"I could never do that to my kids. I could never put them in a town like that. There's just no opportunity."
This was the sentence that a coworker spoke regarding a small town in Wisconsin as she told about her husband's recent job change to this town. She didn't know where I was from or that I live in a small town, too. I smiled and listened, interested in her perspective. She continued on, sharing about how she needed to drive 20 minutes to get a nail and how she just couldn't imagine living in a town that small and that she could never live there.
Shortly after, the other woman in our conversation asked me where I lived. When I told her that I grew up in a really small town and still live there, that my graduating class only had 36 people, the woman who had been sharing seemed ashamed and embarrassed. She shouldn't have been. This lifestyle isn't for everyone, which is good because if it were, our countryside would be cluttered with more houses and burdened with more people than we'd care to see.
You see, growing up in a small town did present me with a loss of opportunity. I didn't have the opportunity to become dependent on others for my entertainment. I didn't have the opportunity to go to a museum, theater, opera, or zoo every weekend because those places are far away from me. Instead, we found ways to entertain ourselves. We played outside, we came up with new games, and we created and explored. We spent our weekends visiting with our grandparents, sitting around a fire, or enjoying family time. We built up our relationships because of this lack of opportunity.
I didn't have the opportunity to play any sport I wanted; I played the sports that were available. This disciplined me to train hard to be good at something and be grateful for opportunities that we did have. It allowed everyone a spot on the team and it formed friendships and bonds beyond the sport itself.
I didn't have the opportunity to go to the store or restaurant whenever desire called. This taught me to be creative and entrepreneurial. It taught me to make do with what I have, to be creative in finding solutions, and to recognize I don't always need everything that I want.
I didn't have the opportunity to have reliable internet growing up. We had dial-up internet that meant the phone line couldn't be used when we wanted to go online. This missed opportunity meant I couldn't spend all day talking to friends on a computer or playing computer games. It meant I had to find something else to do, or, if I wanted to talk to a friend- pick up the phone and have a real conversation.
I also didn't have the opportunity to get used to noise and bright city lights. Instead, I learned to be in tune with what the sounds of nature spoke to me. I learned that the spring peepers are one of the first noises of spring and that the Big Dipper sits over my house almost every night of the year. I fell in love with the sounds of spring and the return of the songbirds, and I feel their absence as I crunch through the snow in the silence of winter.
So yes, I did grow up with a disadvantage. I did miss out on opportunities. But for me, those missed opportunities brought so much more depth and more life to me. It has taken me back to the natural world and away from the material one. It has awakened my soul, and like a magnet, drawn me back to the earth.
This lifestyle isn't for everyone, but life is what we make it to be. I choose to be grateful, thankful, and accept my blessings rather than dwell on what could have been if circumstances were different. I am proud of where I grew up and where I live, and I'm proud of what it taught me.
What opportunities did your upbringing give you?
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