In my new position as president of the Alpena Area Convention & Visitors Bureau the most commonly asked question people have of me is, "Will Alpena be the next Traverse City?"
The flat out, without hesitation, spoken with confidence answer is - no. Traverse City is a fine city but Alpena is different and has its own personality that deserves respect.
We have something amazing to offer the world and our residents that is special and not a copy of another city. I follow up the quick answer of "no" with a comment on how detrimental it is to compare ourselves to others. Just like with individual people, constant comparisons of what we are not damages the self-esteem of a community.
By focusing on what we are not, we miss what we are. If you have ever known someone who has had plastic surgery for non-medical reasons you may understand this concept. You may believe the person had no reason to change their appearance but they didn't feel like they lived up to the expectation of what they should look like.
It's not entirely our fault for so many to feel this way. Our nature as a society makes us focus on being better. We can't just be a fast runner on the track team, we must be faster. We can't just make a living to cover our expenses, we must make more. We can't just accept our age as we grow, we must fight to maintain that youthful glow and as a result buy up hair dye by the gallons.
We are taught to fight against who we are and become someone we perceive as being better. When at the end of the day, who we really are is better than the manufactured perception we are trying to live up to. But it is hard for us to see reality until we step outside of ourselves and look objectively upon the scene as an outsider might.
We will never be "the next Traverse City" because we are Alpena. We have our own unique fingerprint. Our natural beauty is unrivaled. We have more per capita compassion for our fellow neighbor than you can measure. The experiences available to visitors of the Northeast Michigan region are authentic and genuine. We are amazing and we take it for granted.
It's time for us to take a look at what surrounds us. We are that place where relaxation, natural beauty, and outdoor recreation collide with heritage, arts, and culture.
You can enjoy a hike through an uninhabited island during your lunch break and then meet up with friends for a sophisticated wine tasting in the evening. Spend a day fishing or diving around nationally significant shipwrecks out in the bay and then gather with family and friends for an evening concert in the park. Seclude yourself to a quiet meadow with your laptop to get some writing done before venturing to town for a charity auction. Meet friends for an afternoon of riding bikes around the city's bi-path and wrap it up with a cool ice cream treat.
Whatever is on your mind, Northeast Michigan provides the perfect backdrop for creativity, tranquility, and inspiration. We will strive to be nothing but the best Alpena we know we can be. We live in a place where families can connect; a place that sparks innovation; a place where you can find refuge from stress; a place that reminds you of those things that are most important in life. We will not be the next Traverse City. We are the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes.
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.