Well, that was fun. Jumping out there as a full time consultant, I mean. It’s been great helping several non-profits, companies and communities to think and talk things through. I made enough money to get by, learned some valuable insight, made some new friends, and got a lot of good hiking in. (I also often didn’t shower or put on a clean shirt until lunch time.)
Now I’m back in the land of the employed. This week I went back to work at the Rural Learning Center in Howard, SD, where I’ll become President in February (here’s a blast from the past). Ultimately I’ll be responsible for running a team dedicated to helping rural communities reimagine and thrive, along with operating a green hotel, restaurant and conference/training center being built in Howard. And we’ll also be managing the South Dakota chapter of American Institute of Architects, and a few other related non-profits. It’s the biggest job I’ve ever had, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m as nervous as I am excited. Thank the universe I’m re-joining an awesome and smart team I can rely on.
On the outside, it seems I’ve sort of bounced back and forth from urban to rural to urban and back again over the past 12 years. I do love both very different kinds of places. And, like I’ve always known, in my heart rural wins. It’s a part of my being, the people and culture and places and land. And it’s always been my home. But, my work really hasn’t been about any distinction in small town or city for me–while city and rural life are different in so many ways, my work has always flowed from learning with communities (of any type) to help them figure out what to do next in the journey toward something better.
I’m an artist of social innovation, if anything. And as an artist, the design purpose is ultimately one of two things: happiness and joy for other people, or shaking people in a way that broadens perspective. I believe the best way to do either is to lay the canvas out and invite every stakeholder to grab a brush and some paint. It’s a messy process where you don’t know when you begin what the end will look like, but the process itself makes relationships stronger even if the finished painting doesn’t end up changing the world all that much. Isn’t that what building community is really all about–compassionate relationships? It’s also at the bottom of what most rural communities need.
On the thin surface, it’s easy to jump to creating jobs, better healthcare, stronger education, or building homes as a solution to a stronger small town. They are all big pieces in the puzzle, for sure–but really just doorways to the real deal. Transforming the way your community works is about about something deeper, something you can get at only by re-learning how to be and do and lead things together.