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Pearl #27: Second Chances Are an Art, Not Science

Throughout the year, our blog series “Pearls: 30 Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey will be featuring lessons we’ve learned as an organization throughout the past three decades. These “pearls,” as we call them, illuminate how we’ve survived and thrived for 30 years. 

Second Chances Are an Art, Not Science

Women’s Bean Project is built on the foundation of second chances and the belief that everyone deserves one. I have seen for myself – and even talked about it in my TED talk – that sometimes what is required for transformational change is believing in another person until they can begin to believe in themselves.  

While I know this to be true, I’ve also learned this view cannot be made from a black and white perspective. Trying to change one’s life is not a linear process and neither are second chances. If we think of the second chance as the one that finally helps a woman with the lift she needs to make lasting change, then we know that looks different for each person. Sometimes the second chance, then, is really the third or the fourth chance (who’s counting?), but it is the one that comes at the right time for her. Because, does a second chance count if one isn’t ready? What if we view the second chance as the last chance and it totally passes a woman by because she isn’t ready? 

In the past we would only hire a women once; that is, once we had hired her, she had just the one opportunity to be successful in our program. If she was unable to complete the program, for whatever reason, she was not hired again. We know, because the women told us, that most found some benefit from their experience working at Women’s Bean Project even if they didn’t complete the program. However, we noticed that sometimes a woman who hadn’t completed the program the first time seemed to be more ready for change at a later date. Perhaps she had relapsed and was dismissed from her job, but later, when she was clean again, she was more likely to have long-term success. By viewing our second chance as a singular event, we were closing the door to women for whom second chances needed to come in multiples. 

Eventually we found a way, in our hearts and minds and well as our operations, to re-hire some of the women who hadn’t graduated the program the first time. In essence, we began giving them a second chance at their second chance. 

This shift has been built on the lessons we have learned by working with women for 30 years, along with the understanding that the Bean Project must have the capacity to be the stability, the forgiveness, the group that focuses more on each woman’s future than her past. And by doing this, we have learned change is not linear. It’s messy and squishy and sometimes you don’t know it’s happening until afterward. When we are open to this idea that change is squishy, then we are really meeting the women where they are. Because who says which chance is really the second chance? Maybe it is when the woman is ready.  

Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO

Find the entire series of “Pearls: Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey: Here

Tamra Ryan’s TEDx Talk:

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