Have you ever gone the wrong way? I have. I have walked, driven, biked and taken the ‘L” in the wrong direction; I have also been in a car driving the wrong way down a one way. Or there was one time I missed my exit and only noticed when I couldn’t go any further east without driving into the lake. I drove an hour out of the way in the wrong direction that day; nailed it. These are all funny stories now but at the time I was incredibly frustrated. Google Maps has helped most of us find our way at some point, but what happens when you’re using the wrong map, when you have a map of Boston when you really needed a map for Chicago? No matter how hard you try you’ll still find yourself lost and frustrated, swimming upstream against the current only to find yourself further away from your desired destination.
I have an extensive background working with youth, and I have loved every second of it. I’ve worked with kids from all different socio-economic backgrounds, all different races, genders and ages. As a camp director I always floated so that I could help in the more challenging groups or with individual kids who needed some extra guidance and attention. I remember working with one child vividly. He was disrupting his group all day long, and no one could get him to participate without being a distraction to the other kids. The first day I spent almost all of my time with him; he needed that much personal attention, and for the most part he stayed on task. However, I always lost him during transition times, not physically but mentally, he was gone. I really struggled to get him to listen and stick with me; most of my normal tricks didn’t work, and I recognized I had to try something new. The map I had used for all the other kids was not working with him. So I started to learn his patterns, his needs, and what made him smile, laugh and stay involved; this was when I started to see his terrain and how to navigate it with him so we could successfully end up at the same place as the other kids in the group, engaged and having fun.
How often do we show up to a situation, a meeting, a lunch, or for us here, to work with the girls, clutching a pre-designed route we want to take? Can we even help it? It is human nature; we have our own experiences we bring to the table, and there is a lot of value in that. But we also have to learn to change course from time to time. If we don’t, we will miss a lot of beautiful scenery along the way. I have always wondered why people are so afraid to talk about their mistakes. Is it ego? Vulnerability? The fear of failure? There is great strength in recognizing and admitting the need for a paradigm shift, a new perspective or a new road map so to speak.
At Girls in the Game, like many other organizations, we occasionally find ourselves scratching our heads and holding that figurative map of Boston while we stand in Chicago. Our junior high program is a great example of this. When our number of attendees declined in our junior high After School programs, our program director could have easily blamed our coaches or coordinators or the schools themselves. She could have pushed our staff to try harder, do more and be more enthusiastic, but no matter how much energy we might put into what currently existed we were still driving the wrong way down a one way street. We had great attendance for elementary and high school girls, but something wasn’t quite clicking in our middle school programming. So Beth utilized internal and external resources by organizing a focus group of full time staff, coaches, Girls in the Game alumni and current teen squad members, to view the issue from a different angle. And we all learned the problem was that we needed to meet the girls right where they were, not where we wanted them to be. It was time to pick up the map the girls were holding that offered us insight into their lives and their needs, similar to the boy I worked with at camp years ago. It didn’t matter what I thought he needed, it mattered what he actually needed.
When I worked at camp I had all kinds of tools to use, from all the trainings, books, videos, classes I had ever attended, read or watched but none of those things mattered if I didn’t meet this boy right where he was at that very moment. I had to listen, to watch and learn about him, and then the tools came into play. After camp was over I met this boy’s individual classroom aide. She knew his history and shared some of it with me; it was then that I learned this little boy was born addicted to crack because of his mother’s addiction. He had a history of attention disorders, behavioral issues and sometimes slightly violent responses. Wow. I was taken back. The boy that I had the opportunity to spend so much time with had so many blocks stacked in front of him before he even took his first breath of air. All of it made sense, the logic rushed in, the transition times, the running off, the short attention spans, his pseudo violent responses at times and all the extra guidance he needed. He had his own map and I can say now that it took me through some rocky terrain but the destination was a trusting and respectful relationship with a bright, loving, active and creative boy. I would have missed all of that had I barreled down the path the rest of the group was on with him.
I have been with Girls in the Game for almost a year and I am proud to say we make mistakes, we try new things, we recognize what isn’t working, we give a new idea a fair shake and then we make changes, we change direction when needed, we learn a new route and we keep moving forward. That’s why we are rolling out a new junior high program consisting of increased leadership roles for the girls, working toward one common goal as a team and more focus will be placed on future career paths and opportunities. I don’t know a single person in this life that hasn’t been lost at one time or another. We all have. My hope for you is that you find yourself in a place where you are able to re-access, change direction and continue moving forward. If you do I promise that you will find your way.