On a crisp fall day on the campus of Michigan State University I sat in an old lecture hall listening to our professor discuss an experiment he was involved in when he was in school.
The experiment involved the need for a number of people considered "ugly" in appearance. I remember my classmates and I being a bit shocked and looking at each other to make sure we heard correctly. Not only was it impolite to describe someone as ugly, but to do it in a roomful of people was even more unbelievable. He then went on to answer the question we were all thinking. Where do you find people willing to consider themselves ugly; and is that even appropriate to ask?
"The theater!" he exclaimed. He explained that there are roles for ugly people in the theater. And they are proud of it. "You need an ugly salesman? A grotesque villain? I'm your guy! Right here! I'm hideous!" He said they had no problem finding the subjects needed. He also shared with us the lesson. These "ugly" folks understood their best asset and put it to use help them be successful instead of considering it a fault.
This is the lesson I am reminding myself of on this crisp fall day 15 years later. I'm not thinking about ugly people; I'm thinking about unique characteristics.
I've recently been applying this lesson to our community as we work to grow our tourism infrastructure. For years I believe many of us local residents have compared our community to non-comparable variables and have wrongly believed that we're not good enough. Myself included. We've willingly placed ourselves in this apples-to-oranges comparison battle. We have a perspective problem. We are not going to be right for everybody but we are just perfect to the right people. But yet we continue to believe that we need to be all things to all people. That is a misconception that will end in failure every time. As a result of years of this thought process we've created a number of myths that we guide our growth by and it has led us down the wrong path.
Here are just a few examples of myths that we can bust:
Myth: Alpena will never be an outdoor destination because we don't have mountains.
Fact: Alpena is the mecca for relaxed outdoor adventure. Our region is more than 60 percent water (not counting Lake Huron) and blanketed with forests. We have well-groomed trail systems perfect for trail biking, skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. State and private land rich with game hunting. We have lakes that offer the perfect setting for fishing, swimming, water sports, kayaking, and more. Alpena is exactly what many people are looking for.
Myth: Alpena is too far off the beaten path. Nobody will go out of their way to travel here.
Fact: There are certain types of people who will go out of their way to find a location like Alpena. It is a place that is insulated from the pressure of the busy world. It is place that offers solace but still has all the amenities of a modern community. A place that inspires thought instead of polluting it with stress. It is a place that is grounded in its roots and offers an experience that is genuine and authentic. We are not creating a smoke and mirrors existence. We are who we are and that is highly desirable to the right audience.
Myth: People won't come here because we don't have good shopping.
Fact: The type of people looking for a place like Alpena are also looking for the shopping experience that Alpena provides. These types of folks don't want Rodeo Drive. They don't want congestion and designer labeled clothing. They want cozy homegrown suppliers and cute boutiques.
To wrap this all up I say that it is time. It's time that we start recognizing and re-familiarizing ourselves with our assets. We need to actively stop comparing ourselves to others. There is no other place on earth like Alpena. Alpena is a rurally isolated community shaded by trees, hugged by water, and kissed by the sun. That's not a bad thing - that's our best thing!
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.