Emerging Leader Maurice came into office hours last week wearing his red power tie. Our initial plan was to unpack his “hustle” from the Work On Purpose workshop we did in our last Emerging Leaders meeting, but he announced that he wanted to share some “good news” and a “dilemma,” which were in fact related. It turned out that Maurice needed to choose between two very different housing options that each appealed to conflicting values, and the decision was overwhelming him. With his permission, I’m sharing some of the details of our meeting because it contains an exercise that might prove useful to the young people you work with (or to you yourself, if you’re in the market for a decision-making tool).
I actually trained the NYFC Youth Advisory Board to use this tool and included it in the YAB Project Management Manual in the chapter on project selection. The exercise enables you to arrive at a choice by first listing out the variables and values that inform your decision, weighting them by importance on a scale of 1 to 5, and then considering the extent to which each of your choices fulfills every one of those variables (also on a 5-point scale).
Let’s walk through Maurice’s dilemma so you can get a better grasp of the process. Long story short, last week he was approved for Section 8 housing assistance for a studio in a less than desirable setting, and then a couple of days later he received notice that he could also move into his best friend’s two-bedroom apartment in a much more attractive scattered housing site.
The dilemma stemmed from the fact that Maurice really wanted to live with his best friend in a great neighborhood, but was reluctant to turn down the studio through Section 8, which appealed to his desire for security and stability, since the subsidy would be available to him for as long as he remained below a certain income level.
The two-bedroom was much more attractive in almost all other respects, but would only be guaranteed till his 25th birthday. If Maurice doesn’t make enough to support himself fully by then, he would have to take his chances through NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority).
We started by having him list out all the variables that mattered to him, including having a safety net and the feeling that the neighborhood and the people around him would be conducive, rather than detrimental to his success (Maurice really loved using those terms during the exercise). Then we went through the list and weighted each one on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most important. Those are the numbers in black. You will see that having a safety net and being comfortable in his apartment building were his greatest concerns.
On a new sheet of paper, we compared how the two options stacked up against each other by rating them on each and every one of the variables that Maurice deemed significant to his decision. I actually filled this out for him so he wouldn’t get distracted by the scores and could answer honestly. Those are the answers in red, with 5 being a complete fulfillment of a variable.
The numbers in green represent the weight of each variable (which we got from the sheet above). We multiplied the red and the green numbers along each column and summed up the products. Maurice and I double-checked each other’s math and then I gave him the result: The two-bedroom with his best friend was the clear choice.
You should have seen the smile on his face. It was a smile of relief, of excitement, of joy at having done the difficult but necessary work of arriving at an important decision.
We debriefed what happened during the process, and talked about how Maurice’s fear of being without a safety net was an important and legitimate concern. What the exercise proved, however, is that he had other, more pressing priorities, which included being in an environment that would be conducive to his success. Maurice talked about how he likes entering a coffee shop / deli and having the shopkeeper greet him good morning. He also said that he really wanted to keep away from young men who give him judgmental looks when he’s dressed up for work.
What’s more, he was also demonstrating a significant amount of self-confidence with his decision. Instead of relying on the safety net of Section 8, I pointed out, Maurice would have to build his own by networking. He would have to prepare himself for leaving supportive housing in four years by actively and purposefully making connections and building a community of peers and caring adults. This got him excited: the idea that he could be master of his own destiny and take responsibility for weaving his own safety net.
Of course it’s a scary proposition—how could it not be—but I would definitely put my money on Maurice. He is thoughtful, creative, able-bodied, and positively hungry for success. And because he has seen his capacity for transformation and growth over the last two years, he also believes in himself.
This is his journal, by the way. Maurice has already outgrown the little pocket notebook I gave him a couple of months ago in an effort to get him more organized (we also downloaded a better calendar onto his smartphone). This journal is his daily reminder to stay positive and motivated on his journey.
Oh and, not to boast (because, trust me, I’d love to boast about this, but I had nothing whatsoever to do with it), but I am nonetheless very proud that Maurice has made Children’s Village history by being the first resident to take the initiative to commute to college while still living in the cottages. I told him that I can see there being a “Reid Cottage” named in his honor in the future, and that he will probably be returning to CV with holiday presents for all the kids. He liked that idea very, very much.
The best part of our meeting, though, was when he made the phone call to his best friend, Joel (he of the megawatt smile), telling him that they would soon be roomies. “I’ve gotta teach you this decision-making tool!” Apparently Maurice also plans on using it to decide between girlfriends. He is such a ladykiller.