Years ago I got the best career advice ever. I was trying to figure out what next to do with my life and my advisor said, “Picture yourself stuck in a strange city. It’s snowing and you’re cold, lost, hungry and alone. But through a downstairs window you see people having a dinner party. It’s warm, there is an awesome buffet and drinks are being served.
“Tell me, how would you go about getting in there?”
It was a surprisingly excellent question. How do you go about getting what you want from the people who have it?
One strategy is begging. If you knock on the door and give a sob story they might take pity on you and let you sit in the foyer with a plate of whatever they choose to hand over. You can’t be like, “Hey, I’m famished, can I have at that shrimp?” (I later realized this is, in fact, entirely possible for attractive people).
But how can you encourage them to invite you (if you are not stunningly attractive) inside? How can you make them want you there?
What if you just marched in and announced in a loud, clear voice: “Ladies and gentlemen, pardon the interruption, but please observe for just a moment as I juggle these six live ferrets who will in no way be harmed and actually greatly enjoy the experience.” How awesome would that be? Afterwards you’d find yourself parked next to the ice sculpture loading Swedish meatballs onto a plate and telling stories of your life on the mustelidae performance circuit. Even the ferrets would get fed. It would be great.
In my opinion, the ferret juggling is what’s missing from 99% of our conversations about the future of Gloucester.
I hear and read endless bits around “what do we want Gloucester to be?” I hear surprisingly little of what I consider to be realistic talk regarding what we have to offer. In short, what is our ferret juggling? What particular assets or set of skills do we possess that anyone actually gives a shit about in the outside world? In short, what are we willing to trade to the world in order for Gloucester to be successful?
Because, like the person standing out in the snow, no one inside actually cares what we want. They’re not even thinking about us. To the extent they do, they care about what we can do for them. So what is it? Our landscape? A site for marine industry? How much call is there for this really and how much of it can be more profitably completed in a modern building in an industrial park near a highway? (see Ice, Cape Pond) Do we trade on our gritty toughness and how do we monetize that besides as the occasional film set? An arts and culture hub? Do we really support the kinds of arts people outside Gloucester are interested in? I hear a lot of talk about us being a hub for innovation and technology, so what do we offer innovation and technology organizations? What endeavours already going on in town do we highlight and support? Should the schools have to beg for funding as our neighbors pass overrides if we are really going to be part of the innovation and technology economy? (spoiler: no)
Seriously, what is it?
f you’re gonna make your meals on ferret juggling, you’d better invest in some ferrets, you’d better practice and get good at it and I’m also going to strongly recommend you get a top hat and a purple, velvet blazer like the one Johnny Depp wore in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Or we can just stand in the snow reminiscing about how awesome it was long ago when we didn’t have to throw live animals around for food and bitching about the current situation. Sure, do that for a while but those folks in there are going to finish off the samosas pretty soon.
Three words: tiny little tutus.
I’m thinking there might be room in the Community Development department for your kind of thinking Mr. Dowd… you have bright future ahead of you.
Gloucester does need to ask (and – more importantly – answer) some big questions about its future and relevance in a changing world. Thanks to the Clam for working on opening up this discussion.