I lived in the same house until I was 22. My parents still live there. I visit them with my kids nearly every Sunday. In 38 years, I’ve only moved three times, and I’d be very happy to never move again. Ninety-percent of my family lives within 20 miles.
It’s not surprising that my husband and I have different ideas about place and permanence.
Of course, I spent most of my 20s thinking I was far too cool and liberal-minded for this part of the country, before I realized that it was the exact spot I needed to be. But still, any time I get frustrated with Cincinnati and its conservative ways, my husband reminds me that with what I do—working for myself—we could live anywhere. “Anywhere, Judi! Why the hell are we still in Ohio? Let’s go!”
And he would do it: uproot in a heartbeat, without looking back. I remind him of all the reasons this is the right place for us: the cost of living is good, it’s an urban center without being too crowded, moving is a horrible hassle, and it’s sort of fun to be the cool people who get to challenge the status quo of a place.
But the real reason is that roots are everything to me, and mine are here. My people are here. I’m not stuck here. I’m not here by default. I’m not waiting for something better to come along.
I am rooted here, in a good and happy way. I need to see my mom’s face when she laughs and I need my dad to be able to play peek-a-boo with my 2-year-old. I just need to be here to feel content.
It’s Not Always About History
I’ve been thinking a lot about rootedness lately, for reasons that have nothing to do with my business and everything to do with my business. I’m struck by the way roots twist up through our lives and livelihoods in different ways.
There are the roots that ground you as a person—to a place, to people, and to a way of life. Your root system may be relatively simple, like mine. Or it may be an intricate bundle of uprooting, rethinking, and starting over, like my husband’s.
And then there are the roots that ground what you do—the ideas you plant and watch grow. As in, the roots of your business and your career.
We intuitively understand our rootedness as people, and we generally know our story about it—whether it’s a story of embracing our roots or rising above them or a blend of both.
But we don’t always know how to talk about the way our businesses are rooted, even when we’ve been running them for a while. (And by “businesses,” I mean everyone from soloists like me to mega-corporations and the people in them). We default to history: this begat this, and that begat that.
When businesses do try to address roots, they tend to mix it up history. But they aren’t actually the same thing. That’s why so many “About Us” pages tell the history of the company, without actually saying much at all.
Rootedness isn’t really about where you are or how long you’ve been there. It’s about the depth of how much you care. Even brands that evoke strong wanderlust are rooted to ideas. On the flip side, companies with long histories in one place might have increasingly shallow roots (a few come to mind).
I believe that the businesses that are the most successful at creating change are the ones that are strongly rooted in something—and understand how to talk about it. I don’t necessarily mean that the business is physically rooted in the community (although there’s a good chance that it is). I mean that it’s strongly rooted to ideas that people care about.
In my work, for example, I’m rooted to the idea of connection, and the idea that every connection brings possibility. I grow it by the things I write, the relationships I develop, and the clients I take on.
Your roots are basically your story. Yes, it all comes back to story, over and over again! (Have you watched the video yet?) So, when I implore businesses to tell their story, I’m really imploring them to talk about their roots. And yeah, talking about your roots might mean talking about your history—but only as it’s relevant to the stuff you care about right now.
So, sketch out your tree. Show us the twists and turns. Show us where the ideas came from. Tell us what you care about.
Let us see where you’re rooted.