That’s how I described my home state when I moved to Dallas five years ago. It was a passive-aggressive statement meaning, “I had a nice upbringing, but man am I glad to be out of there!”
Everyone is from somewhere. Our relationships with our hometowns can be as complicated as any in our lives. The more you embarrass yourself in one town, the smaller that town feels. My already small town kept shrinking as I fumbled my way through the front half of my twenties.
At 26, I received the kind of grace boys without direction or confidence should be so lucky to receive. I met a girl who believed I was worth loving. I didn’t know why she wanted to be with me, but I did everything in my power to be the kind of person who deserved to be with her. And things turned around.
A year into our relationship, we left Iowa to seek opportunities a big market could provide. I never stopped to consider whether I was running toward my ambitions or away from the places and people who knew my failures. It was a both. I left Iowa fueled by equal parts ambition and shame.
In Dallas, we established a life together. We made great friends, grew our careers, and finally our family. I had grown as a person, but was still insecure and felt like a fraud. In my mind, people from my hometown knew what a screw-up I really was.
So I distanced myself, first with miles of physical distance then miles of emotional distance. I buried the earliest pieces of my personal journey out of fear.
In April, I decided to take a giant leap out of my comfort zone and read a personal essay about a key piece of that journey in a Dallas storytelling showcase called Oral Fixation. Standing in front of more than 300 people and delivering a personal story was cathartic, even a little fun. It helped that all but four of those audience members were total strangers.
Last week, the video of my reading was posted online. I shared it with friends and family, hoping a few family members would watch it and enjoy what they saw. I was blown away when, almost immediately, my old friends and classmates started sharing the video with incredible words of encouragement and praise. I practically walked on air as people I hadn’t spoken to in years told me they were proud of me.
This isn’t a story about my journey or the man I’ve become. It’s about the power of owning your personal story and sharing it with others. Our stories connect us to the places we’re from. No matter where this life takes me, I am always going to be Blake Friis from West Branch, Iowa.
And, for me, that’s the best place in the world to be from.