The game of life is always complicated, and sometimes the question is: Which game are we even playing? As Hugh, a Getting Ahead investigator in Arizona, shows in this graphic, the game can change depending on your situation and your goals.

If you’re in poverty, life can seem a lot like dodgeball. There is always a crisis flying at you and trying to knock you out of the game, at least for a round or two. You can barely stop and relax before the next problem whizzes past your nose. Maybe this time it’s a broken-down car, a friend who needs you to watch the kids, or a long wait at the health center. No matter what the tyranny of the moment throws at you, the problems you avoid never seem to outnumber the dodgeballs that land with a ping! and a sting.

In middle class, you play a long game where planning ahead is the key to success—much like the game of chess. In chess, your pieces keep the attacking forces at bay; in middle class, your resources help buffer the tyranny of the moment. Long before it can become a crisis, a problem is headed off with preparation and planning. Thinking about your next move, and the move after that, and the move after that (and the next move still!), helps you achieve your goals—a driving force in middle class.

As Hugh’s graphic illustrates, making the transition from poverty to middle class can feel like playing both games at once! You work hard to plan ahead, and you arrange your life more like a chess game than like a dodgeball free-for-all. You have your defenses set up, you’ve promoted a pawn to a Queen, and you’re closing in for the checkmate—and then a dodgeball lands ping! in the middle of your best laid plans, scattering the pieces and forcing you to start again.

An integral part of Getting Ahead is building up your bridging social capital. When your planning has been disrupted and you’re starting over, having connections to people outside poverty can be a big help. Some of the people you’ll meet may be Getting Ahead graduates themselves, so they’ve been just where you are, and they know how hard it is to change the game.

If you’re interested, check out our interactive map to find a Getting Ahead group in your area. Alternatively, if you want to be certified to facilitate Getting Ahead groups, consider joining us in Louisville. Breaking the cycle of poverty takes everyone working together. Let’s change the game!