Today, I helped facilitate a session for the Twin Cities program to review our personal goals from training week. One of the questions we asked participants to reflect upon was “How would it feel to fall short of meeting your goals this summer?” I remember that when I was asked this question on my first day of Summer of Solutions as participant last summer, my response was something like “I would feel hopeless…like I couldn’t breathe.” This year, the first thing that came to my head was “If I fail to meet my goals this summer, I will sure learn a lot about how I can improve.”
This transition from responding to challenges with despair to responding to challenges with curiosity, perseverance, and optimism is one of the key things I have gained from working with Summer of Solutions. I think this switch comes from the value I now place on learning as an end in itself. I find that the way I approach my work as a solutionary is generally more effective when I stop focusing on what I want the results of my work to be, and rather be attentive to how whatever I am doing is preparing me to take on even greater things. Through the long hours I spent this year doing sometimes tedious work of writing grants, making color-coded spreadsheets, and wading through difficult conversations, my mantra was consistently “This is how I learn.”
I’ve realized this school year that Summer of Solutions is significantly more educational for me than any schooling that money can buy. I often feel that my university does not take education seriously enough to prepare me to be the person I need to be to make the changes I want to make. On the other hand, Summer of Solutions is a space that I feel encourages each of us to identify what it is we need to learn and take responsibility for making it happen.
One of my favorite things about our program this year is that it is an incredible learning community. Throughout each week, we have sessions scheduled for learning about the green economy, urban farming, and anti-oppression for collective liberation. For each of these sessions, the group identifies what we want to learn about the topic and then searches through the collective knowledge of the SoS participants to find someone who can teach us what we want to know. If no one in the group knows about it, the chances are pretty high that one of us knows someone else who does. Or, someone will step up to first research the topic and then become a teacher for the rest of the group. Summer of Solutions does not make the trainers and facilitators out to be the experts, but rather people who are stepping up to learning through the process of teaching and leading.
I think one of the most distinctive features of the SoS Twin Cities program is the culture of “I act not because I know what I am doing, but because only through acting do I have any hope of learning what to do and only through acting do I have any hope at all.” The amazing thing about this focus on learning is that does not conflict with achieving tangible results. Rather, it means that I care about this work too much to get in my own way by imagining that I know it all already.