My Fulfilling Life in Michigan
I work in government workforce development, which basically means I’m surrounded by a lot of self-proclaimed old white guys. All of these men ask how can we save Michigan? How we can transform Michigan? How we can revitalize Michigan? And how we can attract and retain “talent”?
So, as a 20-something blonde female who graduated from Michigan State University and has made my home and career in greater Lansing, I’m often held up as a poster child for said talent. As the end result of what good things will come to Michigan if more people like me stay. “See, she’s smart and talented and spends money in the community and values the arts… let’s get more of her!”
And yes, I intended to leave Michigan after graduation, so maybe I really am the poster child. I grew up in Illinois and when my family moved to Michigan in middle school, I still considered Illinois my home. I planned to return, but somehow I ended up at MSU. And then I planned to go to New York or Chicago after graduation, but I got a job, and met a boy, and settled down here. That was seven years ago.
Sometimes I feel a little hopeless. But then I look around, and I think, “Wait a minute! I’ve done this. I’ve carved out this creative, artistic, happy niche with people I adore, and I fill my time with things I truly enjoy doing.”
Why am I still here? Sure, I could go on and on and on about all of the “assets” of Michigan. We’ve all heard them, right? “Four seasons… the lakes… a Midwestern attitude… affordable housing… a great place to raise a family.”
But to be honest, I don’t know why I stayed. I just did. Maybe it was fear of trying somewhere new. Maybe it was a desire to be close to my family. Maybe it was just habit. But I did stay, and the longer I’ve been here the more I feel glad I stayed.
I have a lovely life in Michigan. I really enjoy my work and get well-paid for it. I have a deep network of friends, spanning from people I went to high school and college with up to people I’ve met through work and extra curriculars. I own a home, have a fabulous roommate and get to be active in a performing arts community big enough to do stuff but not so big I’m squeezed out by competition. I like it. I can walk my dog in the spring and fall, go to the beach in the summer and ski in the winter. It snows at Christmas. I played on a kickball team where they let me have beer on the field.
And now, with equity in my home and a solid career, I’m watching a lot of my friends boomerang back to Michigan. They’re in debt up to their eyeballs because of extravagant lifestyles with high costs of living. They’ve been saddled with D.C. and California size mortgages. They have no connections and are struggling to find jobs. They’re lonely, so they call me a lot, and I feel bad because a lot of the time I’m already busy with my “other” friends. I kind of want to say to the boomerangers, “See, you should have stayed too…” but I don’t.
Because even though I like my life, I’m scared too. I mean, I work in workforce development. I don’t just see the writing on the wall… I write the stuff there. I represent the people in our economy who are the worst off. I face the old manufacturing mentality on a daily basis. And I know that as much as I want this to be… we’re probably not at the bottom of the barrel yet.
As a part of my job, I tweet job leads. I connect with a lot of young professionals looking for new or better jobs from inside and outside the region. And honestly, a lot of them find jobs with my help and on their own. More than even I expected. But my boyfriend, who’s funny and talented and smart and hard-working, can’t find a job in Lansing. He’s an alternative energy engineer. Isn’t that the type of person we want here? And yet, after months of trying, we can’t find him a job in town. So he lives somewhere else, and I’m scared he’s going to move even further away. And I look around at some of the people who do nothing but complain. Who refuse to get an education because it’s too expensive or too inconvenient. Who have never done anything but work on the line and who refuse to realize their job won’t come back. And sometimes it makes me feel a little hopeless. Or a little overwhelmed.
Can we really do this? Can we really transform Michigan? How? And whose responsibility is it? I don’t want to live in a poor state where uneducated fat people neglect the things I care about like the environment, arts and entertainment. I get scared sometimes that that’s where Michigan is heading. I get scared I’ll be the last one left here.
But then I look around, and I think, “Wait a minute! I’ve done this. I’ve carved out this creative, artistic, happy niche with people I adore, and I fill my time with things I truly enjoy doing.” Could enough of us carving out our own little places in this state be enough to turn it around? Could the collective passion and momentum of other people like me be enough to tip the scales? I really don’t know, but I choose to hope. I want to be able to make a difference with and in my life. I don’t stay because I have to… I stay because I want to. I hope I won’t be the only one.
Kate Tykocki is the Chief Communications Officer at Capital Area Michigan Works! in Lansing. She holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Humanities from Michigan State University, a Master’s of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from Eastern Michigan University, and serves as adjunct faculty at Lansing Community College. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @camwkate on Twitter.
- A Convergence of Higher Education and Quality of Life (May 17, 2010)
- The New Age of Education: We Need It (January 25, 2010)
- Lansing’s Entrepreneurial Revival (February 26, 2010)
- Community Ties: Tying People to Their Michigan Community (February 18, 2010)
- What Gen-Y (Really) Wants (December 3, 2009)