A Relationship Story
A Glimpse of Hometown Reality
This Spring I traveled with my great friends Tom, Roger, and Bob on our annual ball park pilgrimage, this time to Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and capped off at Yankee Stadium in New York. This would be fulfilling enough for a bunch of baseball nuts, but it seems we always have to make it a full-scale cultural experience as well.
This time, just as we had the year before in Roger’s New Jersey hometown, we took a side trip to visit Bob’s hometown in New Castle, Pennsylvania. The impact on all of us was thoroughly unexpected and taught two big lessons for me – one personal and one professional. I think you all will be able to relate as well.
Bob wanted to know better what the town his folks grew up in was like. New Castle had been a thriving city in the first half of the 20th century right up until about the time Bob’s folks moved the family to California.
The town park must have been an obvious source of pride with a wonderful meeting hall, a giant community swimming pool, and a beautifully crafted lattice-covered merry-go-round. You could envision the bustle of activity in those early days with hundreds of kids swimming on summer days and a festive carnival atmosphere in a beautiful hometown setting.
However, what we saw was something else, something sad. What we saw was a town that time had passed by.
The meeting hall was still being used by a dwindling group of aging long-time residents, but the dance club itself was doing all the work to keep things going and the place looked rundown. Down a little hill was the intricate lattice building where a merry-go-round once stood but had long since vanished. Across a bridge and up a hill was what remained of the pool and locker rooms, now chained up, waterless, and covered with the graffiti of the bored remaining youth of the town.
Stopping to talk to a man who was there with his little girl we were struck by his comment about how the town offered no opportunity for the young people, only minimum wage jobs. You see, the town is a bit too far from Pittsburgh for a reasonable commute, and all the young folks cannot wait to move away.
None of this seems too surprising, but the ironic and powerful images were the plaques all around the park that proudly proclaimed the major park renovation project funded by the State just 15 years ago. Just imagine the passion of the civic leaders that lobbied hard to make this happen, yet there were really no signs that the effort had any lasting effect, as even this facelift had long-since fallen.
It seemed to all of us that the town could not see what an anachronism it had sadly become, holding on to hopes that the Music Man scene of the uniformed brass band marching on parade would stay true for New Castle forever.
For me there are two parallels that hit me hard. The personal one is watching our two college-age daughters establish themselves and “grow away” from Laura and me. It’s easy to try to hold on too tight. I’ll bet a lot of you can relate.
At the same time I can’t help but feel that many businesses struggle to face a rapidly-changing world as creative competition has crept in and many new options like globalization are an ever-present force.
Parents and businesses alike are faced with the same challenge – to avoid the trap of holding on too tightly to their Music Man ideal in the face of grim reality.
New Castle, Pennsylvania has not had a clear view of reality and seems to be losing the war. In our families and our companies we must not allow ourselves to suffer the same fate. We must grasp the challenge of releasing control and embracing the new world we face. Our kids, our customers, and our family and business stakeholders deserve no less.
Thanks for sharing time with me. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Principal Consultant, McDermott & Bull Executive Search
Cell: (714) 356-1949 Office: (949) 753-1700 ext. 310
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