When I was in the sixth grade my dad gave me the book "One Minute Manager" to read. The book is a great read, quick and to the point. It is basically about management communication in the workplace. Obviously, a sixth-grader doesn't manage much. Maybe some Barbie dolls, a collection of sparkly hair barrettes, and a set of Nancy Drew novels at the most. You could argue that sixth-graders aren't supposed to be focusing on self-improvement; they should focus on their geography test or their most recent issue of Cosmo Girl magazine. I didn't even have a real job at the time. But, that's just how I grew up.
I certainly wasn't managing people but my parents were always encouraging my brother and I to push the limits of our comprehension so we could grow intellectually. There were a lot of things in the book I didn't "get" until I read it a second time but this book was the start of my life-long love affair with communication and personal development. However, I must say it took me a good decade to realize that I could read all the self-improvement books in the Library of Congress and not expand my limits even one iota if I didn't internalize the lessons. Change is an inside job. No amount of outside force is going to alter our behavior or beliefs if we don't internalize the force and make it our own.
Recently, I learned that an outside expert was brought in by the Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau to "secret-shop" Alpena and give us feedback on how our community could be more tourist friendly. It was a great opportunity to get a fresh third-party perspective on where we could improve. I read a synopsis of the findings and nothing struck me as surprising. In fact, everything mentioned are things that I've been hearing people talk about for years.
To be clear, I am not trying to negate the value of bringing in an expert opinion from outside of the community. I think this is an important and sometimes necessary catalyst and I commend the CVB for doing so. However, having lived here for 95 percent of my life I know this is not the first attempt a local organization has made to help move Alpena forward. Many times the motivation of these events fizzles out after a few months and we fall back into normal routines. We don't internalize the responsibility. We look at all the steps we need to take to get us to the top and we get overwhelmed or paralyzed by the details; not realizing that any attempt at improvement is appreciated. Then, we revert back to a daily struggle of trying to make enough money to keep the lights on.
After reading the synopsis of this recent "secret-shopper" analysis I was excited for Alpena, but hesitant to celebrate because I understand how easy it is to go through something like this and then believe that change somehow magically occurs through osmosis; or the work is always up to someone else like a local agency, community government, Santa Claus, or heck maybe even the Secret Service. A local agency can help jump-start change but it's up to all of us to carry it through.
When I refer to all of us I mean everyone from the local business owner right down to the average citizen like myself. Growing a prosperous community takes effort from everyone. Even something as simple as how we communicate with people is just as important as the facade of a downtown business. If any effort is going to be successful it's up to all of us to work together and hold each other accountable for the maintenance of positive community improvement.
At some point we have to rally around the campfire and come together as a whole unit to make any significant transformation. I think we all hold a wish for Alpena to continue to be a vibrant and warm place in which every age can live, grow, and prosper. No amount of outside expert opinion alone is going to get the job done. It offers a starting point but the end point relies on our collective persistent action.
Let's not let Alpena down. Community change happens inside the community. If each of us took just one thing, one area to improve upon, and called it our personal mission for the next 12 months where would Alpena be next year at this time?
Alpena native Mary Beth Stutman's Inspiring A-Town appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.