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The Road Taken


My life has been defined by a fork in the road. The fork revealed itself to me when I was 19 years old, and entering my second year at LSU. I had completed my freshman-year general classes and was faced with committing to one of my two chosen professions—education, like the rest of my family, or medical school.

I did neither. A chance conversation with my father, who posed the simplest, most freeing question I had ever been asked—“If you could be anything you wanted, no matter how impractical it would seem to this family of teachers, what would you be?”—led me to take a completely different path: toward a career in journalism, which directed me to years in retail and then somehow returned me to a combination of the two—retail journalism.

There are times that I regret not having become a doctor, or a teacher. And the only reason that is so is because of the difference the two professions make in the world. Don’t we all wonder if the jobs we do truly make a difference in others’ lives? Don’t we sometimes wish that we could actually measure the good that we do?

In my e-mail inbox I unexpectedly found an answer.

A survey sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers and conducted by Opinion Research Corp., discovered that, in essence, Americans are uplifted by their local shopping centers and malls. They see them as more than just a place to shop, but as gathering places that have woven themselves into the fabrics of their communities.

The poll of 1,000-plus Americans found that the majority (53%) felt their favorite shopping center had a favorable impact on their lives. And, when asked if the local shopping center tries to bond with the community and be a respected community partner, 64% of respondents agreed. Sixty-four percent also agreed that their local shopping center is an important part of their community, and more than half felt that the shopping center is a focal point of the community and a place that’s become a part of the fabric of the community. And this was true of both men and women, who responded almost equally favorably throughout the poll.

The idea that those of us in retail and development could really make such an impact on people’s lives led me to conduct a small poll of my own, asking 10 different people if spending time at a favorite shopping center actually had a positive impact on quality of life. I received unanimous good news: My respondents were uplifted by a shopping experience, and that experience in turn had a positive effect on other aspects of their lives.

I can’t say that I will never again wonder what fulfillment I would have found by taking the fork toward education or med school. But I do know that I will view our industry with newfound assurance that we are making a difference. Because, while it would be a stretch to say we’re saving lives, we can all find satisfaction in knowing that we are at least enhancing them.

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