Monday, February 27, 2012

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

As kids, we always had answers to that question, sometimes more than one. I wanted to be an architect, a scientist, an artist, a teacher. Never once did I think: I want to be a downtown revitalization professional.

Planners have existed for a long time. Architects and engineers have been around for centuries. But until the past few decades, no one has really put together the disparate jobs of economic developer/event planner/designer/organizer/grantwriter/fundraiser/lobbyist/mediator/cheerleader/real estate expert and social media guru all into one career. Face it folks: We’re making this up as we go along.

It takes a special kind of person to manage a revitalization program. It takes someone who can think long-term and big picture, while still attending to a crazy quilt of details. Someone with the patience of Job, the perkiness of Kelly Ripa and the laser focus of Lance Armstrong. It takes a thick skin to suffer the slings and arrows of small town politics, while still retaining the sensitivity to deal with confidential negotiations and tender egos. Above all, it takes a good sense of humor.

It’s not a glamorous job, though it has its perks. Sometimes we labor for years only to have our work undone by a new administration or a new set of circumstances. It can feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill, only to watch it roll back down again, over and over. It doesn’t pay nearly as well as it should, and we rarely get credit for all we do. That’s as it should be. But invariably, when you ask a Main Street or Elm Street manager how they feel about their job, they’ll say they love it.

Something about this job gets under your skin. It isn’t a job you go out and find. It’s a job that finds you, usually when you’re looking for something else. People will say, “It’s not brain surgery.” No, it’s not. It may take decades before the work we do shows any progress. But lives are on the line just the same.

In truth, we may never fully realize the results of our labor. But we are changing lives for the better when we help to make a town a better place to live.

So what do you want to be when you grow up?

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