The iY Challenge
I was a bit surprised that the college held an information session for all parents geared toward helping parents let go. Apparently the level of parental involvement in the lives of college students is preventing many young adults from maturing in a healthy fashion. Cell phones, text messaging, Skype, Facebook and emailing are keeping college students so connected to their families and friends back home that they fail to acclimate to their new environment. I will admit, I had to fight the urge to text my daughter yesterday just 12 hours after we dropped her off.
I have been reading the book “Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future” by Dr. Tim Elmore. Sociologists define Generation Y as young people born between 1984 to 2002. Yet, research shows that those born after 1990 are significantly different from their earlier counterparts. Elmore calls this younger subset the “iY generation.” My daughter who was born in 1993 is on the front end of Elmore’s generation iY. Elmore states, “As a group, Generation iY is overwhelmed, overconnected, overprotected, and overserved.” He makes a strong case for each of these descriptors.
I choose to read Generation iY this summer because we were discerning in our work that one of the greatest assets that is largely untapped is the young people in our communities. We have large numbers of young people ages 18-30 that seem to be lost – cutoff from mainline society. Elmore calls this time period “delayed adolescence” and writes, “The years between eighteen and twenty-five have become a distinct life stage—a strange, transitional “no man’s land” between adolescence and adulthood in which young people stall for a few extra years, putting off adult responsibility. They just don’t see the need to grow up because life is working for them just fine right now.”
Many of the young people we meet have dropped out of high school. Even those with a high school diploma are not finding their way into the workforce. Some have legitimate challenges of transportation and lack of employment opportunities, but many lack the determination to overcome these obstacles. Even those that gain a college education are finding it harder and harder to find and maintain employment.
As we visited with older youth and young adults we discovered what Elmore discovered, “And here’s something that really saddens me: These kids really do desire to change the world; they just don’t have what it takes to accomplish their lofty dreams.”
I have run an AmeriCorps program for four years and hired dozens of young adults. Young people enter our program thinking that in a 10 week summer internship, they will be able to have a lasting transformative impact on a community that has been in decline for generations. Elmore notes, “Our focus groups have shown that young people are short on patience, listening skills, and conflict resolution. These students have far too much confidence and far too little experience to be left to their own devices. “ Their lack of patience, overconfidence and unwillingness to listen often leads them to become frustrated and ultimately they disengage from the process.
As frustrating as this generation can be, their optimism, energy, creativity, intelligence and courage keeps drawing us back to them. We see in them what Elmore sees, “Generation iY has so much to offer, but they need direction—mentors who engage them in a relevant way, channel their energy, and provide them with the challenges they need.”
What would it look like if we were to team these energetic, optimistic, want-to-be world changers with seasoned, grounded, caring adults? That is the question I wanted Elmore to help me answer. Below is what I gleaned from his insights:
Observation #1: They Want to Belong Before They Believe.
Observation #2: They Want an Experience Before an Explanation.
Observation #3: They Want a Cause Before They Want a Course.
Observation #4: They Want a Guide on the Side Before They Want a Sage on the Stage.
Observation #5: They Want to Play Before They Pay.
Elmore gives this practical advice for those seeking to come alongside this generation:
“Value volunteerism. Offer them opportunities to make a difference in the world while making a contribution. For us, this means creating environments where they can come up with their own ideas and implement them—all the while moving toward a common goal for the group. Give plenty of opportunity to “practice” maturity.
Lay plans to mix the generations. What an adolescent needs is an adult who makes appropriate demands and sets appropriate standards for them in a responsive environment of belief and concern. In short, they need adults to display a balance of two elements—they need them to be both responsive and demanding: Responsive: to display acceptance, support and patience; to be attentive to them. Demanding: to establish high standards, directing them to target those standards. Intentionally set times for adolescents to spend time with adults and with younger children.
Foster friendships. Draw on their teamwork skills and strong peer affiliations. Applaud appropriately—reward real skills and actual accomplishment. Develop rituals to mark and solemnize rites of passage.
Offer options. Allow as much flexibility as possible in terms of where they work, how they work, and when they work. Challenge them with change. Make creative use of their energy and desire for new things. Make the most of their strengths. Be intentional about using what this confident, techsavvy generation has to offer.
This fall Embrace Richmond will be launching “VocationCARE teams” designed to help older youth and young adults discern their vocational call and build the skills and experience they need to pursue that call. Elmore has given us a wonderful framing for this task. He writes:
A Work, Not a Job – Consider this:
When you scour the pages of history and discover the people who powerfully affected their world, you find it was people who did more than fulfill a job description well. In fact, many were folks who labored for a cause completely separate from their livelihood. They were fulfilling a calling not just drawing a paycheck. They were doing a work, not just a job.
I’m not just playing with words here. There really is a difference. A job is basically a source of income, whereas a work is a calling, a vocation. Consider some of the other distinctions between a job and a work. Jobs are about what we can get. A work is about what we can give (and who we are). With a job, you basically trade your time and skills for money. Accomplishing a work is more about making a contribution to our world. Jobs come and go, but work ties a life together.
Young people may have six to eight jobs before they reach midlife. Their work, however, should be the single, common thread that runs through each of their jobs. It is the central mission they are accomplishing with their life.
Jobs enable us to be consumers, but work enables us to be contributors. A work can be defined as the most important contribution someone will accomplish before they die. Pursuing a work ignites the passion inside of a person. It harnesses their gifts and causes them to think (and act) long after the job is over. A job is often motivated by competition; a work is usually motivated by compassion.
This represents the primary difference between being driven and being called. One pushes, the other pulls. When people do a job, they walk the mile they are compelled to walk. When they do a work, they walk the second mile, above the call of duty. In other words, we do a job because we have to, but we do a work because we want to. A job is about selling a product. A work is about solving a problem. A work is motivated inwardly, which means that motives are purified and collaboration can be intensified.
For this reason, a work tends to pull like-minded people forward together. Jobs are about making a living. Work is about leaving a legacy. If the only thing kids are remembered for is that they made a lot of money or had a good 401K or owned a nice home—will that really be satisfying to them? Not the young adults I know. They are already thinking about how they’ll be remembered. They’re pondering their legacy. A work is almost always bigger than a job.
Please keep us in your prayers as we create spaces and opportunities for young people to discern their call in the context of our Embrace Richmond community development efforts. Pray for the young leaders whom we have invited to be a part of the pilot project as well as for the adult mentors who will be committing to walking with these young people. Our goal is to launch 4 teams consisting of 4 young adults and 4 older adult mentors during the pilot phase and then double the number in the spring of 2013. If you would like to learn more about this project please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.