Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Time to Level Up!

New Tae Kwon Do belts are often celebrated in our 
house with manicures to match our levels
My daughter and I passed our Tae Kwon Do belt tests this weekend! I love setting challenges to do with my girls. The first time my little one took a Tae Kwon Do test with me, she traded in her white beginners' belt for a sunny yellow one and I now earned a blue stripe on my green belt. We both grinned like cheshire cats at each other as we received our new colors, bursting with pride both for our own accomplishments and the other's. Today, she's wearing the same level belt I did back then and I couldn't be prouder of her! Why does leveling up mean so much? And why do many grown-ups stop doing it?

When I was a kid, I was in a constant state of trying to move up to a next level. I remember how much I wanted to move to the next grade in school, move from a "tadpole" to a "frog" in swimming, move from Bluebirds to Discovery in Camp Fire, and progress through all sorts of other activities with definite achievement levels. The suburban American world just kind pushes kids along in that general upward direction. So, why do many adults tend to plateau and stop reaching for the next step? 
The good stuff happens just beyond your comfort zone!
Leveling up helps us appreciate milestones, see how far we have come, and prepare for even more great achievements. This is true in everything from sports to activism. Are you comfortable where you are as an advocate? Good! Then, maybe it's time to take the next step and push that comfort zone a little bit.

The RESULTS website has an activist toolkit with a list of activist milestones, effective actions that you can shoot for and take the next step in your advocacy. There are milestones for working with Congress, working with your community, working with the media, and empowering yourself. It even has links to instructions on how to achieve your new goals.

For example, here are a list of milestone advocacy actions to take with Congress starting with sending an email and ending with building a relationship such that your representative will respond to you within 24 hours about your specific request. 
  1. Send an e-mail to your member of Congress.
  2. Make a phone call to your member of Congress.
  3. Write a letter to your member of Congress.
  4. Establish a relationship with the congressional aide who handles your issue. (Also, see our PowerPoint for additional guidance on researching your member of Congress.)
  5. Get your member of Congress to take an action in response to your request. 
  6. Ask a question at a town hall meeting or a candidates forum. (Also see our PowerPoint for additional guidance.)
  7. Meet face-to-face with your member of Congress.  (Also, see our PowerPoint for additional guidance.)
  8. Establish regular conference call or video meetings with an aide or member of Congress.
  9. Arrange a site visit for your member of Congress to communities affected by poverty.
  10. Inspire your member of Congress to write an op-ed on our issues. (coming soon)
  11. Get your member of Congress to take leadership on one of our issues.
  12. Reach a level of relationship with your member of Congress that enables 24-hour turnaround on phone calls.
Wow! I know that last one sounds incredible, but there are real everyday people who achieve it. Most of the time, those people have worked diligently through many of the smaller steps...leveling up with increasing difficulty bit by bit.

Speaking as a mother, I see that when we're in the midst of helping our kids learn and grow, moms sometimes forget to purposely improve ourselves, too. It can seem like there's so much to do in order to provide for the little ones and make sure they develop life skills and character that we forget that we have a lot of room for growth as well. I struggle to make time for my own personal growth in the midst of encouraging theirs.

The funny thing is that when I do make the time to improve myself, my kids are watching. Leveling up in my activities naturally encourages them to do the same for their passions. I used to only do the "me-time" activities when they were in school or asleep. Lately, I've discovered that when I work hard to reach my goals in a visible way that impacts their lives, they start internalizing the idea that they should do it, too. 

Today, I encourage everyone to move past the status quo. Whatever you're doing...what is the next step? And remember...when you take a step to the next level in advocacy for underprivileged kids, you're giving a child in need a chance at a next step, too. A next school grade, a next birthday, and maybe even a pretty colored belt.

Me, receiving my orange belt, from Master Yoon at
North Shore Martial Arts in Morton Grove, IL