I’ve talked previously about the fact that I live in a smaller city. And, for the most part, I love it. I love the cheap cost of living, the fact that I can leave my front door unlocked without worrying, and that I can almost never run to the grocery store without crossing paths with someone I know.
But, as much as I adore where I live, there’s one drawback I notice time and time again: Most career advice I read is geared toward people who have settled down in a major metropolitan area. Me? I don’t have endless events and resources right outside my door—as a matter of fact, I have a corn field.
Perhaps I’m more sensitive to this conundrum, as I make my living reading, writing, and just generally staying in tune with tons of career advice. But, even so, I’ve made it my personal mission to close that gap and make sure that people who live in smaller areas know that they are just as entitled to a fulfilling, successful career as someone who lives in a downtown high rise.
My first stop? Tackling some of that oft-repeated career advice you hear over and over again, and making it more applicable to those of you who call a small town home. If you’re sick of reading about endless networking events and how to make the most of your morning subway ride, this is for you.
1. Make the Most of Networking Events
Networking is important—I won’t refute that. And, it’s definitely possible to build a strong network regardless of your geographic location.
However, so much of the advice I read mentions these elusive “networking events”—get-togethers where people chat and trade business cards over free chicken skewers and cheap glasses of chardonnay. But, if I’m being perfectly honest, those sorts of things almost never happen where I live.
Sure, I’ve joined a few associations and have attended the occasional business event. But, in reality, those typically end up being regular social gatherings for people who already see each other on daily or weekly basis.
Formal events aren’t commonplace where I live. And, even if they were, there’s a small pool of people to meet anyway.
I’ve talked about this in detail before, but there is still such a thing as networking in a small city—you just need to be willing to adjust your approach.
Networking doesn’t need to be this structured, rigid exchange that only happens when you have a nametag stuck to your shirt. At its core, it’s really just a conversation—and those can happen anywhere.
So, I make a habit of chatting with people everywhere—whether that’s in line at the grocery store or in the next chair at the hair salon. I’ve made some awesome connections that way—with people I never would’ve met otherwise.
2. Use Your Commute to Your Advantage
I’ve read countless articles that suggest you make the most of your long morning commute. And—don’t get me wrong—I think it’s a smart tactic to get a jump start on your day and give your productivity a good kick in the pants.
But, here’s the thing about living in a smaller area: Your commute is typically pretty short, and—in most cases—you need to be focused and alert because you’re actually driving yourself (nobody wants a driver who’s simultaneously making her to-do list).
Public transportation isn’t as heavily relied on outside of big cities—I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually rode a bus—which means these drives are typically reserved for one thing: Getting to work.
Of course, you could simply choose to ignore this piece of advice altogether. However, I’m a firm believer that there are still ways you can make the most of your commute—even if you need to have your eyes on the road.
This could range from grabbing a great audio book to using it as quiet time to get focused and ready for your day. Whatever works best with you is great! Just don’t beat yourself up by convincing yourself that you aren’t effectively using your commute. You may not be answering emails, but you’re still using that time to your advantage.
3. Don’t Burn Bridges
Alright, so this is an age-old sentiment you’ll want to stick with regardless of whether you live in New York City or a tiny town where you’re literally on a first name basis with everyone. It’s good advice—that much you already know.
But, I’d argue that this cliché warning becomes that much more important when you’re swimming in a small pond. Rarely do you put in your notice, bid a final adieu to your boss, and then completely wash your hands of the situation. Chances are, you’re going to run into him or her more times than you’d even care to admit—whether that’s in another professional setting (I’ve heard far too many horror stories about this already!) or at the local pharmacy.
So, while it’s important to maintain strong relationships and a positive professional reputation everywhere, this advice deserves a little extra emphasis for all of you small towners.
This one’s super simple to adjust just by adding a few key words: Don’t ever, ever, ever, seriously ever burn bridges. Enough said.
4. Keep Your Personal Life Out of the Office
This is another piece of advice that has seen some changes in recent years. More and more, people are integrating their work with the rest of their lives—meaning any personal tidbits aren’t quite as taboo in the office as they used to be.
However, you’ll still hear plenty of advice from traditionalists who warn you to check your personal life at the office door. Your workplace is for just that—work. Getting to know people on a personal level isn’t necessary. And, even more than that, some people advise that it will only serve as a distraction.
But, when you live in a small community, this becomes that much tougher to abide by—particularly since everyone pretty much knows everything about everybody else already anyway. Your boss is also your kid’s soccer coach. Your co-worker lives just down the street, and takes in your mail and waters your plants when you’re on vacation.
In a small town? Let’s just say that there’s really no such thing as keeping your personal life separate—even if you wanted to.
Don’t be afraid to bring a little bit of your outside life into your workplace—within reason, of course. They don’t need to know the gory details of your recent bout with food poisoning or the juicy gossip of your falling out with your best friend. However, being willing to engage in some friendly chatter about outside interests can actually be a good thing!
Why? Most people like to know a little bit about those that they work with day in and day out. So, the willingness to share a little of your outside life could bring you that much closer to your teammates.
And—in a smaller town—that’s practically expected.
There’s plenty of great career advice available. However, a vast majority of it caters to people living in a big city with endless opportunities right outside their doorstep. And, if you live in a small area yourself? That can undoubtedly be frustrating.
Luckily, you can still apply a lot of the great advice you read—as long as you’re willing to make a few tweaks. Give these four a try, and prepare to become the talk of the town (because you know that’s inevitable).
Photo of woman driving courtesy of Ippei Naoi/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author