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I admit it. Young adults are among my very favorite people. These two young ladies in this picture are among my favorite people. They know it, too. Because I’ve told them. And I continue to tell them. This was the final year of undergraduate studies for one of them (yeah, you guessed it — the one in the cap and gown who graduated on Friday). This was the freshman year for the other one. Both of them attend the church where I serve. Sure, that makes them important to me, but that doesn’t have anything to do with how likable they are to me.
It’s graduation season. And I’m reminded of all the young adults who are somewhere on the journey toward creating the life they want. For some, like these two…that means higher education. For others, it means entering the workplace to figure out what they may want to do. For others, it may mean taking time to travel and venture out into the world to experience different countries and cultures.
Two words loom large for me (and have for the past 20 years or so): Legacy. Significance.
It was the genesis of this podcast. Nothing has changed. If anything, it’s just intensified.
Passing it on has been a preoccupation. I don’t feel any responsibility to tell anybody how to live necessarily. But I do feel confident to help show younger adults the pitfalls they may face. In the last few years, most of the focus has really been helping them navigate their own self-awareness. I find myself steadily offering insights on things they can do…things I wish somebody would have shared with me.
How We Got Here
Wherever you’re at in life. Age-wise. Financially. Relationship-wise. Any other way you’d like to gauge it. Consider where you are right now. And when I ask how you got here I don’t mean in all the little details. Mostly, I mean in the bigger issues. Important factors like influence. Viewpoints. Philosophies. Standards. How did you develop those? Who influenced the development of those?
Me? I got here because of people who had a big impact on me as a little boy. I got here because of some old men in my life. And a few old ladies, too. I got here because of parents. The short answer is, I got here because of the people who influenced me. The things they taught me. The warnings they gave me. The fear they instilled in me. It all mattered.
Something happens when you get old. Define old any way you’d like, but for me…old is when you’ve got more past than future. I know we can’t know our exact lifespan, but we’ve got some expectation. Hopefully, a reasonable expectation. Do I have 10 years, 20 years, 30 years? I don’t know. But I know how many decades are behind me and it’s impossible that I’ll have that many years ahead of me. So there. I’m old. And I’m good with it. 😉
What I’m not good with is neglecting to pass on what I’ve learned. It doesn’t mean I’m telling these young ladies, or anybody else in my life, how to live. Or what to do. It means I’m sharing experiences and insights. They can do with them what they will. Kick them to the curb. Take them in and apply them. Be bored by them. Or be entertained by them. Or all of the above. I respect whatever they choose to do with them. And that’s not hard because they give me the one thing that triggers me – TRUST.
Because our trust is mutual, we listen to each other. Because I’m old, but vividly remember being young – and because I’m completely empathetic to young people and their challenges. I don’t hold them accountable to how life was when I was young. These two young ladies have never lived in a pre-Internet world. Or pre-cell phone world. Their viewpoint is very different and I understand that. They know I understand it.
Nor am I romantic about the past. While I’m grateful to have been born in a time where I could see all the changes that have happened, I don’t suffer “good ‘ol days syndrome.” Honestly, today is the best time ever to be alive. Mostly, because this is the time when we are alive. But also because the digital age offers all of us, young or old, more opportunities than ever before. The possibilities for these two young ladies – and the millions like them – is extraordinary! Exciting. I’m very optimistic for them. Especially for these two because I know them. They’re smart. They’re wise. They’re responsible. They’re driven. They’re high achievers. It’s the stuff of success no matter a person’s age.
Now that I’m old I’m certain of a few things. Among them, the idea that if the older people in my life – when I was younger – would have taken more time to get to know me, and to allow me to get to know them…I would have learned so much more, so much faster! Fortunately, I sat around and listened carefully. I picked up bits of wisdom here and there from older folks. I befriended a few along the way and today I enjoy a solid relationship with a handful of men older than me (by 15 to 25 years). It’s important to me. So I’ve made the investment necessary.
But part of this is generational. I’m a baby boomer. The people of our grandparents and parents generation didn’t roll the way I roll. It was a different time. Each generation is. I grew up hearing about the “generation gap.” And I saw it up close and personal. But I was also a child of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The hippie movement was just before my time really. It all factors into how older and younger people relate, communicate and learn from each other (if they’re able to learn anything at all).
A lot has changed.
When my grandparents were 50, or 60 – boy, were they old. Today, folks are just hitting their prime at 50. By the time people are “old” they’re often at their very best today. They’ve got tons of life experience. Big time responsibility. Mental sharpness and energy, too. A 50-year-old in 1975 had little resemblance to a 50-year-old in 2018.
Meeting Them Where They Are
When you let the game come to you – as far as influencing young adults – it changes things for the better. But for me, it starts with meeting them where they are and communicating with them on their terms. That’s easy for me. On just about all fronts.
That doesn’t mean you’re their peer. Or you’re like them. Give me a break. I was once young. I do not want to be young again. No amount of money would suffice to get me to go back and do it all over again.
And I don’t want to live vicariously through my young adult friends. They have their lives. They have their talents and passions. I want them to be them. Not me.
When my now grown kids were living at home my wife and I told them that while they were under our direction, living at home, we established the rules for our relationship. “There’ll come a time,” I’d tell them, “when you’re going to leave home and establish your own. When that happens, you’re going to be in charge of our relationship. And we’re going to be perfectly good with that.”
For quite a few years now, that’s exactly how it’s been. Our kids are in charge of our relationship with them. That’s how it should be. They can come over any time. Unannounced. We’ll never do that to them, though. That’s now their right. Not ours. These are choices we made because it’s how we view things. You may not agree. And that’s fine.
I only mention this because it transcends into how I choose to relate to young adults. While I foster friendships and do whatever I can to put myself out there to give them opportunities to engage…whether they engage or not is entirely up to them. I’ll only impose if I fear they’re in trouble (spiritually, mostly — but perhaps physically). Some, like these two ladies, easily engage. Others don’t. I don’t judge. I’m just thankful for the ones who decide a relationship is worthwhile.
Perhaps a bigger part of meeting them where they are is the dedication to give value first. “Let me tell you what you ought to do,” are words they won’t hear me say. Not young adults. They deserve a more mature treatment. More consideration by listening and understanding what they’re thinking. And feeling.
Part of giving value first is being vulnerable. I’m willing to open up and share with them. I’m not some flawless old man. I don’t hesitate to share insights on things I learned from my own foolishness. Wisdom has a price. It’s important for them to know that, and see it as closely as possible without it being their foolishness. They’re going to make their own foolish steps. Seems to me there’s value in learning from mine first. So I never lie or pretend. Or hide.
You Get What You Give
When it works as I want – and as I aim it to – it’s always reciprocal. First, I give. Then they reciprocate. And as much as they may feel they’re getting, in their youth they don’t realize I’m benefiting as much (maybe more). I don’t hide it either. I tell them how valuable they are to my life.
The chickens do come home to roost. Always.
You reap what you sow. Always.
I want young people in my life so I put in the work. Too many people want something, including a relationship, but they’re not willing to put in the work. They enjoy getting jealous of those who do. The art of passing it on works just like everything else in life. You won’t reap where you haven’t sown.
Judgment Free Zone
Older folks are challenged by a lack of empathy toward younger people. I get it. It’s impossible for us to not know what we’ve already learned. For some, that erodes empathy. I understand how it happens when there are quite a few decades separating us, but there’s no excuse.
Empathy enables me to remember being young. And knowing what I’d listen to versus what would shut me down from listening. Besides, no matter our age we want to live our own life. I don’t want you living my life for me (not that you can, but you may feel like you can). All the vicarious living we may do through others is absurd. Impossible, too.
Any attempt to pass it on will be ruined the minute you choose to play the role of the expert advice giver. “You should…fill in the blank,” or “you shouldn’t…fill in the blank.” Should all the young people in your life – and I’m speaking of young adults – and you’ll quickly find them leaving. Quickly. Can’t blame them. You’d do the same thing if you were them.
Sadly, there are some older people with things worth passing along but they can’t do it without constant judgment. No sale!
The Priceless Value Of Friendship
Some parents think being friends with their kids is the route to raising successful, high achieving kids while forging the strongest relationship with them. Sadly, their good intentions don’t often pay off because we need what we need when we need it. And if parents try to be friends with their growing children, then that leaves a void nobody else can fill. Your kids can find friends. If you refuse to be their parent, setting standards and enforcing them, then your kids won’t be able to find anybody else who can do that for them.
Passing it on doesn’t look the same at every age. I’ve got a grandson who’ll turn 3 this summer. I nicknamed him Road Rash Roy when he was still one…because he’s fearless and always had a scratch or something on his face. Road rash. By the way, his name isn’t Roy. 😉
Well, Triple R gets into everything. And not just like a normal 2-year-old. He’s extraordinarily resourceful in his quests. Here’s a video my daughter-in-law created showing off his prowess. This was about a year ago, too. So you can imagine how much more accomplished he is today!
This kid clearly needs some high accountability and correction. His parents give him what he needs. They know what I know, his needs will change. And with his changing needs, they’ll change in giving him what he needs. Right now, Roy’s required to meet the standards of his parents. Over time he’s going to decide what his standards of conduct are. As adults in his life, it’s important for us to pass along what we’ve all learned. The foundations for successful living like self-confidence, empathy, respect, politeness, and all those things every child deserves to be taught so they can have a profitable life. We owe Roy our best so he can be his best.
Having raised Roy’s dad – our son – my wife and I know that if we can help him harness his gifts…this kid will be a major force. I happen to think most kids have sufficient gifts to be major forces. He’ll grow up and be his own person. Maybe he’ll resemble his dad in some things and his mom in others. But Roy is like everybody…he’s going to be his own unique self. His growth and advancement will require the adults who surround him (family) to adapt, too. We won’t always treat him like a 2-year-old.
This summer Roy’s dad will turn 38. The kid I once spent hours talking to without giving him a choice now seems to find it enjoyable engaging me in conversation. Today, we’re really close friends. Our relationship has changed through the years as we’ve both adapted to where he’s at in life. He found out I meant what I told him, “Right now, our relationship is on my terms, but when you leave home our relationship will be completely on your terms.” We’re now at a stage where life has been on his terms – as far as a relationship with me and his mom – longer than not. And I don’t think any of us could be happier.
Passing it on successfully means adapting. Serious adapting. As people grow up we have to adjust by honoring the fact that they’re growing up. Growing up means shouldering more responsibilities…and doing it well. It doesn’t just mean growing another year older. It’s earning trust. Both people earning more and more trust in each other.
Friendship happens when we do it well with our own children. It also happens with young adults who aren’t our children when we exhibit trust and work to earn it. I have no kinship with the two young ladies pictured. The relationship began because I serve as an elder for a congregation where we all worship. That instantly put upon me a responsibility to watch out for them. From there, friendships were forged. Not because I made them happen, but because I gave them the opportunity to happen. Each of them decided – I didn’t – that friendship was worthwhile. I’m glad they did.
Friendships don’t just happen. We have to foster them. And they can’t be forced, but they can be nurtured. When these 2 young ladies entered my life (not at the same time), I had no expectation of friendship. I only had expectations of what I was going to do for them – watch out for them. I knew I was going to serve them and their parents. It was non-negotiable for me. But that was on me. Not them.
My only expectation for them was to allow me to do that for them. That meant, they had to allow themselves to be accountable to me in the context of being a spiritual leader for them. That’s not necessarily an easy thing, but these two girls are very smart, wise and sober-minded. They didn’t hesitate. And it wasn’t something we hashed out. I started checking on them and they immediately responded. Over time we developed relationships and trust built. Quickly friendships formed as they learned more and more to respect my intentions. They knew – and now they know even more – that I care their welfare. And their life. And their ability to learn, grow, develop and improve. Without imposing on them what I may do in their situation.
I’m not them. They’re not me. We’re worlds apart in many ways. But they know I have a perspective, experience and wisdom that can help them think through whatever choices they face. And that’s the bottom line of our friendship – and all this passing it on. Thinking clearly. Gaining insights.
Sure, there are serious expectations I have for them, and for the other young adults in my life. One, I don’t want them to be ruled by fear. I want to help them think through their fears so they can manage them, or overcome them. Two, I don’t want them to be victims. I want them to face the reality that life is going to determined by their choices and behaviors. Bad things can happen to them. Bad people, too. But in the end, what they choose to think, believe and feel will determine what they choose to do. Roll all that up and it’ll determine what they do, which will give them the outcome. I don’t want them waking up each day feeling as though the universe is going to dictate anything. Three, I want them to be optimistic. I want them to expect the best outcome possible. I know that if I can help them be more optimistic then their lives can be greatly enhanced. Four, I want them to be empathetic. I don’t know how to teach it, or even if it can be taught. But I want them to not judge people harshly by assigning motives and feelings on others. I want them to embrace forgiveness and not let bitterness creep into their lives. Empathy is the answer. Fifth, I want them to be grateful. We’ve all got blessings. Most of us have far more blessings than we realize. It requires concentrated effort to make mental (or even physical) note of them. Gratitude is such an enormous positive power in life, it’s important to me that they embrace it and make it a lifelong habit.
Friendships are built on mutual caring and trust. Passing it on is important because of these two things. And there’s the burden of responsibility, too. I owe it to them. They deserve it. They’re worth it.
The Value of a 2-Way Street
Collective wisdom is only powerful and valuable if it’s shared. Collected. And collective.
It doesn’t flow only from me toward them. It flows back to me, too. It’s not selfish. It’s just highly valuable.
These girls and other young adults in my life teach me a lot. They provoke questions and conversations that help us both. They face issues that prompt deeper thinking on my part.
Their insights enhance my own. Sometimes their insights may alter my own. A 40 year age gap provides different viewpoints that help us gain clarity in life.
To assume that age gives us a lock on wisdom and insight is foolish. I’ve never made any such assumption. “Out of the mouth of babes,” and all that is an absolute truth. Those of us who are older have much to learn from the younger. We come from very different times. It’s not right or wrong. It’s different. And I find it very cool because it helps me navigate the present – always the present – instead of being stuck in the past. Granted, I’m not prone to living in the past. I suspect that’s one reason – very strong reason – why younger adults may be able to better relate to me. The past experiences only provide stories used to illustrate insights that can help them face some present opportunity or challenge.
Every Generation Deserves It
Our children and young people deserve our best effort to share our wisdom. They also deserve the freedom to take our stories, distill from them whatever they will and create their own path. That doesn’t mean they deserve the right to behave poorly. Nobody deserves that. But it’s their life. Our hope as mentors is to help them navigate it to the best of their ability.
Watching their growth is pretty stinking terrific. I love it. I love the work. It’s a great time of life.
“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” -George Orwell
A generation may not necessarily be better or worse. Just different. Choices and behavior determine our greatness. Every generation deserves the best opportunity to be great. The opportunity to make thoughtful, sober, conscious choices in their own lives.
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