Change the Future by Changing the Way We Talk about It

As published in The Las Cruces Bulletin – October 23, 2018

“We have to stop saying that.”

Those words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. Fueled by passion and a heart-felt plea that we begin to understand the power of our words, we are in the habit of saying things that are negatively impacting the future of our young people, our families, our communities, and our state.

Things like:

  • “Some kids just aren’t college material.”
  • “There are no jobs here.”
  • “We just don’t have the workforce.”

Like a rudder on the boat, these statements are directing our people – especially our young people — to the conclusion that New Mexico is not where their futures lie. And that’s a problem.

These and other statements like them are woven inextricably into narrative we tell about ourselves. Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a narrative as, “a way of presenting or understanding a situation or series of events that reflects and promotes a particular point of view or set of values.”

Frequent repetition of these narratives are advancing a vision of hopelessness and perpetuating the “scarcity mindset” that is may be the single greatest barrier holding back a rising tide of opportunity in our state.

Narratives (words) have power. When we believe that some of our young people “aren’t college material,” we are setting them up with unnecessarily low expectations for themselves and their futures. And in today’s workforce, we need ALL of our young people to be college material. We just need to expand our definition of college.

“College” today means shorter-term career certifications, two-year degrees, four-year degrees and higher. “College” can be completed while still in high school through dual credit courses, Career and Technical Education Pathways, and through Early College High Schools.

“College” can be completed in a few weeks, a few months, a year, or more, and “college” can be completed at any and all of these levels – because success happens at many levels.

“College” can be completed by those who dropped out of high school or finished high school but didn’t quite complete a certificate or degree after that.

And completing “college” increases earning potential anywhere an average of $5,000 to $22,000 a year. Completion in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) fields brings an additional 10 percent boost to those numbers.

Yes, jobs for the broadest definition of college completion are here. In fact, the majority of jobs that pay more than $55,000 in our state are held by those with more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

Through the work of The Bridge of Southern New Mexico and the mission-related Workforce Talent Collaborative, we are advancing a new narrative. One that tells our young people, our young families, that they are New Mexico’s True Talent – that they are the workforce our state needs. They are the future builders of this state. They will build the New Mexico we all get to live in. And key to their success is that they know they are all college material.

So, how do we change the future? We change the way we talk about ourselves.

Here are just a few things we should be talking about:

  • “New Mexico Top Performing Economy Since Trump Took Office” – Bloomberg News
  • “New Mexico Ranks 8th for Quality of Life” – US News
  • “New Mexico Leads the Nation in In-State College Affordability” – Santa Fe New Mexican
  •  “New Mexico Ranks 17th for Entrepreneurship” – US News
  • “Immigrants Make Up Growing Share of New Mexico Entrepreneurs” – Santa Fe New Mexican

Here in Las Cruces:

  • “Las Cruces Ranks Among Safest Cities in the US” – Las Cruces Sun-News
  • “Top 10 Most Overlooked City in US” – Travel DK
  • “6th Best-Run City in America” – Wallet Hub
  • “Runner-Up: Best Sustainable Community” – Sunset Magazine
  • “Best City for K-12 Teachers”-

Each one of us has a responsibility to tell the story of New Mexico and New Mexicans rooted in fact and conveys the possibility and potential of our future.

When we change the way we talk about ourselves, we will change the future of our state. All of us – especially our young people – are New Mexico’s True Talent!

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