For the past decade, I've interacted with Millennials and Generation Z students in a college classroom setting, which means that twice a week I get to hear their gripes, their joys, what they care about, and I learn quickly the fastest route to boring them: preaching. Like everyone else, college kids do not want to hear me or anyone else preach to them about what they need to be doing, should be doing, or must do. They want to carve their routes and live out their journeys. But so many of them don't know what they want to do - what major to choose? What career to pursue? What topic to write their papers on? More importantly, they wonder why any of it really matters.
One of the best books that I have read on how our young adults should be approaching their 20's is Dr. Meg Jay's The Defining Decade. I have taken to sharing her TED talk "Why 30 Is Not the New 20" (http://on.ted.com/Jay ) with my students, too. Basically, Dr. Meg Jay explains why one's 20's are a vital time in a young adult's life to actively, if not aggressively, discover and pursue all that one seeks in terms of career, family, friends, and relationships. She asserts that our brains rewire themselves in our 20's, preparing us for adulthood; a reminder that one's 20's are a perfect and critical time to set the agenda for one's life.
The One Life
From the time we are in elementary school, people ask us what we want to be when we grow up. I recently asked my friend's eight-year old the question and she said, "I'm just a kid; how could I know what I want to be when I'm an adult?" Maybe the questions should be: what do you love to do? What means something to you? What makes you feel happy? What do you care about regardless of any rewards? Maybe if we can implant that train of thought early on, what someone wants to do when they grow up will be less about picking and choosing and more about following one's innate path.
I believe in the one life - that is, that who you are is imbedded in all you do, whether you are at work, or at home, running a race, or driving a car. The same passion and intensity that you give to the things outside of work are what you need to invest in your career, and if that's not the case, you need to ask yourself why? Are you in the wrong career? The wrong life? Have you gone on autopilot?
What You Seek
I'm a believer that you first need to define where you wish to arrive before you start your engine to get there. How do you want to spend your days? Do you want to have time to travel? To work remote? To be on a plane throughout the week? Do you want to sit in an office or be outdoors? How do you define success? And how important is success to you? What will you do if you fail? How will you prepare yourself for hardship? Do you like to work 8 hour days or 12 hour days? What is the one activity in your life that if you have to give up more than two days in a row, you would feel miserable about? Is what you want to do tied to your parents/family's expectations, or is it your personal ambition?
Easy Access: The Pros & The Cons
From my experience, the Millennials and Generation Z students I've met in my classroom are a mixed bag of passion, ideas, ennui, and a faint belief that the world of work as older generations may define it, is bullshit. Maybe they're right. But maybe not. Students of today's generation have grown up in a world of easy access - cell phones, text messages, email on the go, and the internet to find anything and everything that they seek instantaneously. I am always grateful that I encountered the internet and email and all of our modern day technology when I was already in graduate school. I'm grateful that when I was in college and the start of my graduate career, I still had to visit the library and dig in the card catalogues to find the resources I needed to write a research paper. Why? I loved the synergy I felt when I found the research I needed to prove my case and thus write a stellar paper.
Nowadays, a few clicks, and students find the articles they need. Sure, that's great and quick and convenient, but I believe that there was something in the hunt - a persistence, a patience, a focus, that was learned. An ability to redefine and re-evaluate ones ideas and routes. And for me, there was something in the trenches of libraries that was magical in the same way it was magical that we made our way to appointments without GPS to guide us to locations - there was a sense of accomplishment, of focus, strategy. Convenience is convenient, but it is often a mindless act, too.
On that end, I still savor the good old days when I had to wait to get to a movie theater to watch a movie or wait until a movie came out on a VHS cassette to watch it at home. Maybe I am old fashioned, or maybe I like the pause that waiting brought us. The self- reflection; the time to re-evaluate. The floating time that occurred when I wrote a letter, tossed it in the mail, and it made its way to my recipient. To me, that was the time zone of possibility and wonder.
The Evolving Journey
What does anyone want to be when they grow up? Money has its allure, but financial reward only takes one so far in life. A career devoted to helping others is amazing, but not if you never get to help yourself or if you don't have time to help the people closest to you in your life, such as aging parents or children. If your career is immersed in others, then you need to ask yourself if you are ignoring your own life. Titles and corner offices are great, too, but what does any of that mean in the long- term picture of your life? Does it provide freedom or make you more of a slave to your career?
What do you want to do when you grow up is perhaps one of the most complex questions. What you don't want to do, is waste your life. Wake up in your later years to realize the things you cared about most were not what you devoted your life to. That you missed your opportunity. That you took short cuts and lived your life taking the easy way versus the way that was right and honest and true for you. Because sometimes it is too late. Sometimes you miss your moment. I hear again and again from folks that when you are 20 you think you have forever, but somewhere along the way, forever diminishes. What you want to be when you grow up is something that only you know, and it's something that only you can take the time to figure out. It's something that may evolve throughout your life, but it's likely that the passion and motivation that leads you in one direction, will come along for all of your journeys and pursuits throughout your life.