What I’ve learned from my younger friends

Jamie, from whom I’ve learned much

I was walking back from a coffee break with my young interns recently and we were ribbing one who was lamenting her old age of 27 years. One of the others, a 19-year-old college sophomore said, “I just want to get out of my teens.” I did a double-take, because even though I know the age of these students, it still takes me aback sometimes.

I’m thankful to have so many young friends. In fact, the bulk of my friends are a decade or two younger than me. What have I learned from these folks?

Family is important: I do an exercise with my students in which they select their top five values from among 40 values cards. In a recent round of this, five of the eight chose “family” as their top value. Another friend, a young physician and mother of two, will use a vacation morning to do crafts or play outside with her children. Sure, young people value their careers and fun and travel, but they value their family a great deal.

Some of them have come a long way: One of my favorite interns was Allison who worked full-time and went to school full-time and pretty much charmed everyone she met with a genuine interest in their lives. She has worked in a bike shop, as a school photographer, and in children’s daycare. Having talked to her a little about her background, I know that success was a long road for her. The notion of the Millennial who feels entitled could not be further from her reality.

Their faith can be important: We were once on a runcation when a friend in her early 20s mentioned to me her desire to attend church service on a Saturday night. She was able to slip away to do this. Another younger friend articulated to me what type of church service most encourages a good worship experience for her. I know that attitudes toward religious institutions have changed over the years but many young people take their faith seriously.

I attended a couple of talks this week from an expert on the Millennial generation. I’m usually skeptical of such things, since we know the variation of people and personalities within a generation is greater than the variation between generations. Still, there are a couple of characteristics of Millennials that I like and admire.

First, they want their work to be meaningful. Paychecks and promotions are not irrelevant. Meaning, though, is essential. Second, Millennials are open to and enjoy working in groups.

In the 15 or so Millennial interns I’ve mentored over the past two years, I can see that there is much validity to these generalities. And these things resonate with me.

Because of circumstances, I went to a concert on my birthday in which the lead singer is 25 and the average age of the audience was less than that. The concert venue was small, hot and crowded, and the event was sold out. I didn’t pretend for a second that I was one of them, but I also knew that I would be denying myself much joy were I to opt out just because I didn’t fit the demographic.

And so it is: Depending on your attitude, young people can make you feel older or younger. I love my generation. I know that people my age can introduce awkward elements if we try to pretend we’re younger than we are. Still, joy is joy. Life is life. Fun is fun. Young people bring special gifts, ones they may not even realize. Those of us who are older need only recognize and accept these gifts.

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