competition vs. cooperation (long post warning)

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competition vs. cooperation (long post warning)

Postby erikamay » February 12th, 2006, 2:36 pm

this has been on my mind for a while, and i wanted to see what other people in the community's thoughts and feelings were.

my question is - what role do you believe competition plays in the development of the individual improviser?

i'm not talking about 'stage' competition - ie. maestro, the cagematch or comedysportz style improv - thats only a show concept in my mind. i'm speaking specifically to competition as a vibe or unspoken communication - a schadenfreudian outlook that secretly (or overtly) relishes the missteps or failures of another, in the interest of creating some sort of hierarchy.

my experience here - thus far - has been mixed, honestly. i sense times of cooperation and genuine excitement for the successes of other people in the community. other times, i sense a strong judgement and condemnation of other improvisers and their risk-taking. i am taken by surprise at this (and, this may be my naivete).

my personal perspective on this is (and draws heavily from yogic principles): i am on an artistic journey that draws strongly upon this craft (improv). that journey is inevitably going to be rife with failures and successes, stagnation and advancement and a good measure of risk taking. my artistic pursuit is not furthered or hindered by the success or failure of any other individual - the path is uniquely my own. but that in the case of improv, it only benefits (and, so, everyone benefits) from the support of a community of fellow people on that non-competitive journey.

more than that, i believe competition thwarts growth for everyone by creating a focus on others and their outcomes, rather than on ourselves (as individual artists) and furthering our path. even for those who are perceived as 'winning', because it engenders egoism and pride.

what is your thought on this? i'm not so much interested in specific examples, but in individual viewpoints.
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longer post warning -- I win!

Postby Wesley » February 12th, 2006, 6:42 pm

I believe a little competition is healthy, but so is a lot of cooperation.

The thing about Austin improv that I love (and I can't speak to other cities per se, but I've heard traveling troupes praise Austin for this) is the sense of community. So many of us hang out together even when it isn't a show night. We have huge parties. And I only see it getting bigger.
Sadly, with growth inevitably comes differences of opinions and competition. Competition for players, for stage time (I see this as the biggest obstacle for a lot of people), for ideas, etc.

Competition:
I see competition as inevitable and necessary for personal growth. Sure, some people don't need it, but it cannot be denied that competition has always been a major factor in spurring creative growth, in art, technology, science, etc.
But it is something that one has to keep in check. Both in degree and motivation. For example, I have a lot of little personal competitions. I am in secret competition with Coldtowne (don't tell them) because they have come here and done so much that my troupe was talking about doing, such as renting the Space, before we had a chance to do it because we were so newly formed. But I love that Clodtowne has done these things and it only gives my troupe more and bigger ideas. "Oh, you did thing X that we were wanting to do? Hmm, then we'll just have to do Y!" And there are so many talented individuals that I am jealous of, but I focus that jealousy by wanting to watch and study their shows and take workshops they put on so that I can learn to do what they do (Bob, Erika, Rachel, Dave, Jeremy, Dav, Orf, Shana, etc).
For me, competition spurs growth because I want to improve myself.

Cooperation:
Where competition spurs personal growth, cooperation is essential for community growth. We are a community and helping the community helps the self. We all come together to repaint and clean the Hideout, to advertise, to plan schedules and new show ideas becuase these things raise the entire awareness and experience of seeing improv at the Hideout and that building of the audience benefits us all. It doesn't matter how much we want to improve the self if we don't come together to get people in those seats. Plus, we are all funny, interesting, insane people who are fun to talk to and hang out with.
And I love the cross-pollination of people in multiple troupe or pursuing multiple outlets (like Chris Allen getting together a bunch of people to write sketch). That wouldn't be possilbe without cooperation and if we want to see more, then continued cooperation is key.


Personally, am I competitive? You bet your ass. And I love to trash talk, but I try to keep it to people who can take it and know I'm screwing around. Like Phil (he may be in my troupe, but Sui Generis is still going to smack the little S.O.B. around Friday night at the Cage Match). And lately I might be a little darker than usual for personal reasons, but seriously, if I ever do it with anyone that feels put off by it, just let me know in person, through e-mail, or through the PM feature here. Also, I can be overly open and direct and that tends to come across as being a bastard, but its really just cutting through the walking on egg-shells to get to the issue.

For me, success is best achieved by improving myself, not by kncoking others down. That kind of competition I strongly dislike. I compete with myself and my abilities, to improve and expand them.
And improv should be about risk-taking, we shouldn't condemn others for trying something new and different. We should continue to explore new avenues, forms, and uses for improv.

We are a community of like-minded individuals with relatively similar goals and I hope we will continue to be so for some time to come. I hope that any competition we do have is friendly in nature and I hope we are adult enough to let each other know when we feel it goes too far over the line.

((Though there is a caveat to the above, I admittedly do tend to come across a little more cold/distant/perhaps competitive to people who "freeload" on the system without giving back. And this means different things at different times. People who don't clean up their own mess in the green room knowing someone else will have to. People who skip warm-ups for ensemble shows like Maestro and expect to step in and play because they are experienced or know someone. People who show up to do shows but never to help advertise or clean or anything else. (And I don't mean all the time. I know people have different commitment and availability levels. But some rare people do take more than they give back.) In those cases, you might get a cold shoulder from me and I make no apologies for that. It is who I am.))
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long rant that my have nothing to do with this post

Postby Evilpandabear » February 12th, 2006, 10:01 pm

i agree whole heartily with wes. he may have come off harsh a little bit toward the end, but it was fair. competition & cooperation can both be extremely healthy for growth, and in my eyes even necessary. however, there is a dark side to these as well, and it is to this i believe you were refering to. competition can breed arrogance & elitism. cooperation can lend itself to righteousness and political cliques. already in AIC you can see tiny alliances in certain beliefs, with people joining either side. already we see people casting harsh judgements upon other improvisers and troupes. is this a new thing? no. absolutely not. they've existed in improv as long as i can remember. i think AIC may have flushed them out more so, and through the growing communication of the community are more apparent than before.

but dont get bogged down by this. AIC was formed because enough people cared so much about improv they wanted to work together to improve the prov and no matter what AIC evolves into, this will always be the heart & soul that drives us. i have hope that in the end enough of s will put our differences and biases aside to allow us to grow leaps and bounds past our wildest expectations. regardless of our reservations, we exist in an extremely healthy community. so many troupes from out of town are so astounded by how well we all get along. there are toupes is cities that only hang out with their troupe. we already have something special here. so there may be some self-righteous people amongst us but believe you me (how does that saying work anyway) they are the minority.

i believe, it is a necessary evil or an evil that can not be purged. no matter the faults or flaws of the AIC, i adamantly believe it does more good than harm. so much shit has happened because of AIC and the ball now set in a continuous motion. dave stated that 2006 is going to be an amazing year in austin improv, and while he is correct on this account, 2007, or hell even 2009, should blow your mind. if all goes according to plan, then we'll be a non-profit with grants and donations rolling in, performing in other theatres and locations, dozens of troupes, festivals, classes, workshops and outreach programs. never in my life would i have imagined these things to happen. in my newest troupe, we've been talking about how odd it is for in our shows that ALL offers in scenes will be permanent. imagine if all the things we are slowly creating in AIC today, not only come to fruition, but remain there as an annual event. what a future. we are bound only by our dreams. let's not get carried away with our differences, or our political improv ideals, and get lost in the bog of personal or elitist shit. we should all be working together to build a better and brighter world for austin improv, not just the best improvisers, or the oldest, or the ones with enough time, or the ones who teach workshops, or the ones who help clean, but ALL. OF. US.
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Interesting Thread...

Postby Jastroch » February 13th, 2006, 5:05 pm

I haven't been around too long, but I really haven't noticed any weird competition or back biting. The beauty of the AIC, as opposed to an IO model or what have you, is that there's no official hierarchy. No student teams, no house teams--just a bunch of improvisors coming together to do shows.

That model is a double edged sword. On the plus side, everyone (theoretically) has equal access to the stage. On the minus side, everyone has equal access to the stage. There's a similar problem in the music industry, now that digital technology has made it so easy to record an album.

Having said that, ColdTowne came from an environment that was modeled on Improv Olympic, where you didn't always get stage time based on your merit, ability or commitment, but rather where you stood with the owner. It may not be perfect, but the AIC system is way better for the performer.

For my own part, I don't think competition should have a place in improv. The goal isn't to stand out and be the funniest person on stage, the goal is for the group to stand out. That's not gonna happen if your worried about being better than everyone else. I remember a ColdTowne show in New Orleans. Someone endowed my character with being deaf and dumb. I didn't say a word for 40 minutes, didn't get a single laugh or do anything remarkable, but the show killed.* That concept should apply on and off the stage.

*Actually it was a shitty show, but it made for better illustration if it was a good show.
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Postby sara farr » February 14th, 2006, 2:30 am

GROUP MIND, GROUP MIND, GROUP MIND, GROUP MIND, GROUP MIND!!!!

SUPPORT, SUPPORT, SUPPORT, SUPPORT, SUPPORT, SUPPORT!!

ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL!!

Fear, worry, and self-doubt all crush creativity. Competition fosters these feelings. I find letting go of the competitive drive in favor for supporting the people around me to be difficult - but the payoff when everyone is doing it is enormous.

When you can retrain your selfish brain to be supportive (and you have to have a safe space to develop this) wonderful things can happen -- on stage and in life.
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Postby smerlin » February 14th, 2006, 11:29 am

It's my new mantra:

It's good to do both.
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Postby mcnichol » February 14th, 2006, 2:05 pm

To be blunt here at the top, I don't think competition is necessary, inherent, or has any positive benefits in our situation. There is nothing to "win", nothing to be gained from feeling competitive, other than acheiving a lack of trust in other people and causing you to feel like they are a (perceived) enemy.

Alot of my feelings are due to this: I came from a situation in Chicago where there was nothing but support from everyone involved. And it made people thrive and grow as improvisors, with that absolute support of the community (not to mention the teams, peers, teachers, coaches, etc.). This allowed me to not feel "judged" and to find my own voice as an improvisor. The way I learned improv -- the very core of it -- was pure support, both on and off stage. People who, on stage, went for the joke, railroaded scenes for their own ideas, basically abandoned support and trust in and of their fellow player did not do well. People who served other's ideas well, people who built scenes and ideas together, and people who had absolute trust in the other player (no matter where they were going) were the people who were the most successful.* This is the same on stage and off... if your goal is to be a good improvisor, what does it matter what anyone else does? Their success does not take away from your own personal successes or failures. If you indeed focus on other's outcomes, how would that change your own? Well, if you see them as a "competitor" then they will have beaten you or something. If you see them as a fellow improvisor, you can perhaps learn from what they do. I know, personally, I have learned alot in the relatively short period of time I've been able to see alot of you perform at the Hideout and I am very grateful for it.

Additionally, I guess I just don't see how any competitiveness could even be felt in an artform where there really is no way to compare two people, two teams, two shows... No two people will be the same when they are at their best. That which makes you an individual as a person is what makes you an individual as an improvisor, and ultimately what will make you (and ONLY you) succeed. Anyway, what would be the benefit of it? what is there to win? A Canadian bill? Seriously, what is there to be won and how do you know when you've won it? (I'd seriously like to hear people's thoughts on these questions -- not retorical.)

I'm going to continue being only positive and supportive in this community. If other people want to "compete" with me, or my team, or the shows I am in, go ahead. But I encourage you to just attempt pure support -- just once -- and see how it feels. See if it makes you realize that, hey, we're ALL on the same team here and that by supporting and opening myself up to the fact that we are ALL trying to work towards the same goals, we can acheive them together. I fully respect and understand that this is only my point of view and that this outlook on things might only work for me. But know that I saw an entire community of people (hundreds, thousands) invest the same way, and those who were ultimately the most successful (whatever that means) were the ones who dropped any sense of competition (and ego, and whatever drives feelings of inadequacy and superiority) and indulged in pure support. Those who were competitive were too focused on others and not on themselves, and generally lost touch with why they were doing this stuff (or why they ever enjoyed it in the first place) or how THEY could grow as an improvisor.

Improv is an artform where you need to find your own voice. When you're thinking your voice has to sound like someone else's (or that someone else's could possibly sound better or worse than your own), then you've already lost.

Jay wrote:already in AIC you can see tiny alliances in certain beliefs, with people joining either side. already we see people casting harsh judgements upon other improvisers and troupes.

What are you referring to here, Jay? I'm unaware of any of this.

ps. Much of what Jastroch and Sara said above resonate with me, my strong beliefs about improv, and my beliefs about what makes for a strong artistic improv community.




*IO: now, I know that system isn't set up the best. People fall through the cracks and go unnoticed. Additionally, some people who were suckups or happened to be favored by those in charge get to continue to perform, even if they might not be as "up to snuff" as someone else. Despite these flaws in the IO system, I absolutely stand by what I said above. The support and love from everyone there shone above any of the exceptions. Although what you mention might be true, it is the exception and not the rule at a place where there are thousands of people performing or in classes and only one person who runs the joint. I am certainly not the only person to say that I never spoke more than a few words to the owner and yet, due to a system (yes, flawed) where many people are involved in the process of artistic direction, I was able to grow and learn as a performer over years there.
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Just want to add...

Postby Jastroch » February 14th, 2006, 6:05 pm

I didn't take classes at IO, but our New Orleans theater was structured almost exactly the same. I was just observing some of the differences between the two business models I have experienced. Didn't mean to slag on IO.

I had many improv teachers tell me over and over again that if people came up to you and say something to the effect that "you really stood out in that show" than you weren't really doing good improv. The goal is to be absorbed into the group mind....

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Re: Just want to add...

Postby mcnichol » February 14th, 2006, 6:25 pm

Jastroch wrote:Didn't mean to slag on IO.

No, that's cool. It's certainly far from perfect and, besides, I really didn't think you were slagging on it. Despite any of it's flaws, I just didn't want to overlook the sense of community that it engenders, and that makes those flaws bearable.

Jastroch wrote:The goal is to be absorbed into the group mind....

Ab - So - Lutely!!! I wholeheartedly, 100%, completely agree. Nothing wrong with having a strong show as a performer -- inevitable, as people grow at different times as performers -- but certainly not at the expense of the team or the show. Group mind was basically an entire 8 week course (Level 3, with Liz Allen, when I was there) and it did WONDERS for everyone in the class, in terms of Trust of your fellow player and of the group mind as an entity.

It's also one of the most striking things about ColdTowne -- you guys have amazing group mind and support. That's what helps you guys have such great shows and makes it so fun to watch too. Y'all will follow each other ANYWHERE.
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Postby beardedlamb » February 15th, 2006, 12:31 pm

i agree with everyone. YEAH!

but no seriously, i think both can be useful. in a world of no competition, only certain types of people would be pushing themselves to get better, becase they are on a personal journey to do good art. some people need a little goosing and as the field is raised and greater heights are achieved by others around them, they understand the need to get off their asses. we shouldn't confuse inspiration and competition. you can be amazed by another group or improviser and moved to action by their performance or work ethic. this doesn't mean you have to be in competition with them. but some folks are spurred on by others achievements and i think sometimes this can be deemed competition and good for everyone. as long as it doesn't lead to back stabbing or trash talking.

in the case of micetro, we've already discovered that the score is not important and that the competition part of it is a ruse for the audience's sake. i've heard keith even say that he's been to other parts of the world where they've turned theatresports into a trashy display of the cheesiest "light entertainment" you can think of with 20 minute breaks for stand-ups. he hates light entertainment and regrets guising the theatre part of his forms with gimmicks. he also regrets the names saying he didn't expect them to be so widely used. his three most popular forms, gorilla, micetro, and theatresports all use that veil of competition as a perking up gimmick for the audience. in his realm where he had greater control over quality and content, he was able to make these forms wildly successful. the gimmicks fell to the side and became marketing tools. and under the right people in other cities they have also flourished. i guess my point is that under the right circumstances, support is the important framework for any prov, even the ones that appear to be competitive.

on a personal note, i'd just like to say that i did not encounter the same support others have in chicago. because i was not able or willing (out of my own stupidity, pride, and cashlessness) to take classes at IO i was not supported into the scene. i have met a few really nice folks on the outskirts of the community but as far as being able to do anything different than the norm, i found it very difficult here. most other groups at the various shows we played were apathetic to our work. over time, we have worked our way out of any decent theatres. i can't get a guest spot at the playground for myself or my group despite everything i have accomplished. i was truly blacksheeped. i don't know how much of it was my own doing. i only seem to be good at networking when someone has been impressed with my work. so, it was tough coming from a place where i was the bomb to a place where no one gave a shit. i guess it's been a couple years of rejection leading up to my recent decision to move back and hang up the old headshots. part of me wishes i would have gone to college in chicago and started out as a beginner at IO and SC. who knows where i would be now. i don't regret staying in austin because i grew in a different way there, but trying to come up here and make things happen after my ego had become a certain size might have been a mistake. that's my experience in chicago; largely shut out and ignored just because i didn't go through "the proper channels." and i chalk that up to competition amongst the community here.

i don't feel that as much in austin and i think it's partly due to the scene still feeling fresh. the test will be once there are more people emerging from the classes who always feel like they're going first in the three-fer, not respected in the cagematch, and not invited to all the parties. we're the elite class of ground floor AIC. we're building it right now and the test will be for the next generation. if they assimilate smoothly, it's no problem. if we become some kind of cliquish, overly competitive class of "veterans" we're screwed and we're going to lose great people, and sacrifice diversity.

i'd like to think a good landscape for healthy growth and stabilization is about 20% competition and 80% support.

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Re: Just want to add...

Postby Jastroch » February 15th, 2006, 2:25 pm

mcnichol wrote: It's also one of the most striking things about ColdTowne -- you guys have amazing group mind and support. That's what helps you guys have such great shows and makes it so fun to watch too. Y'all will follow each other ANYWHERE.


We've all seen eachother naked on accident.

Seriously, having been to a few festivals and seen a ton of improv in a ton of cities, I think a lot of teams focus too much on doing everything "right" and forget to have fun. You can always tell when a team's actually playing with eachother.

As an audience member, I prefer watching a team that looks like they're enjoying the experience of improvising.
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Postby Wesley » February 15th, 2006, 3:45 pm

agree whole heartily with wes. he may have come off harsh a little bit toward the end...

I told you that I tend to be overly open and direct. :wink:



we shouldn't confuse inspiration and competition. ... as long as it doesn't lead to back stabbing or trash talking.

Agreed. That's what I mean when I say competition. I don't think competition is an inherently bad thing, and I don't think just being competetive makes you view others as obstacles, enemies, or competitors to be smashed and consumed at every opportunity (with the possible exception of You, Me, and Greg who are seriously going to go down at the Cage Match Saturday night).
I view my 'competitors" as Apollo Creeds to my Rocky, not as Clubber Langs. People to be respected and to learn from and to go get a beer with afterwards--not as big scary black men with gold chains and mohawks whose only predicition for the show is "...pain."

The universe is all about balance, all things in moderation, all that hippie-zen-happy jazz. And I agree. That's why I personally find a complete dearth of competition as limiting and stagnating as 'overly aggressive' competition. Diff'rent Strokes for diff'rent folks, perhaps. If anyone ever feels that I'm being to competitive at any time, then you lose!
What I mean by that of course is, please tell me and I'll try to correct the situation.
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Postby beardedlamb » February 15th, 2006, 5:43 pm

I view my 'competitors" as Apollo Creeds to my Rocky, not as Clubber Langs. People to be respected and to learn from and to go get a beer with afterwards--not as big scary black men with gold chains and mohawks whose only predicition for the show is "...pain."


holy god, i laughed very loud at this when i read it. and it's actually a very appropriate metaphor. or as they say in texas, metafer.
you know the kind of laugh where someone from another room comes in and says, "What?"
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Postby sara farr » February 15th, 2006, 6:22 pm

You guys are having way too much fun. BACK TO WORK, SLACKERS!
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Jeremy are we twins ?

Postby cargill » February 16th, 2006, 2:47 pm

beardedlamb wrote:on a personal note, i'd just like to say that i did not encounter the same support others have in chicago. because i was not able or willing (out of my own stupidity, pride, and cashlessness) to take classes at IO i was not supported into the scene. i have met a few really nice folks on the outskirts of the community but as far as being able to do anything different than the norm, i found it very difficult here. most other groups at the various shows we played were apathetic to our work. over time, we have worked our way out of any decent theatres. i can't get a guest spot at the playground for myself or my group despite everything i have accomplished. i was truly blacksheeped. i don't know how much of it was my own doing. i only seem to be good at networking when someone has been impressed with my work. so, it was tough coming from a place where i was the bomb to a place where no one gave a shit. i guess it's been a couple years of rejection leading up to my recent decision to move back and hang up the old headshots. part of me wishes i would have gone to college in chicago and started out as a beginner at IO and SC. who knows where i would be now. i don't regret staying in austin because i grew in a different way there, but trying to come up here and make things happen after my ego had become a certain size might have been a mistake. that's my experience in chicago; largely shut out and ignored just because i didn't go through "the proper channels." and i chalk that up to competition amongst the community here.


Jeremy, there are so many similar thoughts and experiences you are having that I also experienced 5 years ago. I started out doing improv in Austin in 1997 and was doing it here until 2001. I was around for the Big Stinkin' Festivals and I was at the very first auditions for Theatersports when Sean came to town. Sean hired me into the group and it was then that I was presented (by the ComedySportz Directors) that being in 2 troupes was NOT allowed. I had to make a choice of which theater to perform in, Sean was Les's competitor back then. It was observed that Sean was stealing players from ComedySportz. I had never experienced anything like this before and couldn't understand how learning in two different styles/places would be anything but beneficial. Erin and I were fed up by feeling like property, and decided that we wanted to move to Chicago to learn longform; and then come back here. I was totally on top of my game leaving Austin and felt like Chicago had better WATCH OUT. I thought I was going to be way ahead of the game (not that this is what you experienced, but this was my experience). I remember our first classes at Improv Olympic thinking I was going to be so funny and really good. I got my ass totally kicked through these classes. I went through periods of, "Am I ever going to learn and understand all of this?" "Why am I doing this". It came to a point that I (again this is my own experience) realized that I will always have a lot to learn about improv, no matter how long I've been doing it, teaching it, studying it, I am a student to the craft. I never went to formal college, so being 27 at the time, I took classes at IO, Second City and Annoyance to absorb everything I could about improv. However, Erin took classes for free at IO because you can intern at both Second City, Annoyance and IO and take free classes. Most of the people that have become some of my best friends (Bob and Erika ) I met on day one of classes. Once I met people and started learning, going to shows, hanging out at IO, it opened up this whole new world of people who were so supportive and encouraging. Even going back to Chicago now the old gang is still there and still totally supportive and encouraging when I tell them what is going on here. There was never an element of competition there (again, my opinion). When people played well, it inspired others to play harder, smarter and come up with unique ideas and also celebrate how good other teams and performers were. It changed the way I think about improv because everyone was so accepting there. I definitley think there are a lot of people in Chicago doing improv, a lot of them have put quite a bit of time and maybe some of the channels you tried looked more at how much you've put in to your improv in Chicago (training, shows, etc.).

You are an EXTREMELY talented improvisor and I know you have worked really hard to be where you are now. I am sure it does not feel good to feel unwelcomed in Chicago, we felt that way for the first 8 months. I honestly think if you can do some shows over at The Cornservatory or The Oracle (you can play for free there) you will meet some great people who are also not necessarily doing improv at IO and Second City, and who are very TALENTED and accepted in the community.

Being back in Austin now is really unbelievable. The community is fantastic here and while there was been some twinges of competition, I haven't felt anyone be unwelcoming. Obviously, I travel with my job 2 to 3 weeks a month and am not here alot, so I could be wrong, but I hope you walk away from your Chicago experience feeling loved by the community AND at least feeling proud of yourself that you had the balls to go TRY IT !

Jen
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