5 Experiences That Made Tampa The Greatest Place I Ever Lived
It’s funny how moving didn’t really hit me until I was pressing the accelerator of our Budget truck past the flat lands of Omaha, Nebraska. We were on Day 3 of our 1,260-mile trek from Tampa, Florida to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It didn’t sting like a bee, it was more dull.
In fact it made me feel woozy, my stomach nauseous with regret, since my final month in Tampa slipped through my fingers. I had hurried to get out of town to better put my father’s passing behind me, which wasn’t how I pictured it. Tampa was where I spent the greatest four years of my life and where I had hit a stride while living in Tampa. It was special.
But there I was, traveling the open road from Tampa to Sioux Falls when a bright light in the distance kept catching my eye. My first thought was that it was the sun’s reflection off the water. That became old hat in Tampa Bay. Oh, that’s just the ocean. No bigs. But as I rolled past Omaha I double checked to see it wasn’t the ocean, it was a mirage on the Interstate pavement. Or some glistening corn fields. Plenty and plenty of corn fields.
The mirage triggered a waterfall of memories that tugged on my heart. However, nowhere in them were ocean waves, Disney World or tropical birds, just people and experiences. Here’s a quick excerpt of the people and experiences that changed my life for the better in Tampa, Florida.
During Sophomore year in high school a public speaking bug bit me during a book report presentation. My knees started shaking and I barely held the note cards in my hands, and from that day forward I came down with a bad phobia of public speaking. Even 15 years later when the boss asked each of us to share what was on our plates my neck nearly swelled out of my collar. So it surely surprised me more than anyone when I stood on a stage in the most daring of all public speaking endeavors, improv comedy (like, ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’). Like any good gamble it paid off in huge dividends because of the friends I made and the skills I developed. And bonus! I am no longer terrified of speaking in public. In fact, I kind of like it and even wrote an e-book about the experience.
Upon moving to Tampa one of the first people I met was Jacob, a jovial fella with an extreme, adventurous spirit. Barely a month went by without a mass email from Jacob, something of the likes of “Settlers of Catan Bash, anyone? Come on, you know you wanna!” He spread the news far and wide and got the people out, and everyone had fun at his memorable parties. I wanted his courage so I could do the same but fear plagued me. What if no one shows up? What if people think it’s too audacious or pretentious? What if people do show up and the party’s a complete dud? Finally I threw all caution to the wind and held a Halloween party, and from the moment we turned on the PA system and cranked up ‘Ghostbusters’ we couldn’t stop people from signing up. Apparently my wife and I had a knack for it. So we held another. And another. And the final party was the best of them all, an open mic night. No backing tracks, just acoustic guitars and vocal chords to showcased their heart and soul. People always showed up to our parties, and I have all the confidence that none of them were dull.
Ever since finding my faith in Christ I wanted to start a Bible study but never saw myself as being worthy. I wasn’t a pastor, didn’t have scripture memorized, didn’t have the bold personality needed to rebuke, etc., etc. But when I attended Underground Church in Tampa, a network comprised of over 100 unique ministries started by people a lot like me, this body of believers really encouraged me to stop holding myself back and start something. So in early 2014 I held my breath as I clicked Send on an email to a half dozen Christians I worked with. I was inviting them to participate in a Bible study and they agreed and we started unpacking this endeavor. We grew as friends and as brothers and sisters and it changed the climate at work, maintaining an element of our lives we so often left out.
Good things never come easy. I was wet behind the ears and scared of my own shadow when my boss announced my addition to the Letters team at HSBC, the second largest bank in the world. It was at a time when regulations were swelling and workplace expectations in the finance industry were rising higher and higher. I was saddled with a higher level of responsibility than ever before and I was surrounded by a higher caliber of workers and I felt over my head. Sure enough the flood waters immediately came rushing in. I don’t know if I ever prayed harder but God guided me to stick with it and embrace the challenge. So I focused first on ensuring I was a valuable member of the team, serving everyone with a dedication to quality, and once I established that I focused on relationships. Soon enough I saw the fruits of my efforts as I delivered satisfactory results and developed amazing bonds. The downside? It was harder to leave than I ever imagined.
Of course a blog is virtual and can be experienced anywhere, but I wonder if I would have done it if weren’t for Tampa. The hardest thing about pressing publish on a blog about my experiences with depression and bipolar is the vulnerability it requires, but thanks to my friends and community in Tampa I felt more accepted than anywhere else I’ve lived. No one ever gave me a funny look or called me aside to warn me about airing out my dirty laundry. That’s a big reason why it’s been a year and two months and this blog is still going strong.
We are truly excited to be in Sioux Falls, but part of that excitement is because Tampa showed us how to live. We feel prepared for anything thanks to our time in the city by the Bay.