I’m always interested in the spots where I seem to react differently than other people do. I wonder why, what part of my personality and upbringing combine to create this unusual reactions. I’ve lately been thinking about my astonishment when I see something I know in other circumstances.
What do I mean? For example, recently a celebrity crime occurred, which got a moderate amount of news coverage. By that I mean that you could go to the CNN home page at the time and find a link to the issue. Well, that crime happened not only in my town, but in a house that I can see from my bedroom window. For a week or two, there were news vans circling our neighborhood. I could tell whether the affected family was home or not by just looking up and seeing lights. I debating whether bringing cookies to a neighbor I’d never met was an appropriate response. But I got this odd shock and thrill at hearing the name of my town, the picture of my neighborhood uttered by these national media outlets. People I’d never met from faraway walks of life knew the name of my town! I was surprisingly surprised by it all.
Then came the acquisition. I have a few media sources I access regularly: NPR, The Economist, CNN.com, Boston.com. On my morning drive in, I heard NPR make the announcement (thank heavens I already knew from having checked my email the night before or who knows how my driving would’ve been affected!). The Economist has it in the first page summaries. CNN didn’t carry much coverage, but the Boston Globe had a big ol’ story, with a picture of my office highlighted on it. It felt really weird, as though I’m a part a big important multinational company, or something.
So I got to thinking about why I don’t expect to ever hear about my town, or my company. I was raised in a town of 400 people. We got bused over a mountain pass for Junior High and High School to a booming metropolis with fewer than 2000 people. You can live in the town that has the closest cinema, and never have heard of the town I grew up in. It’s off the road on a dead end, and only has something to offer if you like fishing and beer, preferably simultaneously. (The town roughly quadruples in size on the opening day of fishing season.) When people ask me where I grew up, I usually either lie and say Seattle, or ask them how well they know Washington geography. This town is so remote that it wasn’t covered by any meteorologist or weather report. (I mean, my dad has a weather station now, but when I was a kid? Not so much.) Can you imagine if you listen to the radio to catch the weather report, and it’s for a place 60 miles away and 2000 feet of elevation change lower? You could gather the big patterns, but you shouldn’t expect to ever hear the name of your town uttered, or know about the weather in advance, or even hear news coverage about something that happened.
Then there’s the companies I’ve worked for. The first one, professionally, had a grand total of 5 people. Most of the rest of the company was related to the founder. (I just checked. They still have 5 people, most of whom are related to the founder…) After I was laid off on Mother’s Day, I went to a much bigger company. I mean, there must’ve been 15 or 20 people there! Through acquisitions, it might’ve gotten up to 40 by the time I left… to go to a company where I was employee #6. Again, there was growth in that company as well, but never past the point where we could all meet in one conference room. So three small to very small companies, that stayed small companies. Of course they weren’t usually profiled in big business journals or the Economist — the impact they had on the wider world was limited. This is the first time I’ve worked with a company big enough to make the news. So no wonder I’m surprised when I see and hear my company talked about in a large audience.
I come from a small town and have always worked in small companies. I expect no one to know where I come from or where I work. It’s surprising to find in my adult life that neither of those is true.
How about you? When you tell people where you’re from, do you expect them to know where that is? When you talk about your company, do you have give the 5 minute elevator speech explaining what it does, or does everyone already know? When you see something you recognize in the news, is it “of course” or “omg I can’t believe it! I know where that is!”