Flying from Copenhagen to Chicago, the woman seated next to me asked where I was headed.
“Back home to Des Moines,” I told her.
“Des Moines?” she asked. “Isn’t that a place people are always from, and nobody really lives there?”
Yes and no, I told her. Yes, Iowa suffers from “brain drain,” the exodus of its young educated residents in search of greener pastures. Those who leave say that good jobs are few and far between, that they don’t pay enough of that Iowa is simply too boring. On the other hand, countless others settle down and find satisfying lives and jobs right here in the Hawkeye State.
Personally, I couldn’t wait to leave. I realized early on that Iowa’s borders were simply too small. Iowa would serve as the starting point for my life’s journey, not the course. So, like many before me, I packed my belongings and headed west to Colorado to establish a new life.
I cited many of the same reasons for leaving, and sure enough, I did find a good-paying job and scores of new entertainment possibilities awaiting me in a larger metropolitan city. Suddenly there were more ways for a young man to kill time than mindless drinking, drug experimentation and random hook-ups. Those things still existed, and do everywhere, but unlike in Iowa they were no longer my main choices for entertainment.
After successfully reestablishing myself in Denver, I gained the confidence that I could do the same anywhere. I felt as if the doors to the world were open; all I needed was the courage to step through. Armed with that confidence, and the love of an amazing woman, I made the move to Copenhagen. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zones and be exposed to new perspectives and points of view.
While I have found happiness in my new home, a funny thing happened in my relocation overseas: I came to appreciate my upbringing in Iowa more and more. I proudly tell anyone who will listen that I am from Des Moines. I expound on the charms of the land and its people and point out that Iowa is more than just another red state in the middle of the country. I tell them that Iowa is home to some of the kindest, most down-to-earth people in the world and that we are fiercely proud of our beautiful land between the rivers.
Iowa is no longer home for me, but it remains home to my family and many of my friends. As such, it will always be where I go for holidays and special events. While I was back in Des Moines for five weeks over Christmas, I had a chance to witness what makes Iowa so great – strong family ties, old friends, a simpler pace of life, and remaining positive despite a foot of snow.
I also saw the steps Des Moines is making to improve its appeal. The Riverwalk project, the Iowa Events Center, the new Science Center and more diversity show that Des Moines, while still not quite there, is serious about being recognized as a true metropolitan city. While young people are always going to be tempted to leave home and spread their wings, Iowa appears to be making the right steps to keeping some of them around.
As for me, although I am making my home elsewhere, I know that my path will always lead me back to Iowa. I also know that I love the state more after having left. My friends and family often comment on how strange my journey has been. To me, though, my story is not all that unique; it is simply letting life unfold while not adhering to the invisible barriers that we too often place on ourselves.
After all, as I always tell myself, Iowa is not going anywhere. It will be waiting for me should I decide to come back.
Copyright © 2014 – All work written/designed/produced by Justin Cremer. All Rights Reserved