My wife refers to them as my “lost boys.” They’re amazing young men in their twenties who have this intense desire to become someone they can be proud of. Their commonalities run through both extremes. They’re intelligent, creative, and loyal. They are also avoidant of vulnerability, showing most emotions, and terrified to assess their true potential. Thus they are underemployed and restless. They hide in the bottom of bottles of cheap beer.
They’re slackers, stoners, geeks, nerds, and f@ck ups. I love them because I was one of them and in a sense I always will be. All that’s required for membership is an intense longing for guidance and an overriding fear that prevents seeking it. These are my kids. I claim them because it’s the ultimate win/win. They need a father figure and I love being a dad.
Wanna make the world a better place? Teach what you’ve learned, and give what was denied you.
In the case of young men it may feel like casting pearls to swine but it’s more a matter of planting seeds. I learned this when my son was 16. I had to check in with him because from one day to the next I could be the smartest or dumbest person he knew. I threw out ideas. He acted like he wasn’t paying attention. Two weeks later they became his ideas. He’d tell me about it. I’d declare him brilliant and praise him for coming up with creative solutions.
I don’t care who gets credit. I like positive outcomes.
When I mentor young men today, I make it palatable/easier to receive. I’m careful to only talk about myself at first. I share my mistakes and I talk about how scared I was when I was their age. I use humor a lot.
Truth to tell, I make fun of my boys. They say things like, “I just need to get my shit together.” I stare at them like I’m one of the boys from South Park and ask, “Ok, but if you succeed, doesn’t that just leave you with a giant pile of shit?” They laugh. I say, “Look, it’s shit. What you do with shit is you learn how to get rid of it. You don’t analyze it. You get a shovel, you learn how to use it and you work hard.
What everyone really wants is a way to be successful that doesn’t involve taking risks or facing fears.
Stop it. Finding your way requires making mistakes and falling on your face. If you never fail then you never tried to do anything all that impressive in the first place. Robert Frost told us there were two paths and he encouraged us to choose the one less travelled by. What he didn’t tell us was that each path leads to many other paths.
Young men are afraid of making bad decisions and choosing the wrong path because they see life as this linear thing that only goes forward and backwards. Philosophically, they missed out. They’re far too young to heed Zeppelin’s advice that, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on (at any age).”
Pragmatically, young men need help identifying the obstacles and what it takes to overcome them. You need to know like minded people. Support them and ask that they support you in whatever way possible. Stop talking about success like it is some complex or impossible thing to attain. Work hard.
Stop agonizing over whether you’ll go to college and stop whining about the dubious relevance of what hoops you have to jump through. Learn a marketable skill. Yeah, I know that being a grown up may not be all that much fun but self respect kicks ass.
Whatever job you have currently, be the best at it. I don’t care that you’re underpaid and overworked. Being a bus boy is an honorable profession. It provides either motivation to get ahead in life or motivation to abuse substances. Choose.
The best kind of wisdom is learning from other people’s mistakes. What frustrates would be mentors is that young people don’t often heed good advice. What frustrates young men is seeing how avoidable their mistakes were in retrospect.
Keep it simple. Ruining your credit rating, getting fired for dumb shit, and being reckless with other people’s hearts – none of these lessons are difficult to learn nor are they hard to avoid. Just be honest with yourself and show integrity.
Most of all, don’t do anything half assed. Do what you will but do it because you damned well meant to. Success is becoming something greater and those of us who aspire to having more in life are in the process of becoming.