Everything happened in 2011.
It’s okay if you didn’t know that. I only figured it out yesterday.
I was sitting in a church yesterday, which happened to be celebrating its fifth year in their current location. You wouldn’t think someone could, or even should, make an entire sermon out of that, but the pastor did, and it was actually quite inspiring. A looking back on what had brought this group of people to this particular neighborhood in this particular city, and all the amazing things that had happened since they landed here.
Since it was a retrospective, the message kept calling back to 2011. To what the church and the neighborhood and the building itself looked like back then. And the more he said 2011, the more the year, the number, kept playing in my mind.
What was I doing in 2011, I thought? It seems so long and yet not so long ago.
I was living in Austin, but nothing really monumental stood out to me. Nothing like what the preacher was talking about. It was 5 years ago, but, in that moment, 2011 didn’t feel like a big year. Until I realized I was wrong. So very wrong.
2011 was huge.
At the very beginning of 2011, practically New Year’s Day, I moved out of my parents’ house. I was 26 and never lived on my own, but, then again, I wasn’t exactly living on my own. I rented an apartment with my sister, Beth. But still, a big step for me.
Later that year, my parents moved to Highland Falls, NY. My dad got a job at West Point. My mom had never lived north of, well, anything, and I had never lived farther than a 10-minute drive from my parents. Big step for all of us.
In August of that year, I lost my job. It wasn’t really doing anything for me, but it was a paycheck, which meant safety and stability, which meant I was a responsible adult. Suddenly, I was unemployed for the first time since I graduated college.
In October, I got my Masters in Creative Writing, something that only a little over a year earlier had been more or less a fantasy.
In November, I did my first Nanowrimo.
Sitting in a chair in that church, I started to list out everything that had happened. Big steps. Gains. Losses. Trial and error. I didn’t complete Nanowrimo that year, but I learned a lot and have completed every year since. I got a new job. It took 6 months, but I did it. Mom and Dad moving to New York ended up being the best thing that ever happened to them. Plus, it gave Beth and I an excuse to visit as often as we could.
2011 was big.
The more I started to think about it, though, the more I realized it wasn’t just me.
One day, some time in that year, I came home to the apartment and found my sister writing letters. Beth has always been the crafty one, so it wasn’t altogether weird to find her working on something in the living room, but I asked her what they were for. She said she had found this blogger who started writing love letters and leaving them all over the place for strangers to find. Beth loved the idea so much she had contacted this woman to ask if she could do it, too. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t think much of it at that point.
I was living in Austin, with no desire to move. After all, I’d only just moved out of my parents’ house. But somewhere, many miles away, in a place called Atlanta, a woman was spray painting three words onto shirts random people had sent her in the mail. Because she had asked them to, so she could send them back. She was a singer, and she wanted to find a way to inspire people to love themselves more.
And in that same city, a small group of people were refurbishing a gutted warehouse with graffiti on the walls, an unfinished facade, and a chain link fence around the property.
I was sitting in that warehouse. It was a church, now, that only barely resembled the derelict building whose picture they kept flashing on the screen. And that woman my sister had contacted? She was sitting two seats down from me. She wrote a book about the company she had started, and two weeks ago I helped her brainstorm the outline for her next book. And our mutual friend had taken stencils and spray paint and turned into a full brand with an international following.
Everything happened in 2011.
As expected, I had no idea in 2011 where I would be in 2016. In fact, at first glance, the choices I made, the things that happened in 2011, bear the smallest connections to where I am now. 5 years is a long time and yet not a long time. In many ways, I’m not in such a different place. I made a big move. I’m not unemployed so much as woefully under-employed, but same difference. My family is far away, and I’m dealing with a lot of the anxieties I had back in 2011.
But, at the same time, I’m nowhere near where I was. I’ve traveled thousands of miles, literally, figuratively, and everything in between. I’m in a different place. I am a different person. And looking back at all of it, I realize that 2011, in one way or another, made 2016 possible.
In 2011, Hannah Brencher was a post-grad looking for purpose in letters to strangers. Today, she runs More Love Letters with a team of people, and her story became an incredible book, “If You Find This Letter”.
In 2011, Eryn Erickson was working out of her bedroom with a crazy idea that a single message could change the world. This year, So Worth Loving sells original pieces to all 50 states and more than 15 countries, and they just opened their own store.
In 2011, my parents moved to New York not knowing a single person and not even sure where they were going to live. This year, they are seeing the first class of cadets they sponsored graduate from the Academy, and they may have just sold their house.
In 2011, my sister was living with me, and did I mention she also lost her job that year? This year, she’s living with our parents and just got the job offer of a lifetime.
In 2011, the remains of a Home Depot Design Center were leased by a church that, up until that point, had nowhere permanent to call home. This year, it’s one of the biggest churches in Atlanta.
In 2011, I was in a job I didn’t like until I didn’t have it anymore, with a graduate degree, a lot of debt, and no real feeling of where I wanted to be in 5 years.
This year, I’m living in Atlanta. I’m growing a business. I’ve turned people I knew only through the internet into friends. I’m going to be on a podcast, I’m about to self-publish a book, and next month I’m starting a book club.
In many ways, I have no idea how I got here, and yet I know how I got here.
I got here because of 2011.
Because everything happened in 2011.
Where were you in 2011?