What are you looking at?

Whenever I find myself venturing out of the 305 (even when it’s just to the 954) people inevitably ask me, “Where are you from?” which is promptly followed by, “Miami? Really? What’s that like?” To which I usually respond with this brief, funny, and slightly embarrassing anecdote that I will share with you all now.

I grew up in the middle-of-nowhere Florida in a place that no one has ever been to unless you play golf or are 70 + years old. That was pretty lame so I thought a brief stint in the Midwest would be fun. Now this might seem lame to all of you, but it actually was really fun. This Florida girl got to experience all four seasons for four whole years. I learned to sled, layer clothing in ridiculously effective ways, and practice a devotion to Green Bay Packer football that rivals my culturally Catholic roots. But the most awesome thing about the Midwest are the people. Everyone is as nice there as everyone else tells you they are. No starving models, Jersey Shore fist-pumpers, or cynical city folk here, just smiles, cookies, and a helping hand with just about anything you need.

Okay, maybe I am idealizing this a little bit, but not the smiles part. When you walk down the street and make eye contact with someone you will inevitably be greeted with a smile that you are expected to promptly return along with a wave or a passing hello. I embraced this regional practice fully and completely (probably because of its pseudo-sunshine effect in the absence of legitimate sun, but hey it still counts). So much so, in fact, that I decided to bring it with me to Miami when I moved here four years ago.

If any of you are from Miami you know this ended badly. My first couple of weeks on the University of Miami campus I was just like any other freshman, excited and thrilled about my new found freedom. Everywhere I went I enthusiastically greeted people with a smile and a wave. I didn’t care if they had mega-giant sunglasses on or even if they didn’t respond. I was the normal one here.

Or so I thought, until one girl literally stopped in her tracks, looked me square in my smiling face and said, “What are you looking at?!” I stood there completely shocked and speechless. This was the first of several Miami culture shock moments for me, but more importantly it was the day that I figured out friendliness can actually be regional. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that there are no friendly people here, it’s just not what we are known for.

So began my descent into the land of hater-shades, suspicious looks towards the typical tourist suspects, and an unhealthy amount of road rage. As many of my friends have lamented to me, and as I have found out first hand, Miami is a tough place. We come here expecting to prove to ourselves that not only can we survive the shuffle, but we can make it bend to suit our fancies, whether it’s jump-starting our career, extended bouts of partying, or trying to make it our home. Very few of us survive for very long here, making the trip back East, West, or Mid-West after a few years, but almost all of us adapt to try and make the most of it.

I share this with you not only to provide you with a laugh at my expense, which I encourage you to enjoy as much as the other people who have heard this story, but to provide a real-life framework for how adaptation occurs. As industries shift, technologies change, and consumer expectations grow, we must all be able to adapt quickly, but also be willing to have those “smiling fool” moments. Those are the ones we learn the most from and the ones our customers (and maybe even our readers) will respect us even more for.

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