Ask For What You Need

Erin McCleary, BYEP program manager

Erin McCleary, BYEP program manager

When we think about the difference of need and want, we refer to the necessities of life.

We consider sustenance and the basics of food, water, sleep, and any physiological needs. We think of safety of ourselves, the people we care about, and the places around us. We think of family and friendship and the greatest gift of all, belonging. For many, these are attained through focused intention and taking advantage of opportunities.

If you are familiar with the references here, this is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The pyramid of needs and at the pinnacle are esteem and confidence, respect and achievement. Ultimately piquing at acceptance and creativity, morality and lack of prejudice. This is the quest, the seeking of purpose.


My friend once told me a story about how she asked her mother, “How did you arrive here?” and her mother responded, “I did not just arrive here. I stood on the precipice and stared down a long time and out a long time and at myself for a long time and I realized I had choice. To go or come, to stay or move. I realized that by taking a step forward or back, I was choosing to engage with the world around me.”

This story seems pivotal in terms of understanding how to make that choice. To discern what you need and how to ask for it.

Working at Outward Bound, an international outdoor education nonprofit, for 5 years was my journey in discovering what I need and how to achieve it. The experiences of remote expedition travel instilled a resilience and sense of confidence that has propelled me further in life.

I came to Big Sky Youth Empowerment as a mentor first and realized the power of the work they were doing. The role of mentor and being part of a group was the difference between outsider and connection to community.

As I've grown with BYEP, it's evident that what we foster here is this pyramid in lessons, trials, and failures. We first learn to ask each other hard questions. We then learn to be willing to answer hard questions and allow for our full, raw—and sometimes ugly—selves to be visible to our peers. Then we learn that all these steps are part of our journey. And we get to choose where that path leads.

In working with Crux, we discuss each level of this pyramid. The main focus in my facilitation is that teens walk into the world and stand on the precipice and make a choice, one that allows for continued movement in a positive direction. Beginning with looking up and around and into someone else’s eyes as they shake hands and build connection to the greater community around them. This is hard to do.

It all starts with confronting a barrier and then deciding what to do to alter the route. Always the choice, but something has to be done. This focused intentional critical reasoning is what makes BYEP a positive experience for teens. It allows for them to make a choice and to further understand the result in a place of great acceptance and belonging.

As a teen, as an adult, as a member of a much larger community, BYEP fosters the space to explore what it looks like to make a choice on the precipice and to know that there will be someone to lean on after the fact. As we all face the world today and every day after, find a way to seek out what you need and expectations of yourself to get what you want. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Let us all be the student and the teacher for ourselves and make the choice to take a step in any direction to find out more of what we need and how to get it.