how to take the first step

I was talking with a friend who was trying to decide how to handle a situation with a passive-aggressive family member. She wanted to take that first step of saying, very simply, “We need to change this conflict between us,” but she (understandably) feared what would happen, next.

So often, we hesitate to take any action, because we can’t predict how the next steps are going to roll out. What if it doesn’t work out, despite our best intentions? What will we tell people? How will we explain ourselves? What if we fail? What if we’re laughed at? What if it’s all a colossal mistake?

I was talking with another friend, a colleague, about how hard it had been when we first started out as coaches. A decade ago, I took the first (very difficult) step that lead me to the career that I have, today. My fears:

What if I’m no good?
What am I going to tell people?
If I do this, does this mean I’ll quit my job?
How will I make money?
What if I fail?

To make it easier to take that step, I reminded myself that the first step is the hardest, and that I didn’t need to know, necessarily, how it was all going to unfold. I decided that I would just start by getting training–and not put pressure on myself to suddenly quit my existing job or figure out every other piece of the puzzle.

* * *

Here’s what I understand, today: the more choices you make, the more courageous your life is.

And really, no one is waiting for us to have it all mapped out.

We want that kind of a safety net, but if we had the safety net, then whatever the big dream is probably wouldn’t matter as much, anyway.

We don’t really need to have it all figured out.

We just need to be willing to take one step. (And then another, and then another).

* * *

In the weeks since the election, I’ve been asking myself how to take that first step towards more activism and using my voice for something other than exclusively telling people to follow their dreams. While I’ve never made it a secret that I’m a liberal-leaning intersectional feminist who believes that #BlackLivesMatter and who supports the LGBTQ community, the discussions of courage that I’ve brought to have always centered around the personal, rather than the political.

If I am honest, then I will say this: I think my wheelhouse in this lifetime is the personal. How women in particular, suffer in their private lives, because they don’t believe that they are enough and because they fear taking steps in the direction of their dreams? That’s where my compass has always been pointed.

I have been that woman. I feel for those women. The individual who suffers is where I’m drawn, just as much as someone else is drawn to community organizing.

I don’t think that having a particular interest in helping individuals with individual problems is absolutely counter to helping the collective. As I share in this piece, when I was (individually) depressed, I was of no use to anyone.

But here is also what I reconcile: In immersing myself in raising up individual women, so that they’d feel more courageous and resilient in their lives, I stopped talking as much (and thinking as much) about the collective. Yes, I continued to volunteer and donate to causes I believe in. Yes, I dutifully read the BBC online to be as conscious as possible about what was happening in the world.

But I stopped being as vocal. I told myself I’d do more, later–when I had time, when my health improved, when I didn’t feel so weighted down from being a new mother. Later.

* * *

So here is what I’m asking of myself, and of my colleagues, and of anyone else who is willing to be courageous enough to care:

Let’s ask ourselves how we got complacent. Ask yourself where you tune out. Ask yourself where presence is needed.

Let’s ask ourselves how we can contribute to the collective. Don’t assume that money and time are the only ways, though these are needed. You can contribute to the collective by speaking up when you hear someone invoking stereotypes, by staying informed, by taking some small action, by actively seeking to befriend people who occupy different social circles and to understand their experiences.

When you talk to anyone, see the entire person, and ask yourself about the intersections of the different roles and groups in their lives–of being a woman or man, of her class or ethnic background, of sexual orientation or gender identification, of the micro-aggressions she might confront in any given day.

Let’s notice those moments where it’s easy to assume that someone has the problems that they have, because they just haven’t tried hard enough. Women don’t complain about the patriarchy, just for kicks. People living at the poverty line aren’t doing that, because hey, why not, it’s fun! Black people aren’t protesting being shot during routine traffic stops, because it’s just no big deal. Migrant workers aren’t asking to be paid fairly and treated humanely because they’re “lazy” after hours spent doing backbreaking labor so that all of us can eat. This just isn’t how people, or social causes, operate.

“Call a thing, a thing!” — Iyanla VanZant. By this, I mean: let’s call things what they are. Trump is not just a politician. It’s not that simple. The way he treats women, minorities, people with disabilities, people of different religions…the disasters he’s created within his own businesses…his failure to pay taxes…these collective facts add up to a character so decidedly un-presidential that it’s appalling. (Yes, yes, I know. Hillary used the wrong email server. Noted. Bush’s White House lost 22 million emails.) My point is this: every politician might be crooked, and every politician might make mistakes, but not every politican is a racist-sexist-homophobe-Islamaphobe-tax-evader who runs businesses into the ground and then profits off of that. Let’s call things what they are.

Let’s use our privilege to help, but let’s start by asking how those who don’t have the same privilege would like us to use that privilege, rather than assuming that we know. We’ve got to start with how we listen. Let the people who have been at the forefront of trying to enact social change inform us as to how we can help them to fill in the gaps, rather than crusading in with assumptions that we know what’s best and what should happen next.