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Job Lost. Community Found.

At times it can seem everywhere you look there is reason to despair. Gun violence, global warming, educational gaps and intolerance for people with different opinions and background. The stories we hear often make us feel like we are on a one-way train heading in the wrong direction.

A book I am reading at the moment, Our Towns, by James and Deborah Fallows, has been invaluable as I move into a time of job transition. What the authors conclude after four years on the road in and out of all sorts of small towns and mid-size cities like: Rapid City, South Dakota; Eastport, Maine; Holland, Michigan; and Birmingham, Alabama; is they are more positive about the future after spending time on the ground with people going about their lives rather than losing themselves in headlines.

Two of their comments have rung true for me these past several days: people focus more on local possibilities than divisive national politics and people knowing their civic story.

In a time when politics trounces most things, I’ve had people reach out to me in any number of ways when they heard the news. “What can I do to help?”, “I’ve been there. Keep going”, “Talk to such and such person. I hear they have an opening.”

Its too easy and a cop out to broadly say, “this country is falling apart. People are only interested in themselves”, because that is not what I have just experienced. I have been met at every turn by caring, reassuring and positive people. I am fortunate to know a good number of people in this town and what I want you, my fellow St. Louisans to know, you inspire me. You (and I) do not give yourselves enough credit for what you are capable of. You are all busy and yet you took the time to reach out and offer support.

The small stories we tell ourselves and take the time to hear are a reflection of who we really are. I will share a short passage from the Fallows’ trip to Eastport, Maine, population 1,255. This town without a doubt has things to be concerned about: falling population, job decline, drug problems; and yet the authors found hope there in many ways including this one

“When Eastport was beginning to show [signs of improvement], the media seemed stuck in how they were referring to Eastport. She pointed to what they called the de- words: ‘The most-used de- words were words like: depressed, dependent, decline, despair and were usually used in comments about economics, services, schools, population’… So the group set forth to crowd out the de- words with re- words, words like: rebound, rediscover, redesign, reverse, renew, reenergize and reemerge. They encouraged reporters and politicians to substitute the more positive words. Gradually, [the town] reported their campaign seems to have worked."

This piece doesn’t mean all of Eastport’s problems have gone away, merely that they have chosen to put a new lens on what lies before them.

Shortly after my job ended, I visited a nearby coffee shop to collect my thoughts. I was obviously in a bit of a daze. As I wrapped up my breakfast and headed back in from the patio to drop off my plate, I ran into someone I had not seen for years. After we took a minute to remind each other how we knew one another, our conversation expanded and from there, I shared with her, my job had ended about an hour ago. After a genuine consoling comment, she told me she had recently left a job behind and then said with her eyes full of energy, “What an exciting moment for you this is! You have the chance to build your next chapter starting now!” Our conversation carried on for 30 minutes but all it took was five minutes of interacting with the first person I ran into in this town after losing my job to go from defeated to reenergized.

You have all given me resolve and energy. This is one small act that placed me in the mindset I need to be in. Thank you. But now that you have given a little something, I leave you with a question, “what would happen if we each chose to give hope and support to someone each day? What if we allowed ourselves to believe a small genuine effort made a difference?” It made a world of difference for me.

I love you St. Louis.

Go Forth Boldly

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