Life’s What You Make It (and other Cliches I Learned Not Moving to Traverse City)


About 12 years or so ago, I visited Traverse City for the first time in years for a gentlemen’s (using that term loosely) golf weekend. After a day and half, having golfed one of the most beautiful courses in the country and hitting some of downtown’s more enjoyable haunts, it me.

I could live here.

I could totally do this full time. Beautiful country, cool city, real people. There’s something for everyone up here. More importantly, there’s everything for me up here (everything I find important and fulfilling in life.) I could just…move here!

Except I can’t.

Let me back up. I was standing outside after dinner at Red Ginger, calling home to check in with the missus, telling her that I’ve figured out where we’re going to retire. Traverse City. It was invigorating. It just felt like home…my new home. Where I belong.

And the more I thought about it, and the more my wife and I talked about it, we kept coming back to the same realization: Why wait for retirement? We could live there! Now!

Except we can’t.


Reality Bites

You see, I have a business downstate. I have family downstate. I have a stepson whose father lives downstate. For reasons ranging from practical to economic to nostalgic, I just wasn’t prepared to uproot the family and livelihood for greener pastures up north.

So we visit. Often. Every fall, the same gentlemen (again, loosely defined) schedule the same golf trip in the same up north destination. As for me and the missus, we drag the family up once a summer — if not more. We’re back again in the winter. Heck, my wife and I even honeymooned there, so we’re always up for a trip retracing our steps through wine country and to our favorite standby watering holes (e.g., Sleder’s).

All things being equal, we could see ourselves in Traverse City permanently. We even contacted a real estate agent and started looking at homes. We could just move there, we thought, and figure out the the rest later.

Except we can’t.

Reality kept creeping back in. You just can’t move everything—life, business, children—on a whim. What about our family in Detroit? Who will take care of our parents some day? What about the schools we love our children attending? What would we do for work?

But a few years ago, I met a couple with a hauntingly similar wanderlust and a matching particular affinity to Traverse City. They had a business downstate, too. They had just started a young family. They visited Traverse City frequently and fell in love with it for all the same reasons we did: vibrant urban core, a cosmopolitan ethos woven into the fabric of the community, interesting people with interesting ambitions, idyllic scenery and sights not a 10-minute drive away, recreational diversions for a wide variety of fun lovers (from the outdoorsy types to the artsy fartsy among us).

But they just couldn’t uproot their family and their business and just move there!

Except they did.

And envy set in. Everything I dreamed of doing, but found reasons not to, they did. Seemingly overnight. And they haven’t looked back.


Vicarious Living

So what’s happened since? They still have their business. They’ve added to the family. And they’ve made new friends, gained fresh perspectives, and launched a number of new creative pursuits. In short, from where this onlooker sits, it couldn’t have gone better, or been more rewarding.

A theory: The same blank-canvas thinking that empowered them to take the bold leap north has unleashed an entirely new dose of creative adrenalin that forces them to tackle their new challenge with more energy, more passion, more derring-do, and a general who-says-we-can’t attitude of which great ideas are borne.

And here I am. Still downstate. Still dreaming, I suppose. Sure, business is great; life is great; and we share our stepson with his dad seamlessly and largely without incident or hassle. All of those things were fairly safe bets, had we stayed put and focused on the here and now…the reality and practicality of life’s logic. The daring bet was potentially sacrificing all of that to make a better life in a place we feel we…just belong.


Cliches Become Cliches for a Reason

What does this say about life, if anything? We hear the expression a lot: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? For a time, that’s inspiring. And it forces one to dream big. But too few among us act on that big dreaming, so we’re forced to live life vicariously through those who do. Entrepreneurs envy the likes of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. High school athletes grow old to idolize (and live unfulfilled dreams through) professional athletes who have achieved in life what they themselves could not. Failed musicians like myself envy those who “made it."

What I’ve learned in the last year or so is this: The danger is going through life constantly on the green side of the envy ledger. If you’re always living vicariously through others who had the vision and guts to make the decisions you wish you were bold enough to make, you likely end up looking back on a life of woulda-coulda-shoulda. But if you’re bold enough—every now and again—to set logic and practicality aside to pursue the life you want to make for yourself, people envy you, and live vicariously through you. And that, in and of itself, it not the reward…it’s just a sign that you’re doing something right.

It’s what happens when you strike just the right balance between life and whim.

Tom Nixon is Chief Marketing Alchemist at Alchemy, a Detroit-area brand strategy and market engagement agency. You can find Tom on Twitter @tnixon16.


Live Inspired

Create a life with more moments worth remembering. Receive inspiration and stories via email about how to live big through small moments! 

Jay Harrington