One Thing Every Millennial Should Invest In

Think macro, invest micro

Millennials get a lot of grief. A vocal contingency of our elders stereotype ours as the participation trophy generation — entitled and high maintenance — demanding coffee that is fairly traded, produce that is pesticide free, and jobs that offer much more than a paycheck.

Stereotyping. (photo cred:

I see it differently. Millennials care. And we care about more than money and social status. We care about social causes. We care about sustainability. We care about justice. We care about PEOPLE.

Let’s be clear — we aren’t altruistic saints in the least, and there is plenty to critique about our generation. But one thing’s for sure: millennials take seriously our responsibility to improve the world. That’s why we drive technological innovations, vote with our dollars for sustainability, and support causes bigger than ourselves.

I submit there’s something even more powerful each of us can do to demonstrate our care and achieve our vision for a better world. And it’s pretty simple.

Invest in another, specific human. Personally. Directly.

We tend to think almost exclusively in the macro. How can we solve problems that impact thousands, millions, even billions of people? This sort of macro thinking paired with our enterprising spirit will contribute to tremendous breakthroughs. But if macro thinking about problems and solutions is not balanced with the imperative to act in the micro, we will neglect the things that if we each did more would produce the positive social outcomes we dream about.

You’ve heard the clichés about change starting in our cities and neighborhoods. Let’s make it even more targeted: it starts with investing in another human. This is different than volunteering at the community kitchen or sitting on a non-profit board (do these great things too). Be the someone that encourages, challenges, inspires, and loves another in a way that can only be done through real, personal relationship. It doesn’t have to be formal. Just make sure it’s personal.

You might be thinking, “Great stuff there, Captain Platitudes. But what could this really look like for me?” First, how’d you know my name? Second, let me offer something more specific and actionable: consider mentoring an at-risk youth.

Take 90 seconds and think about the people who have shaped your life — the positive role models you looked up to, leaned on, learned from. These are people many of us may have taken for granted as a natural part of growing up. Maybe it was a family member, a teacher, or coach. Maybe you enjoyed the benefit of an entire network of support. They were there for you when you needed someone to talk with. They taught you how to play ball and showed up to your piano recitals. They challenged you to be your best, helped you discover your talents and passion, and encouraged you to chase your dreams. They were a source of inspiration and confidence for what you could do in your own life.

Think about those people. Do you have them in your mind?

Now, picture your life without them.

Where would you be right now? Who would you be?

My city of Chattanooga is a positively beautiful place, but like other cities, it’s home to very distinct worlds on the extremes. There’s a world of affluence and a world of poverty. A world of elite private schools for those who have much and a world of appallingly inadequate public schools for the rest. A world of promising potential embodied by a bourgeoning startup community and a world of despair evidenced by crime and gang activity.

2 in 5 male youths in Chattanooga don’t have a positive male influence in their lives. Not one. This hit me. Hard. I wanted to “do something” about the problems in my city, and becoming a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters seemed like a good something at the time. In 2008 I was matched with an 8 year old boy named Deric who, despite having an incredible and hard-working mom, represented the left side of that 2 in 5 statistic. He had just started the 3rd grade at one of those underperforming schools in one of those disparaged parts of town. I was a junior at Covenant College and would venture down Lookout Mountain once a week during his lunch recess. We played board games, dabbled on the piano, and chatted life, but spent the majority of our time horsing around in the gym.

When he reached middle school, we started spending a lot of time on Covenant’s campus — playing basketball, swimming, hiking the mountain trails. I arranged a formal college tour with the Admissions office and introduced him to current students including some of the basketball players he looked up to.

We stayed in touch the year I was relocated overseas for work, reminding him I’m his big brother for life. And like any big brother, I get him gifts for birthdays and Christmas. One year it was a Lecrae album that became his go-to cruising music. Recently, it was a book on the incredible life story of Dr. Ben Carson.

ONE of us has matured.

These are all simple, little things. And in the moment, I didn’t even realize how big of an impact I was having on Deric — on his confidence, aspirations, interests, and perspective on life. He’s now a high school freshman, and as he continues to mature (his favorite activity nowadays is joining me for Costco shopping and cooking with friends in the kitchen thereafter), so do our conversations. I make sure he’s doing well in school and challenge him to be a leader among his peers. I remind him how he’s especially gifted, following that up with the importance of applying himself in pursuit of his dreams and showing strong character while living out his faith. He talks a lot about college, with hopes of playing basketball for Kentucky and our guy Calipari, but Covenant will be lucky to have him if Coach Cal misses out. We also talk about his plans for law school should he forego the NBA.

He’s a terrific kid with a great heart, and I enjoy seeing him grow into a caring, ambitious young man who respects his mother and looks out for his own little brother. I’ve done nothing special besides befriending him and trying to be a positive example. He makes me a better person — there is nothing more motivating than knowing you are influencing an impressionable young life.

On that, please know this experience is not a one-way street. It’s not merely the proverbial “giving back,” “paying it forward,” or some other feel-good sentiment we who like to think we have our ish together might drop.

Deric has influenced me, too. He’s shown me at-risk youth are humans to be sought out and invested in, not merely a statistic to be prayed about in the abstract. He’s broadened my social interactions and made me more empathetic. He’s helped me recognize blessings in my life and motivated me to ensure others get similar opportunities. He’s reminded me true joy is not found in material things and enriched my life with his own love and admiration. Straight up: investing in people has yielded the best ROI in my portfolio to date.

I share this story because it’s easy to overestimate our busy lives filled with activities we deem so important while underestimating the power of personal relationship along with the dire need for it. Granted, improving society requires the likes of sound public policy and active non-profits.

But it ultimately takes people who care reaching out and forging meaningful relationships.

At-risk youth who are mentored are 46% less likely to do drugs, 55% more likely to go to college, and 1,302,420,321% more likely to experience the love and support of someone else who cares about them. If you and your friends each invested in this way, how could it improve the life trajectory of those kids? How could it impact whole family units? How could it change the story of conflicting worlds in our communities? And how could it change… you?

So millennials, let’s not just retweet that pithy comment with a [pick your race]livesmatter hashtag. Let’s show them how they matter by investing in one of those lives in a real and meaningful way.

Let’s not merely talk about how tragic gang violence is. Let’s do something to prevent it.

Let’s not run the risk of sounding like some of our elders criticizing the kids in the next generation for lacking discipline and direction. Let’s mentor and learn from them.

Think macro, invest micro. Change the world for one person and yourself. It’s our best shot at changing the world for everyone.

Most of us have someone who personally invested in us. How have you experienced this or invested in someone similarly? Spread the word: January is National Mentoring Month, and there are plenty of kids on waiting lists hoping for a match.