On Helping Roy
He’s 16 and plays football. Earns mostly B’s. Sometimes, there’s a C. But, he’s capable of A’s.
Both of Roy’s parents work. Hard. They’ve built a solid, middle-class life in the suburbs.
Roy doesn’t know if he wants to go to college. But, he definitely knows he’ll need to borrow money. There’s not enough savings, or football talent, for a loan-free education.
Most days, Roy’s focused on what’s going on right in front of him. He’s not thinking about life after high school.
But, on the days when he’s forced to talk about his plans, or even just think about his plans, it’s a headache waiting to happen.
Why? Cause Roy doesn’t really know. Doesn’t feel anything in particular. Doesn’t have a clear path. A way forward.
Other kids seem to know exactly what they’re working toward. Why A’s matter more than B’s. They have a sense of greater purpose. Even for playing sports.
Roy doesn’t feel this sense of purpose. So, he doubts his self-worth. He allows himself to be defined by other people’s expectations. Like his parents. His parents who want so badly to give him a better life.
Although, Roy can’t see what’s so bad about his current life. Doesn’t understand the pressure to get something better. Better how, exactly?
Maybe you feel like you know Roy.
But, you can’t. Because he’s not real. I made him up.
Not out of thin air. He’s actually a compilation of people I’ve met over the past 30 years.
In part, Roy’s my husband. He’s many of my former clients. He’s people I met while a human resources manager.
Except the Roy I made up is only 16. He’s not an adult. He’s not in jail. He’s not feeling stuck in a dead-end job.
Roy exists, in my mind, before those things can happen. He’s the kid I want to reach. While he’s still a kid. Before the doubt of his self-worth and the expectations of other people cause him to get lost. Or, left behind.
For 16 years, Roy was given countless toys, watched hundreds of movies, and read thousands of stories about chasing dreams. Making it big. Some said he could be President. When he was really young, he thought he could be an astronaut.
But, then, at some point, the support and encouragement dried up. And, the pressure arrived. The pressure of choosing. Something. Figuring out what he was going to “be.” For the rest of his life. The pressure that starts crushing childhood dreams. Starts shattering a child’s world view.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Not any more. Work is different. We’re entering a new era.
Traditional employers and power brokers no longer serve as the talent gatekeepers. They no longer own the career path. They don’t define success.
Why? Because those same employers were very short-sighted.
Not that long ago, employers began insisting that schools teach kids to think critically, create, and collaborate. Turn them into innovators and problem solvers. Stop churning out cogs. Start creating workers for the 21st Century. For the important work of the future.
Well, what employers didn’t anticipate is that some of those kids hadn’t fully let go of their dreams. So, they took their new skills and followed those dreams. They cleared new paths. Changing the definition and meaning of work along the way
Changing it to the point that now there are many paths. Even paths that connect. Offering exits from previous choices, and entry points for new ones. Like, a choose your own adventure story.
For this new world to work for Roy, he needs to know. Know that he’s a 21st Century worker. Free to chase his dreams. He doesn’t have to choose one career from a list of predefined options. He can create his own.
But, here’s the thing about Roy. What he holds in his head and in his heart he can’t define on his own. The fancy career-guidance software doesn’t help. His teachers try. But, they don’t have what they need. They don’t know how work has changed. And, even if they did, there’s no room left in the curriculum-defined day for that.
And, his parents. How in the world does he even begin to explain this to his parents?
So, that’s why I’m here. Why I’m showing up. Every day. I’m determined to help Roy find his way. To take the first few steps. And, tell him. Again, and again, and again. You’re gonna be ok.