Stripping Your Label: Going Beyond Stereotypes

Stripping Your Label: Going Beyond Stereotypes

When I was asked to do this blog my first thought was, I don’t want to strip my label. I don’t think labels are always bad.  I am a librarian, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a 29-year breast cancer survivor- all labels I am proud to have. Each one defines a part of my life.  Some labels I wouldn’t mind losing, like being a procrastinator, judgmental, or stubborn. I am working on those.

It is a normal human behavior to label things and people to help us understand them.  If you consider how a child learns to talk or read, the first things she learns are labels for people and things.  Mama, Dada, milk, cookie…. As children have more experience they get a more complete understanding of each thing. In some ways, it’s the same for adults.  When we meet someone new, we ask them for their labels. “What do you do for a living?” “Do you have any children?” “Where do you live?” We are looking for a connection or a way to know the person better.  The problem comes when we think if we know the label that is all there is to know.

We need to be willing to take the time to get to know the real person we have just met.  The labels we identify are just a starting point. Find out what other experiences or feelings have shaped the life of your new acquaintance.  You may find you have made a lifelong friend.

Many labels are rooted in stereotypes. I am proud to be “The Library Lady”. My license plate even says, “SHHH”.  As a librarian, many people think they know what kind of person I am just because of the profession I have. I am thought to be a quiet person who reads all day, and who is really interested if you have overdue books.  I can’t count the number of times when I mention I am a librarian that the first thing a person tells me is that they have overdue books or fines.

I can be a quiet person sometimes and I do like to read when I have time, but you might be surprised if you saw me at a party.  I am usually the first one on the dance floor and often the last one to leave. I am a country music fan, which surprises some people who know me. I love cars and often go to car shows with my husband. I prefer driving a car with a manual transmission, but they are hard to find anymore.  

Labels can be limiting, not only in our relationships but also in our own minds.  I am happy to be a breast cancer survivor, but when I was going through treatment I decided I wasn’t going to let this change my life any more than absolutely necessary.  I continued to work and care for my young children. I wore a wig cut to my regular hairstyle so it wasn’t obvious to those who didn’t know me well that I was undergoing cancer treatments. I did as much of my regular routine as I could, with a lot of help from my husband.  I didn’t want cancer to define me to others or myself.

Labels do help others get to know us, but we have to get beyond the stereotypes to really get to know one another.  To make a true connection we have to have real conversations that explore our values, our feelings and how we see ourselves and each other.  We need to be willing to let others see us as we are.

It is difficult to be open with others, especially those who are new to us.  We feel vulnerable when we don’t know how someone will react to what we reveal of ourselves.  But we have to be brave enough to be vulnerable if we are to live authentically. We also need to examine our own values and live in accordance with them.  Do we act differently because we worry about what a certain person or group will think of us? If we try to live consciously, working toward the person we want to become, we can be open to others and let them see our real selves.  It isn’t easy and it takes time and work, just like any worthwhile endeavor.

 

Paving New Roads To Be The Next Comeback City

Paving New Roads To Be The Next Comeback City

It was a cold December day, 20 years ago.  The plane had landed on the tarmac of JFK airport an hour ago and now I stood nervously, clutching my passport tightly, waiting to be signaled by the immigration officer to his window.

When it was my turn at the window, the officer sternly asked me why I was in the United States? I am sure I gave him a half-intelligent answer because he stamped my passport and waved me in. But thinking back to that moment, I realize that the right answer would have been to “pave new roads for myself.”

Because that was what I had set out to do. To leave the comfort of my home country and to come to a foreign land, to build a life for myself among strangers. And the journey that began that day, brought me to Mansfield three years later, where I have chosen to stay and raise my family, nurture friendships, educate my children and find my tribe.

I am sure all of you can look back and remember some moment where you decided to pave your own road. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

“Do not go where the path may lead, but go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”

The same can be said for a city.  Often longtime residents who have been witness to the glory days, are bitter and disillusioned by the present version of their city.  I bet you have heard someone say  “There’s nothing in Mansfield anymore.” And, I find myself confounded by this attitude. Why do we feel that we are not worthy? That Mansfield has nothing to offer: not to its residents or to outsiders. That the glory days that made Mansfield a shining star are behind us.

But then I am comforted by the dozens of examples I witness around me of residents who have chosen instead to go down a new path: of entrepreneurs willing to take a risk and invest in our community… their dreams, their hard earned money, their blood, sweat, and tears, of community leaders and nonprofit organizations who seek to move the needle, with out of the box solutions like the SXSW419 project. We are fortunate that we are home to news organizations that believe in solutions journalism and not just on the gloom and doom stories about our City.

To reflect on the progress we’ve made and to continue to shift away from the mindsets that can limit us in terms of what we can accomplish in creating the “City we want to live in”,  I want to share three mindful actions we can support to accelerate this rebirth.

Advocate for your City and feel the pride

Too often we assume others should just know what we want and provide the solutions to our problems or issues. But relying on outside sources can lead to resentment and frustration. We know our worth, we know what we can be as a city and a community.

Let us take pride and be brave and deliberate in our actions. Community-based investment, in fact, has the greatest chance for success because ownership translates to pride. Let us proclaim loudly and often that we are #MansfieldProud and #RichlandRocks .

Commit to a plan but write in pencil

If you don’t know where you want to go, you can find yourself “cruising around.” The fact is unless we have a vision for what we want our City to be, it’s easy to find ourselves falling down the path of least resistance.

That said,  as important as a well laid out plan can be, it’s important to be flexible in applying it. Margie Warrell in Stop Playing Safe says to, “Write your plan, but use a pencil.” Conditions and economies are constantly changing  – with opportunities presenting themselves out of left field when least expected and obstacles tripping us when we are near the finish line.

The future is unknowable but we can shape it if we can set direction and know where we are headed…and we need to be ready to make the needed detours from the linear path to reach our destination.

Risk failing more often

Many factors—whether a large employer leaving town, disinvestment, or simply not managing resources can have devastating results on a city—the most important thing is to not let it define us. Failure is not fatal; it’s how we process it that can be dream killer. It is important to heal and repair but then to take risks. When the Carousel idea was proposed for downtown, it was ridiculed. It took committed believers to sustain the belief and take a risk.  It is said if you’re never failing, you’re playing too safe. We discount the cost of inaction in the long run.

Our City is on the mend… the tide has begun to turn… people are sharing the same narrative… thanks in no small part to the increasing number of passionate citizens driving change by paving new roads…

And, for me personally, that is an inspiration and I hope it will be for you too. It is inspiring to meet people every day in this community whose focus is on shaping our City’s collective future and I am committed to being part of it.

Paving New Roads

Paving New Roads

What? …in Mansfield!?

Just this time last year, I found myself asking this exact question. I was searching for my first “big kid job” and never would have thought I would find myself working and living in Mansfield, Ohio.

Being a native Clevelander, I’ve witnessed first-hand the trials and tribulations of the Northeastern area. However, the City of Cleveland has miraculously found a way to pull itself up by the bootstraps and make changes for the better. All of the passion, hard work, determination, and faith of local leaders, as well as that of area residents, have invested into the revitalization of the 216 have turned CLE into one of America’s hottest cities.

I see many of the same characteristics and patterns happening here in Mansfield/Richland County and sincerely believe that this piece of North Central Ohio is a true gem. It also has the potential to gain national recognition… for all the right reasons.

Change can be difficult

To reinvent one’s self is a tremendous struggle. Think about all the times you’ve tried to drastically change your diet, your exercise routine, etc. From a health behavior and psychological perspective, humans are very good at setting goals but have difficulty achieving them.

While we may experience small successes, these are usually short-run bursts that sputter out before real change happens. Long-term, sustained change is tremendously difficult to attain, however, this well-researched area of human behavior has identified eight primary reasons why we cannot grasp and hold on to our goals:

  1. We are motivated by negative emotions.
  2. We get trapped by thinking/believing fallacies.
  3. We try to “eat the entire elephant” at one time.
  4. We neglect the tools/resources available to us.
  5. We try to change too much.
  6. We underestimate the process of change.
  7. We forget that failure is usually a given.
  8. We don’t make a commitment to change.

We can all achieve change

The key to success is making the new behaviors rewarding. Two approaches to this strategy are increasing reward with personal sources of value (i.e., linking the new behavior with core values and beliefs that are central to an individual’s identity) and increasing reward with social value (i.e., leveraging social norms and interpersonal relationships to increase the importance of the goal).

Both of these methods have an advantage over tangible forms of value, such as money, because they can be far more enduring and universal. Money has the ability to run out and does not have the same meaning for all people, but we all have a set of core values and care deeply about our social ties.

These characteristics are what make the City of Mansfield/Richland County community so special, unique, and meaningful.

Vision, leadership and commitment

The residents of this community are incredibly generous and have a grand sense of pride for the area that they live in.

I constantly hear the locals expressing to me that they think the City of Mansfield/Richland County is a great place to live, yet, there is always a “but…” that follows. The theme of the “but…” seems to be that the area is a great place to be, BUT we’re at the precipice of being excellent, we’re just not “there yet.” The “want” and the “drive” to see the Renaissance of the community is there, however, we need to do more as a cohesive collaborative effort to make this dream come to fruition.

This is going to take vision, leadership, and commitment from all sectors of the local community. And although these positive changes will take an incredible amount of time and effort, there’s no better time than the present to get involved in the regeneration of our community.

The Road Ahead

During the 12-months I’ve lived and worked here in Mansfield/Richland County, I’ve had the pleasure to observe and be a part of our area’s transformation.

I am incredibly impressed with the activities, resources, programs, and local organizations/businesses this area has to offer. There is never a day or a night of the week where I can’t find anything to do in the City of Mansfield/Richland County. Yet, there is still work to do to ensure the continued success of our community.

Paving these new roads is simultaneously exciting and exhausting labor. However, keep in mind that change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end. If the City of Cleveland can go from “The Mistake on the Lake” to “Believeland,” I have no doubt in my mind that the City of Mansfield can change its perception as “Danger City” to “Dreamfield” in the not too distant future.