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Moving Forward to Make Change Happen

This article was based on the TEDWomen Talk, “3 Questions to Ask Yourself About Everything You Do,” by Stacey Abrams.

3 questions to ask yourself about everything you do


Class Valedictorian

Stacey Abrams begins her TED Talk by recalling a story from her childhood.  As a 17-year-old high school valedictorian, she was invited to an event at the Governor’s Mansion.  Without a car, Abrams and her parents took the bus to get there. As the other valedictorians were greeted and escorted onto the property, the guard at the gate told them, “You don’t belong here, this is a private event.”

Mr. Abrams explained that his daughter was indeed one of the valedictorians.  However, after seeing the family exiting the bus, he had made up his mind. The story he told himself was that they were too poor to be attending such a prestigious event.  After much persuasion, he finally found Stacy Abrams’ name on the guest list and allowed them to enter.

What Abrams recalls about that day is not meeting her fellow valedictorians from 180 school districts.  She doesn’t remember meeting the governor of Georgia. The only clear memory she has is of a man standing in front of the most powerful place in Georgia, looking at her and telling her she didn’t belong.


Opening the Gates

Some 20 years later, Abrams decided that she wanted to be the person who got to open the gates by running for governor.  She didn’t just want to open the gates for young black women who had been underestimated and told they don’t belong. She wanted to open those gates for Latinas and for Asian Americans and for the undocumented and the documented. She wanted to open those gates for the LGBTQ community, for the families that have to call themselves the victims of gun violence, and for everyone in Georgia, because we all belong here.

Unfortunately, Abrams was not elected governor, and now she is tasked with figuring out how to move forward. What she recognised was that her first try wasn’t enough, but she didn’t know how to get beyond the bitterness and the sadness she was feeling.


Moving Forward

Abrams decided that her next move would be to do what she’s always done. She would move forward because going backward was not an option and standing still was not enough.

To move forward, Abrams shared that there are three questions she asks herself about everything she does, whether it’s running for office or starting a business.  Those questions are:

  • What do I want?
  • Why do I want it?
  • How do I get it?

In her case, Abrams knew she wanted change. The real question was what was the change that she wanted.  This led to more self-examination.


Understanding What You Want

First, she questioned, “Am I honest about the scope of my ambition?” It’s easy to figure out that once you didn’t get what you wanted, then maybe you should have set your sights a little lower.  However, she emphasises that you need to be aggressive about your ambition. Do not allow setbacks to set you back.

Second, you need to understand your mistakes. Usually, there is something we could do better, but we’ve been told not to investigate what the other side could have done. Too often we are told that our mistakes are ours alone, but victory is a shared benefit. Not only should you understand your mistakes, but try to understand the mistakes of others. Be clearheaded about it and be honest with yourself and those who support you.

Once you know what you want, understand why you want it. Even though it feels good, revenge is not a good reason. Instead, make sure you want it because there’s something, not that you should do, but something you must do. It has to be something that doesn’t allow you to sleep at night unless you’re dreaming about it; something that wakes you up in the morning and gets you excited about it; or something that makes you so angry, you know you have to do something about it. Know why you’re doing it and know why it must be done.

Next, you need to figure out how you’re going to get it done. Understand that there are three things that always hold us hostage. Those things are finances, fear, and fatigue.


Examine the Obstacles

The first obstacle is finances. Finances hold us back so often; our dreams are bounded by how much we have in resources. Yet, we hear again and again the stories of those who overcome those resource challenges. Finances are often a reason we don’t let ourselves dream.

The second is fear. Fear is real, paralyzing, and terrifying. Fear can also be energising because once you know what you’re afraid of, you can figure out how to get around it.

The third is fatigue. Sometimes you just get tired of trying. You get tired of reading about processes and politics and the things that stop you from getting where you want to be. Sometimes, fatigue means that we accept position instead of power. We let someone give us a title as a consolation prize, rather than realising we know what we want and we’re going to get it, even if we’re tired. We also learn in those moments that fatigue is an opportunity to evaluate how much we want it. Because if you are beaten down, if you have worked as hard as you can, if you have done everything you said you should, and it still doesn’t work out, fatigue can sap you of your energy. That’s when you go back to the “why” of it.


Questions for Change

If you want to make change you need to keep these questions in mind.  To move forward, you need to know your past. You need to know the obstacles that lie ahead. And you need to know how you’re going to get it: by moving forward every single day.


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