Feeling like a social change imposter

| Joe Hartley

Ever wanted to make a change, but not known where to start? Perhaps you’ve been lurking on the Ideas Hub for some time, toying with the idea of getting involved in your community or taking action on an issue, but feeling like it’s not your place, or you don’t have the knowledge, experience or connections? Joe Hartley, a freelance web developer and newly converted community activist in Moston, Manchester, is here to reassure you that no one needs to feel like a social change imposter. In this blog, he gives some reflections on his journey so far into the world of community organising and offers some tips and advice to any other newbies looking to dip their toes in the water of making positive change.

Let me introduce you to Moston.

It’s been my home district in North Manchester for the last 37 years and I think I’m in love with it. It’s a place I’ve grown up in that’s full of history, sat right on the cusp of one of the best green spaces in Greater Manchester, Boggart Hole Clough.

Living in Moston has been interesting over the last few decades – as most long-standing residents will be eager to tell you. It’s a recognisable tale, filled with all the twists and turns of an area that has faced issues familiar to countless other UK suburbs.

Having said that, I’m hesitant to be down on an area that’s grown to be a part of me, even though Moston has wielded a symptomatic checklist of woes that’s all too familiar: rising crime, cultural tensions, downtrodden shops, inadequate housing and a growing number of people who had lost the energy to fight against a steady flow of negative local problems. It’s a situation that has been quietly requesting positive social change for some time.

Getting involved

I’m Joe, an aptly named ‘average Joe’ in many senses, but most notably of late when it came to making a real difference in my community.

Classing myself confidently as a lay person when it comes to social change, my journey will be familiar to anyone who has tried to step up as a civilian attempting to be a catalyst for positive action, while having little-to-no experience.

That’s where I found myself at a bit of a loss. I had a burning energy inside me to get out there and do something, born of frustration and rebellion to the complaint-led inaction that I was experiencing.

So came the first questions: where do you begin? How can you DO something when you’re not exactly sure what that something is?

Blatantly ignoring the direct complaints of introversion and comfort, I stepped out to begin a foray into an area that I was positive would have me drenched in imposter syndrome.

For the sake of potentially helping someone else begin their ‘create your own social adventure’, here’s how I went about it.

I started speaking to people – a lot of people.
  • When starting from scratch with a blank canvas, your best resource is the experience of others and there’s a lot of it out there.
  • Around six months ago, I began reaching out to organisations via email, sometimes choosing groups at random in the hope of receiving a positive response that would point me in the right direction.
  • Before I knew it, I was organising Zoom calls with passionate people that have a wealth of experience, eager to listen and help in whichever way they could with the things I had to say about my area. I’ve learned so much, gained reassurance and felt compelled to continue as a result.
I started to do things within my capability, but outside of my comfort zone.
  • Having a mostly introverted personality, I was content hiding behind an email, however it was when I set sensible goals beyond my safe place that I achieved and gained the most.
  • Whether that was setting up a meeting, starting a Facebook Group or ‘getting out and doing the thing’ (even though it would have me doing somersaults inside) it was taking a confident step that led to even the slightest positive change.
I didn’t try to save the world myself.
  • Having people to talk to who can relate to the issues I am facing (whether those of my local area, or part of my own growth) has been integral. It’s amazing how collaborating can bring to life an idea you have, how discussing something removes second-guessing and how having someone share your enthusiasm can bring you back from the natural frustration and low points.

The value of inexperience

Powered by the enthusiasm and energy I’ve gained from meeting others who share my vision of more cohesive communities, I’m confident that the little differences I’ve achieved so far are just the beginning of my social change journey.

In a society where people naturally become disenchanted and may fall into stale routines, you must see yourself as a fresh pair of eyes, and social change will forever need exactly that.

Whereas initially you may see it as imposter syndrome, you learn to harness that feeling and turn it into an indicator of where you’re challenging yourself.

If you’re waiting for a sign to start making a positive change in your area, that thought of doing so is the only trigger you need. Go out there and make a positive difference, no matter how small – there really is nothing stopping you.

If you’re Moston-based, you can join in with Joe via Moston Social Clean-Ups. You can also find him on Instagram.

Photo by Joe Hartley.

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