January 30, 2023

“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” 
-Booker T. Washington

I’m grateful this week for my colleagues in the economic development profession. Every one of them: the leaders, the young professionals in their first job, those that work behind the scenes in research, and certainly those that are working with businesses each day to help them start, grow, and compete. I am fortunate to have long been a part of the International Economic Development Council and am writing this from our Leadership Conference. The leaders here do not have all the answers, but they do have examples of failure and success, they have context because they are doing the work each day, and they have a curiosity to get better. We all have things that inspire us and renew us. Being around leaders like this does that for me.

It is often said, and it may be true, that inspiration can come from anywhere at anytime, but I suspect there is more to it than that. I’m no expert on the subject, but I might suggest three things that have to happen for you to renew your vigor in your work. First, you have to do the work. You can’t float along the surface of your profession and hope that something will come along and make you want to go deeper. You have to be immersed in the work you do to have real failures and see things from the frontlines. In our case, you have to see how the economy is working on Main Street, in your neighborhoods, and inside the businesses in your community.

Second, you have to be curious. Seek out solutions to the unique problems you are trying to solve and be curious about who else is trying to solve them. This is why industry associations, peer cohorts, and mentoring relationships are all important parts of any successful professional career. You will find empathy, you will be challenged by others that are having success, and you will innovate by adapting what has worked elsewhere to your community’s unique situation.

Third, be inspiring to others. This does not require you to be in a leadership position, or to arrogantly promote your solutions. It means that you should do your best to lift someone else up by sharing your experience, giving your perspective, and engaging with others in the profession. You may have no idea of the impact that doing these things may have on someone seeking out answers. Share your failures and what you are leaning on your journey (or your community’s journey), and you may ignite someone to change something they are doing. I presume that this will cause you to attract others going through something similar. At a minimum, it likely makes you a more complete professional.

– Kenny McDonald