Every day, I encounter a new challenge to the idea that things can and should be open and real.

Be it social, political, or personal, serious or trivial -- every time, I ponder the implications.

I hope you'll join me in the conversation!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fly Away Home

I was born in Charleston, West Virginia, over four decades ago. Before I was fourteen years old, I had been to Bermuda, Quebec, Denmark, Paris, Switzerland, and Germany. I attended college in North Carolina, and before I graduated I had back-packed Germany, Scotland, and England. I worked on Capitol Hill my first year out of college, and lived and worked in the international university community of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for 10 years before making a conscious choice to move back to West Virginia.

Simply put, I’m a big fan of West Virginians getting out before they lock it in.

I’ve puzzled for several years since my return over the hungry – yea, desperate – plea from some contingencies here to create an environment that children don’t leave. “If we only did this…….if we only changed that……if we had a…………then our kids wouldn’t have to leave home.” This is one of the most misguided philosophies I’ve ever encountered on two fronts.

First, kids are supposed to leave home. When you reduce it down to its barest elements, the whole purpose and goal of parenting is to raise a baby to a level of maturity where he or she can take care of themselves in their developing social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual spheres. To suggest that there is something unnatural or undesirable about leaving the nest is a bit smothering and insecure. One of the best things that can happen to a young person is to explore the world on their own terms. Whether you grow up in West Virginia or Tuscany, you need to deliberately depart the confines of your small, childlike world, and put yourself in the environment of newness, diversity, challenge, and change.

Second, from an economic development standpoint, we need less a climate of existing jobs than a climate of innovation to draw the people our state needs to blossom in 2009; and yet we still have a strong dialogue here that centers on former West Virginians coming “home” to fill job vacancies that await them. The people I have in mind that will come to make their lives in our state are looking for opportunity to build, create, and innovate. I am interested in the minds that seek an environment that supports new business creation, not simply seats for warm bodies.

I propose we give the clutching after our offspring a rest. Let’s stop worrying about getting former West Virginians back, and start strategizing about creating a place where smart, motivated people who have grown through diverse life experiences want to work and play. With all due respect to those of us who grew up here, our birth certificate does not automatically make us part of West Virginia’s bright future. What will make us part of that future is our willingness to engage the world; to embrace new people and cultural elements from outside our borders; and to stop asking for jobs and start making them.

Oh yes. And our willingness to kiss our children on the cheek and wish them well on their own journey to whatever place – maybe ultimately here – that creates a sense of place for them and their best lives.

This post was composed for "A Better West Virginia Challenge," http://www.abetterwestvirginia.com/2009/06/16/a-better-west-virginia-challenge-identifying-obstacles-and-solutions/


jeffjam said...

Exceedingly eloquent, as always. The "lock the borders" mentality has its roots in insecurity and anxiety, which also underly so many of our other problems. But I think it probably also has some healthy roots as well. Subjectively, I think we like our families and want to be with them.

Great post, really enjoyed it.

Connie said...

I have to chew on this a bit. My son left the state for Florida and now North Carolina to develop his career. It corks me to no end that he can't do that within easy driving distance of me.

While I think everyone should get out and about (if only to appreciate how wonderful WV is), forced exile due to the economic and opportunity climate is A Bad Thing (TM).

Connie, misses her boy

The EDG said...

I realize this can be a touchy subject, and that's part of why I wanted to put it out there.

It is not for me to judge parental longing for absent children. I think few things are as natural and a part of every place and culture as wanting to be with loved ones. No one, least of all me, is questioning the legitimacy of those feelings.

Where it breaks down for me is when cheap political pandering to family ties is used to substitute for serious economic development best practices.

Skip Lineberg said...


I absolutely loved your post. You articulate what so many of us think, feel or believe. And you say it in such a clear, persuasive manner!

I have been crowing for years that talent is a resource that flows freely through an open marketplace. It is unrealistic to think that we can restrict or detain talent.

Like you and many others, I left West Virginia only to return later. I spent most of my 20's living out of state. I had to get out and explore the world--and to challenge myself to see if I could compete or fit in elsewhere. Once I learned that I could, I had an enriched and even deeper appreciation (love) for the treasures that only West Virginia offers.

The EDG said...

Skip, you bring up another important element of what I think WV is trying to overcome, and that is the often silent (but not always) inferiority complex that can make people too intimidated to go beyond.

Bear with me on this, but I think putting these sometimes uncomfortable concepts out there is part of what we are being challenged to do so we can find solutions....there are times I think some of us would rather not leave so we can attribute our disappointments or failures to something about place, vs. something about ourselves.

What you talk about, testing yourself in a new environment so you know what YOU can do, regardless of where you are, is really important.

Thank you for commenting.

Maura said...

I really relate to this. I work at MU and we have the benefit of giving our kids tuition-reduced education that I hopefully won't use. I wand Sophia to fly, to soar, and then choose deliberately where to be.

I myself didn't have that opportunity, and feel cooped.