Fascinating! Photo: Phil Mansfield for the New York Times
“God I can’t wait to get out of this place.”
Yes, yes, you never want to be stuck where you grew up. Forced to face those who’ve known you since birth, and carry on the legacy (or infamy) of your family. It’s tough to reinvent, seek anonymity.
You never left?? You must have some flawed resume or inability to cut the umbilical cord.
Coming from a place like Tampa is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it’s politically moderate, relatively integrated, historically relevant, and covered in fluffy oak canopies.
On the other, it lacks many cultural and quality-of-life amenities you get in other, more ‘global’ metros. Namely: reliable mass transit service of some sort, and a fresh hipness that makes places like Portland and Austin so appealing.
Having been to both, I can say that it has a lot to do with youth, and with a liberal majority, neither of which Tampa has been known for. There is too much South in South Tampa.
Conservatism by definition is disposed to preserving existing conditions…maintaining the status quo. Limited novelty, limited change.
But how do you measure a place?
Since 2009, I’ve talked a lot about leaving. “I need to be inspired by my environment, not stifled.”
But where to go?
I have a dual-pronged dilemma: move away from Tampa, AND find a career that suits me. See my post from late 2012 on the matter. Doing both at once has proven challenging – no one wants to hire an inexperienced unknown, from far away.
And yet, none so spectacular that I just had to uproot, leaving my contacts, my friends. In going with my gut, I know not to make unresearched, unweighed decisions. And unlike all my friends that have left, I hate moving with the masses.
Somewhat detached from this internal struggle, and mostly out of boredom, I have become more involved here in town. Little ole’ Tampa, I used to think.
Except, it’s not really little anymore.
Or, maybe my perspective has changed.
What I learned in the past five years is that there are a lot of sharp, unpretentious people here, mostly working behind the scenes. These are youthful, educated, socially liberal people, who just want the city, which has strong bones to begin with, to be better.
Not for profit, or for personal notoriety…just for a better collective existence.
Sure, everyone has a global awareness these days, and most focus on building a career in their twenties…but there is a core group of civic tastemakers that are pioneering speedier renewal and evolution here. It’s an open forum, welcoming a mix of transplants and natives in the most natural form of “networking.” (a word I hate)
And, I almost take for granted having a fabulous group of friends, and a harmonious family (that won’t be around forever). Being with and learning from the people who love you, counts.
Having friends around the country to crash with on vacation doesn’t hurt either, so I’m not entirely tore up that they all bailed…
Tampa’s scrappy history has been marked by a runt’s share of the Southeastern United States investment – most of which goes to Miami and Atlanta. That may always be true.
But of late, we’re riding a tsunami of urban residential and commercial development, job growth, and increased appetite for multi-modal (car, transit, bike/walk) infrastructure improvements.
That’s long-hand for livability, my friends. Quality of life.
And, as of this writing, I have accepted a significant position of leadership with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, one of the most important cultural events for the city. It will be tons of work, but it feels like a real opportunity to lead an effort, one I might not get if I lived in a much larger pond, with lots of fellow fish.
In observing friends and visiting other places regularly, I know how they live.
They’re surviving, and only just. Climbing the corporate ladder, working insane hours. Coping with crowds, unaffordable housing, crushing student loan debt. It’s a clusterfuck (pardon me) of circumstances that stifle our generation’s need to have a work-life balance, and to be introspective on what they truly value.
I have learned that I need room to breathe. Space to think. To live free from imprisonment by any entity (job) or condition (debt), as much as possible.
I relish my time working on what I’ve deemed most important to my own happiness. This blog…exercise. Style consulting. I love to be busy, but hate when it prevents me from necessary catharsis.
Personal growth shouldn’t be traded for anything, even if it means being still once in a while.
Sometimes I muse that this transformation has nothing to do with Tampa. It’s been all my own internal growth.
And yet, it does. The people are here, and the moderate pace blends with a mounting pressure to change and evolve for a higher standard. A new generation is moving into positions of influence – many of whom I know personally.
I’m not asserting that Tampa is any better than anywhere else. That determination can only be made on a personal level. Intrinsically, and from a momentum perspective, I have a bias to stay.
What I can say with authority is that I can be involved here, I can help improve this place, and I can do it without sacrificing myself.
For my own debate whether to leave or to stay, the answer in the short term is to happily, and without insecurity, call Tampa my home.
Will I stay forever?
Hopefully not. The world is just too big to be stationary.
Is it right for right now? Totally.
Thank you for reading, friends.