Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. - Albert Einstein

3 Ways to Find Meaning During Life Transitions

We live in a time of transition. Social change is swirling like a righteous cyclones throughout our society, bringing social justice, massive disparities and a whirlwind of destruction, transition, and ultimately, transformation everywhere, affecting everyone all the time.

Lots has been lost through these times. Job security disappeared for many of us, and along with it economic certainty, ongoing professional development, and benefits like retirement and healthcare. We’ve been stripped of the crystalline certainties of the middle class, including home ownership, higher education, and savings. Some of us struggle to put food on the table and pay rent, while others hustle to keep their mortgages and car payments going.

How can we find meaning when its all stripped away? What do we do when it feels like everything is lost, like we’re drowning in hopelessness and we need something more than mere survival?

 

Learning How to Sustain Ourselves

Throughout my career, I’ve been teaching low-income youth, youth of color, rural and urban youth, and the adults who support them. I’ve found their passion, courage and determination to be simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. Its exhilarating because of the ambition of youth; its frustrating because of the inability of adults to change their lives.

Worn down, beaten down, and otherwise held down throughout our lives, all kinds of parents, youth workers, teachers, counselors, and others are running low on juice right now. Its frustrating because nobody is teaching these essential warriors of truth and justice how to survive their professions.

About five years ago, I began facilitating self-sustainability workshops. Working with schools, youth programs, national organizations and at conferences across the nation, all kinds of adults and youth have been teaching me how they take care of themselves, how they support others, and what they do along the way. I’ve been collecting lessons from these workshops, and I want to share some of my learnings here.

 

3 Ways to Find Meaning During Life Transitions

This is a flyer for Adam Fletcher's "Self-Sustainability for Educators" workshop.
This is a flyer for Adam Fletcher’s “Self-Sustainability for Educators” workshop.

 


3 Ways to Find Meaning

Following are three ways I’ve been taught to find meaning in transitions.

  1. NAME YOUR STRENGTHS. When the world knocks us down and takes things away, its important to acknowledge the abilities we have within ourselves. These things can’t be taken away. When you name your strengths, don’t be vague or ambiguous; name specific, accountable realities. Make a simple list, draw a complicated mindmap, or just talk it over with yourself. If you’re a planner, you’d better name planning as a strength; artists, poets, builders, parenting, learning, advocating, driving and gardening all count, along with any specific skill you have. Knowledge counts too, so account for your professional knowledge, your personal hobbies and your downtime activities, too.
  2. DRAW IN SUPPORT. If you’re struggling in life, bring your supports together from the world around you. Those can be people, places, activities and other assets throughout your life. Again, you can write them down, brainstorm images or do whatever works. In some way though, account for the supports in your life, including books, heroes, family, friends and whatever else helps you get strong and stay that way. Then, when you’re feeling the most low and vulnerable, be grateful for those supports. Go through your list and say thanks for everything you’ve drawn in, whether in person, over the internet, on the phone or simply by yourself. Don’t just name them; name them and then thank them.
  3. TAKE ACTION. The temptation to remain still, be complacent and simply react to the situations we face can be overwhelming at times. However, once you’ve completed the first two steps here, you must must take action! Look at the abilities and capacities you personal have from step one, then match them to the supports you’ve identified in the world around you from step two. If a clear pathway isn’t automatically obvious, you have to clear out the fog from in front of your eyes and concentrate your vision. Do you even have a vision? Name one. Do you see the next steps? Take them. Do you need to name the next steps? Write them down. Make timelines, create plans, match the resources you already have and find the meaning in your life right now.

These three ways to find meaning in transitions. Whether you’re changing jobs, changing houses, changing yourself or changing the world, you can always use these three steps to take care of you, lift yourself up and make a difference in your own life. I hope you share your thoughts about them in the comments below.

 


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What You Need to Change the World by Adam Fletcher for adamfletcher.net

Change Management

There are many skills that you should build within you in order to change the world. In more than two decades of training adults who work in nonprofits, government agencies, schools and communities, I have identified more than 30 different skills that are important for anyone who works with youth, including mentors, tutors, coaches, teachers, counselors and others to possess. I’m going to post a series of articles over the next few weeks exploring these.

 


When the Stuff Hits the Fan

The first skill I want to call out is called Change Management. Its first on the list because it may be the most important skill for change agents of all kinds. Usually applies to nonprofit leaders, public officials and other figureheads, change management is important to individuals, too, because it applies to all aspects of their work:

  • Youth—Given their ages, the lives of young people are inherently transitional and almost never stagnant. While this can be exhilarating and challenge adults to feel alive, it can also be frustrating and feel defeating
  • Program—Whether you are on the frontlines all the time or in the back office making the policies, practices and positivity work, program change management affects your daily realities.
  • Social—Communities, cultures, societies and our planet are all changing all the time, whether or not we see it. Social change challenges us to stay alert, attentive and aware of the possibilities to change the world.
  • Personal—Within yourself, there are countless things changing right now. Making sense of these changes, staying on top of the challenges and opportunities in your life, and being real with yourself are essential.

Being aware of these different types of changes in social change can be the key to successful change management. The next section shows exactly how to manage change, no matter which type you’re facing in your efforts to change the world.

 


Steps to Manage Change

When you’re working to change the world, there are several steps to manage change. Whether you work in a small community-based charity, large state agency or any other scale, your program, activities or entire organization can benefit from looking at these steps specifically.

  1. Source: Identify what the source of the change is by looking at whether its youth changing, organizational change, social change, or personal change. After you’ve named that, find the catalyst who is making change happen. Is it a parent, a program director, an executive or is it self-driven? If you can, connect with that catalyst to see if you can support the change, how and whether its your responsibility.
  2. Buy-in: If it’s your job to implement change, get buy-in for the changes from youth and your co-workers. You can do this directly or indirectly, ensuring success and opportunities for everyone as change happens.
  3. Meaningful Involvement: Involving the right people in specific ways can make sure the right changes are made in good ways that benefit everyone.
  4. Readiness: Getting young people ready to implement and adapt to change; working with adults to ensure everyone has the best information; and providing training and assistance along the way is essential.
  5. Two-Way Communication: Tell everyone about the changes, answer questions and prepare your youth program or organization as effectively as possible.
  6. Evidence: Look for practical, purposeful evidence of what is happening, and assess how the changes will affect young people and adults.
  7. Reflection: Change can’t happen in a vacuum, whether its among youth, in our organization, throughout our society or within ourselves. Adults and youth should take responsibility for change management by engaging in conscious critical reflection.

When a program, individual, organization or community has completed these steps, they will have successfully managed change.

Most people working to change the world know that change can’t happen without people—whether young or old! Unfortunately, a lot people get stuck in plans and processes without actually talking with youth, or even other adults. Facing up to changing the world means accepting the emotions, ideas, challenges and criticisms that inevitably come with change intentionally and with grace.

Its not a mystery, and may represent the greatest possibility of changing the world: If we can help young people manage change by conscientiously practicing change management, we can change the world!

 


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Stop Excluding People

When programs are developed, many people can be excluded. Among youth programs, community nonprofits and government agencies frequently cater only to particular children and youth. Same with activist organizations helping particular adult populations, and businesses doing outreach in their demographics. Our society is built on this type of exclusion.

In the name of social justice, many advocates frequently position their constituency above all others. In cities that are predominately white, people of color may be targeted for programs civic engagement, cultural enhancement and community-building activities. Women-focused nonprofits are offering more STEM programs for girls. Low-income and poor children are being provided free sports programs they couldn’t otherwise afford.

These programs are generally based on inclusionary assumptions: Where there’s a gap between haves and have-nots, they are bridged specifically for the communities where they’re happening. Programmers are literally trying to expand the in-crowd so there’s more room for more people to become active in things they want to, they could, or they should be involved in.

If we don’t remain vigilant, acute assumptions and prejudices can lurk in at about this point.

Exclusionary action of ANY kind is never the solution. These are not black OR white problems, rich OR poor, homeless OR homed, youth OR adult. We have to reach EVERYONE inclusively, everywhere, all the time. I’m NOT okay with segregation of any kind.

Our biases are ugly little hungry ghosts that come in from our pasts and invade our present. They have nasty names and do gross things, like excluding others and fostering dislike, in spite of our best intentions. Suddenly, we’re judging people by their skin color, socio-economic levels, cultural norms, gender identity and sexual orientations, and much more. In our attempts to make a better world, we actually serve to cheapen, lessen and otherwise tear apart the good things that exist right now. One of the good things about our world today is diversity.

Despite what some people would have us think, North America is not heading towards a giant pool of light-brown skin people who all earn middle class incomes, sharing loving families and equal lifestyles. That’s simply not ahead of us.

Instead, we’re going to continue being a pluralistic, spastic, dynamic and diverse society for a long time yet to come. Instead of forcing conformity, uniformity and singularity of any kind, we need to create new opportunities that foster dialogue, encourage interaction and give people chances to experience people from different backgrounds, different beliefs and different realities from our own.

From that place, we can build democracy. We got get behind positive, powerful social change. We can make a change. But not before then. Not before we stop segregating people for who they are, how they are, no matter what they are.

Don’t make new programs just for homeless people. Don’t facilitate new programs just for youth. Don’t target only rich kids. Instead, weave it all together and create new realities, new communities, new opportunities and new possibilities, everywhere, all the time.

That’s what I’m trying to do.

Yelling Into A Vacuum: The World Is Busy Changing

 

There are a lot of people working to change the world right now. They’re caught up in writing the Great Handbook, building the Perfect Website, organizing the Ultimate Protest, and securing the Most Support for whatever they’re doing. Everyone thinks they’re doing their part, hopes they have the most effect, and wants to make a difference.

I’m one of these people. For most than two decades of my life I’ve been working to change change the world. Starting as a young man, I was involved with movements for environmental justice, self-empowerment, anti-racism, and youth voice. My career has built on that action, and has focused on youth engagement, student voice, and community empowerment. I have continued volunteering and donating my resources towards those causes too.

I’m at a point in my life when much of this action seems like its no longer effective, and some part of me struggles with whether it actually was. I even wonder who reads this blog anymore, since I rarely hear from anyone.

In my 20s, I heard a lot of older people harp on the notion of acting locally and really focusing energy on local change. I blew that out of the water with my world-focused work through Freechild and SoundOut, as well as my national and international consulting practice. Now, I understand why they insisted on acting locally; otherwise, you feel like you’re yelling into a vacuum.

The noisy, noisy world doesn’t allow us a lot of room for comfort, if we’re engaged authentically within ourselves. It insists we learn to get quiet and do small things, rather than trying to scream over the din of daily life.

This work of changing the world reminds me of the lesson about the seekers: “Not knowing how close the truth is to them, Beings seek for it afar — what a pity! They are like those who, being in the midst of water, Cry out for water, feeling thirst.”

The world is already changing, and a new world is being born every day! Let’s take comfort in that, and allow everything to be what it already is. The world is changing, changing, changing… Is there anything more we need to do?

 


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We Are Limitless

I grew up around alchoholics, gamblers, cheaters, and liars. People who sold their souls and materials to serve their vanity, egos, narcissism, and greed were always around my house, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, sobering up and trying to move on with their lives.

In all my different work with young people, I have been around gangbangers and prostitutes, runaways and robbers, and cheats of all kinds. I’ve also spent time with adults so contemptuous towards children and youth that they’d never be allowed to be parents- and they were youth workers, teachers, and counselors!

But somewhere in the middle of all that hopelessness, all that suffering, and all that pain is a reality that few people involved actively spoke out loud, although everyone actually worked from it. The reality is that all human beings are limitless.

Limitlessness

We’re all racing. Just like the atoms around us, we’re all scurrying about from place to place, person to person, being who we are and doing what we’re doing. Even when life is syrupy and slow, the atoms in us are still yearning for movement, drawing us towards the dishes that need washed, bills that need to be paid, and life that needs to be lived. None of us are ever truly still of body and mind, because all of us are truly made of motion. That motion compels us towards endless movement.

The only respite we ever truly have for the movement of our bodies is death. Between here and there, our waking and sleeping hours are dominated by the impulse to move, and within that movement, change. Nobody is ever truly done.

Because of that impulse, we have a limitless potential for growth, progress, transformation, and generation. Nobody can escape that impulse, and whether its within them or around them, each of us is always changing.

Youth

There’s a temptation to make this limitless into a thing that only youth experience. Folks who say that will also say that adults stop growing, and they often believe that’s true. Its not.

All humans are truly limitless, filled with unknown potential, untapped possibilities, unacknowledged power, and limitlessness of all kinds. Each and every single one of us truly has no bounds! This includes youth, who embody this limitlessness because they actively live it. However, it also includes very small children, who are often forced into boxes by their parents who habitually seek familiarity and predictability, so they try to make their kids just like them.

And then there’s adults, who are all truly limitless no matter what we believe. Those self-beliefs are often what limit our ability to see our limitlessness. However, that doesn’t make those beliefs true. Instead, it makes them another opportunity that we can break free and see who we truly are!

My Work

This is why I do the work I do the ways I do. Within each of us in an indomitable spirit, something that cannot be taken away by anyone else. That’s the freedom we have, inherently and implicitly, simply because we’re humans. Its a place that we could celebrate and elaborate and explore everyday, if each of us saw it.

However, many of us don’t, or haven’t been able to.  Instead, we’ve been held in our cages and tied to our conceptions of ourselves in our worlds. Much of the time, we become alchoholics, gamblers, cheaters, and liars. Seeing no other routes, we become gang bangers and prostitutes, runaways and robbers, and cheats of all kinds. At the end of the day, we’re locked into jails and sleeping in alleyways, hoping for another way out.

Our individual lot doesn’t have to be that conspicuous for us to be limited. We may be divorced, or single parents, or too-hard workers, or hard-hearted lovers. We may deny our youth, reject our grandparents, and forget ourselves. There are so many ways we try to limit ourselves.

That is why I do what I do: To help others break free of the limits we’ve instilled in our lives and times.

Inspiration

Luckily, we have many people to turn to for inspiration. Without knowing it sometimes, we look to Dr. King for inspiration, especially when he wrote things like this: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Other times we call out to heroes from other times, like Joan of Arc, who reportedly said, “One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”

Maybe we are moved by modern times and the people who occupy them with us, like President Obama, who famously said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Each of these, and so many other people, can inspire us to see the limitlessness potential of all humans everywhere.

So if you believe that people are who they are, and cannot change from who they are, let me tell you a story sometime, if you want me to. Let me tell you about Larry, a drunk cabby who never quit trying to quit. Let me tell you about Idu, who lived without in order to go within, and who is becoming reacquainted with his own greatness. Maybe I can share Meghan’s story, or Melinda’s. There was that group of kids in that one place… All these stories are real, from my own experience, and show the reality that I’m asking you to see here.

All humans are limitless. Join me in seeing that reality, please.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!