You Can’t Ride Two Bikes

You Can’t Ride Two Bikes

My favorite image of Charlotte is Tryon Street during the 2012 Democratic National Convention at CarolinaFest, the public celebration that was the capstone to Charlotte’s shining moment. I remember looking up and down the street filled with 50,000 revelers—people of all colors, ages and backgrounds—and thinking, yes, this is my town.

Despite our occasional lurchings, Charlotte is a city that makes dreams come true. For the DNC, my friends Tracy Russ and Jennifer Appleby created a theme that declared, “We Make it Possible.” For all its hubris, many of us who moved to Charlotte with a dream knew that the tagline wasn’t some inauthentic platitude. It was a validated truth.

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I moved to Charlotte 30 years ago, thinking it would be a brief stop over to a larger market with bigger potential. I grew up in Miami, a vibrant and diverse city; I never imagined that Charlotte would satisfy my ambitions, even though I didn’t know what they might be.

Once I arrived, however, I met a community that was full of life and possibility. I opened an event marketing company at the age of 24, and the community embraced me and helped me succeed.

During the 25 years I owned Tribble Creative Group, I grew up with Charlotte, and it with me. As my company helped celebrate this city’s milestones over a quarter of a century, I watched Charlotte emerge into a city that more than met my needs; it surpassed my imagination.

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I was lucky enough to make a home in a cool uptown condo where the best of the city was at my fingertips. Restaurants, the arts and green space emerged. I got involved in social issues, trying to help the city to look at equity beyond the privileged life in our tree-lined streets. I helped start sustainability initiatives in the event industry, brought CEOS together to discuss corporate responsibility and gathered thousands of women together to discuss issues of importance.

None of this would have been available to me in just any city. Charlotte is, indeed, a city that makes dreams possible. It made mine come true.

There is a long story about the mystical unfolding that has led to my decision to leave Charlotte to dive more deeply into my work at Wake Forest University. But suffice it to say, as painful as it is to leave, I feel called to help usher my alma mater into its next place in history.

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When I took my new position as Senior Advisor for Engagement Strategies, the plan was for me to work most days in Charlotte and spend a day or two on the main campus. But over the last year, I find myself spending too much time on I-85, not from duty, but from a deep desire to maximize my impact at Wake Forest.

My friend Charlie has a saying, “You can’t ride two bikes.” It comes from a dream he once had where he was given the gift of two new bikes, but he could only keep them if he rode them both home. They were both so pretty and shiny, he couldn’t possibly leave one behind. So, he set off for home, trying various methods to walk and ride them. Finally, he realized that no matter how much he wanted them both, he needed to choose one bike and leave the other behind.

Two attached bicycles near the coast, during holidays in France.

I’ve been trying to ride two bikes, torn between my love for home and my new position. I’m not doing either one justice: I constantly feel the pull of my new opportunity at Wake when I’m in Charlotte, and the tug of home when I’m in Winston-Salem.

I could, of course, quit my job and hunker down in my familiar and loving and comfortable world, and wait for a new opportunity that would fill me with the same sense of purpose that Wake Forest gives me. But there is a pull toward Wake Forest that transcends my love for Charlotte, and the sheer improbability of that feeling tells me I need to pay attention. It’s time to go.

It’s not across the country; it’s 90 miles away. I’m renting out my condo here, just in case I get run out of town. But it’s still a painful parting.

I have many happy memories in Charlotte. But my heart, my work and my future seem to be in Winston-Salem.

Anything I have achieved, I owe to the friends, colleagues, clients, employees and civic leaders who have crossed my path in Charlotte.

You made it possible.

Mary has spoken to hundreds of groups in the Carolinas and across the country, including Meeting Professionals International, Public Relations Society of America, Lowe’s Home Improvement, the North Carolina Conference for Women, among others.

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