As a teenager my goals were to graduate high school and get a job. Nothing more and nothing less. I was held back in second grade, and one could have made a case that I was below average intellectually and emotionally. I had so many life complications and graduating from high school seemed reasonably aspirational to me. Thankfully there were others who believed I could accomplish more and helped me to raise the bar on my own possibilities.
The most effective volunteers or helping professionals know they have to see the person in front of them as an individual. They understand there is no “one-size-fits-all” way forward, and they help to unpack a person’s unique strengths and assets and set goals based on higher standards. Often they are looking for a spark in that person that can become the case for raising expectations. Because they too have seen challenges, they know that the bar can be raised.
Abraham Lincoln said, “You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish, if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.” These words are powerfully motivating to those who have hope. But they are meaningless (unintelligible) to those living life from one crisis to the next. The most effective helpers understand it’s impossible to aspire to more if you don’t have hope or don’t see a way out. They know they can’t help launch someone to the next level if the person doesn’t see where they’re going or believe it’s possible to get there. Their task is to stimulate the ambition that lay dormant. Oftentimes they share their own stories of overcoming and achieving to help people see a glimpse of what it means to mount an obstacle. They do this one person at a time because they understand that all people are different.
Just because people share similar experiences or come from the same challenged neighborhood does not mean they can’t aspire and achieve more. In order for us to change the trajectory of a generation and our region, we have to admit that achieving success is hard work. It requires raising our expectations, and with the combination of hope, personal drive, and the right support it is possible.