Fear makes everything seem Impossible.

Srinivas Rao, @skooloflife reminds us that “everything that you know how to do today and you do effortlessly, is something that you once didn’t know how to do.” This fairly simple concept is difficult to remember in the heat of adversity.  That’s why we’re impressed with FSS Participants like Noelia.

Noiella DiplomaNoelia is one of thirty-four participants who are enrolled in a secondary or post-secondary school.  An FSS program can amend itself to support the wants and needs of just about any adult.

Our Participants are enrolled in:

  • English- for speakers of other languages,
  • GED Preparation,
  • Vocational classes such as Certified Nursing Assistants,
  • College-level courses.

And it is not easy for any one of them.  For one thing, by definition, if an adult relies on rent subsidies to get by financially, that person is also saddled with a host of life situations which only certain resources can resolve.  Clearly, for low-income working families like Noelia and the nation as a whole, income disparity is our biggest hurdle.

The number of households with an unemployed parent rose by a third  in just 6 years.  And the national income gap has not budged in years, according to @urbaninstitute. (http://www.urban.org)  Almost everyone agrees that there are few key issues more critical than putting Americans back to work.   According to the Hamilton Project, this problem will most certainly get worse, since even more low earners are in the pipeline.

Noelia and others like her know that the key to a job that sustains the family is more education.  More education equates with higher earnings, and the payoff is most notable at the highest educational levels.

We prod and push the remaining two-thirds of our Participants to reach for this goal, reminding them of the heroines and heroes like Noelia who chose this path and stepped along it daily, overcoming sickness, family emergencies, unhelpful employers, and friends and relatives who challenged, “Why? What for?”

When Noelia was asked why she stuck to her goal in spite of setback after setback and years of inching forward towards obtaining her GED, she talked about the skills recommended  by anyone who instructs how to overcome self-limiting beliefs.   Dan Pasche ‏@Debt_Destruct paraphrased these concepts very well when he wrote, “Fear makes everything seem impossible.”

To a courageous woman like Noelia, steadfastness makes the goal attainable.

PS: Noelia is enrolled at her local community college for the fall of 2013.

Why did they tell me I can’t?

Lately, at the very hour that many of my friends and colleagues are preparing to retire,  I’ve decided to take on a particularly arduous landscaping task in the backyard.  It’s the kind of job most younger women might not decide to tackle, the kind that people with earth-moving equipment and strong backs have already refused.  Needless to say, a lot of people tried to dissuade me.

And almost every objection to my plan started with the words, “You can’t do that.”

Some of those objections, of course, had merit.  One person warned me that I’d waste good expensive loam if my idea fails and the river rises again to wash it all downstream. Point well enough taken.  So I went out and found a friendly contractor looking for a spot to dump clean fill, free of charge.  Now if my yard can’t withstand a flood, all I have lost is some free dirt.  And gained lots of muscles in the process.

But most of the objections fell into a very different category.  I could have easily responded to may well-meaning friends and family by reminding them that this plan of mine did not require their participation.  As the poet Adrienne Rich  said “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you…”

But what makes us employ this game-stopping tactic anyway?  I know why we tell ourselves we can’t do a thing: Excuses are an avoidance tactic.  Often, when we tell ourselves that we can’t, we might be trying to avoid.

  • Work,
  • Effort,
  • A challenge of some sort,
  • The chance our action might refute some long-cherished belief,
  • The knowledge that we might not be correct,
  • Fear of change…

But why do we tell others that they should abandon a plan, or that the work involved is not worth the effort?

If you work in public service, you might hear a lot of statements that begin with the phrase, “You can’t.”  As much as I hate the thought, I sometimes find myself objecting to someone’s ideas or request or plan by starting out with the words, “you can’t.”  Unfortunately, every time any of us does that, we’re showing our lack of problem solving skills.

Think about it.  How often have we told ourselves not to even entertain an idea because of some seemingly sensible objection that we apply towards another?  We say,

  • She can’t sign up for Family Self-Sufficiency because she’s (too old, too ill to work, already makes too much money, too-you-name-it.)
  • They’ll never join FSS if they think the goal is to get off public assistance.  Besides, HUD rules state that we cannot direct how they spend their Escrow.
  • She can’t buy a home because doesn’t make enough (-even if the bank has offered her a loan.)
  • He will never amount to much because he’s (a functioning alcoholic, a single parent, a terrible neighbor, you-name-the-reason.)

SuccessFailureSometimes I wonder if, instead of putting other people in our shoes, we’d have happier outcomes if we instead put ourselves in theirs.  Yes, that messy tenant with the noisy family would make poor neighbors on your street.  But every town has a community of run-down homes with poorly maintained yards.  And often those homes are owned, not rented.

In my own case, many of the people who told me not to buy a wheelbarrow and shovel were assuming I was too old and frail for heavy work. But most of these folks are my age, and spend a monthly fee at the gym for their strength-training.  My exercise, at least, is free.

When we allow ourselves to believe the excuses, I fear we might be doing everyone around us a disservice.  Because with every objection I heard towards my own plan, I also heard something deeply personal about the speaker.  If we continue to stop making excuses and refuse to take charge, we end up with, well, a life unchanged.

Or a yard under water.