#LoveRuralAm: Trading Entertainment for Enrichment

A little over 8 years ago, I traded the comfortable confines of my little college town to chase my future in the (relatively) big city. After 23 years living and working with and around livestock and wide open fields, I’d decided I’d had enough. I wanted to make my way where there were more people, more opportunities, and you never had to look too far for something to do.

I’ll tell you, I wasn’t disappointed when I got there. At the time, moving to the city was exactly what I was looking for, and what I thought I needed. I was, without a doubt, entertained.

However, I often found myself lying awake at night, thinking about my life’s trajectory. Was I making the impact I wanted? Was I using my skills and abilities in ways that brought me fulfillment?

photo of Tyler's familyThe city was great at distracting me from those tough questions. But every now and again, when I’d finally find myself alone with my thoughts, they’d creep back. They disturbed my peace like a dripping faucet or the ticking of a clock in an otherwise completely silent room.

The reason those questions were disturbing was clear, though I chose to ignore it for quite some time. The answer to both of those questions was NO. I wasn’t making the impact I wanted with my life, or using my talents in ways that left me fulfilled.

The realization hit like a ton of bricks. Change was needed. After much thought and deliberation with my wife, we decided to make the move to a small town in Northeast Nebraska.

Our friends balked. Over and over we heard, “I don’t know why you’d want to move out there. You’ll be so bored. There’s nothing to do.” It’s such a well worn narrative about small towns and rural areas that answers weren’t even expected.

My experiences have taught me something though, that perhaps others have yet to learn, or may never care to learn. No matter where you are, but especially in small towns, for those who are willing and able, there is always something to do. More often than not, there is something desperately needing to be done, just looking for someone to do it.

In contrast to the entertaining distractions I found in the city, those “things to do,” in a small town are much more likely to help answer those afore mentioned questions with an affirmative “yes.”

Aging populations and an exodus (which I was once a part of) of youth from rural communities have lead to an opportunity boon across rural America, in both paid and non-paid roles. In many small towns people willing to bring their talents to leadership roles are desperately needed, from unfilled management positions in rural companies to volunteer community event planners.

According to a report by the Housing Assistance Council, Taking Stock: Rural People, Poverty, and Housing in the 21st Century, 28% of all rural residents fall in the baby boomer generation, people born between 1946 and 1965. The first of that generation began reaching retirement age, 65, in the year 2010. For decades these folks have been small town doctors, lawyers, bankers, insurance agents, city council members, school board members, and more.

Their retirements create opportunities to advance careers, engage in local politics, and participate in building a community in new and profound ways, sooner than one might find in metropolitan areas.

To me, that’s real opportunity. It’s the opportunity to enrich my life by using my talents and skills in ways that impact the lives of my friends and neighbors for the better. It’s the opportunity to work together to create a stronger community built to stand the tests of time, in the face of demographic trends and negative narratives.

In that way, returning to rural America has enriched my life in ways that I may never have found in the city. The opportunity is there for the taking. All it requires is the initiative, drive, and willingness to play an active role in your community.

So in response, to all who repeated that worn out, tired narrative, “Why would you want to move to rural America? You’ll be so bored. There’s nothing to do.” My response is, “There is more to be done than any one person could ever accomplish or experience in a lifetime in rural America. But you may have to be willing to trade entertainment for enrichment. A trade I was all too happy to make. And you can too.”

Please send your comments or questions my way. I’ll be happy to listen and to tell you more about my experiences. Call me, Tyler Vacha, at 402.687.2103 ext. 1018 or email tylerv@cfra.org. #LoveRuralAm