The Rear View Mirror and the Windshield.
When you lose a parent at an early age, I think you tend to cling to the items of theirs that you can hold, touch…things that make them feel a little more real. For me, that was a handful of photos and a ring that my dad had been given on a work anniversary from his company.
Unfortunately, a month shy of my tenth birthday, my home was destroyed by an F-5 tornado, taking nearly all of our belongings, including most of the photos and items I had of my dad. What wasn’t taken by the storm itself was largely destroyed by the rainstorm that followed.
You learn a lot when you’ve lost everything you own, no matter the age. More than anything, I learned to cherish people, not items. To count memories among my most valuable possessions. And I learned that no matter how painful, the most important thing is not to get so consumed with living in the past that you’re never present for your future.
Probably as a result of these experiences, I am a future-oriented person. I believe in setting goals, making plans, having a vision. Charting a course. I do not play a passive role in my life. And while I have a deep love for the past, I don’t live in it. I do, however, learn from it…and use that knowledge for the betterment of future planning. This is the approach I take in both my personal and professional (elected) life.
Why does this matter in this race? Because a city stuck in the past can never prosper. If those leading us are constantly looking backward, we will never be in control of our future.
For too long, Shawnee has operated without a long-term plan for who we want to be, and how we want to get there. And it has held us back. As other cities in the metro have appropriately planned for their financial future by diversifying their local economy and seeking out new and interesting restaurants, retail, and quality employment opportunities, we’ve largely preferred to let business come to us (if it manages to find city hall), while at times being nearly paralyzed with nostalgia for “the way we’ve always done it here”.
To be successful, we must transition from looking in the rear-view mirror to looking out the windshield. We must stop spending taxpayer dollars on historical trivia games and start investing in efforts that will reap tangible benefits for years to come.
The past plays an important role in shaping who we are, but it is our responsibility to take that knowledge and experience and grow from it, so change doesn’t “happen to us”, but rather happens because of us. A city is no different than a private business, or even a person – if we aren’t growing or evolving, we are dying. Shawnee deserves more than that. Our rich heritage is a market differentiator, and we should be actively building upon that, not admiring it upon the shelf.
And as a city, we can respect – celebrate! – our past while looking forward to the city that our children, grandchildren, and other future generations will inherit. We owe it to them, and frankly, to ourselves.