This week’s Balanced Babe is an experienced tour guide, humorist and author. Travel & Leisure has ranked Chicago Elevated #1 among “the best sightseeing tours in Chicago”. And for those of us living in and around Chicago, we are very familiar with the amazing comedy inside Second CIty…it’s an institution! Margaret Hicks started doing improv after college, first in Chicago, then briefly moved to NYC and then back to Chicago, and has never looked back!
BB: What inspired you to start The Second City Neighborhood Tour? And was Chicago Elevated a natural extension?
I was a volunteer tour guide with the Chicago Architecture Foundation for a few years and I heard a rumor that Second City used to do walking tours. I had taken classes at Second City and had been doing comedy in town for many years by that point and I thought that was such a good idea. The tours that had run before were very fun and funny, but not much history about the neighborhood or the city or even Second City’s history. My idea was to create a real tour, but make it really fun and casual too. It was the perfect marriage for me, comedy + history. Perfect.
And Chicago Elevated was definitely a natural extension. I realized I was good at this and that I enjoyed putting a tour together. When I lost my job in 2008 as a secretary, I knew I couldn’t go back to the 9 to 5 world, there’s nothing wrong with that world, I just wasn’t very good at it. I started Chicago Elevated in 2010 and it was the best decision I have ever made. Five years later and there’s still nothing I would rather do.
BB: Can you give a few words of wisdom to new entrepreneurs on how to turn (their) passion into a viable business? Is there a secret to success?
There’s the popular saying “do what you love and the money will follow.” It’s a nice saying but I don’t know that that’s true. The idea has to work, there has to be money to be made from the idea. A good idea can only go so far. And I think there’s no one way to do something, every time something good has happened from my work, it’s because I did it the way *I* do things. I certainly got a lot of help and inspiration from other people but I was always aware that someone telling me how to do something was generally not how I worked. Chicago Elevated is me figuring out how “I” do things. I see it as a mountain, there are many paths up the mountain, not just one – as long as I’m heading towards the mountain, I’m good. When I get off the path, any path, and start heading away from the mountain, that’s where confusion and delusion set in. Keep heading towards the mountain! Is that doing work for free sometimes? Sure, if it’s on the path. Is that working on a project that has nothing to do with giving tours? Sure, if it’s still heading to the mountain then it works. And trust me, it’s a big mountain.
BB: What are some of your go-to healthy meals, or snacks to eat on-the-go?
BANANAS. Oh my gosh. I can grab one and run out of the house. I’m a massive water drinker and always bring my handy refillable water bottle with me when I head out for tours. I’ve tested many fast food salads and know that Potbelly has the best! I also love nuts – almonds especially – and if I don’t remember to bring my own, they’re available in so many places now, they’re nice and crunchy so I feel like I’m really eating something.
BB: It’s a safe bet to say that you get plenty of exercise as a walking tour guide! So what’s your favorite way to relax and unwind after a long day?
Oh yes! I walk a lot, I also have a dog so I’m dog-walking too, I average about 17,000 steps a day! I love it, I know in my heart it keeps me really fit. So to relax, believe it or not – a walk! But my relaxation walk is no backpack, no hustling people through city streets. One thing I love about Chicago is my neighborhood, It’s so quiet and peaceful, so my relaxation walks are also quiet and peaceful. Also, some air-conditioning and a good scary movie doesn’t hurt!
BB: Do you have any new business ventures or projects coming up in the future you would like to share with us?
My brain is always working on new tours and it really stems from what I’m thinking about at the moment. Right now I’m fascinated with Chicago in pop culture, movies and TV specifically. There may be a tour in my future that deals with Chicago as a set piece – it would include film locations and that kind of thing, but also WHY Chicago. That’s always my big question that leads to a next big project. WHY. If I find I’m interested in pursuing that why with reckless abandon, then I know that’s my next big idea.
(all photos courtesy of Margaret Hicks)