Put yourself in the mind of a teen or a young adult right now. There's so much going on in the world. It leaves students wondering: ‘What role do I have?’
Where is their sense of agency, their autonomy, their independence?
The message students are missing right now is that they can have an impact. This message is not meant to be strictly aspirational, it’s also meant to be practical. You can have an impact, in a concrete way, on the wild and ever-evolving world we're in right now.
How will you learn about the specific challenges that you want to solve in the world? Which one speaks to you?
When we get youth, who feel hopeless, to understand that they get to choose the challenges they want to work on, it helps them feel alive.
They may choose how we can help recover the economy, or maybe they want to help protect the vulnerable from getting sick. Perhaps they want to create a more just and fair society; a society where everyone feels welcome, where everyone can thrive and where everyone can reach their full potential.
If students are not careful, they may miss the fact that they can have an impact. This is why it’s so important that as educators, we remind them of their potential.
Students may think that they're too small or that they're not ready. They may even think that they had to prove themselves earlier on.
But what if high school, college and university was not about proving yourself? What if it was about starting, or continuing to become who you are, and creating your path? What if it was about discovering which impact you want to have on the world?
You may think that this message is suggesting I want everyone to become the next Greta Thunberg, the next Mark Zuckerberg, or the next young innovator that finds a new special invention. That could be the case. But I'm talking about a different approach.
Today, maybe some students want to get a job at a summer camp to learn how humans work, how they think and how they grow. This summer, maybe a young person will read a book where they discover more about a challenge they care about, then will email the author to learn more and ask them a question they've got.
Eventually, maybe this young person is going to design a website, a tech tool, some sort of fan page or another item of value for their favourite mission-driven nonprofit.
If students who feel lost take this approach this summer, where they find a challenge they want to work on, they will return to school in the fall with a different approach: with hope.
They will have learnt some important life lessons. They're going to learn that the world needs them and that there are so many challenges for them to work on.
They will learn that they are in school to learn something important that will help them work on a challenge that they care about.
When you come across a teen who feels hopeless, whether it’s your kids, your nieces and nephews, or your friend’s kids, I urge you to help them find a challenge that they want to work on. A cause that they think is worth fighting for.
Then, watch them come alive, watch them get filled with hope.
Thank you for your help in helping young people reach their potential.