Living into Possibilities
Both of my daughters fit into the generational segment called Gen Y. Research implies that for Gen Y, having values met at work will be more important than it was for the generation I belong to, the Baby Boomers. I’m not suggesting it wasn’t important to me and others in my age group, especially as we matured and felt the calling to have more satisfaction in our life. What I am suggesting is that to Gen Y’s it will go beyond important and become a priority. For example, I don’t see my daughters staying in jobs that cause them to feel empty and unfulfilled, at least not for too long. I admire this quality in my girls, and in this younger generation. I have watched this quality over the years unfold in both my daughters, but the most compelling example of it showed up with my youngest daughter Shaina.
Shaina is a good student who works hard. She takes things seriously. If she sets her mind to something, she puts in whatever effort is needed to create success. So when she graduated from high school and decided to take some time off before starting college, I knew she wasn’t ready to fully commit. She felt unclear about what she wanted to study, and also knew that college would be a waste of time and money until she knew what she wanted. While I knew from personal experience the challenges of being a non-traditional student, I supported her decision to wait and sort out what she wanted to do. As time went on, she did become clear. Unfortunately, the clarity came in the form of what she didn’t want, rather than what she did. She knew she didn’t want to work in an office setting, like I had. She tried selling in a call center, and that wasn’t it. She was a waitress and a bar tender. She began collecting a growing list of what it wasn’t. I can’t tell you how many conversations we had about all the possibilities, but the veil of confusion didn’t seem to lift.
Even though she was still uncertain about her career plan, I was relieved when she decided she must start college a few years later. However, she still feared she would be caught in one of those “what it wasn’t” jobs. She went undeclared for the first year, and then decided perhaps foreign language was what she would like to pursue. There was talk of studying abroad and yet it never felt like there was a solid yes, but rather a tentative maybe. I was of the opinion she should focus on her art, as I had always admired her creativity which had shown itself in the form of paintings, photography, and drawings, many of which I have saved to mark her progression as she grew from child to adult. I could so clearly see her amazing creativity, but she didn’t seem to love creating my perspective of “her art” enough to want to make it her life work. What’s a mother to do? I trusted she would figure it out.
Then suddenly, after wondering if she would ever discover what made her heart soar, something seemed to click. She recognized how much she enjoyed watching shows about building things, and began to wonder if she should become a carpenter. There was a strong calling to work with her hands, to create her art with hammers, electrical tools, and sand paper. She changed her major to industrial design and then one day she told me she had found work as an apprentice with a custom furniture builder. “It doesn’t pay much,” she said, “but there is so much I can learn.” Working all day, attending classes at night, and filling much of the time she had left with homework, Shaina had found the music that moved her was the song of the band saw, and she was content to come home at the end of a day covered in saw dust and splattered with varnish. She began a portfolio of her creations. She was doing what she was meant to do.
This went on for nearly two years, with Shaina working as an apprentice, and then as one of two craftsman, taking antique pieces and parts, and weaving them in with new materials to create custom pieces for interior designers. The time was marked by her requests for tools and tool boxes for birthdays and Christmas and a full schedule of school and work. I was proud that one of her creations was recognized in a Parade of Homes. I was more proud of how my daughter found her own unique way of expressing herself in the world. She seemed to slip into knowing who she was and became confident and self-assured. But to everything there is a time and a season, and last fall the company informed Shaina it would close it’s doors due to some unfortunate circumstances that caused the owners to go their separate ways.
Finding a similar position would test Shaina on the importance of making a living or living her dream. At first, there was the disbelief that comes from one’s world turning quickly on its axis and finding one’s self on the continent of “unemployed.” Shaina explored many new possibilities, searching for something similar that would allow her to continue to do what she loved. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to be showing up. She had living and school expenses, and began to wonder if she would have to merely find a job (instead of pursuing a career). Money grew tight, as Shaina lived on unemployment benefits and looked for a position that would give her the opportunity to do what she loved at work. She tightened her belt, and grew more committed to the life she wanted to live. Her commitment paid off, and finally after several months of searching she found a new position building furniture with a master craftsman. She took another step on the path of living a fulfilled life.
As a coach I hear so many stories of people who are living empty lives filled with discontent. Some like Shaina know what they don’t want, but struggle to find what they do. They become disengaged and disenchanted and as leaders we don’t always know how to help them. Thankfully, our young people expect to have a life that exceeds their expectations. We have taught them what it looks like when life is frantic, unbalanced, and unfruitful for us personally. This forces us to change how we manage in today’s environment. I have heard others from my generation recounting stories of how Gen Y expects too much, too soon. “Who do they think they are?”
I believe the word is deserving, and I say good for them! We as leaders must learn to meet that expectancy, and embrace it, supporting others in setting aggressive goals on the path to having it all. We must learn to align personal and career goals with business objectives. We must train today’s leaders to search diligently for the unique creative source inherent in those they lead, and not expect to capture it but rather set it free.
I believe the day will come when it’s common practice for leaders to coach each encounter with enough light to illuminate dark corners and reveal the next step on the path to doing what creates passion, energy, and a deep enthusiasm for life. That is the next great leap in transforming performance.