What we believe about ourselves

This post was originally published in the St. Louis Business Journal

Our region has way more opportunities than we do challenges, more up sides than down. But our ability to realize these opportunities, grow our population, economy and leadership in the world is contingent on an honest dialogue and purposeful action. We control our destiny and the choices we make today will speak volumes about the future we seek.

Many years ago, I was exposed to the idea of self-concept. In essence, it’s the mental image that we have about ourselves, including our strengths, weaknesses, worthiness and place in society. Self concept is informed by people who influence our thinking, our environment and experiences. It impacts how we engage with others around us.

As a young person in foster care we took life skills courses offered by the department of social services in the City of St. Louis. We were always being told to look others in the eye and to give a firm handshake. It was a “sign of confidence” and the “language of business.” This different perspective was a huge revelation for me: that looking people in the eyes, projecting, and enunciating helped people believe I am more confident, a leader—who knew? Confidence and leadership were not natural to me. But I learned to fake it until it was natural. This shaped my self-concept immensely. As the poet E.E. Cummings articulated, “Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

People in the business of helping others will tell you that one of the hardest things for a person to overcome is doubt and self defeat. Believing something different and more positive for your life and future can feel impossible. This is not just people. I think this is true for organizations, companies, and our region. What we believe about ourselves matters.

To admit that we have serious challenges in some neighborhoods and communities that have the potential to disrupt the competitive future that we seek as a region is not a weakness. It’s a strength. Its leadership that we desperately need and we have to rally around those who are speaking truth and projecting a different vision.

We have some schools that are not preparing kids to compete. We have graduates who are not prepared for the jobs of the future. We all suffer the consequences.

We have some neighborhoods that are devastated by intolerable degrees of poverty, unemployment and crime. We all suffer the consequences.

We, as a region are often splintered by race, class, and geography. We all suffer the consequences.

Leadership requires us to talk about the challenges we face and commit our hearts and minds to do something different. We need powerbrokers and everyday people to collectively take concrete steps to achieve a different future. It’s a sign of confidence and “the language of business.”

Our region’s self-concept is ours to determine. In order for us to change the trajectory of a generation and our region, we have to build on our incredible strengths, believe that we can be better, and do the small and large things that are required to win.

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