This fall I’ll be taking a Place Branding course where I will study how places – cities, countries, etc. position and market themselves as tourist destinations. As an avid traveling and marketing geek, these are always campaigns I’ve noticed, but with this class looming less than 5 weeks in the future (I arrive back in Michigan in 4 weeks…), I’ve started to pay extra special attention to the examples I expect will come up in our discussions.
One I’ve noticed, not because I’ve seen it out here, but because I live out here and remember seeing it before I knew I would live out here, is the advertisement campaign for California. You’ve seen them I’m sure. The narrator introduces the kind of “work” they do in California with footage of surfers, shoppers, skiers, wine drinkers, etc. and they conclude with Governator and his wife asking when you can start – the tagline is “Find Yourself Here.”
It’s a good campaign, and I look forward to discussing it soon. They showcase what they have and play up on the idea that almost everyone has about California – that it’s a laid back, no work all fun kind of place where you can do everything you love and nothing you don’t. It’s a Mecca – a place people dream about going to chase (and more importantly, to achieve) their dreams of being a rock star, an actor, an silicon valley entrepreneur, a completely free hippie, or just generally a beach bum.
Of course though every campaign is designed as an ideal, and the reality is not always as it is portrayed, the secret of a good campaign is to have more truth than lies – substantially more. Part of what makes this campaign effective is how true those ideas and that tagline are. Not only are there all those things to do out here – you really can surf, hike, sail, explore a dessert, ski, drink fabulous wine and eat incredible food, see stars (plastic people) and stars (big balls of burning gas), be cooler because you are gay, shop until you drop (or the loan sharks come), smoke weed legally, not own a parka without fear of hypothermia, etc. etc, but the people here live by the laid back attitude that the ads portray. This state really does have everything, and a place with everything is a place where you ought to be able to find yourself – somewhere. Not only that, but this place is more than the sum of its parts. As I’ve said before, I’ve got a thing for making places into ideas, and California is the ultimate and is a place that becomes an idea for almost everyone.
The couple people I know who moved out here really have found themselves here. One moved to San Francisco shortly after high school as an act of freedom – a gay teen in a less-than-liberal family, he knew what he had to do to be free and he did it. From what I hear, he’s calm, content, and happy with who he is and where he’s going. Another friend moved out here after a whirlwind youth and the tragic death of a lover, and she has the same story – calm, content, and happy with who she is and where she’s going.
Then there’s me. I don’t want to live here. I’m not a California girl. And yet the funny thing is, I found myself here too.
I found myself here because I learned to stop caring what other people think, what might be the “best” decision, what I have to do to be the smartest, prettiest, skinniest, most cultured, most interesting person I can be. But where as my friends found themselves here because they found their people, I found myself here because I didn’t. Californians do the opposite of almost all of those things. They care tremendously what other people think, and though that manifests itself differently from NorCal towns to San Francisco to LA, it’s true across the board. And when I got here, I learned to stop caring. Recognizing early that I wouldn’t fit in (or be the smartest, the prettiest, the most interesting), I just stopped caring to fit in, and I’ve really gotten to enjoy not paying attention to what other people think. I do what I want – I carry a purse the color of a traffic barrel even though my coworkers laugh and the Marin-moms in their LuluLemon pretend not to stare. It’s obnoxious, I know it’s obnoxious, and I like that it’s obnoxious. Sometimes I’m obnoxious, and when I want to be I will. I cut my hair and didn’t care how it looked (and most people out here have long hair), just because I knew I needed a change. I wear makeup and paint my nails when I feel like it, and I don’t when I don’t (even if my face would look “cleaner” with some foundation). I started talking and thinking and acting professionally without calculating every move I make because I wasn’t worrying every second of every day whether they would think I was the best intern they ever had.
And doing all of those things has made me free. They’ve helped me find myself – my authentic self, not just my carefully monitored and semi-censored self. And while I can’t perceive myself from the outside, I think it’s actually made me a cooler person. I’m more relaxed, happier, and more genuine. Despite my disregard, I’ve made some friends, some men have thought I’m pretty, and everybody who sees my work tends to think I’m a pretty bright crayon. Finding myself has also allowed me to realize what I really value – loving people, having a job you’re passionate about, exploring the world as well as your soul and the back yard, and having a creative outlet. I’m really looking forward to the things I have back in Michigan – my family, my friends, 5 more moths rent free, graduate school, a flexible schedule that will let me get things in order before I start my new life, and the good prospects I have for a new beginning in January. And now that I feel like I’ve found myself, I’m ready.
Hoping wherever you are, you find yourself there.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw