Growing & Giving - Across Generations
The Kids Are Coming
I borrowed my mantra for my Third Quarter from purpose-guru Richard Leider. To ‘grow and give.’ After last week’s missive about all the growing and stretching, this week I’ll focus on the joy of sharing wisdom with the younger folk here at Harvard. They are an astonishing bunch. Brains on tap and delightfully open to connecting with their elders.
As part of the ALI programme, you get assigned a Student Ambassador and I was delightfully paired up with freshman Olivia Glunz. After an engaging first conversation exploring interests, we decided to organise a series of three conversations around planning and navigating longer lives. The first session was aimed at her classmates, the second at their parents, and the third (next week) would bring both groups together to share takeaways across generations.
As a conversation starter, I presented my new (soon-to-be-published) book Thriving to 100 – Through Life’s 4 Quarters, which graphically summarises the dramatic demographic shifts the world is witnessing and its impact on careers, couples, countries and … everything. And how we will all need to become skilled transitionists, good at navigating multiple transitions – both personal and professional.
The discussion among the twenty-somethings was fascinating. They were largely unaware of the longer-life phenomenon, hadn’t really heard or thought about it much, and were understandably more focused on the next 5 years than the next 50. But longer lives impact the young as much as the old – it reshapes the whole lifespan. The term ‘emerging adulthood’ is what psychologists now call the decade of the 20s. It allows the young an opportunity to pace their careers differently than their parents may have. This offered a new perspective on the pressure they were feeling to accomplish everything – now.
The group also shared how scary and difficult the transition to adulthood could feel, especially on a Harvard campus where the prevailing ethos among students sounds incredibly… competitive, a word I hear a lot from students. As with every age group I work with, it seems transitions are too often suffered through alone. With individuals left feeling as though they are a weird, under-performing exception. It’s so much easier to evolve in community, normalising the highly emotional terrain of transitions - how humans experience growth and change. It was also an interesting opportunity to let the kids in on a little-known fact: their parents may be going through significant transitions of their own…
And so it proved. The discussion with the parent group was very much a parallel set of feelings and emotions. Pull a group of 50 and 60-year-olds together, and they are likely to be going through the same sort of self-questioning and self-defining search as their kids. It’s just more unexpected – and often a lot lonelier and scarier. You’re supposed to have figured things out by the time you’re our age! People are moving away from one career or identity and looking for another. The kids are leaving the nest, marriages are being realigned and sometimes reassembled, and careers are often ending/ morphing or escalating. Naming and normalising the parallel between the 20s and 50/60s as defining decades with huge shifts as a central feature was an eye-opening aha of this conversation.
I’ll let you know what next week’s conversation between the two groups yield.
Next, I’ll take you over to the Harvard i-lab, one of the rare places at Harvard that, like the ALI program, brings together students from all of Harvard’s 13 schools. I was invited to be a mentor, and to participate in an evening session to meet the student entrepreneurs.
I discovered the rather heady joy of an adrenalin-fuelled, 3-hour session called the Mentor Match, where I speed-dated my way through 8 venture pitches. An inspiring peak into the future of tech, education and health ventures that are incubating at Harvard. The i-lab, celebrating its 10th year, has a record 628 ventures brewing – a quarter from the Business School but also many from the Schools of Education, and Public Health. In one well-orchestrated, marathon Zoom session, you meet and rank who you want to mentor (and students rank who they want to be mentored by). Mentors come from across the alumni spectrum, as well as several of my ALI colleagues. I’ll introduce you to my mentee when the system digests all the algorithmic preference variables. I’d be delighted to work with any of the eight people I met.
So not only am I inspired by the wise and knowledgeable faculty and warmed by the extensive, global experience of my ALI peers. I’m also slightly awed – and deeply comforted – by the ideas and energy coming along behind us. My somewhat maternal concerns for the next generation and the challenges they are facing are somewhat calmed. With energy and brains like these, the kids are gonna be all right.