Step 2: Find Your Passion
Everyone starts their journey to creating social change at a different point. Some will start reading this and know exactly what issue, challenge and opportunity they seek to have an impact on while others will still be searching for the right fit. No matter where you are, you’ve come to the right place!
A. Find an Issue
Identifying an issue or impact you’d like to have can be a challenge. Try looking at values, ideas and passions that matter most to you for inspiration. What gets you worked up and emotional? What do you consider a “defining moment,” in your life? These are the natural places to start looking to make an impact in your community. If you’re still having trouble, here are some simple exercises to help get your wheels turning:
Create three lists. In the first list, write everything you are good at or have ever been told you’re good at. In the second list, write everything you enjoy doing. And in the final list, write everything that gives you a sense of purpose. Reflect on these lists – maybe take some time and come back to them with more answers. Once you are satisfied, think about how these lists overlap and support each other. Decide which items on the list are most significant to making you “you.”
Revisit your childhood. Reflect back on the things that made the biggest impact on your life and the important moments that began to define you. What did you love? What kind of person did you want to be? What did you most care about and why was that important to you?
Write a eulogy. We know, we know… it sounds pretty morbid. But try it anyway, okay? Start writing an end of life reflection. What would you want it to say? What did you do? What kind of person were you to others? What were things you valued and what legacy did you leave behind? After you have written this, reflect on what parts of this you are working to achieve now. What can you do to achieve the other items?
Remember: Stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to think creatively. Maybe some of these things that popped up seem silly or impossible - don’t be afraid to take on a challenge. It’s only impossible until one person does it.
B. Become an Expert
Now that you have found issues that you are passionate about, it’s time to begin research on challenges relating to this cause within the political, cultural and economic landscape. You want to learn as much as possible about how this issue affects you, your friends, family and community – both on and offline. Through this research, you can better understand the complex challenges and conflicts surrounding your cause and identify opportunities to interject and leverage your skills for a positive impact.
If you don’t know a lot about your issue, often the simplest place to start is online – Google it! You are looking to gain information and insight on the key players, organizations, statistics, public opinions and historical events of that issue on a national and local level. Read blogs, news publications and books about the issue. The internet is a great place to hear differing opinions, perspectives and personal testimonies. However, keep in mind there is just as much mis-information available, so be cautious and fact check when possible.
While researching you may find opportunities to attend events or meetings discussing your particular issue or cause. Try to attend and familiarize yourself with the players and supporters surrounding the issue, as well as the political and social system that the issue is a part of.
As you become more familiar with the issue, you can visualize the problem as a tree. The trunk of the tree is the social issue you’re passionate about, the roots represent the root causes of how that issue was created and the branches symbolize the effects that it has on you and your community.
Once you have a sense of where your issue is situated politically, culturally and economically, you can identify what impact you want to have. Look at your tree and decide – which branch is it that you care more about? What effect has this issue had that really makes you most concerned or passionate to take action? Then trace that branch back to the root causes and you will see the opportunities where you could make an impact.
C. Understand the Landscape
Focusing on one challenge of your issue that you can make an impact on will lead you into the next phase of your research. It is critical that you educate yourself on the political landscape of that challenge and the existing policies on your campus, in your community or in the country. By becoming an expert on your challenge, you will be better equipped to identify opportunities to develop solutions to the challenge and know who to take your ideas to.
Ask yourself a series of questions while doing this research:
How can I help address this challenge?
Would it require implementing new policies or repealing an existing one?
Has a solution already been proposed or is one in effect on other campuses, cities or states? Can that success be replicated here?
While conducting your research, determine at what level of government or in what institution your issue is engaged and who the decision makers are for that particular challenge. Issues can be handled at the municipal, county, state or federal level; some overlap at a few levels. Understanding who has jurisdiction over your issue is vitally important to creating an effective advocacy plan and prevents you from wasting valuable time and resources.
At times, it may be challenging to understand who has the power to implement a change in the policy you are working on. In your research you may have also come across other organizations and policy makers who work on your issue or have influence in the challenge you are working on. Investigate these groups thoroughly and generate a list of those that are in line with your values, those that do not agree with your values and those that are undecided.
If you are unsure about a politician’s stance, look at their voting and speech records on your issue. See where organizations donate and spend their money. If they have no public record on your topic, call them and ask.
As you develop a strategy to address the challenge you are focusing on, you will want to form relationships with those organizations and decision makers. Knowing the informal power structures within the community working on your issue is just as important as understanding the formal ones. You may find in forming these relationships that in order to make an impact, you have to work at multiple levels. Sometimes an issue requires a grassroots and grasstops approach to make an impact in the short and long term.
Understanding the landscape of your issue you will provide context for who has what kind of power, who has more power, who has less, how the balance or imbalance is maintained and how that can be changed. This will help to map out how a political space is organized and how different forces, individuals, organization, and ideas shape that issue.
D. Develop Your Point of View
A great way to further clarify what kind of impact you want to have is to create a personal mission statement that establishes your viewpoint on the issue. While your mission may change throughout your journey, developing this viewpoint helps to create the starting blocks for the decisions you will make in the future.
Your personal mission statement should incorporate the values and priorities you identified in finding your issue and identifying your impact, set in the context of the political, cultural and economic landscapes you researched. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer for how long or short your mission statement should be, you just need feel strongly and passionate about it – you’re the one has to live and breathe it every day.