[I gave a shorter, punchier version of this essay at Jackson Magazine’s 30 And Under banquet, as a way to warn these ambitious young professionals what was in store for them. They probably already knew the second part, but the first part was 30 And Under wisdom after I was honored last year.]
There’s not much tackier than unasked for advice, so we’ll call these next two tid-bits “tips” instead of advice.
Tip one: whether anyone who is honored as a 30 And Under winner likes it or not, you’re going to become a celebrity in Jackson. The picture and profile will show up in the magazine and you’ll have strangers on the street saying “congratulations!” It happens. And grandma and grandpa and that guy you owe money to will all call and say they saw you in Jackson Magazine.
It’s a heavy burden, those first few months after winning. You’ll be famous to a group of people who have a very local sense of fame. You’re now in a select group of people that will probably make appearances on JTV or United Way billboards.
And in case you weren’t busy enough now, you’ll have community groups and committees asking for your help for their next big project. Jackson needs help, so being an up-and-coming hotshot means groups are pointing their volunteer laser beam right at you. Be prepared.
Tip two: listen for what people say about Jackson, especially when they pipe up about an idea, project, or event being “too good” for this town.
I heard it even before I was honored, but now I pay more attention. Too often, someone will claim an idea will never go over, never be attended, never be supported – because Jackson just isn’t that classy of a town.
Don’t think about that wild project you want to tackle, because it’s too good of an idea. And don’t even attempt to tackle some barrier in town, because they’ve been there and tried that and it doesn’t work around here.
Jackson has a crisis of confidence – a low self-esteem that rates somewhere between Chelsea and Hillsdale. Maybe it’s too much bad news in the past generation, or maybe it’s something in the water. Whatever. It’s very real.
It’s also true that good ideas have died on the vine in this town. But I’d rather have too many good ideas than a hum-drum philosophy that accept mediocrity and doesn’t break a sweat.
So don’t settle. Don’t let “good enough” be good enough, or think that something exciting is too exciting for Jackson.
I often think about AKA Sushi, the little boutique eatery up by Starbucks on West Ave. A business owner could have played it safe and threw in another McDonald’s, or Tim Horton’s, and offer another chain restaurant. Those are good enough for Jackson. Anything fancier would never make it, right?
Instead, there’s a hip sushi joint that draws a crowd on a Friday night. Not settling has been good for business.
Jackson’s chapter of the American Red Cross took a chance on a pop-up art gallery. With real art! And people had to pay to get in! The result was a smash success. The RED committee didn’t settle.
But many of my 30 And Under compatriots understand this already. They don’t go to work and go home and flip on the TV, day in and day out. They don’t settle for a life lived as usual – if they did, they wouldn’t be honored by Jackson Magazine.
The way we make Jackson raise its chin is by doing what we’re doing: not settling. Experimenting. Taking chances.
It’s tough, and it draws attention to your efforts, but the payoffs are pretty cool.