Friending FloridaGeography is not merely about location — it can carry with it all sorts of emotional baggage.  It just depends on one’s history with the place in question, mixed with a little Hollywood, literature and sometimes music.  We use word associations to create images so powerful that we can’t wait to return to a treasured spot or we permanently cross it off our list. For instance, when one says Paris – many of us think “romance” and we can’t wait to return.  How about LA?  Movie stars and surfers may come to mind and so the place represents glamor and youth (or for others, traffic!). And New York, well, Frank Sinatra fixed our image brilliantly with his “New York, New York” as did Harry and Sally. Or perhaps the rat race image reigns supreme with our own personal experience buttressed by wolves and Wall Street.

Now what about Florida? What happens to your psyche when you repeat after me, FLORIDA.  Well, if you’re not from Florida or the south, and you were born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I would imagine that Florida carries with it a completely different range of emotion.  And if your image of Florida is “The Bucket List” – two terminally old men trying to escape their lives…

What I learned during a recent trip to Florida was the stereotypes I had lodged in my mind’s eye have actually created an obstacle to going there and having fun.

So, what’s the big deal you say? If it doesn’t feel good, then don’t go there.  Well, but we just did because it actually sounded like a good idea on every spectrum except that it was FLORIDA: friends; sports; sun and a chance to check in on my Mom. We jumped at an invitation to take a long weekend trip to visit our friends, Fred and Judi, (who just inherited their recently deceased parents’ place), visit my mom for 24 hours and thaw out. It turned out it was a great idea. The trip was a huge relief from the brutal cold snap we were battling in New York and Boston and the warm sunshine actually altered my negativity about Florida.

I want to like Florida, I really do. My primary motivation to change my outlook is that Florida conjures up warm sweet memories for my husband, who had great visits with his grandfather in Naples when he was a young boy. He is way more relaxed in warm climate and never minds the heat; in fact he thrives on it. So, I thought I’d try to open my mind up a bit on the topic.

I put together a systematic experiment to create an attitude and mind shift to extricate myself from my self-imposed rut. I designed this Three-Step process:

Step 1: As we all know, change is hard and takes conscious discipline. My work began with stating my current reality. I made a list of the top seven word associations I have with Florida:

  1. Old People
  2. Slow & un-adrenalized
  3. Bad drivers
  4. Flat
  5. Strip Malls
  6. Widows
  7. Early Bird Specials

Wow – took me all of three seconds to create that list – no wonder I’ve got attitude issues! The truth is, the image I have of Florida is not wrong, it may, in fact, be spot on. The question is – should this get in the way of enjoying the place? No!

My top seven bummer Florida images needed to become overlaid with some new positive ones. (Oh dear, how would I do that?)

Step 2:  I challenged myself to a mind-shifting experiment. Could I layer some good images on top of the bad images to create a delightful feeling about the place? It would require real-time observations, like an anthropological intake assessment with field notes. My pencil was ready and I carried it with me during my four-day visit. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Bad Image: First night here saw man with walker being helped into driver’s seat by a valet at a restaurant and he drove away with a bejeweled, much younger woman in the passenger seat (maybe a wife?) – Who am I to judge? I can’t shake that image though, the valet settling the driver into his driver’s seat and then folding up the walker and putting it in the trunk.
  2. Good Image: My husband and I rented a Mustang Convertible and ramped up our RAP music. We felt delightfully rebellious and youthful, I must say.
  3. Bad Image: Apres dinner, we observed a parade of women coming out of a strip mall restaurant. They were all carrying Styrofoam boxes – could this be dinnertime party favors or, heavens no, leftover bread for the week? (Not to mention the environmentally insensitive Styrofoam!)
  4. Good Image: We became part of the parade strolling along the Main Street in Delray. The night life with “happening” bars was “hopping” and the food scene was exciting and inventive. We loved it.
  5. Bad Image: Needing a morning Starbucks fix, we had to drive down an ugly eight-lane road with strip malls lining every inch. Seems like anytime we had to go anywhere, that ugly eight-lane road was our gateway.
  6. Good Image: We rented a little motorboat for a few hours and escaped the mainland. What a spectacular afternoon!  It was a total blast to cruise the Intracoastal Waterway looking at Miami Vice-style homes and soaking in the gorgeous Florida sunshine.
  7. Bad Image: Watching rows of elderly people sleeping with mouths agape on lounge chairs at the pool.
  8. Good Image: Reading our books, drinking cocktails, and napping by the pool (maybe our mouths were open a little too).
  9. Bad Image: Travel Delays. Ice Storms Out of Boston. Jet Blue canceled for 2 days.
  10. Good Image: Affordable, frequent direct easy flights in three hours.

Step 3: Reset and Relax

Once I’d had my fill of “good times,” my Florida attitude button needed to be reset with some additional strong imagery and there was plenty to be had:

  • Sunrises and sunsets over the water and palm trees.
  • Green grass, flowers, and warm sandy beaches…mid-winter!
  • Tennis, golf, and long runs – all outdoors!
  • Spectacular wildlife.
  • And most of all – I actually think that when my grandmother moved to Florida for the winter, she may have added years to her amazing life.

In conclusion, my husband and I are not moving to Florida  but  — we’re praying we were great guests and hoping to score another mid-winter invite from our friends… just sayin!

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