Work That Matters
Although it can happen in happy and care-free moments, inspiration can also occur in moments of frustration, anger, and pain. I have either said or thought this many times. I want to spend a bit of time on it today.
In the work I have been able to do while creating Butterfly I have had the honour of meeting many young people and their mentors, leaders, and teachers. In fact, it was a chance meeting with a group of youth from Voices that planted the first seeds for Butterfly.
This first meeting was pivotal for both Butterfly and myself. After learning more about the experiences of these young people I drove home as angry and frustrated as I have ever been. I was angry with the child welfare system and I was angry at the education system. Mostly I was angry and frustrated at my own inability to do or change anything for them. It felt as if that there are just some groups of young people that will generally have worse outcomes than others, and though lamented and well-known, it is also accepted as inevitable.
Fast forward a few months after that chance meeting, and after many meetings events with senior leaders from government, business, and the community I was struck by this realization - they don't really know what to do either. This is not a condemnation on any of those people whatsoever. They just don't know. They are trying, they deeply care, they know the outcomes are bad for many youth, they know the trends are not improving, they continue to fight every day to make it better, and every day it stays the same or gets slightly worse. This situation applies equally to child welfare as it does to education, justice, and virtually any area of society where young people are involved. My fundamental belief and approach that no single department and no single person working with young people wants them to fail.
So here's the core problem: people - including myself - can predict who will not do well, and they watch it happen. Over and over again. We predict bad outcomes, they happen, we say we told you so, and it repeats. Here's my core frustration: why do I/we continue to only watch?
And here's what I've learned developing Butterfly and by building understanding and building relationships. People working with young people need and welcome our help. This is the beginning. They know they need help and they know they are having problems innovating and creating new solutions.
The young people within these systems need our help the most. They want better lives. They deserve better programs and services. They want to be engaged. They are also rightly distrustful of anybody who comes in and tries to work with them. They need people to be fully immersed in their lives and the problems they face. They need people to trust them.
Here's the truth: today, at this moment, many believe they will fail and they are absolutely right. Without innovation, without engagement, without being able to freely develop and explore their interests, they will fail. Without many people caring and investing their time, energy, and creativity into them they will fail. Without you they will fail.
If you can help young people you can redeem yourself and be somebody worthwhile. If you care deeply about your mission and are able to creatively engage in the work, you are indispensable. Trying and failing isn't the tragedy - going through the motions is the tragedy. Knowing that others will fail where you feel you might succeed and doing nothing is the tragedy.
With you they have a chance.