Laurel is a vibrant, growing city, where small businesses and groups of regular people, who love to dream, have bonded together in the spirit of community and are dedicated to restoring Laurel to her original glory. But around five years ago, our Home Town was a lot different.
If you would’ve asked me what I wanted to be when I graduated from high school or college, I would have said, “Anything! Just don’t make me move back to Laurel.”
I yearned for the bright, crowded streets of New York, bursting with opportunity for young talent; the willow-lined paths of Charleston, full of sweet tea and social charm or any city with a Chili’s and a Super Target. “Get me out of this hometown box of torture” is probably something I’d be caught saying in the Sonic parking lot on a Friday night.
A little dramatic, you think? Absolutely.
It’s a belief that infests teenagers and college students. That if you don’t run away as fast as you can from your hometown, you’ll never leave it or be successful.
There is some truth to the stigma that small towns don’t offer many opportunities for creatives or fast-paced millennials that hold infinite information at their fingertips. Everyone has experienced or knows someone with a negative connotation of small-town life, no matter where your roots may lie. But we have the ability to change that.
In Laurel’s case, the main obstacle was showing other people how much she had to offer instead of focusing on how much she lacked. As Erin Napier says, “Laurel’s like the pretty girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty.”
I’m here to confess to the world that moving back to my home town after college was the best thing that has ever happened to me and here’s why.
1. I’ve had the chance to recreate what #iliveinlaurel means to me.
2. It all begins with perspective …
And finding the beauty in what it’s front of you. No matter where you are – big city or small town.
When people ask me what I do, I sometimes struggle to put it into words. But today, I figured it out when I took pictures of Mae-Mae and posted them on @laurelmercantile. She is the most joyful woman I’ve ever encountered and #LMCo. personified to a T. She shares her life and love with anyone that comes through those doors each day. Truthfully, those kinds of people are hard to come by. People like Mae-Mae would never ask for an applause or a thank you but usually deserve it most. She is just pure gold and a brilliant giver for no other reason than that’s just who she is. I learned today that what I do is a privilege— I get to share the beauty of others and their goodness. I show people my home town and the people who work tirelessly to make it better. I get to show off Mae Mae, who makes me a better person just by being around her. I get to share the quiet, unnoticed stories that don’t circulate in the media and shine a light on the neighbors around me who deserves the biggest praise. My job is far beyond social media or communications— every day I get to see beauty in others that they don’t often see in themselves. Tomorrow, Mae Mae will see how many people remember her stories and the way she made them feel. I can’t wait to remind her that her goodness is valued and she is loved beyond measure. I am lucky. #iliveinlaurel
3. It’s affordable to live here as a young adult, which is super important.
I can live in a comfortable house and enjoy dining out with my friends on a regular basis.
4. There are creatives and inspiration at every turn.
Comment when you spot the difference!! ? (Unless you watch my stories… then you already know lol) PS: My skirt is on sale for $23 dollars!! ?? http://liketk.it/2vKPk @liketoknow.it #liketkit #LTKunder50 #LTKstyletip #LTKunder100 #LTKsalealert #LTKbeauty #newhairwhodis #shorthair #bluntcut #summerhair #summerfashion #petitefashion #styleinfluencer #onsalenow #sassysouthernblonde #southernstyle
5. It’s not hard to build a side-hustle.
Stores across downtown offer young and experienced artists a place to showcase their work and locals are beyond supportive of the arts in Laurel.
One thing I’m no good at is taking “no” for an answer!! So when I first saw Laurel artist @lindsaymichellemiller ‘s artwork I began my relentless pursuit to get her work IN MY STORE!! Y’all, I can not tell you how much I LOVE it!! You HAVE to flip through and see her original designs! They make me so happy!! She will be here this Sunday for Open House, so be sure to like and tag a friend and we will keep adding you to our door prize drawing!! You can enter every day!! #laurelartist #shopdowntownlaurel #southernantiqueslaurel #localartist #originalartwork #flowers #christmasopenhouse #christmas2017 #laurelmainstreet #art #gottohaveit #goodsoil
6. There are a plethora of professional and personal mentors that genuinely care about your well-being and growth.
Community is a really important thing here.
She's the first person who made this small town feel like home. Her hospitality, kindness, and honesty are refreshing, and she's not afraid to be real in the midst of life's messiness. She meets you where you are, yet she encourages and pushes you to be better. Plus, she's always up for a cup of coffee and an adventure. I'm convinced everyone needs a Dawn in their life. Cheers to you, friend! ?
This morning was a special one. Today the Town and Country Garden Club honored my mom by putting up a @littlefreelibrary and repurposing a lot into a beautiful little park perfect for reading. Thanks to @thejesscooley for all his hard work. This is a really special place… especially for these four kiddos, and their parents too. #readintrestpark #iliveinlaurel
Over the past few years our small group has become such a sweet time of exploring God’s word with friends (that are more like family to us.) I love these people and feel overwhelmed by God’s incredible grace. They are the folks that challenge me to live out my faith and pray for me in the moments of need. True community. . . If you aren’t in God’s word, I encourage you to START. For years I struggled with daily reading of scripture—was always more sporadic and starting some new bible study and not completing it. But I have recently began to really dig in and be more consistent—I never felt smart enough to study the Bible. I felt like God wouldn’t speak to me like he does to preachers and missionaries and other people I look up to in the faith. But I was so wrong. He has a plan for me and wants me to know him and love him and do his will. *this was a huge realization for me. And he wants that for all of us. . . And though I still don’t feel very scholarly or that I know a lot, I know that I’m trying to focus my eyes on Jesus and do his work. And that’s exactly where I need to be.
7. Most importantly, my hometown is open-minded.
She stands with open arms for the opportunity to grow from its people’s ideas and values.
My favorite piece of advice came from one of my friends, Kaypounyers Maye at the University of Mississippi days before graduation. He told me, “The best part about leaving the place you love, is being able to come back and share everything you’ve learned while you were away.”
While I had moved away from Laurel for a couple of years, learned so much about myself and felt growth like I’d never known before… Laurel did too.
Every time I came home, a new business had popped up, or a mural had been painted.
People would talk about it and become excited. Then HGTV Home Town happened, and the rest is history.
Although this didn’t start with me, I’m choosing to dive in deep now. I want to disprove the stereotype about those who come home because they couldn’t make it in the real world.
I came home because my hometown offered me the entire world and something even better – a place to grow and try new things. I’m working every day to live a life and create the reality I’ve always dreamed of in the place that raised me. I’m choosing to give back to the city and its people that have given me so much.
Don’t get me wrong, I still wish Laurel had a Super Target. Except now I know it’s not the size of the town that makes a place home or fertile with opportunity. It’s the people that help her grow strong and the life they bring back to her once they leave.
Laurel isn’t done growing and thankfully, neither am I.