What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. Romans 12:2 (NTE)
In writing my last post entitled “Change”, it occurred to me that one topic might need a little more airing out verbally. We are a product of our environment – our family and friends, as well as our education. In many cases, they often set the bar as to what our expectations should be – what we should be when we “grow up.”
The first person I mentored several years ago is a perfect example. His father was a successful lawyer – a contemporary of mine that I knew, but I had never met his son. He went to college without any real idea of a career, and ended up going to law school. He hated it. So much so, that he started played golf instead of going to class. Funny thing happened: his grades improved even though he put in less effort. He tried to rebel, but his intellect carried him forward to an uncertain career.
Upon graduation, he went to work in his father’s law firm. After several years, his unhappiness had not subsided which is about the point in time that I was introduced to him. A Christian counselor who was a mutual friend, called me up and said that he thought I could help this young man. So, we met together for coffee, and he told me his story of woe. He had followed his father’s footsteps without consciously thinking about what he wanted to do, as opposed to what his family expected of him. He is not alone, I would submit.
I think we see this happen all the time. Kids often decide they want to be doctors or artists, athletes or presidents, or even business people. The plans may be from the children, but frequently, it is really part of their parent’s plans. The direction may be unintentional – not all parents push their children to a certain destination. As the kids get older, they often realize that their “dreams” are their parent’s dreams which they have followed.
In the millennial world, the picture of expectations becomes even more complicated, largely because of parenting styles. On the one hand, there are parents who vicariously live through their children, often pushing them to do things that they didn’t do themselves. I’ve seen that all too often in sports – particularly soccer – where the parents are so over-involved in their children’s participation.
Soccer and other youth leagues now have rules of behavior for parents on the sidelines because they are so “into” the competition that they often bark at the referees. Now they can get thrown out of the game, even though they are spectators. Not a picture of a good role model.
On the other side is the parenting style that tries to build self-esteem by telling millennials that they are all super, and gives them certificates of participation for everything. No one wins and no one loses in this scenario. As one of my mentee noted yesterday at lunch, this unreal expectation causes problems when you get into the real world and there are actual winners and losers. When you get a job, your individual performance counts when it comes to compensation. You don’t get a raise or a promotion just by taking up space.
In my own life, I was the only person in my family that went to law school, and my desire to do that came while I was in college. It was through meeting the father of one of my close friends and talking about his career that got me interested. My dad felt that I should consider business as well, and in my last year of law school, he encouraged me to continue my education by continuing my education to get a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). He was a business man, and that was what he knew best.
I concluded that three years of graduate school was enough education, and so I stayed with law as a career. Ironically, years later, I was selected to be on the management of a large international law firm. During my ten years of management, I often reflected that my role in management might have been easier with an MBA.
Like my mentee, and to a certain extent myself, we often go through life trying to play a role which meets the expectations of our family (including our spouse) or culture itself. Since I didn’t come to faith until I was 38, I had no feeling for what God wanted me to do. Yet, when I look back, I can see his imprint on my life, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
What I now know is that God had something unique for me to do, even though my father had other expectations. When I came to faith, I wondered what God wanted me to do. It was a new inquiry. I’d never considered what His purpose was for my life.
One other aspect of expectations is those expectations that we have for ourselves. Some people often have very high expectations and goals. Often, it is not the product of parental influence. While I would say that this is generally a good thing, I have learned that too much of a good thing may be bad. I have a close friend whose son was hard-wired to achieve his set of exceptional goals, and he achieved them as he grew. He had a 25-year plan for his life. But his own expectations were so high that he couldn’t handle failure, and one bad test grade in college sent him into a tailspin.
You see, like many millennials, he hadn’t learned to handle failure. While I didn’t like getting a bad grade, I learned from it when it happened. It was unpleasant, but it didn’t drive me into deep depression. I bounced back, and figured out that what I had done to prepare for the test in that subject needed improvement. The millennials today aren’t getting that experience of dealing with failure. Instead of getting a bad grade, they get a certificate of participation along with the rest of the students. There are no winners or losers.
As a mentor, one of the things we can provide is to help our mentees become the best they can be for what God created them for. Their journey is different from others, and often may defy their families’ expectations. It’s important to spend time and listen to your mentee’s story. I start every mentoring relationship with one question: “Tell me your story.” I take notes and I often go back to them to find clues about their makeup, desires and experiences. It helps me understand them better.
The challenge is clear. There are a lot of millennials who don’t have someone to come alongside them and give them guidance or input as to what their goals should be. They need that input. I wonder if my own Dad’s desire to have me get an MBA had come from a someone else. I might have listened. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized how smart my father was, and my refusal to take it seriously was probably a vestige of adolescence where we often tune out our parents.
A mentor can fill in the gap with his or her mentees. He has no baggage that comes with parenting, and advice or counsel on careers or other goals setting up expectations often carries more weight.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Help your mentee manage his expectations by setting goals that are consistent with his strengths, talents and passions and the way God has created him or her.
WORSHIP: Listen to Big Daddy Weave sing a song from their album entitled “What I Was Made For”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cXBlUVohUQ
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