Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Growing Up in Pittsburgh

I’m sure the headline of this article might trigger a few raised eyebrows, so I’ll just cut to the chase:

I grew up 30 miles east of downtown Pittsburgh in a small town. Growing up like many teenagers in small town Pennsylvania, I couldn’t wait to get to the big city and leave the farm fields behind me. New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles. I started applying to colleges to meet my only three requirements: “far, far, away.”

Flash forward over a decade later and let me tell you about where “far, far, away” has gotten me:

I have lived all over the world – from Rome to Sydney to DC to Colorado. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. I’ve met a lot of people. And you know what? Nothing compares to my hometown, my heart and soul – Pittsburgh, PA. Here’s why:

  1. All Friendships Are Not Created Equal

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my closest friends to this day are some of the first friends I ever met growing up. I was recently in a wedding for my best friend since kindergarten. My best friend I talk to regularly on the phone once a week. We’ve known each other and been joined at the hip since we were four years old. I’ve grown and gained a lot of friends over the years, and have also come across a lot of friends that don’t know the value of good people and friendships like Pittsburgh people do. As my boyfriend would say, “Real recognizes real”.

Going to school in Washington, DC I listened to stories and stories about girls who had the WORST friends growing up. I’m talking serious “Mean Girls” level, and still referred to them as their best friends. Luckily, my best friend and I were there to show them what true friendship looked like. They became fascinated with our hometown and the fact that our friend group looked after each other, protected one another, and were always just a phone call away no matter how far geographically apart we were.

  1. True Love is Right in Front of You

After living away from Pittsburgh for eight long years, I moved back to Pittsburgh and started dating a man who I first met as a seventeen-year-old boy who went to a neighboring high school (Later evidence would show we actually knew each other from a shared preschool class together when we were three years old!). After years of chasing the wrong boys, the wrong relationships and the wrong kinds of love, I realized my perfect match had been right in front of me all along. No one knows the way to my heart or fits me better as this guy – and I have to credit a lot of that to the fact that he grew up with the same values, priorities (go Pirates!) and memories as I did.

  1. You Can Do Anything You Want to Do if You Work Hard Enough

One of my first job interviews I ever had, my interviewer stopped mid-sentence and took a deep pause when he read “Pittsburgh, PA” off of my resume. Not sure where he was going with it, I smiled and nodded and responded with a brief, “that’s right.” He replied, “I like Pittsburgh people. All of the hardest working employees I ever had were from Pittsburgh, PA. You guys know how to get things done. Let’s see what you got.” And the interview was over. And he was right – from many of the trust fund kids whom I had rubbed shoulders with in college or out and about in our nation’s capital, who else could say their mother’s college job was working in a steel mill among the boys as a summer job in college? Or that yours truly had a summer job working in a foam factory on a production line making pillows for Greyhound buses? (fun fact)

  1. Take Pride in Where You Come From

Living in DC, I came across a lot of people who were looking to others as a way to advance them to the next level. Many often hid or manipulated their pasts to come across as more prestigious or glamorous than they actually were. They were embarrassed of their farm town pasts and tried to bury them in exchange for budget three-piece suits and entry-level jobs on the Hill. When people would ask where I was from and they heard Pittsburgh, many people responded with “I’m sorry” or “yikes, that sucks.”  And even though growing up many of my friends might have jokingly said the same as we were waiting to leave and see the world, I couldn’t believe the amount of disrespect and frustration I felt in those moments. I said, “Sorry for what? Sorry you didn’t get to grow up in an amazing town with incredible sports teams? Me too.”

They say distance makes the heart grow founder, and in those years that I increasingly stood up for my hometown, the love I had for Pittsburgh continued to grow. Repping my pride for my hometown when I was living away added a new level of appreciation for a town I already admired and couldn’t wait to get back to with every visit.

  1. Find & Cherish Your Tribe

Growing up outside of Pittsburgh, our social calendar revolved around football games and sporting events. I had black and gold in my closet to wear to parties during senior year that started with Steeler games and ended with young dumb kids playing too many rounds of beer pong. The funny thing is I thought it was natural for girls to like sports, to grow up around a culture of sports and being one of the guys. When I left Pittsburgh, I realized there were some serious stereotypes in larger metro cities that only tomboys and lesbians were expected to take part in these types of activities while the other girls were out shopping and getting manis and pedis. Knowing the facial and credit card shopping spree life was never the right one for me, it always made me take comfort when I went home when I went out to a grocery store on a Sunday, the first question I got was “Where’s your black and gold, girl? You watching the game?”. It didn’t matter that the things other city girls liked wasn’t my cup of tea, there was another universe where I fit right in and was home, in every sense of the word.

  1. Family First

Similarly, to learning the value of friendship, I also learned the very important foundation of family first. I’m lucky that I come from a strong family unit, I’m close with not just my immediate family but my aunts, uncles, Grandma, cousins, etc. But what extra special element my hometown gave me on top of that is the extended family of friends and their respective families. My best friends’ sisters and brothers became like my own, their parents my second set of parents looking out for me and helping to raise me, and their grandparents another set of elders imparting their wisdom on us young kids. My friends helped me learn to not take my family for granted or complain about having to spend time with them vs. going to the latest social get together, because at the end of the day, we got it. We knew how lucky we were and how we had to appreciate what we had, and that made it easy for all of us to recognize that.

All in all, I’m a lucky girl. I’m lucky for the people around me, the town where I came from and the town that shaped me. Wherever I go, I know I’ll always have that with me. As they say – you can take the girl out of Pittsburgh, but you can never take the Pittsburgh out of the girl.

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