Are You From Where You Were Born?

In the article The biggest tech company founders from every state I win the callout for Arkansas.

“Arkansas: Brad Feld has bounced around a lot: born in Arkansas, raised in Dallas, then lived in Boston for over a decade before moving to Boulder, Colorado. He’s most known for founding Foundry Group, a prominent venture capital firm that focuses on early stage investment, but also co-founded startup accelerator Techstars.”

I was born in Blytheville, Arkansas on an air force base in 1965. My dad was in the Air Force for several years during the Vietnam War after being drafted. Once he finished his service a year later, he moved to Boston to finish out his residency at Mass General Hospital. Then, in 1969, he and my mom, with two kids in tow (me and my younger brother Daniel, who had just been born) moved to Dallas, Texas. My parents knew one person in Dallas when they moved there and they chose Dallas (over Kansas City, which was a near second) as a place they wanted to build their life. My dad’s brother Charlie followed him to Dallas a year later in 1970.

I don’t view myself as being from Arkansas even though I was born there. It’s one of those weird artifacts of one’s life. I used to be able to roll it out in big group introductions when each person is asked to say one thing about themselves that no one else in the group knows. I now have to come up with something else, like the age I was when I read The 158 Pound Marriage by John Irving (answer: inappropriately young.)

I grew up in Dallas, Texas. When I went to college at age 17, I thought I’d move back to Dallas and live there after I graduated. Within a year of living in Boston, I knew I wouldn’t move back to Dallas, even though I never really thought I’d stay very long in Boston.

Twelve years later I moved from Boston to Boulder, Colorado. While I lasted 11 years longer in Boston than my dad did, I sometimes feel like I lived in Boston for 11 years and 364 days too many. Upon serious reflection, Boston was very good for me, but it never felt like home.

When Amy and I moved to Boulder in 1995, we knew one person. He moved away several months later. Then, a year later, my brother Daniel moved to Boulder. I don’t think we realized we were following the same pattern as our parents and my Uncle Charlie, but 20 years later, we are still living near each other in Boulder and 46 years later my dad and his brother are still living in Dallas.

I’ve now lived in Boulder longer than anywhere else. So – where am I from? While I comfortably say that I grew up in Dallas, I’m from Boulder and have built my life, with Amy, around being here.

My parents, who were both born and grew up in the Bronx, are definitely from Dallas. Same with my Uncle Charlie.

Until the Business Insider article put me as being from Arkansas, I had never really pondered where I was from very much. It was easy to describe where I lived, and it often felt self-indulgent to parade around as a Texan, which at some point I got over. But I never felt like I was from Arkansas or Boston.

When I say I’m from Boulder, it feels good.

  • I was born in DEN + my father followed his career to southern Illinois, where he taught at SUI Carbondale.

    From there, we went to STL + spent almost 25 yrs there. I then followed my own career back to DEN + have been here since.

    I usually mention my time in San Francisco in the context of places I’ve “lived”. I spent multiple days per week there for 10 yrs.

    • But where are you from? I’m going to bet “Denver”.

      • My response is “I’m from Denver, but I spent time in STL”.

  • Rick Mason

    Thinking Charles Ward from Acxiom may be secretly happy you were listed as the richest tech founder from Arkansas on that list.

    • I didn’t notice richest in the title – just biggest. Which means I probably weigh more than Charles Ward.

  • For a touch of humor, let me say this: you’ve mentioned in an interview that you’re from another planet, how does that factor in now? Ha ha!

    • That’s my evil twin from a parallel universe.

  • tgodin

    If I’m on vacation or traveling and someone asks “where are you from?” I say either Northern Virginia or Washington DC, since that is where I’ve made my home and raised a family for 19 years now. If the conversation goes beyond that I’ll mention that I grew up in upstate New York.

  • Thanks, Brad. I’ve lived most of my life in North Carolina, but those first two years on an army post uncheck the “born here” box for me. I would never say I was “from” somewhere I didn’t remember seeing until I visited after college.

  • Cecelia Feld

    46 years in Texas, but anyone can tell I grew up east of the Mississippi. The New York accent is a dead giveaway.

    • I’m still trying to teach dad how to say y’all correctly.

      • StevenHB

        Why would he want to?

  • Tabitha Farrar

    Boulder does that to people. I was born in England and lived there for 28 years. Then, five years ago, I moved to Boulder, which feels like home; I don’t intend on ever leaving. However, culturally I’m still very much an obstinate Brit—and when it comes to humor I’m reminded of that on a regular basis.

  • awaldstein

    I’m simply a New Yorker.
    Born here, lived everywhere, back home now.

  • Rick

    I’m from Earth.
    I started my first company when I was 9 years old. I had one partner. It was an amusement park company. I collected a little over $4 worth of admission fees. While I had every intend on building the amusement park for those ticket holders to enjoy. My mom made me return the money.
    So the company started and failed in one day.

  • I am in Richardson today!

    • Swing by JJ Pearce High School and break in …

  • Interesting question. I was thinking about this same topic earlier this week. I did an analysis of a handful of the unicorns. I looked at the founders of 20 of the unicorns based in SF or NY and 13 of them both grew up and went to college far outside of NY or CA. I bet if you asked them where they’re from though most would say either NY or CA

  • Eugene Wan

    I describe myself as a “Colorado native who happened to be born in Canada” quite often.

  • Leesville Louisiana -> Los Angeles -> Iowa City IA -> Rock Island IL -> Iowa City IA -> Los Angeles -> Iowa City IA -> Houston -> Wash. D.C -> Baltimore -> Denver

    • That’s a lot of places!

      • The only one of those places I like the same as Iowa city is Denver ;). And starting in the fall ill be working in boulder!

        • Rick

          What you gonna’ be working on?

  • Martin Babinec

    Those of us that went through K-12 in a single local school system and have parents still living in that same community are probably more likely to identify that place as where we’re from. Perhaps especially so if it is a smaller community where there are many relationships that might still be intact for us over the passage of time.

    I’ve been super lucky to have had circumstances work out to be able to boomerang back to my hometown after 25 years of living elsewhere – a move driven by family considerations (including kids getting to know their grandparents). I suspect as more entrepreneurs build companies having distributed teams, we’ll see some slice of them going back to their roots – where their heart and family might still be.

  • Rosey

    So Brad, I gotta ask. When your dad gets upset — does he speak in a Texas drawl or in Bronx borroughisms.

    We’re from the place we cuss from.

    It’s fall over laughing true. When my mild mannered bride of 38 eight years hammers her thumb or walks into a door — whatever, she has only one four-letter SH-T word, from her wonderfully modest, Methodist childhood. It’s hysterical — especially if she has a three-in-a-row’er. (Laughing just thinking about her. She’s a jewel). She literally doesn’t have a profane vocabulary.

    Me — different story; Mrs. Cotton Lee literally washed my mouth out with soap when I cussed the cowboy who roped me off my tricycle about aged three, in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. (Cowboys back then were ornery sons-o-bitches.

    • My dad is all Bronx. You can hear it in everything he says if you are listening to him. And I’m still trying to get him to say y’all correctly.

    • I so have to agree – when i have to really curse – it is affirmatively in New Delhi Punjabi. I have never felt contempt better in any language, style or mannerism

  • Rupert Edwards

    East London – just to add some international flavour. (UK that is, not RSA).

  • As we transition into a hyper connected world where relocation is common, it’s interesting to see how as individuals we manage our identity. This annoyingly simple question of “where are you from?” can quickly get so complicated. Mostly because we want to remain authentic given others normally associate where you’re from with who you are. In my case I was born in Boston from Chilean parents, raised in Venezuela, finished high school and college in California, and chose Miami as my home. I speak English and Spanish without an accent, so I often struggle with the awkwardness of being inclusive about my identity without coming across as long-winded. So I may just leave out the Venezuela part if I’m talking to someone from middle America or leave out the Boston part if I’m talking to a native Spanish speaker. Jason Seats says I’m in the “uncanny valley of language” since I speak sufficiently well in each language to appear native, yet can get stuck trying to articulate something basic. As I’ve learned, people aren’t as forgiving if you sound native but deliver a cliche incorrectly. Miami is a good fit for me because my story isn’t as uncommon here. I sometimes wonder if it’s possible to build a strong community with so much in flux, but it’s posts like this that make me think so. Thanks for sharing Brad.

  • sofia pie

    On the topic, I’m a big fan of what Prof Petriglieri had to say in the article in the HBR.

  • I like things that is very wonderful night

  • thank you for giving me a sense of comfort and fun

  • I have struggled with this recently. Reminds me of the walk+chat we had. I do not know where “home” is now. Sounds like you and Amy just picked Boulder, and that became your home. I wonder if I may face the same choice in the coming years. Just pick.

    • You know what’s hard about picking in America-abundance of choice.

      • Yes, but with little kids, and entering school in a few years, there is more pressure to pick something for 15-20 years vs being able to move every few years.

        • 100% agree. The only reason I was truly in Chicago was because I was a trader on the floor of CME. No other place to do what I did the way I did it in the world. I moved my kids from the far far western suburbs of Chicago to the city when they were 5th/7th grade girls. It was a tough move for them-like moving to a different area of the country. The important thing to remember is there is no perfect place. My grandma used to say, “Bloom where you are planted”. I love California-but it’s really expensive. Part of me wants to be there for several months out of the year. Or maybe Colorado…..Or maybe Texas….but to me Florida is God’s Waiting Room.

          • Yeah, tension between work (California) and wanting to feel like I’m in a home town (outside CA) is the way to sum it up.

          • I feel your pain and empathize with you. Once you make the call, never look back. Kids are pretty flexible until after 8th grade.

        • Dija Neaux

          Home is where you want to be when you’re dying. All other places are just part of growing up and where you make a living. I was born and raised in CA so that’s where I live and that’s where I’ll die. Y’all can choose and pick where your home is.

    • We choose where to put our roots in (or not, in which case we become like rhizomes). We choose the environment that feeds us what we need… But it’s a choice like any other. Listen to your heart, evaluate. And then just go for it.

      Ultimately, home doesn’t just happen. Our roots have to do the work to make a place home.

      • Damn, that is quite wise. Thank you. Lots to think on.

  • Manafa Chucar Best

    HoMe to me is anywhere you are accepted and celebrated.

    As a psychologist and an anthropologist, that’s my take on where someone can call home.

    So I was born from where I hail from.Even though it is not my daddy’s nativity.

  • I agree with your point of view. I’m *from* Seattle, having chosen to live here my whole adult life. I grew up in NJ. and L.A., those locales chosen by my parents.

  • I share your conclusion. When asked where from, I now try to determine what the person is really trying to get at.

    People sometimes want different things from this question: know where you live, curious where you lived last/most, locating place of professional career, seeking a geographical bond with you, need a birthplace, or just making conversation.

    My answers will then vary between Singapore, Spain, Bay Area and Detroit depending on what I think will satisfy their curiosity most, even if it doesn’t seem to relevant to me anymore.

    Obviously still struggling with this.

    ps. Loved the post that the answer is the language you swear in, but don’t think it’s true. Once you’re comfortable, some languages are just more delicious to swear in than others!

    • Agree, some want to bond with you. My two cents is that some want to judge you. So I answer depending on how judgmental I think they are. Some places have reputations. I dislike those who stereotype. That is why I analyze the person first before I give one of the 3 main places where I have lived.

  • America is such a great country that way. People can move, re-invent themselves or try on different cultures of the country and feel comfortable. I was born in the suburbs of Chicago. I have worked my whole life here. I come by the accent honestly. The only reason I stay here now is my kids decided to locate here post college. Otherwise I might be in a place like Boulder. While USAFA and I didn’t suit each other, Colorado in the summer sure is spectacular. I was even impressed with the mountains while marching and doing push ups.

  • StevenHB

    I still feel like I’m “from NY” even though in live in the Boston area and have for longer than I lived on Long Island. There still things about New York that I miss (and things that I don’t).

    I don’t think that I knew that you were born in Arkansas – in school, I’m sure that I thought that Dallas was your hometown. And I guess that it was.