I moved to the Chicagoland area when I was 21 years old. It was much, much different than what I had experienced before that in my life. You see, I had grown up mostly in Oskaloosa, Iowa having moved there when I was in 6th grade. I graduated from Oskaloosa High School and went to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa where I received my AAS degree as a Systems Analyst. Even before moving to Oskaloosa I had lived in small towns for the most part. I had lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a year and Des Moines when I was really young, but mostly small towns otherwise.
Oskaloosa was a town of about 10,000 people but our house was actually in Beacon, a town of about 50 houses. Growing up in such a small place was a little weird, as everywhere you went people would know you, your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents, your aunts and uncles, etc. Much of my family lived or had lived in the Oskaloosa area so our family was well known. Many of the people who lived in Oskaloosa were senior citizens and or people living below the poverty line, so you might guess there was little opportunity for creating larger businesses. Small, home town businesses yes, but growing up there you could not imagine how big the world really was. Leaving, especially for larger cities, was something pretty scary. The idea that over 2 million people live within the Chicago city limits is just crazy talk.
In Oskaloosa and the surrounding areas, we have a few bigger businesses such as 3M, Rollscreen (Pella Windows), Clow, and Musco Lighting. Musco was founded in Muscatine County and has done some amazing things, like put up the lights at Yankee Stadium. Their website still has their corporate headquarters as Oskaloosa. The others are located elsewhere. But Musco is a great example of building a large business in a small town.
When you grow up in a small town, you really don’t see the opportunities that are out there in the world. That is why I will suggest you travel to Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, New York City, Atlanta, or other large cities and learn about needs outside of your small town. I am not suggesting that everyone move to a bigger city, but you really should experience what things are like, what opportunities exist, what people value throughout the country in both urban and rural areas. If you can, travel internationally to learn what things are like in other countries. It really is an eye opener. If you cannot travel like this, at least research what different people are like in different parts of the country and world.
Like Musco did with lighting, create your own dream and develop a product to appeal to people of all types or businesses of all types. The great thing about living in a small town is that there are a lot of great people who will pitch in and help you build your dream into a reality. Of course there are going to be people who know you and don’t believe you can build your dream, but that’s ok, just keep your eye on the prize and keep working for it. If you break down all your barriers, you will be surprised what you can accomplish.
When I decided on my career, I thought that working with computers and creating software was my way out of the factories. What I didn’t know is that my dream was still pretty small and that I could do much greater things. Here’s a small town boy that did pretty good in the “big city”… but my kids are going to do things far greater than I ever could have imagined. Make sure not to sell yourself short.
Originally posted 7/18/2011 on businessfizz.com