You were not created to play small.
You love living in a small town. And sometimes, you loathe living in a small town.
When shit hits the fan, you’re graced with enough casseroles to feed your county.
But when life is fantastic, you look around and find yourself alone. Sometimes the loneliness and catty conversations rumbling all over Main Street have you worried your brain will atrophy.
Oh girl, do I get it! I’ve been there—and I can help.
Hey! I’m Rebecca Undem and I’m a speaker and coach for ambitious small-town women who want to live big without changing zip codes. I help them find calm in the chaos of running a hectic household while pursuing a meaningful career.
My country mile.
Growing up in Oakes, North Dakota (population 1,800), I loved the freedom and safety that came with being raised in a small farming community. Looking back on my upbringing, I feel really lucky, except that when I left, I thought that was it. It was never part of my plan to return. It was my past and not my future—or so I thought.
Going to school in Fargo was my “out”—I left Oakes thinking I’d never be one of “those people” that goes back. Post-graduation, I stayed in Fargo and got a job as a banker. I couldn’t wait to shimmy into a power suit and climb the corporate ladder. Hello, expensive coffee!
I was an expert ladder climber and jumped the ranks quickly. A few years in, however, I started having identity struggles. My insides were screaming at me, “This isn’t what you’re meant to do!” Even though I was steadily rising, I simply couldn’t imagine doing it forever. I needed a job change.
Barbie’s dream house isn’t so dreamy after all
Jeremiah, my husband, was graduating from a college with a specialized degree that landed him a job in Montana. I went to work for a big shiny bank and it was like getting that Barbie dream house on Christmas morning. I had an inspiring image of how I’d be when I “arrived,” how’d I’d play with my friends, and what I’d wear.
And just like the sparkle of my Barbie dream house wore off after a few short weeks, the reality of my shiny new big bank job was the same; so much better in my imagination. I hated it! I spent most of the morning commute with one hand on the wheel and the other wiping my tears. I questioned how the hell I’d ever be happy in banking if I couldn’t be happy at a bank with the tallest ladder around.
Before the year was up, Jeremiah realized that a desk job wasn’t meant for him. Since I’m always up for a change and instead of trying to find jobs we liked in Montana, we headed back to the familiarity of Fargo.
About a year after returning to Fargo, my mom decided to start a business of her own back in Oakes—she was going to start a pumpkin patch. Not a woman to half-ass anything, Mom was going big! They’d put a retail shop and new barn facility on our farmstead and now she needed to make a trip to Madison, Wisconsin to buy some curated merchandise to sell in the shop—vintage signs, antiques, jams, jellies, and more. She asked me to come along and since I love to shop it was a win-win!
During the drive, she excitedly told me all about her creative dreams for her business. She had a strong vision for what she wanted to create, but didn’t have the time or desire to get bogged down by details like marketing and sales.
That’s where I came in.
As we sipped cold beer and reveled in the aftermath of a long (and successful) day of shopping, she asked, “What if you moved back and helped me?”
I wasn’t itching to move back to rural America, but I was feeling desperate for change, I figured, why the heck not, “Let’s do it!”
The idea of coming home felt like an alternate reality. I had to tell my husband what I’d just gotten us into. This was the craziest idea I’ve ever thrown at him though so I thought he’d say no, and maybe that would be my out for my impulsive decision. But nope—he was all in.
My dad was a fourth generation farmer, and without us, there was no fifth—No one to carry on his legacy. This tugged at our hearts. We put a for sale sign on our suburban Fargo lawn and moved just a few weeks later.
I had no idea my comfort zone would get pushed further when I found out I was pregnant. An absolute blessing—except we were three days away from kissing our income and corporate health insurance goodbye. Oh, and we’d be living with my parents. Seriously.
Broke, homeless, and pregnant—and feeling anything but groovy.
I used to pride myself on having a successful career—I was my job. When we opened the pumpkin patch, I desperately clung to my previous power by giving myself the pretentious title of CPO—ahem, Chief Pumpkin Officer.
But even with my new “fancy” title, life back in my small town felt… small.
At the patch, there were moments in the corn maze when I’d pause and wonder what my old bosses would even think if they could see me here. Who was I? I used to wear suits, for crying out loud! It was probably a good thing that I was so busy I didn’t have time to dwell.
In truth, I was embarrassed of having chosen to move back to my hometown. I felt too ordinary. Too simple. Completely unlike myself. Like I was somehow squandering all my potential.
At the same time, I tried to reconcile those feelings of shame with the fact that I loved this new life. I loved being in the country, with my family, working together.
When I was on the farm working, I was content. I only felt uncertain when attempting to explain my decisions to other people.
After a particularly rough encounter with a “lifer”, I realized I couldn’t hold my authenticity and other people’s approval at the same time.
Just because other people didn’t “get it”, didn’t make it wrong for me.
All this playing small, avoiding shining my light in fear of blinding any unsuspecting small town folk; I’d had enough. I was ready to finally be myself and rewrite my story.
I had no reason to be embarrassed about coming home. Instead, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to, with a supportive family cheering me on, and the grit to figure it out.
You can have lots of acquaintances, but who do you allow into your life today? Do those people make you feel good? Instead of creeping on my neighbor’s lawn, now I’m choosing to bloom where I am. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the white picket fence; it’s better—because the grass is mine, and it’s real.
What kept me going through this whole messy life thing—nesties. You know those ladies you just seem to click with. You exchange just a few words and you want to get matching BFF lockets and stay up all night and talk about your feelings over pizza and beer? Those are the ones.
Today, I love the country, my family, my nesties, and being a professional. Just because I’m one thing doesn’t mean I have to give up the others. And it’s not about having the confidence or courage to show up in this big life I choose—it’s about not diluting myself to make people comfortable.
I got my groove back!
Now, with the growth of motherhood, raising babies into little humans with ever-growing opinions, I also know about the journey of losing and finding my groove.
I believe the only way to find and keep our groove is to find the courage to live on our terms, and not what we think we’re supposed to do or what others want us to do.
I still struggle to maintain my groove and question how to maneuver my big personality in a small town. I certainly don’t have it all figured out and you won’t find me perfectly polished all the time, but you will catch me me doling out some imperfect portions of reality—and not taking myself seriously for one second.
Finding your groove isn’t a one and done deal. To find the fulfillment and confidence we get from having our groove, we have to seek it constantly.
When I’m not helping other small-town women find their grove, you’ll probably find me cleaning up the messes made by my farmer husband, and three kids under the age of 10. Or, I’m at Target, blissfully strolling the aisles alone.
You don’t have to walk alone on this journey. Here’s what to do next:
- Tune into weekly episodes of the Growing Small Towns Show HERE.
- Check out how we can work together HERE
- Or, put on your PJs and cozy up with my book, How Mommy Got Her Groove Back
I can’t wait to live big with you.
Rebecca Undem learned early in her career what mattered most—people. As the author of the book, How Mommy Got Her Groove Back™ and speaker who gained her chops as a people developer through an international talent management firm, she’s worked with hundreds of company leaders to improve their bottom-line results by focusing on their greatest asset: their people.
Growing up in rural America, her childhood was full of all the freedom and adventure a kid could want. When she traded grass stains and overalls for dress pants and pumps and her corporate life in Fargo, she thought she was riding on a one-way ticket. In her wildest dreams, she never imagined she’d return to her hometown. As luck and life would have it, family tugged at her heartstrings to bring her back.
Returning to her Main Street roots initially left her feeling awkward and anything but groovy. A few life-defining messy moments, including hiding in a clothing rack, and several inspiring conversations with other women who were dreaming big—she found her groove.
Today, she inspires women to live BIG no matter their zip code through her speaking events, retreats, online workshops, blog posts, and live video where she serves up a passionate and playful take on how to find, and keep your groove—even if you’re feeling anything but groovy.
She believes the only way to find and discover your groove is to find the courage to live on your terms, even if that’s different from what “everyone else” wants for you.
While she may still struggle from time-to-time to maintain her groove, she’s figured out how to maneuver her big personality in a small town. You’ll probably catch her doling out some imperfect portions of reality—and not taking herself seriously for one second.
Rebecca knows first hand that finding your groove isn’t a one and done deal—it’s a constant search and rescue party.
She believes that the best way to show up for others is to show up for ourselves over and over. There’s nothing like parenthood as an in-your-face reminder. Her biggest champions and daily dose of reality are her 3 kids under the age of 10, Andrew, Carter, and Brynlee, along with her farmer husband, Jeremiah. They simultaneously ground her and keep her from taking herself too seriously. Rebecca and her family call Oakes, North Dakota, home, where her roots are the deepest, and her heart belongs.
Find her at rebeccaundem.com for BFF style advice and inspiration to get your own groove back!