Monday, May 30, 2011

The Winding Path to the Future

As many students will be graduating in the next couple of weeks, I was struck by a conversation that I overheard between an adult and a student who had just finished his first year of college.
“Are you going to graduate school?” asked the adult of the student.  “What are you going to do with your life?”
It’s possible that these are just simple questions with no underlying meaning, but I don’t think so.
I think as adults, we feel the need to label people and things.  It makes it easier for us.  It’s possible that young people know exactly what they will do with their lives at a young age.  Most likely, though, they don’t know or are coming up with an answer that pleases the person asking the question.  Who really knows where life will lead us?
It seems to me that these are “teachable moments”.  When these questions come up at graduation or other times, what if the young person said, “I am not sure, I think I will do this”.  And, immediately following that, the young person asked, “What did you think you wanted to do at my age, did you do it, and how did it work out? What did you learn from your experiences?”
Instead of making the conversation one where adults just want an answer or one where the young person attempts to come up with an answer, what if we turned it around?
By the time you have lived a number of years as an adult, it’s almost laughable to think someone at the age of 18 or even 22 really knows what is ahead.  Of course, they can have dreams or goals, but really knowing what you are going to do is highly unlikely at such a young age.
I think we would do a great service when conversing with graduates if we supported the concept that life is a journey and asked what are your dreams, but then took the time to help them realize that life has so many winding roads and paths.  Keeping their eyes and minds open to opportunities that arise is really what I would want them to think about.
Next time, you are conversing with a young person who is in the process of making decisions, you might want to consider giving them advice on what you wished you had known and the differences it might have made for you instead of spending too much time having them answer questions they are are not really sure of.
As adults, I think we have a responsibility to encourage young people to take chances. We need to let them know that not only is it OK not to have a specific plan, it’s how life works its magic...leaving a little of life to serendipity.
The problem with making young people label themselves or come up with specific answers is that it doesn’t leave room for all the possibilities.
In 1997, Apple Computer ran the “Think Different” ad campaign.  I loved that campaign because it epitomized what happens when you allow people to dream and not put a label on their future.
Here is the gist of the campaign:
“Here’s to the crazy ones.  The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.  The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.  They’re not fond of rules.  And they have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they change things.  They invent.  They imagine.  They heal.  They explore.  They create.  They inspire.  They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?  Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?  Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Here is link to the one minute TV ad: