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Self-Concept as Destiny

by Mark Peres

May 3,2004

A psychologist will tell you that your self-concept determines your success. What is true for a person is often true of a city. Charlotte is in a critical stage of her development, and our leaders are called to get the psychology right.

An arm-chair analysis of self-concept states that it is made up of three components: self-ideal, self-image and self esteem. Let’s take each in turn and apply it to the City.

Self-ideal is your goals, hopes and aspirations. It is a projection of your desires and values. It is your vision of your highest and best self. Your self-ideal is a driver, a projection into the future that guides choices, consciously and unconsciously. A powerful, stated ideal motivates, shaping behavior and creativity. We all know people who are remarkable in their striving to live closer to a defined higher ideal (and others who flounder because they have no clear higher vision of themselves at all.)

The same is true of community. We become what we envision. We spend a lot of time in this magazine sharing an ideal of a unique urban life for Charlotte to help guide our civic choices. It is critical that we prod our leaders to articulate, in detail, their vision of our city, for we will inevitably become that vision, that ideal, for better or worse (is it arts or is it roads? A litmus test if ever there was one).

Self-image is how we see ourselves. It is our mental picture of what we see in the mirror. Smart and capable? Healthy and kind? Attractive and likeable? We’ve read about achievers who’ve overcome great handicaps and others who seemingly have everything and are self-destructive. Does Charlotte have a self image that is limiting or in discussions about whether Charlotte is a “cool” community. Some suggest commissioning a study to find out for sure. I’d say what is cool is the Bechtler Museum, the U.S. National Whitewater Center, Light Rail, families in the Center City, clean air and sharing blueberry pie on a neighbor’s porch. What is cool is embracing what is best and unique to Charlotte, and working toward an ideal greater than ourselves.

Self-esteem is how much we like ourselves. It comes from competence and accomplishment. We certainly feel better about ourselves when we achieve, and as any good leader knows, it’s more likely that we achieve when we feel better about ourselves (the magical political elixir— optimism and opportunity— is transformative).

We speak often in these pages about the upward spiral that we sense in the City, the energy of engaging in great work, in realizing art and culture, smart growth and transit, greenery and diversity. We applaud our planners, architects, elected officials, staffers and citizenry who are helping Charlotte define her self-concept and realize all that she can be. We get what we believe we deserve.

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