Big Fish, Little Fish
I have been humbled and have humbled myself many times. Whether it was due to my lack of knowledge on something I should have known and had to ask for help, witnessed a circumstance that was worse than my own, apologized to someone I absolutely did not want to, or even put into place by my 13-year old daughter…and I have a great example of this one: My daughter was about five at the time and we were talking about babies and where they came from. Yes, the dreaded question that we, as parents, try to avoid for as long as possible. Nevertheless, the question was asked and my response was fairly simple. “When two people love each other so much, they get married. After they get married, God sees these two people have so much love to give that He chooses to give them a baby, so the baby can be loved that much, too,” I said. My five-year-old daughter’s response? “Well mommy, you and my dad weren’t married. Why’d God give you me?” I sat there quietly. Very quiet, trying to come up with an anti-humbling response. “I just got lucky. God saw how much love I had to give and thought we’d be perfect for each other,” I said.
That satisfied her for a while. Then she got older. And smarter. Now she knows that even though I wouldn’t change a thing in the world because to me she is perfect, she was completely and totally an accident. She knows that she’s the product of a month (short) beneficial friendship. Thank God she’s okay with that, and thank God I raised her well enough to know that sometimes an accident can unfold to become the most amazing thing in the world, and in hindsight, that’s exactly what she was and still is today. If it wasn’t for her being an accident, not only would I lack the most amazingly funny and beautiful daughter on the face of this planet, I would lack the story I’m about to tell you. I’d also lack the experiences along its way, all which lead up to and through the story, and its aftermath.
I haven’t been forcefully humbled too many times. As a matter of fact, I cannot recall a time when I was forcefully humbled prior this event in all my life. I guess it’s because I’ve always lived modestly. I grew up never lacking per se, but we certainly didn’t have anything either. We didn’t starve as there were always “magic noodles” in the cupboard. Most of you know these as Ramen Noodles, but we grew up calling them magic noodles. We ate them so much, as a matter of fact, that not only did my brother, sister and I give them their flashy new title, but we came up with our own magic noodle recipes: two pieces of toast, spread cream cheese on both slices, a dash of pepper, and 1/2 package of cooked chicken or beef magic noodles in between, and viola! now you have your magic noodle-cream cheese sandwich. So when my mom got me a Ramen Noodle Cook Book a few years ago as an “inside joke” I actually looked for our recipe or something similar but all I found were Ramen Noodle salads, asian dishes and so on. Nothing as clever, or as good, as our magic noodle-cream cheese sandwich.
Anyway, so this one time at band camp….
Just kidding. So, I’ve never really been forcefully humbled until this year, meaning I didn’t have a choice.
From the time Aubrey, my daughter, was born, I had made the conscious decision to make a better life for myself and for her…for us. She brought a newfound light into my world that only a parent can explain. I literally sat down and made a list of goals, short and long-term (which I still have). Fortunately, most of those have been crossed off. I’d say I’m a pretty determined and committed individual, and worked my ass off. Over the course of the next 10 years, I had went to college, dropped out, landed a great job, went back to college, started a business and graduated with my masters. My job took me to entirely different level in society. Sure, West Virginia is a small state, but I worked hard to get where I was, to where I was going and where I wanted to go. I was given so many opportunities with my job–a publishing company. We published West Virginia’s top business magazine. It was (and still is) the most sought-after publication to be in…everyone wants to be featured in it, their business featured in it, their article published in it.
With this job, I had formed friendships with some pretty prominent people in West Virginia including our state’s governor, now a United States Senator, the former Secretary of State, and many other state reps. I’ve got to admit…it feels pretty good when the governor and Secretary of State know you by your first name, or that I could make a call on a Tuesday and if their schedule permitted, get in for a meeting that Thursday to talk with them. Or we would be doing a special issue, such as our sports issue, and call former Mountaineers directly for an interview including Sam Huff, Mark Bulger or Jerry West. I was even on a friendly basis with the West Virginia University president, who also knew me by name, and personally invited me to sit at “his table” during a big educational annual dinner. He’s pretty hot, so I gladly accepted that invitation. One of the most exciting people I had the opportunity to speak with was Dr. Patch Adams. Maybe you have seen the movie Patch Adams with Robin Williams, but that’s the Patch Adams I got to talk to. As a matter of fact, I still have his number in my cell, not that I’ve talked to him since then, nor would I. He was not very cooperative with us during the interview process, so we scrapped the article and moved on to the next. Nevertheless, he was an interesting character to talk and listen to for sure.
Aside from the people I’ve met and formed many friendships with, I’ve had some of the BEST times I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve sat beside one of my favorite State Senators and laughed so hard that I nearly peed my pants. I’ve been to conferences (most notably the Tourism conferences) and shared some of my most fondest memories (and even gotten into trouble with) with people who most wouldn’t ever get the opportunity to meet. Haha…some time ago, I had went to a conference, had a few too many drinks, and with someone who tries (really hard) not to get into trouble or in the limelight decided it would be fun to “drive” the luggage carts full throttle up and down the halls of the lodge…at 2:00 am…with me and another person sitting on it. That time I really did pee my pants from laughing so hard, and left a pee stain on the person’s back who was sitting in front of me! Eventually we got busted, and by the next morning at breakfast, all I heard was “So, April? Did you have fun last night?” or “I heard that a few people were driving the luggage carts up and down the halls. You wouldn’t know who that would be, would you?” Who…me?? No way! Don’t judge. I’m professional, most of the time.
Needless to say, again, I had some of the best times ever with that job. I’ve also had some of the greatest opportunities, met some of the most wonderful people, participated in the most rewarding things, and have had the opportunity to sit down and have some of the most intelligent conversations I’ve ever had.
In November 2011, my fiance, who resided in Georgia, wanted me to move to be with him. I knew at some point the decision would have to be made as to which one of us would make the move, especially since we intended on marrying that following summer. I just didn’t expect it to be that soon. I talked to my mom, my greatest conscience, about the idea of me moving to Georgia. I’ll never forget what she said to me, and to this day I think about the comment often. She said, “April, you’ve worked so hard to get where you are. In West Virginia, you’re a big fish in a little pond. In Atlanta, you’ll be a little fish in a big pond. Just think about this before you do it.”
I thought about it, but not for long. By December, me and my kids were in Georgia. I had sold my partnership and left the magazine. Left my friends. Left my accomplishments. And essentially, left my dreams. I had some big plans in and for West Virginia. My goal was to take care of the state and its citizens as good as they’ve taken care of me. West Virginia, although not my birthplace, became my home. I was welcomed with open arms, and protected not only by the mountains but by those who also called her home. It was as if I had been in West Virginia all my life. The amount of devotion I had for her then and still have now is unparalleled to anywhere I’ve ever resided. I fit in…perfectly.
When I moved to Georgia, I wasn’t too worried. After all, I’ve had more experience in running a successful business, people, politics, places, innovation, trends, energy, finances, risks, rewards, opportunities, education, marketing, advertising and industries than most people can obtain in a lifetime. Plus, I had my masters degree…something I worked my ass off for, while raising two kids; while running a business; while maintaining a personal life; simultaneously. I had it all, wrapped up so neatly into a 110-pound package–me.
Not so fast, speed racer, ’cause that’s where it ends. This is the part where I was forced to be humbled. My mom was right. I am a little fish in a big pond!
Georgia has not been as friendly as my Mountain Momma. I’ve learned over the last 10 months that my credentials mean nothing here, and why? Because there are half a million others just like me, and another million better. Probably more than that, I was just trying to make myself feel better. Competition in the workplace here is fierce, and more so since the economic decline as Atlanta was hit pretty hard. Another factor, the entire population of West Virginia is somewhere around 1.8 million people. The Atlanta Metro Area has over five million people. Five million people within a 75-mile radius of where I now live. Man, those numbers have caused me grief. Of the 60-something resumes I’ve submitted in 10 months, I’ve had five interviews and two job offers. For someone who has been privileged for the past seven years, that’s been a very hard pill to swallow.
So, have I been forcefully humbled the last 10 months? Damn right I have been, and where this leads me is entirely up to me. As of right now, it takes me all the way back to my childhood…eating magic noodles and all. I’ve learned that here in Georgia I’ve got to build myself to an entirely different level than where I was in West Virginia. I’ve got to think outside the box, and be outside the box. I’ve got to start from the bottom, again, and work my way back up to the top. Rock bottom is a sure good solid foundation to build upon, though, don’t you think? I’m sure I’m not alone in this paradox. Since the recession began in 2008, I think it’s safe to say that there have been many fish, large or small, thrown into a pond they aren’t familiar with. At this point, I’m just trying to be caught and put into a small, clean and safe tank. I’m so ready to be finished with this ungodly huge humble pie.