AdoptMent works on goal-setting

In this same workshop we also revisited the topic of brain development. We reviewed the difference between the prefrontal cortex or “White House of the brain,” which has the ability to plan for the future, and the amygdala or “reptile brain” that reacts instinctively in fight/flight/freeze fashion.

This helped to introduce the concept of time perspective. Using part of the framework developed by Stanford professors Zimbardo and Boyd, we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of being either a “present hedonist” or a future-oriented individual. Everyone agreed that it was best to live a balanced life.

Since future orientation is the time perspective that most young people generally need to cultivate, we talked about how athletes who are off season or injured often use visualization as a way to “stay in the game.” Our young people learned that going through the motions in your brain actually improves your muscle memory and the chances of you succeeding in whatever actions you plan to take in the future.

We then dimmed the lights and I led a the group in a guided visualization of a day when they hit all their goals and “earned all the points” they needed. I asked them to sit with the feeling of accomplishment and self-pride. This was the first time that I’ve ever done this exercise, and I did not realize how powerful it would be. One person emerged from the activity with a peaceful aura, but two others became quite emotional. This was a moment when I was especially grateful for the clinical staff in the room. Talk about cathartic!

How do we find and earn a living on what we love? – Part 1

This question has occupied my mind for the whole of my professional life.  Most recently, I have worked as a program coordinator for New York City non-profits, and previously, I worked as a program advisor and workshop facilitator at the University of California at Berkeley.  I grapple with these questions daily:  “How do we really find work we love?” and “How do we earn a living offering this work?” For me, this  is a manifestation of a larger life question that is increasingly important to me: how do we live lives that we truly love, and teach our young adults to do the same?  In Ysette’s recent  article on working on dream jobs now, she shares the importance of taking tangible steps towards a passion.  While I agree with the significance of taking small steps towards a large goal, I wonder how we can lay out a complete map  for our young adults to understand the short and long term processes of pursuing passions and earning a living.

The population I serve are mostly young adults of color, ages 19-24, who span a range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds.  When I think of my own career aspirations, I pursued this work with an interest in supporting young adults in making conscious choices towards their dreams in both career and in life.  With this in mind, I have contemplated, from a service provider standpoint, what is my responsibility in offering programming and guidance to assist young adults in finding work they love? And, how do our young adults identify their dreams in career and life, and actively take steps to make this happen?

Embedded in these questions are the assumptions that one we can earn a living off of the dreams that they have, that our dreams are truly what we want, that our dreams are the roots of a fulfilling life, and that all we need is to have a dream, take the steps, and it will be realized.  I am questioning these assumptions, and considering the flaws that exist within them.  In order to assist you in understanding my own process, I invite you to contemplate the following themes and questions:

WORKPLACE CULTURES

1. What are the workplace cultures that we were taught, that we currently work in, and that we reinforce (consciously and unconsciously) to our young adults?  How does this impact the conversation around dream careers and lives?

DREAM LIFE COMPONENTS

2. What makes a “dream” life and is this something that is reserved for young adults with more privileged backgrounds (racially, economically, socially)?

3. What is an inspired and rational process of supporting the assessment of the multitude of areas one could consider when choosing a dream career and life?

4. What qualifies as a “dream” career and life?  Are there certain dreams that are more sustainable and/or more authentic than others?

FAMILY AND COMMUNITY INFLUENCE

5. What role does family play in our young adults pursuits of larger dreams?  In particular, if our young adults can or cannot lean emotionally and financially on family, will they be better or ill suited to choosing dream careers?

6. Who were/are our models for choosing a career, who are our young adults’ models, and who will we connect to our participants to support their pursuit of their dream lives?

7. Where do we find diverse voices of professionals to mentor our young adults through the process of choosing and crafting dream lives?

 REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

8. When we support the exploration and pursuit of dream lives, how do we also teach responsibility and basic survival skills?  How can both reality and idealism exist in the exploration and implementation processes?

9. How do we speak to both the significance of our young people dreaming big, but also being grounded in reality of their actual skills, strengths, and abilities?

10. How do we factor in income and wealth into our decisions?  Specifically, when our young adults contemplate choosing dream careers, how do we support them in factoring in expected earning potential, prestige and societal perceptions?

11. What role does  labor market research and understanding larger societal structures play in assisting young adults in assessing pathways and probability of dream lives?

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

12. How does post-secondary education assist and harm the process of choosing dream careers?  In particular how do college curricula speak to, and not speak to, our young adults’ dreams?  How does post secondary education influence young adults financial health, specifically through the acquisition of student and private loan debt?

PRACTITIONER BIASES

13. How do we reflect on our own process of choosing careers as professionals?  How do our passions, mistakes, shortcomings and assumptions negatively, and positively, influence the outlook of our young adults?  How do our biases as service practitioners influence our young adults’ process?

It is my intention to further explore these themes over the next few months through this blog.  In the meantime and throughout this exploration process, I welcome your sharing and ideas.

—————–

Steph  Head Shot

Over the past 10 years, Stephanie has cultivated roles as an advisor and coordinator in both NYC and the San Francisco Bay Area.  She has worked within non-profit and  university settings  in the fields of college success and career development. Stephanie has facilitated, developed and coordinated programming for first generation college students and young adults of color. She earned a BA in Sociology and a MA in Education both from the University of California at Berkeley.

Can we really tell everyone to “follow your dreams”?

For those of you who have been looking forward to Steph’s post (I know I have!) I wanted to reassure you that it’s in the hopper. It’s taking a bit longer because she has a lot to say, and I recommended that she break her piece into installments. I was tremendously happy, though, to read her draft because she’s been mulling over the very same issues that I wrote about in my last post on getting youth on the path to their dream jobs. Steph has a brilliant mind for program design, but she is also much more in the trenches than I am in terms of placing young people into internships. So while I have the luxury of pushing young people to follow their dreams, she needs to balance that message with the actual opportunities that are immediately available to her youth. And because Steph is a thoughtful, big-hearted person, the seeming gap between her humanistic conviction that we are all capable of fulfillment and the pragmatic demands and constraints of her work causes her great consternation.

I look forward to sharing her writing with all of you and to engaging more deeply with her provocative thoughts on this question not only of how, but of whether or not (or to what extent) we should counsel all our young people to pursue the dreams because “the money will follow.” (I hope that this last sentence gets your heart beating and your neurons firing, because I would love for you to join in on the conversation.)

Another exciting guest blogger!

I am very excited for my next guest blogger, who promises to post her thoughts within the next couple of days on work development programs for young people. Steph Cowling is a very dear friend who goes about program design in a thoughtful manner. A strong moral compass guides her approach to youth work. What is especially striking about her work is her natural habit of reflexivity: No aspect of program design is taken as a given. She will push you to consider the why and the how. She will illuminate the systematic implications of your decisions and decipher the coded messages your actions convey. She is, in short, a treasure. I always walk away from what she calls our “heart- and brainstorms” enriched and inspired. So you, dear readers, are in for a treat!

The ethics of program design in youth development

One of the higher compliments anyone can pay me for my work is something along the lines of “I would love to take that workshop myself!” or “My high school- / college-aged kid could use that program!” or better yet, “Everyone could use a program like that.” Technically, I design programs for so-called “at-risk” youth, but all that really means is being sensitive to certain needs and understanding the institutional context of their lives. What I am actually striving to create are programs with a much wider appeal—wider because in the end they aren’t aimed at “troubled youth,” but at our shared humanity.

As human beings we all unfold in our own time, and that process is never smooth or evenly-paced. Some of us encounter great challenges very early on. This may appear to “set us back,” but only if we succumb to the bad habit of measuring ourselves against others, or—more accurately—against some kind of social norm that demands we be self-sufficient and clearly on our way to some narrow, preconceived notion of success by our mid-twenties. Another view is to approach these challenges as tests. And if we have the tools and the space to reflect on those significant life experiences, we can use them as learning opportunities and even a source of strength.

Note that this is a very individualized and forgiving view of human development, and one that can resonate throughout a lifetime if we continue to sit with it. Within this framework, I am creating a support system for young people during the critical, early years of emerging adulthood, when many of them exit care with the scantest of resources. The outcomes I shoot for are nothing less than what many people wish for their own children: personal well-being and professional fulfillment. We want to give them the very best so they can be their very best. But how can this happen if we push them through programs that are designed according to preconceived and misguided notions of their capabilities?

Continue reading

What is the #slowbrood?

The slow brood is a notion that Brian (aka, Cartesian Faith) and I have been toying with here at Chez Guevarowe for a while now. Slow brood is an intentional riff on such catchphrases as slow food, slow brewed, cold brewed—things that are good because they require a significant amount of time and preparation. Brian may write about his own take on the slow brood, but here is mine.

The slow brood is a habit of mind I bring into my business life from academia, where ideas naturally have a long gestation period. The slow brood resists some of the trends that make me uncomfortable about business, specifically within the lean startup industry. Let me be explicit on this point: It’s not that I think that lean principles are fundamentally incompatible with social enterprise, or that lean startups don’t have the potential for spectacular growth and impact. What I take issue with, rather, is a very particular application of the methodology and the culture it fosters.

While I subscribe to the principle that fledgling enterprises should curb their ambitions and start small (I went through a lean startup for social good course myself), the way the method is taught in lean startup workshops can lead practitioners into the realm of the ridiculous. I refer to weekend bootcamps where participants are organized into teams, and each team must “develop its problem hypothesis, solution hypothesis and a series of assumptions which are core to the success of the business.”

Now consider the inspirational anecdotes we hear during these workshops. The general narrative goes like this: Oops, the “problem” we wanted to solve turned out not to be a problem for anyone at all! So what’s next? Pivot, pivot, pivot, ’til…bingo! Not only is the service/product we ended up launching totally different from what we initially planned (that can be a good thing), but the very problem itself has changed. So, ultimately, it’s not the need of your customer that you care about. In this model, who your customers are and what you’re trying to help them accomplish matter much less than finding customers with an actual problem you can solve. Continue reading

We Grow When We Tackle Challenges

“The best way for a young person to build character is for him to attempt something where there is a real and serious possibility of failure.” (Paul Tough, p. 85).

All of the reading that I have done these past few weeks has made me think of my own approach to risk and failure. In my personal and professional life I have a strong tendency to play it safe. I am guilty of letting my fear of falling on my face hold me back from trying something new.

A great friend of mine visited last weekend and this topic came up during one of our marathon conversations. She teaches third grade and her vision for her classroom is “We grow when we tackle challenges.” These third graders are extremely lucky to start learning this at a young age (and to have such an amazing teacher). But I think this motto is powerful at all ages. It’s scary to take a risk, but it is the only way to stretch ourselves to achieve new and original success. Reflecting on this theme has led me to some very interesting books (like this one) and a greater awareness of my own hesitancy to step outside the box. Posting on this blog is one (minor) risk and has opened me up to what I hope will be many more as I grow in my career.

Thank you, Ysette, for the chance to share on your blog and welcome back!

Anatomy of a workshop activity

I’d planned on blogging about what I gleaned from yesterday’s annual New Yorkers for Children Vocational Conference for Youth in Foster Care, but today a couple different folks have asked me about my approach to engaging youth in the classroom, so I thought it would be helpful to write instead about how I came up with my rites of passage activity.

Good teachers come in all stripes, and my particular talent is being able to make complex ideas accessible to young people, and to do so with a modest measure of creativity. In my rites of passage workshop I use an anthropological lens to understand coming of age ceremonies and tribal rites of passage. Now I myself did not study anthropology until I got to college, but I’ve seen that is entirely within reach for high-school aged students to make use of its tools. [Warning: Very long post, so I highlight the takeaway at the very end.] Continue reading

Let’s talk about freedom, shall we?

But let’s not look to the Bill of Rights, where government is inimical to liberty, and where the abstract and unassociated subject of classical liberalism cries, Don’t tread on me. I’d rather have one of the most impassioned admirers of the American Revolution, Hannah Arendt, set the tone today. Arendt loved the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, not for their protection of individual rights, but because they marked the foundation of something radically new: a public sphere for political action. As such, she reaches back to an older notion of freedom, one that is more properly labeled republican (again, in the classical sense).

Freedom, for Arendt, is the gift of action—the human ability to introduce novelty into the world. She roots this freedom in the moment of our birth: When each of us was born something new and utterly unanticipated came into existence. We are all newcomers or beginners in the fact of our singularity. And we continue to carry within us this potential to begin anew, to take initiative—i.e., to make a difference—throughout our lives. Arendt considered political revolution the apogee of human action, but in her thought to act simply means to disclose to your fellow men your unique self through words and deeds.

With age I find I take greater and greater delight in people’s capacity to surprise me, and I experience this surprise bodily in laughter and emotionally in wonderment. Hence I derive tremendous pleasure from working with young people, who are perched precisely at that moment when they are getting ready to take flight and astonish us with the unexpected.

In the spirit of Arendt, on this Independence Day, I urge you to think about your own freedom to act. But don’t frame it as a freedom from law, as a freedom of choice. How unbecoming for such a glorious occasion! Instead consider how you are going to allow your capacity for action to express the profound miracle of your singularity. Go on. You might even surprise yourself. Happy Fourth of July.