Things I Learned Growing Up In A Small Town

September 14, 2016

As a child growing up in a town of 1,032 people, I always dreamed of getting out. Despite never having been to Paris or Tokyo, and knowing exactly zero foreign languages, I knew one of these luxurious metropolises would be a better fit for me than central Minnesota. Sixteen-year-old Talia was ready to trade corn fields and lawnmowers for art galleries and seven-course dinners.

Things got a little delayed, and a life in Paris high society became less glamorous to me as I got older (and if I’m being honest, like completely unattainable). So here I am in Minneapolis, where cows and corn fields are 10 to 15 miles away and seven-course dinners happen a few times a year. With age, experience and a little self-awareness, I’ve come to look back on my experiences growing up in that tiny town and really value them. Now I’m leading the social media practice at Fast Horse, and as one of my first contributions I’m going to share with you some of the best life lessons I learned growing up in Dassel, Minn. — home of the largest annual chicken BBQ in the USA.

It’s okay to know everything about everyone
As a 14-year-old, did I care that Marilyn Jorgensen didn’t pull her weight at the church potluck last weekend? No. Did I hear about it? Absolutely. And now do I care when Kylie Jenner posts a Snapchat story about her new lipstick line? Not really — I mean I kind of want some of them, but that’s beside the point, and they’re always sold out anyway. Are Kylie Jenner’s snaps relevant to my work and an important part of culture? Yes.

Growing up in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business was a really great lesson in how social media works. Nothing is secret, everything is shared and you never know when you’re going to hear about something embarrassing you did 10 years ago.

Chickens are an underappreciated bird
As previously mentioned, Dassel is home to the largest chicken BBQ in the USA, and if that’s not something to be proud of, I’m not sure what is. Despite having a population just over 1,000, the town manages to grill and serve 1,500 chickens every Labor Day. The citizens pull together to put on a 10K race, fireworks show, parade, car show and tractor pull. At age 16, I was the princess of this little-known chicken celebration, and while that’s not super-relevant to anything in my career, I can teach you how to do a royal wave and hold an up-do through a parade on a sunny  90-degree day.

How to write (obituaries mostly, but other stuff too)
My first summer home from college I scored a job writing for the local newspaper. Before starting a website with a bunch of contributors, writing copy for ads, or building a Keynote presentation for conferences later in my career, I was a published obituary writer in the Dassel-Cokato Enterprise Dispatch. The experience taught me that writing obituaries is really weird in a town where you know everyone and what kind of car they drive.

A little bit about a lot of things
Before I graduated from high school, I knew how to milk a cow, ice fish, drive a tractor, ride a horse, and detassel corn. While none of that is super-relevant to leading the social media practice at a creative agency, it is all super-relevant to understanding a variety of people. For most of the brands I’ve worked with, from MillerCoors to General Mills to an industrial tools supplier, it’s been just as important to make something that speaks to a blue-collar worker from a small town as it is to make something that speaks to a high-end urban mom.


Other interesting facts about Dassel, Minn.:

  • In 1925, an unidentified man was murdered and it’s still unsolved
  • It’s right next to Darwin, Minn., home of the world’s largest manmade ball of twine
  • The first stoplight was installed when I was a freshman in high school

Other interesting facts about me:

  • I’ve worked client-side and at a few agencies, most recently as the Associate Director of Social Engagement at space150
  • I have a ten-year-old daughter named Ellie
  • I don’t currently have any chickens but it’s definitely in my five-year plan