Nine Lessons of Twelve Months in Detroit

I’ve been in Detroit for over a year now, and I felt this was the perfect opportunity to take a second by reflecting on what I’ve learned. With that said, I have this list here that’s in no particular order.

1. Normal is not normal

That abandoned building and boarded up building across the street? Not normal.

That homeless person routinely sleeping in the same spot on one of the better-known roads in Michigan? Not normal.

That look you get when you tell people where you’re from? Not normal.

That smell wafting up from the sewers? Not normal.

That burnt out streetlight across from the Fire Department? Not normal.

That feeling you continuously have about where you live, what it represents, the potential to accomplish all your wildest dreams, to be absolutely in love with your surroundings even with their blemishes? Not normal.

That’s why I live in Detroit. I don’t want to be normal.

2. Follow your heart

I’m confident enough to say that I followed mine and ended up here. In doing so, I’ve also realized that I’ve never been happier at any point in my life.

As with all decisions, you usually have a gut feeling on both what you should do and what you want to do. I’m proclaiming that to become happy truly; you need to start chasing after those wants. If you don’t, you’ll be kicking yourself out of curiosity for the rest of your life, and I don’t know about you, but that’s not an acceptable route I want to take.

3. Ask for help

Getting to where I’m at now took plenty of help and input from others along the way. One aspect that truly stood out is people generally want to help others succeed. They’ll go out of their way to share what they’ve learned and try to point you in the right direction. Think about it, when is the last time someone asked you for help, and you said no? It doesn’t happen; start asking people for help more often.

I’m sure there is some psychological vulnerability that the other person can detect, which instinctively instructs them to assist in any way they can. Of course, this should be kept within reason, because if you ask for me for help in building a miniature version of The Horseshoe, there’s no way in hell I’m saying yes unless it’s to set it ablaze.

4. Ride no handed

I’ve been riding my bike to work for a few months now, and the greatest part is riding with no hands. This lesson can be applied in a few ways. The first is obvious, reliving your childhood and the joy that rushes to your face in feeling free and regaining trust in yourself.

The second is more metaphoric. Let. Fucking. Go. What’s the worst that can happen? You crash? Good. Learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before? Even better. What’s holding you back to try something new and potentially observe life from a different perspective? You are. Now stop it and get back on the bike.

5. Always be alert

Don’t let your guard down. Living in statistically one of the most dangerous cities in the United States has cemented this notion into my brain. Keeping the mindset of a heightened sense of awareness leads to preparation for any circumstance that could potentially arise. It also allows you to sidestep obstacles before they pop up and is valid for any specific part of your life, not just general city safety. Paying attention to your surroundings will put you a step ahead of those (the majority of society) who don’t.

6. Silence is awakening

One moment stands out here. Earlier this year, I was home visiting my parents, and towards the end of my typical running route, I truly realized just how quiet the small village of Clinton is. At that point, it was over six months since I made the move to Detroit and had fully adapted to the consistent ambient street noises. But it was at this second where I understood just how much I underestimated absolute silence.

Allowing your conscious and brain to run wild with no audio distractions is a real adventure every time. You have no idea where your thoughts will run to, or what you might think of. With no distractions, there really no is limit to what can come up in self-deliberation.

I’m now in the habit of waking up earlier in the morning and enforcing a rule of no audio distractions for the first 90 minutes. Having this time to practice silence and to enjoy the journey of unsolicited thoughts has become a practice, I look forward to each day. Give it a shot!

7. Prepare to pivot

Let’s face it; shit happens. No matter how much preparation and thought you put into something, it can still turn south in just a flash. Keeping it in mind for when it happens will allow you to move on from an emotional state quickly. Accepting the fact and being okay with letting it go will only pay dividends down the road on the next invested ‘project.’

8. Say no

First, say yes to everything and anything. Then when you’ve had your fill, start saying no to the things you know you’ll get nothing out of. Only once you’ve been exposed to as much as possible is when you’ll be able to determine what is most valuable to you. When this point is reached, you’ll be confident of most aspects of your life, and it’ll begin to feel like you have complete control across the board.

9. Just fucking do it

Seriously. At this point, what else are you waiting for? Anything that you daydream about can be done. Take the plunge; dedicate the time and energy to start working towards it. Too much work? Then you really don’t give two shits about it. If you keep saying that about everything, then it’s time to take a look in the mirror and start reprioritizing your life. You only get one shot at this; what is the point of continuing with doubt or regret? Too much bull shit in your way? Start eliminating the waste.

Gain an entirely new perspective on life, meet a bunch of interesting people, start answering questions to all your wildest dreams, be happier and wiser because of it all? Just fucking do it.

Originally published at on December 14, 2013.

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