SF Was That Place

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I originally posted this on Medium.com, July 10, 2013.

Midwestern girl, born and raised, and proud of it… I knew there was someplace else for me.

In the spring of 2008 I confirmed my suspicions. SF was that place.

I moved to San Francisco at the ripe age of 24. Just out of grad school, and ready for a new adventure and challenge. I moved to SF knowing one person, kind of (a friend of a friend I was connected with only after deciding to move). You see I came to follow my passion – helping people communicate better in relationships. I’d been in Chicago for 7 years and though it felt very much like home, I knew there was someplace better for me. Some place that would allow me to have a passion to follow, but not know exactly how; some place where people would understand that I didn’t want to (or need) to be a therapist to help people; somewhere I could build out my dream job. What better place than California, the land of free love and new agey goodness?

I had hoped for all of these things, but was afforded no guarantees, as I moved out without a job, a place to live, or a network of friends. I moved here with a passion in my gut and a friendly attitude.

SF welcomed me with open arms. Within a week I had 5 new, amazing friends and within a month 150. Everyone asking what I did, what my passion was, what I was trying to do and HOW COULD THEY HELP. Can you believe it? I was swept up in this whirlwind of people who believed in me, in my passion, and my ability to just make it happen.

I shared some of my writing with a friend (in tech) who looked me dead in the eye and said, “you’ve got it. You have to write publicly, start a blog. How do you NOT have a blog?! Here let me help you.” And there it was, my dream becoming a reality. We spent hours upon hours of brainstorming how I could take advantage of all the amazing new social tools to promote a business. My business (I guess I was starting one, though I couldn’t really pinpoint what it was yet, besides writing). New friends read what I wrote. Commented on it. Engaged in dialogue. Spread the word. It was unlike anything I had experienced before. I knew I was on the right track. It was like the universe opened up for me in San Francisco.

My friends, this lucky group of a dozen or so people who accepted me as one of them and threw me immediately into their group of 100+ other friends, were doers. They were listeners, and creators and dreamers and they made stuff. And I was so excited that they saw the same in me. Most of them worked in tech, at start-ups or building their own product. Most didn’t care that I wasn’t in tech. They wanted to hear what my goals and passions were. They wanted to engage, and help me create. Create, create, create.

It was a magical time, 2008.

I guess I look back with a sense of nostalgia, as a lot has changed in 5 years. Within me, within the city, within my friends. But the feelings surrounding that change are different. Instead of embracing that change, evolution and innovation, and jumping in to be part of it, to make it what we want, we are sitting back and watching it, jaws agape. Pointing fingers at it. Calling it names.

We’ve become spectators and commenters of the change that is happening in SF, not enablers and innovators. And it’s weird. Don’t get me wrong, I find myself engaged in conversations of how young tech engineers are driving up rent, taking culture from the city without giving back, how the Mission is basically the new Marina, natives being cranky about transplants and so forth. But I don’t like it. And that’s a red flag to me.

What’s happened to us SF? What is making us all so defensive that we feel we have no other option than to point fingers and place blame?

Maybe this is what being in a bubble means. Instead of calmly confident and excited about our ideas and what we could create, we begin operating as if there is not enough to go around. Not enough money, not enough success. We need to be first! Be the best!

We have gone from being a city that fosters a culture of innovation, support, and creativity to one that is insecure and defensive.

And it’s understandable. SF is small and special and we all want a piece of it for our own. We’re scared that we won’t get our part of it. That someone more successful, more influential will overthrow us, that the city will become something that we don’t have a say in. So we stick to our labels and identifiers and make our claim on why WE deserve it more than YOU.

When what we are really feeling is, “I want to be part of this magical place in a meaningful way, and I’m worried that if you are part of it, and successful, that means I can’t be.”

We’ve created a lose-win dialogue with each other that is hurting us. The truth is, this defensive scared behavior is doing exactly the opposite of what we hope. We are all giving away our power to be part of what is happening in this beautiful city. If it’s ‘their’ fault, it means we aren’t responsible, and also means we aren’t in control of what happens to us. For someone to win, another has to lose.

I just want to remind everyone- that’s not how it has to be. There is enough of it to go around if we all chip in, if we step back from being focused on winning, or having it our way. I’m not sure how to do this, and I’m not saying I have the answers. But there’s got to be some win-win conversation going on, or we are all going to hurt in the end.

Maybe we can start with one question… “What can I do to change the dialogue?”

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