This is my last Monday morning post of the year. After this week, we will follow our annual tradition and close our site down for the last two weeks of the year. It's a time for us to step back from the daily sprint and tend to some nagging things we don't get to during the regular year. It's also a time to unwind, to make memories with friends and family, to reflect on that which has happened and ponder what may be to come.
As I was thinking about what to write today, I kept coming back to the same thing: how deeply grateful I am to all of you. That's not a membership pitch or cheap patronizing but a deeply heartfelt expression of how I feel. I'm so very fortunate to be part of the Strong Towns movement. I can't thank you enough for being there and making it all matter.
As many of you know, this past summer my family and I moved from the home we built twenty years ago on the big lot way out in the forest to a home in the heart of the city just a few blocks from the core downtown. The old house sold and this week we close on it and transfer the title to a new owner. We spent some time there today cleaning it up and moving some final items out.
It put us all in a reflective mood. My daughters -- 12 and 9 years old -- both were in tears as they expressed their natural misgivings about the change we made last summer. That is, when they weren't filled with laughter as they remembered the time we had spent there. I felt sad too as this house, once so full of life, is now left completely empty, waiting for another family to fill it.
In many ways, that house defined the last two decades of my life. When my wife and I were engaged -- it is our 21st wedding anniversary this Friday -- we looked at a house in North Brainerd, about two blocks from where we live right now. It was run down and in need of a lot of work. I wanted it badly, but together we decided that remodeling wasn't the right fit for us. We wound up buying a five acre lot and building the house in the forest.
I worked as an engineer for the first five years of our marriage. The house suited us well. In 2000, after my first trip overseas (and a bit of a quarter life crisis realizing I was not going to be an engineer all my life), we left the house and moved north of Minneapolis so I could attend graduate school for planning. We rented it a short time -- quite disastrously -- and then moved back as soon as we could. My 10+ years running my own planning firm were spent in that house.
It was during that time that my professional crisis came to a head. I'll never forget going to the mailbox, pulling out my tax statement, reading the numbers and having a spark of realization. What I pay in taxes would not cover plowing the snow off the road, let alone fixing and repairing it. All of a sudden, all of those concerns I had been expressing to the cities I worked with hit home. It wasn't just them; it was me too. And my wife and kids. We lived in the Ponzi scheme; on the very edge, in fact.
We first tried to sell the house in 2009 in the depths of the housing crisis. That didn't go well. At the time, I was starting to write the first lines of what would become the Strong Towns movement. While doing so helped me sort out my thoughts, it also increased my cognitive dissonance. I was thrilled to find I could communicate these ideas to people who actually wanted to hear them, discuss them and do something about them -- which wasn't happening in the places I worked -- but I was increasingly depressed by my own powerlessness to do much about it here.
For many reasons, this past summer was the right time to move. We actually tried to buy the house right next door to the one I wanted to buy more than two decades ago -- it was the same layout and everything -- but missed out on that and actually ended up in a better situation. I'm sitting here on my couch late at night, coals burning down in the fireplace, feeling a lot of gratitude.
I started this site after the 2008 election. I recently was reminded that I actually started blogging in January of 2005, shortly after the 2004 election, but didn't keep it up. Election seasons are really painful for me. My personal mental burden is that I really need people to make sense, and in election seasons, there are lots of people that don't make sense. We don't need to agree, but I really struggle with cognitive dissonance in others.
Writing, as well as having the opportunity to speak publicly, has helped me deal with this, to better understand my own cognitive dissonance and to become more generous when trying to understand the intentions of others. I still struggle, but having to show up here every Monday and express ideas to a broad cross section of America has given that struggle focus. And purpose.
I know that, without you, without all the friends I've met through Strong Towns, without our entire audience, everyone who comments and shares our stuff, our Board and my colleagues, I'd be a much lesser person. I'm Catholic and so I'm well aware of how deeply flawed I am. Still, the experience of being able to communicate my ideas here and have you on the other end has made me a better person, a better husband and a better father. I can't thank you enough.
I sit here Sunday evening with a feeling of peace and satisfaction. One chapter in my life closes this week and another begins. We have a lot of work to do here at Strong Towns in 2017 -- a lot of people to reach, hearts to open and minds to change -- but I hope the journey we have walked together thus far has improved your life, has added value to your days, has given you reason for optimism about the future. Please know that I feel indebted to you and will humbly continue to do all I can to grow this movement and build a nation of Strong Towns.