We did not embark on our inaugural People Issue with much of an idea for where we wanted to end up. We didn’t want to seek out the most powerful or influential, or even the up-and-coming. We didn’t care if the people we chose had achieved early success, or if they were “successful” in the traditional sense at all. We didn’t require that they be exceptional, at least not exceptional in a way that sets them apart from the other millions of inhabitants of this city. Yeah, it was all pretty vague.

A funny thing happened, though, while we tracked down the people who, like most of us, work behind the scenes, who populate the underground and the everyday, who are fascinating chiefly because the work they do is . . . real.

The 29 Chicagoans assembled in these pages come from different places and backgrounds and perspectives, but they’re shockingly alike. Many of them spent years of their lives, if not adrift, then unsure of their purpose—only to arrive at the place that fit. As Playboy managing editor Lee Froehlich puts it, “I didn’t intend to be this.” They simply love what they do, whether it’s community organizing or environmental activism, alternative medicine or alternative porn. And while we, too, weren’t sure what we were looking for here—we didn’t intend this—in the end we found what we didn’t know we were looking for: evidence from across Chicago of a pervasive pride in one’s work—a pervasive pride in oneself.

So for those of you who are burning through a string of odd jobs; who have doubts about your degree, your career, your calling; who feel, you know, lost, take heart. Very few people in this issue set out to do what they do today. And what they do today is amazing.

For Titus Chiu, it took getting hit by a car to discover his mission. Lynn House practiced the craft of acting only to master the craft of the cocktail. Fred Sasaki cut keys at True Value Hardware only to end up an editor at Poetry. Mike Reed painted houses, babysat, and worked as a janitor before launching a series of music festivals including one called Pitchfork. Psalm One studied chemistry on a U. of I. scholarship before switching course to become an accomplished MC. “Rapping,” she says, “was definitely not in the books.”

The first of these interviews to come across my desk set the course for what followed, and made the concept of the People Issue immediately (finally) clear. Describing the work she does at experimental film venues the Nightingale and Cinema Borealis, Christy LeMaster shared a sentiment familiar to those of us at the Reader and, I presume, to many of you:

“I like that it requires lots of hands to get it done. I don’t ever want to be alone with a big ship. I want to do it because there are people around me that I like doing it with. There’s so much good work in this city.”