Fly Away Home

I was born in Charleston, West Virginia, over four decades ago. Before I was fourteen years old, I had been to Bermuda, Quebec, Denmark, Paris, Switzerland, and Germany. I attended college in North Carolina, and before I graduated I had back-packed Germany, Scotland, and England. I worked on Capitol Hill my first year out of college, and lived and worked in the international university community of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for 10 years before making a conscious choice to move back to West Virginia.

Simply put, I’m a big fan of West Virginians getting out before they lock it in.

I’ve puzzled for several years since my return over the hungry – yea, desperate – plea from some contingencies here to create an environment that children don’t leave. “If we only did this…….if we only changed that……if we had a…………then our kids wouldn’t have to leave home.” This is one of the most misguided philosophies I’ve ever encountered on two fronts.

First, kids are supposed to leave home. When you reduce it down to its barest elements, the whole ideal purpose of parenting is to raise children to a level of maturity where they can take care of themselves in their developing social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual spheres. Even when children have special needs, there is a feeling that the maximum level of independence and autonomy possible should be the goal.  To suggest that there is something unnatural or undesirable about leaving the nest is a bit smothering and insecure. One of the best things that can happen to a young person is to explore the world on his or her own terms. Whether you grow up in West Virginia or Tuscany, you need to deliberately depart the confines of your small, childlike world, and put yourself in the environment of newness, diversity, challenge, and change.

Second, from an economic development standpoint, we need less a climate of existing jobs than a climate of innovation to draw the people our state needs to blossom now; and yet we still have a strong dialogue here that centers on former West Virginians coming “home” to fill job vacancies that await them. The people I have in mind that will come to make their lives in our state are looking for opportunity to build, create, and innovate. I am interested in the minds that seek an environment that supports new business creation, not simply seats for warm bodies.

I propose we give the clutching after our offspring a rest. Let’s stop worrying about getting former West Virginians back, and start strategizing about creating a place where smart, motivated people who have grown through diverse life experiences want to work and play. With all due respect to those of us who grew up here, our birth certificates do not automatically make us part of West Virginia’s bright future. What will make us part of that future is our willingness to engage the world; to embrace new people and cultural elements from outside our borders; and to stop asking for jobs and start making them.

Oh yes. And our willingness to kiss our children on the cheek and wish them well on their own journey to whatever place – maybe ultimately here – that creates a sense of home and identity for them and their best lives.

This post is adapted from the original composed for “A Better West Virginia Challenge.”

Image credit: Jamie Gaucher

7 thoughts on “Fly Away Home

  1. Well said, Elizabeth. My goal as a teacher is to promote creative thinking so that future generations can make our beautiful state even better.

    • I was a little grumpy when I wrote this last year, but I stand by it. It is not an economic development strategy to focus on retaining the same pool of people. I’m so grateful for teachers (and people) like you!

  2. Well done. That happens all over the place. People want the younger generations to come back not to bring in new ideas, but to continue with the same practices. That’s not the way anyone or any community to grow.

    • Thank you for staying that, Vernon. I struggle with “keeping our kids here” masquerading as an economic development strategy. In fact, I struggle with the entire “change is the enemy” approach to life, but that’s another story. 🙂 (Thanks for dropping by the blog!)

  3. Hear, hear. I knew in high school I wanted to get “away” from NC, despite an idyllic childhood, wonderful NC college experience, and deep love for the mountains. After 40 years away, living overseas as well as in six other states, I’m finally living in NC again, and watching, sometimes with baited breath, my kids charge through their 20s, neither in NC. I appreciate NC more now and would have felt trapped if I hadn’t broken out, and I can recall seeing the wistful looks when I’d visit friends in NC who’d. That said, the wandering track is not for everyone. I don’t know the WV issues, but suspect you’re right – create the environment (good or bad) and the appropriate folks will find it, regardless of their origins – and those who return to the good from afar are liable to love it all the more for being able to compare it to elsewhere.

  4. I like this. Never too late.

    “you need to deliberately depart the confines of your small, childlike world, and put yourself in the environment of newness, diversity, challenge, and change.”

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