In my first year of college, I had an ambitious idea for an advocacy project. It was one of those cartoon-lightbulb-over-your-head moments when an idea takes root in your mind in a way that you just can’t shake and has you envisioning every brilliant possibility before you’ve even put pen to paper. I excitedly met with a professor for guidance, but when I began to gush about my idea, I was told that it was too big, too complicated, and too time intensive. Maybe I should consider something smaller scale or easier—or just change my idea altogether. I left that meeting feeling discouraged and disappointed, but luckily, I decided to go ahead with the project anyway. While I’d come to find that in many ways that professor was right—I hit numerous roadblocks, stayed up late doing research, and was in a little over my head at times—that project also ended up leading me directly to a career path that I love, and gave me the confidence to take on other big projects in the future.
I’m so glad I didn’t stop at that “no” in favor of something easier, but I see why my professor might have expressed such concern. After all, I was young, didn’t have any relevant experience, and was about to take on something that became bigger than I ever expected. But as I dove into the work, those qualities that gave my professor pause—gumption, fresh perspective, tenacity—actually helped me succeed.
Sometimes, as adults, we envision all the potential obstacles that could get in girls’ way when they have a big idea, whether it’s for a class at school, a Take Action Project, or her Gold Award. So, when girls have a really big idea or the passion to create change on a complicated problem, you might be hesitant to let her run with it. Luckily, Girl Scouts sets girls up for success when they seek to accomplish big goals, and there’s a good chance she’s been building the skills she’ll need to reach those ambitious goals all along (A lifetime of leadership starts with many small steps!). Plus, she has an awesome adult in her life (That’s you!) to support her. Keep reading for seven ways you can help support girls as they take on those big issues.
Break It Down
Help her break her idea down into smaller, measurable steps. It’s easy to get caught up thinking about the final goal but having a solid plan (With a timeline!) will make sure she gets there. If she’s not sure how, use these guidelines on creating a S.M.A.R.T. goal.
Let Her Lead
When there’s a lot of work to do, it might be tempting to jump in and take over. While you can support her, she should be the one putting in the work and making decisions. The more ownership she has, the more she’ll learn.
Accept Failure as an Option
We want to see girls succeed and protect them from the disappointment of when things don’t work out, but failure is an important part of learning. When she presents an idea, and you’re worried that she might fail, remember that she might—and that’s okay. Luckily, many of the skills she’ll learn will be the same whether she fails or succeeds. Support her by making sure to recognize and celebrate her hard work, even if her project hits a dead end.
Encourage Her to Really Know Her Issue
Ask questions, look at the facts, and make sure she spends time talking to people who know a lot about the issue and/or have personal experience with it. This kind of collaboration can also lead her to valuable partnerships, including ones that might even take some of the work of off her plate.
Draw from Past Experiences
Luckily, this is probably not the first time she’s advocated for something she cares about—self-directed projects are built right in to the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, so reference past experiences like when she made her cookie business plan or persevered through that last mile of a tough hike to remind her that she has the skills to make it happen!
Encourage Her with Stories of Girls Like Her
Read a book together about a girl who made a difference on a similar issue or follow Girl Scouts River Valleys and Girl Scouts of the USA on social media for inspiring stories about girls doing big things.
Believe in Her!
The first step in letting girls lead is adults believing that girls can. It might take a lot of time and perseverance (and maybe a short break here or there) on her part, but with an adult who encourages her to keep going by her side, she’s got this!
For more insight on how girls can advocate for issues they care about, listen to this episode of GIRL Talk, River Valleys’ new podcast: Advocacy–Raise Your Voice and Be Heard!
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a program resources specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.