Where we grow up influences our ideas, imagination and relationships. Our home communities are the launching pads from which we explore the world, most often leaving to find the perfect place to live and work. This usually means moving to the city, leaving rural and small communities to slowly decline.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. We can build our communities to be the ones we want to live in. LeBron James just accepted this challenge, and you can too.
The Decision to Lead
LeBron James gave hope to communities everywhere by announcing he was returning to Ohio to play basketball for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Interestingly, his decision was to return home first and play basketball second:
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can.”
In his open letter to Sports Illustrated, LeBron articulated a certain feeling of responsibility that many of us feel when thinking about our homes. Usually, we are too afraid to act upon this feeling:
“I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”
The Perfect Place
It’s easy to find the perfect place. You can quickly search the top cities in the world and shop for homes the way you would shop produce in the grocery store, choosing the one that is just the right size, color and flavor for who you want to be. However, it’s much harder to create the perfect place. Looking around your community and raising your hand to create change takes time and work. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.
Knowing that you were there when no one else was, sweating and creating change, creates your legacy and forces you to work harder than you thought possible. In doing so, you make more of a difference than you could have imagined.
The challenge of returning home and building your community is that it never ends. You never quite get things the way you want them; but that’s the fun part. When you take ownership in your city, you join an organic creation that is continually moving and changing. You are one of the leaders driving that change.
LeBron admitted as much when he said:
“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that.”
The Prodigal Path
LeBron’s decision highlights the prodigal path we hope our own children will take: exploring the world, mastering a craft and returning to share.
First for LeBron was the disastrous decision. As he admits in his letter, he would have done things differently if he’d had the chance, but he still would have left:
“These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go…Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”
Explore the World
Building a community does not mean you can’t leave. Quite the contrary. Our communities are best when new ideas are brought into them. It is thus essential for us to first explore the world and discover what is possible. For LeBron, this meant heading to South Beach.
For the un-athletic, this might mean going to college, traveling the world, working in the Peace Corps, volunteering for an organization, working a variety of different jobs, dating a variety of people, playing in a band, learning to surf or studying a new language.
Whatever your curiosity calls you to do, do it. Learn from it. Then, use your time in the world to master your craft.
Master A Craft
Once we discover our passion out in the world, we then need to work on it. It’s difficult to start something in your own community until you have perspective and experience on how it works.
LeBron needed experience working in a world-class organization so he knew what he wanted to build when he returned home. You might need time in a certain job, place or relationship before you have an idea of what you want to dedicate your time to building.
Share Your Discoveries
The final step of returning home is always the most difficult. Most of us believe it’s not possible. Fortunately, now more than any moment in history, we can live anywhere and connect with others everywhere.
This presents a new opportunity for communities around the world. The top talent can live in your city and still work with clients anywhere or learn from colleagues and collaborators everywhere. What’s more, these returnees come with a wealth of experience. They have explored the world, discovered a craft and now they have returned to share what they have discovered.
As we master a craft, we need to ask ourselves: Can I bring this skill back to the place that matters to me? How can I share my knowledge and passion with those who matter most?
Some industries pose interesting challenges. There are only 30 NBA teams, so we can’t all return home to play for our local one. The vast majority of us, however, have no excuse.
- If your community doesn’t have the business or industry you want to work in, build it.
- If your community doesn’t have the cultural scene that you long for, nurture it.
- If your community doesn’t have the people you want to spend time with, invite them to join.
What’s amazing is that a tiny number of people who care about their community can inspire massive action.
By returning home and building the community you want to be a part of, you are showing others that it is possible. You are proving that it is not hard to start. Your bravery in starting means that others will follow suit. This is how change happens and this is how movements are started.
The Return Home Revolution
LeBron may not have single-handedly launched the return home revolution. He has, however, validated the desire many of us feel: the calling to return home and make our community better.
As in Northeast Ohio, so is it in communities around the world:
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”
Fortunately the hard work is part of the reward, and the amazing things you build will influence the generations who follow. As LeBron said: “I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.” Are you?
A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog here.
Scott Meyer is the “brofounder” (co-founder and brother) of 9 Clouds, a digital marketing and education firm that improves the digital literacy of businesses. He writes and hosts the Digital Homesteading blog and podcast focusing on growing rural business and community and is the author of “Navigating Social Media: A Field Guide.”
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.