10,000 followers might not mean much to Scott Baio or Rick Astley, but it means a lot to me. It probably wouldn’t have made much sense to my departed grandparents either, but times change and benchmarks do so accordingly. Saturday morning, while enjoying my first cup of coffee on the porch, I feel the familiar shake of my phone in my pocket. I open the notification to find a screen shot from Amber of the Revitalize, or Die. Facebook page. Circled in big red digital ink is the number 10,121.
At some point late last week, the page surpassed 10,000 followers. It’s a little hard to fathom that 10,000 separate people have made the decision to follow the words coming out of my laptop. That is greater than then entire population of Whitefish, Montana and nearly double the attendance of all the Pittsburgh Pirates games this year combined.
I never set out to amass followers. I can’t say I gave the metric much thought until the last year or two as it became a useful means to measure progress and reach. The truth is, this whole idea started as a whim in a bar back in December of 2018.
Before moving to Pittsburgh, I ran the Ohio Main Street Program. I held this post for around 10 years. I spent a great deal of my time working in communities assisting passionate volunteers in their efforts to revitalize their towns. Few things are more rewarding. I remember the day I made the decision to accept this the position and how nervous I was as to what it would entail. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
After 10 years though, I needed a change. The job was fun and rewarding, but I was lacking something. I had been living in Central Ohio for 12 years and I required a change of scenery. Pittsburgh was calling, in its harsh yinzer accent.
I had a position lined up with a planning firm, but upon my arrival to town the employment gods changed their minds. The deal fell through and I found myself in a predicament. I was in a new city, trying to get my kids settled in, and I was unemployed. I was screwed. I spent months searching for work, but to no avail. Money was running out and I had to fall back on bartending to get by.
It was a tough pill to swallow. I tended bar through college and graduate school, but had been working in my chosen career for nearly 15 years. It was hard going back to pouring Fireball for bros and mopping up floors at 1am. Especially with getting up to get the kids off to school at 6:30. It was a humbling experience and a good reminder of how damn hard it can be working in the restaurant industry. My continued adoration to all those whose income depends on the mood swings of diners and drinkers.
I picked up a little consulting work here and there, but not enough to leave the bar. Later, I jumped at the chance to join a small planning firm, but much to my disappointment, the work was just a series of RFP’s and disappointment.
The move to Pittsburgh was definitely not working out for me professionally, but personally, it was quite a different story. I met Amber 6 months after arriving and following a whirlwind spring, we moved our families in together on the 4th of July.
The following summer, we were married at the Allegheny County Courthouse as our kids stood witness and had a big block party wedding reception. Personally, life could not have been any better.
I still remained at the bar, and late nights and early mornings were taking their toll. Not getting to work in the field I loved was probably exacting an even higher price. That winter, the issue came to a head. Amber and I were out to do some Christmas shopping downtown and we stopped in a bar to warm up. We were stressed out about not having enough money to get the kids all that we wanted to give them. I was growing increasingly tired of the late nights at the bar and the minuscule work with the planning firm had me miserable. While things with my family were great, I was stressed out and unhappy about my work situation, and it was really eating at me.
Amber asked me what I wanted to do. I gave her a rational answer in the context of the current situation, but she told me, quite frankly, to shut up. Being wise, I did just that. She told me to ignore what I was currently doing and forget what seems possible, she told me to be blunt, and tell her what I wanted to do.
I told her I want to tell the truth. To call it like it is and say what’s on my mind. I told her I had been holding back for years because working for the organizations I did, meant playing politics. If I offended someone at the chamber or tourism or in government, it might cost our organization, so I had to continue to watch the wrong organizations get all the funding why the ones that communities desperately needed struggled to make ends meet.
While we sat there in the bar, I explained all the things I thought were screwed up and how someone needs to say something or do something because too many towns are suffering, therefore too many people were suffering. I finished my rant and we finished our drinks and she got us another round, looked me in the eye and told me to do it.
She explained that I had nothing to risk and that if I wanted to be brave, if I wanted to make a difference, if I wasn’t just all talk, that it was time I stopped talking and start doing something about it. It was then that I told her about the name Revitalize, or Die. She loved it and told me to go for it. I checked the domain name and to no one’s surprise, it was available. I bought the domain and we made the decision there and then to bet on ourselves. We decided that no one else was coming to bail me out, that everyone else needed to play it safe and if the work that I wanted to do, didn’t exist, well then we would have to invent it.
So we did. I started writing and I started sharing. I committed to post something every day and write something every week and I have stuck to that schedule without fail. I practice the same approach I coach communities to adopt. There is no magic solution, you just have to put the work in every single day. Some days are hard, and some aren’t, but you still have to show up and put in the effort, relentlessly, because eventually the results will come.
That was four years ago this coming December. Every time I book a speaking gig or a host a workshop, I am still a little shocked that we came up with an idea and that idea has turned into this. Revitalize, or Die. has become a huge part of our lives. It has given me the ability to do the work I love and the opportunity to express concepts I feel need shared. It has provided me with the chance to try and make a difference. It’s also let me know that I am not the only one that feels the way I do. Most importantly, it has afforded me the chance to work with some incredible people.
So, as Revitalize, or Die. has achieved this modern milestone, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude. Thank you to all of you for reading, commenting and sharing. None of this matters if the words remain unread. You have created this opportunity for me, so thank you and I hope to meet all of you in time.
None of this was possible though without someone in my corner pushing me to go further. Having a champion to convince me it was worth taking a risk and letting me know she would be there if I fell. So my sincerest thanks to my wife Amber for affording me the space to try and make this work, for having my back while encouraging me to do more. You have made it possible for me to live out a reality that once seemed impossible. In the end, it wasn’t a change of scenery I needed so much, but a partner and supporter.