A 20-Year-Old’s Ode To The Motor City


“You’re staying in Michigan this summer?” “Really? Detroit?” “How did that happen?” “But…why?”

They say that a great relationship brings out your best qualities. You become a better person when you’re together; the most amazing parts of your identity are empowered and encouraged in their presence. You feel happier, stronger and more important when they’re around. The relationship adds a whole new significance to the life you once considered complete. I’m in a relationship with Detroit. That’s why.

Entering into the second decade of life is a rocky transition. The quarter-life crisis reveals itself and exposes the most daunting and unanswerable questions. What am I doing here? Do I matter? Can I, will I, ever do anything worthwhile? It’s inevitable that at some point we all become swallowed by a cloud of fear and uncertainty about the future; we’re at a cross-road where the path ahead is no longer paved for us and that truth feels like a slap in the face from reality. For the first time, we’re starting to see that in life, some will sink, some will swim, and that we’re individually controlling our own destinies. Consciously or not, we’re yearning for signs to prove our significance, because the only thing scarier than having potential is having potential and not doing anything with it.

I started feeling a little lost in the crowd, a little like everyone else, a little like there was no point in attempting anything extraordinary. I was discouraged but I was scared of mediocrity. And right around the time I started to really question my place in this world and wonder whether or not it would ever amount to anything important, I was introduced to this city. I didn’t know what I would see, feel or experience here. I had previously heard a lot of unpromising things; my head was full of preconceived notions about an agonizing ex-cosmopolitan land of decay that once had something to do with cars and now had no money. I was advised to expect empty lots and gun shots.

I didn’t know the whole story. I, like all of you who have been deprived the opportunity of experiencing Detroit firsthand, was an outsider. I was unaware that instead of disbanding and imploding, the remaining population of this city united; they cultivated a mutual understanding that strength will persevere and a sense of community will keep things together. When you haven’t been here to directly see the magic and have been exposed only to the media and news headlines, your mind’s twisted into believing it’s lost. It’s the least likely place to feel inspired – if you don’t know the whole story.

No one told me that the struggling landscape was only a backdrop for an incredibly motivating metropolis. But I found out the truth about the D; it is unstoppable. Not because it’s wealthy, powerful and growing, because it isn’t. Detroit is unstoppable because the people here cannot be stopped. The citizens of this city are the light at the end of the tunnel, the one man left standing, the underdog who actually wins. They are optimism, promise, potential and hope. They, collectively, personify what it means to keep your chin up and hold your head high. There is so much to be upset about, but Detroit isn’t upset. There is so much to be discouraged by, but Detroit isn’t discouraged. There are countless signs of destruction, but Detroit is not destroyed.

The city is coming back and I say that with confidence. I’m not naively optimistic; I’ve been exposed to the truth. To the people of Detroit, empty spaces indicate endless possibilities for the future, not evidence of a failed past. Having no money brings the opportunity to create revenue in new, better, interactive, more exciting and more modern ways. They’re not falling apart; they’ve been given the chance to start over. New businesses and unique ideas are born and raised here because they can be. This may not look like the modern American dream, but this is how and where it begins. When it looks to the rest of the world like nothing here has worked out, Detroiters know that there’s just so much to look forward to.

I felt lost, discouraged and scared about my future and I let it get me down. Then I came to Detroit and was exposed to the power of a good attitude. Optimism is bringing this city back, and being surrounded by it helped awaken the strength I knew I had within me but somehow began to lose. I am constantly inspired because nothing I’ve ever experienced is as empowering as regularly witnessing the juxtaposition of Detroit’s current situation with the people’s attitude inside it.

Having potential is a terrifying thing; acknowledging its significance and then figuring out what to do with it, how to use it and where to apply it almost makes ignoring or denying its presence the easiest thing to do. But Detroit has proven to me the amazing worth of not shying away from our own power. This city isn’t afraid of opportunity; it’s not discouraged by its past, it’s excited about its future. The people here have given this city meaning when it felt it was losing significance, and by extension this city has given me meaning when I felt I was losing significance.

This is why. Detroit has brought me back to myself, Detroit cultivates my positivity; Detroit brings out the best in me. When I’m the D, I’m not lost in the crowd, I’m not like everyone else, and there’s never been more motivation to attempt something extraordinary. I’m no longer 20 years old, losing meaning and questioning my significance. I’m 20 years young, a vessel of potential, entering the world with so much to offer. The people here have kept this city from truly crumbling and this city has kept me from doing the same.

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This post originally appeared at QUICKEN LOANS.