Monday, April 6, 2015

Hitting The Reset Button...

Hard to believe that this time last week, I was sitting in my first session at the National Main
Streets Conference in Atlanta.  The days to follow were a whirlwind of ideas, information and inspirations that I am thrilled to bring back to my community.  I was fortunate to have two first time attendees with me this year - Sue Keels - creative dynamo and superstar of our Promotions Committee and Alan Smith, the incredibly positive and uber-enthusiastic Chairman of our PSD, so I had the opportunity to see the conference through their eyes.  Throughout the trip, I found myself waxing nostalgic about the conferences, thinking back to the days when I was a young Promotions & Marketing Coordinator attending my very first conference (then known as the National Town Meeting) in Pittsburgh, PA. I drank the Main Street Kool Aid, and the rest is history.

In preparing my first-timers for the conference, I was careful to provide a brief overview and sell them on the decision of giving up 4 days of their life for this, while trying not to overstate how much I believed they would get out of the conference.  I wanted them to have no real expectations about the conference, other than the incredible opportunity to learn from so many experts in the community revitalization field.  As any Main Streeter knows, either you get Main Street or you don't, there really isn't much grey area here.  I am super proud to say they both "got it" and were hooked the very first day.  They attended a ton of sessions and are bringing back lots of great information and new contacts for our community.

So for someone who attends year after year, what is the benefit?  I'm asked this question often and this year it really hit home why I believe this is so very important.  I always get great information - sometimes just pieces of ideas and other times a full-blown "OMG, we have to do this" kind of idea emerges.  For the last several years, I've had the honor to be selected to teach my colleagues about best practices, current trends and share the good work we are doing in Downtown Rochester.  But for me, I think the greatest value lies in the relationships built over the years.  I refer to Main Street as a family and that is so true.  From the moment we hit the airport on Sunday, until we were wheels up back to Detroit on Thursday, it was like a family reunion, seeing all those fun, crazy-talented Main Streeters all over Atlanta.  These relationships are not just friendships, but they are a resource team, a think tank, a national sounding board and most importantly, a support network.  And attending every year pushes my internal reset button so I can leave the stress and drama behind and focus on being the best representative that I can for my community.

I'll be the first to tell anyone that being a Main Street Manager is one of the best jobs on the planet, but it absolutely comes with its share of challenges.  On the surface, it's all planting flowers, painting buildings and planning parties (oh, how I hate that reference) but in reality, we all know it goes much deeper than that.  And no, we are not performing brain surgery or sending rockets to the Moon, we are creating places and that's pretty darned important too.  Everyone deserves a great place to just be, a place to make a life, a place they are proud to call home and that's exactly what we do every single day on Main Street.  And it is comforting to know that when you are challenged to explain what you do and why you do it, when you are compelled to defend the value and very existence of your organization, you can do it with confidence, pride and the knowledge that you have a support system of 1500+ Main Streeters that you can lean on, learn from and build the best Main Street program possible.

So what did I get out of Atlanta?  I'm definitely bringing back ideas and a few new friendships, but most importantly for me, the conference gave me exactly what I needed - a renewed sense of purpose for what I do and how I do it.  It's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day drama that exists in every community.  But in Atlanta, I had a moment of clarity that brought me back to the very beginning of my Main Street journey.  People either get Main Street or they don't.  It's not that you aren't doing a good enough job of explaining it or selling it.  Some people just don't get it...and they never will.  The key is to understand that, accept it and move on.  You're never going to get everyone to row in the same direction.  But if you continue to do good work, to create new projects, to engage the community, then they will all come around in their own way.  And that opportunity to let my creative juices flow in my community, to work with so many amazing people and to make change happen is what gets me out of bed every single day.  I'm very fortunate to have found my calling, to do what I love in a community that means so much to me.  I don't take that gift for granted, and I am eternally thankful for every single moment on this wild ride called Main Street.

See you downtown!

The Downtown Geek