reminders. Here are a few that I’ve encountered as of late.

I attended the ribbon cutting at the new student activities center at SCC. Driving onto that campus, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how much it has changed in the last several years. There are new health and science buildings, a new dorm, and now a new student activities center complete with a track, basketball courts, and a fitness room. The place has come so far since I used to attend basketball games there as a kid with my grandpa. And inside, it has a much different feel than it did when I attended school there two decades ago. Walking around that new addition, my chest swelled with pride for this facility, for this institution, for what it means for this community and more than anything, for the people that made it all possible: the leaders at the school and the supporters within the community that contributed to its creation. 

This is my town. I’m proud of it. 

Right after that, I attended a seminar led by Mark Perna, a bestselling author and nationally recognized thought leader on cultivating passion and purpose in students. The presentation took place at the Capitol Theater downtown. Talk about something else to make one proud. That place sat vacant for my entire young life. Another albatross in the boneyard of downtown. Until some community members took the initiative to restore it. I know some, but certainly not all, of the struggles they faced along the way, and I have to believe that they, at times, felt that nagging doubt that creeps in when things get tough. 

But there I sat, in a beautifully restored theater, in an increasingly vibrant downtown, listening to someone who has presented from some of the biggest stages in the nation. And in the coming years, thanks again to some dedicated community members, the Capitol will become so much more than just a theater. It will be a robust performing arts center and community hub. 

This is my town. 

While here, Mr. Perna presented to faculty from SCC and the local school districts. In a rare instance of multijurisdictional collaboration, the schools had coordinated calendars so they could all send teachers from their districts on the same day. I can only imagine the logistics involved in that. The Greater Burlington Partnership, I believe, was the hub of that multi-spoked wheel. The process of getting that speaker lined up, getting school calendars to mesh, and arranging multiple facilities for at least three different presentations I’m certain was a multiyear effort. That takes dedication by a bunch of people.

These are my towns. My schools. My people. 

That same Friday, back in my world, a group of volunteers from Midwest Homebuilder, a local company that’s been working hard to create new housing options in our community, hosted a work day at Big Hollow Recreation Area. They spent the day doing renovations to what used to be the park ranger residence. We’re planning to eventually make it a rental cabin. What they got done in a day would have taken our small team weeks to accomplish. Those guys, like me, are locals with no intention of ever leaving this place. Instead, they’re investing in this place, actively helping to shape it into something we can be even more proud to call home. 

These are my people. 

It's easy to get lost in the day-to-day struggle. It’s easy to question what it’s all for. When that happens, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Recognize the impact you’re having, and the impact you’re going to have. Recognize that there are others fighting just as hard to move this community forward. We all play some role here. Individually, it may seem small and inconsequential. Like, really, are a few extra campsites really worth all this hassle? Is building one new home really going to change things? Is that new facility expansion worth the millions? 

Collectively, yes. It’s so worth it.

This is our community. Thank you for moving it forward. 

This piece is part of my monthly column that runs in my local newspapers, The Hawk Eye and Burlington Beacon