Yesterday, we rounded each other up and drove out to Wilfrid Laurier to speak at Youth in Motion’s Courage to Soar conference. As previously mentioned, the conference is for the organization’s recent award-winners and finalists, as well past alumni.
As it turned out (and, to be honest, as we expected), the kids had more to teach us than we did them. We rarely like to stand in front of groups and lecture them about the “keys to success” partly because, as our book project taught us, there aren’t any, and partly because we imagine most people are as wary of lecturers and motivational speakers as we are. We tried to turn our hour and a half into a dialog — a therapy session for those who worried about the future, and a chance for the attendees to teach each other a thing or two about what life tactics have worked and failed for them. It worked and everybody had a lot to say.
At the beginning of the conference, we passed around surveys, asking the attendees whether they worried about the future, whether they knew what they wanted to do for a career, whether they saw a connection between their passions and future employment, and how they defined success. The answers were kind of surprising. While we half expected them — being the driven, successful kids they were — to have firm ideas about the future, it turned out that over half were quite worried. Worried about what? Well, the typical stuff: how to balance a desire for happiness against a desire for security, how “make a difference” and make money at the same time, and so on.
Some even brought up the issue of sustainable passion: whether they’d prove passionate enough over the long-haul to make their long-term dreams a reality.
For over an hour, we drew case studies from our book — and even used ourselves, especially when one student only half-jokingly mentioned the “black hole” awaiting after university — as hinges upon which to hold conversations about the future. While we had few answers beyond “search actively rather than passively,” “don’t be afraid to fail,” and “find a way to manage both internal and external negative energy,” our core message at the end of the presentation was for everyone to go out into their community and talk to as many people as possible.
For us, the best thing to come out of writing “Kickstart” has been the realization that we can go out and approach pretty much anyone. Whether you’re asking for information, advice, a job, etc., you should never be afraid. The great and undeniable truth is that young people have a huge advantage that few realize is in their arsenal. If they seem passionate and keen, they inspire awe rather than fear in those their senior.
The young people in that room had an undeniable sparkle in their eyes. They can hardly sit still they’re so brimming with a desire for action. Some are aspiring activists, web designers or scientists; some are community organizers, entrepreneurs, and filmmakers. What binds them together is what binds together the diverse array of people in our book: a glint in their eyes that says “I’m going to make it happen.”
In some people, that glint fades with time. But if you’re under the age of thirty, there’s a fair chance you’ve still got it. As a remarkably impressive environmental activist and Top 20 Under 20 alumni pointed out during our talk, other people want that glint back. They need it. When you approach them with it, people will sit down with you. They can hardly help themselves.
Paul Matthews is a graduate of Oxford University and is the co-author of “Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started,” a book based on interviews with over fifty well-known people from across the country. His work has appeared in Toronto Life, Maisonneuve and the Globe and Mail. He is a filmmaker.