The following message started off as a blog post, was converted to an email that I sent to a few close friends then decided to copy as a blog post because I wanted to share it with even more friends. I can do that because, internet. The photo above was taken by Brian Artka (center) at SXSW in 2007.
If you’re reading this, you’re one of a handful of friends who I think are doing awesome things, not just on the web, but in your local community as well. You deserve the highest of fives and some validation that your work creates ripples far beyond your personal network. A couple weeks ago, I read a blog post titled, “The Grass is Greener Where You Water It” by Matt D. Smith. I’ve only talked to Matt in person a couple times at local conferences and web design meetups, but learning about what he’s doing in Athens inspired me and I think you should read his post too. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
As I read, I heard a bit of my own story and started to realize that by choosing to “water the grass” myself, I actually played a tiny role in his. Here’s the short, short version:
Ten years ago, my “greener grass” was Silicon Valley. As the web industry was making it’s big dot-com bust rebound, I watched several friends and people I followed find opportunities there and was sure I could do the same. Around the same time, my wife and I moved from our home state of Florida to South Carolina for her to start on a 5 year PhD program at USC. I spent the first 2 of those years working remotely from my home office and writing The Principles of Beautiful Web Design, without really connecting with any other local web professionals.
In 2007, I attended SXSW Interactive for the first time in Austin and (trying not to sound too cheesy here) it changed my life. I made lots of awesome friends and got to hang out with many of the industry leaders I looked up to. After that trip, instead of pining for a dream job in the Valley, I found myself wanting to bring the SXSW atmosphere back home. I accepted a job with a budding interactive agency and by the next Summer, I started Refresh Columbia. I poured most of my free time into working on the group website, booking venues and convincing attendees to give talks about what they were working on. When the meetups came together each month and we all went out afterward for food and drinks, it felt a tiny bit like Austin, and I loved it.
After about a year of great Refresh meetups, we started talking about doing something bigger. In the Summer of 2009, a talented and passionate crew of Columbia web professionals planned and hosted the first Converge conference. While writing my book, I had seen the work of an agency called Squared Eye and asked the founder, Matthew Smith if he was interested in speaking at our event. I also met Jenny and James from Southern Savers at Converge and recommended Squared Eye when they started talking about a redesign.
If I hadn’t invested so much of my time back then into Refresh, Converge probably wouldn’t have happened. That means I might not have met Matthew Smith or Jenny and James from Southern Savers. Which obviously means I couldn’t have recommended Squared Eye for the redesign that was the impetus of Matt’s post. This is heavy.
A lot has happened in my life since 2009, much of which was a direct result of the story above. Aarron Walter (who I met at that pivotal SXSW trip) invited me to work with him at MailChimp. Amy finished her PhD and we moved to Atlanta. I’m still involved with the local tech community but with a 2 year old and a 2 month old, I don’t get out to nearly as many events as I did in Columbia.
Every day, passionate people (like yourself) are causing similar chain reactions in your own local communities and far beyond. Sometimes you get to see the results of those reactions and sometimes you don’t. There’s nothing wrong with seeing what’s on the other side of the fence and feeling a bit of envy. Heck, it might even be worth jumping over, but bringing the best aspects back home has the potential to benefit a lot more people. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that. I just wanted to encourage you to keep watering the grass.