We all experience stressful transitions in life, but young adults experience a significant number of them in a relatively short period of time. Mentors can play an important role by sharing their life experiences in an insightful way during these stressful moments.
Speaking from personal experience, I graduated college, got my first-full time job, hated my first full-time job, got married, moved out of my parents’ home, and then had a baby on the way all within the span of five months. I was an anxious, living wreck! If it wasn’t for the mentors that God placed in my life, I may have been driven to the point of insanity.
I do not understand how young adults can go through all of this without the guidance of mentors. If you feel called to be a source of wisdom and comfort for people during this tumultuous time of life, here’s a list of 5 key moments to be on the lookout for.
1) Graduating College
Graduating college is a great time to reflect on new beginnings and fresh potential. We must also take into consideration the challenges that might lie ahead when mentoring a recent graduate.
Hit the Ground Running
One challenge a new graduate could face is the frenzy and confusion that comes with having to find a job right away. Student loan payments are going to kick in soon, mom and dad are saying they won’t offer any more support, and the university never prepped them by providing a class on landing a job.
The results can be depression and a lack of self-worth.
“What am I going to do?” and “I’m worthless” are common thoughts during this time. For some reason, as adults, it’s easy to pass judgement on young adults and label them as inexperienced or oblivious to the world. But if we choose to put ourselves in their position, what we will see is a wounded person in need of help.
This is a time to listen and empathize, not criticize.
Lack of Structure
Another challenge is the lack of institutional structure in the new graduate’s life. From the moment a person enters pre-school or kindergarten to the moment they graduate college, their lives have been institutionalized. Most of the time, their schedule was pre-determined, their meals were planned and provided for them, and their vocational work revolved around assignments handed to them by teachers.
It’s hard to admit it, but our lives were spoon-fed to us when we were in school.
Although the lack of structure poses a threat, it also provides an opportunity for solid mentorship. Use it to encourage new graduates to develop a personal mission statement and a set of core values.
This will help them turn “What am I going to do?” into “Here’s what I want to see happen.”
Instead of “I’m worthless,” encourage them to think, “Who do I want to be and what do I stand for?”
In this season of life, a solid personal mission and a set of core values will provide a better foundation than that of institutionalized structures.
2) Searching for Their First “Real” Job
Finding a full-time job for the first time can result in a lot of frustration and feelings of rejection.
Put yourself in the shoes of a young adult for just a second.
You find an opening for your dream job. The job description states the ideal candidate must have seven years of experience and a stunning portfolio. The only way to get seven years of experience and develop a portfolio is to first have a job! Imagine the sense of discouragement and rejection a young adult feels whenever he or she submits a resume just to be rejected every time.
In our society, employers tend to seek out people with already-established sets of skills as opposed to investing in, and developing, new talent. This has always confused me since it’s easier to train a new dog than to teach an old dog new tricks. However, it’s the reality we live in.
Show an Interest
As mentors, we can’t do anything about the state of our society or workforce trends. What we can do is take time to show interest in young adults who are enduring this season of life.
Show an interest in them by treating them like the professional they want to be. Listen to their career goals. Take time to teach them the importance of having a developed set of soft skills. Explain to them that their value as an employee isn’t found in their career ambitions, but in their ability to contribute to an organization’s success. Point out the fact that, in most cases, it’s better in the long-run to commit to a position for an extended period of time as opposed to jumping from job to job in the pursuit of short-term gains and minor pay increases.
These things may seem obvious to someone who has been in the workforce for a while, but it may be the first time a young adult hears them.
Affirm Their Gifts
Above all, affirm the experiences, accomplishments, and skills they already posses! Be intentional about showing interest in what they’re good at. I have spoken to many young adults who discount their gifts and talents because they don’t utilize them in a professional setting. I also see them write off the skills they possess because they aren’t listed on job descriptions.
Pointing out what they’re good at provides a boost in self-worth and provides material for writing good resumes. They need constant reminding that rejection isn’t failure, but an opportunity for growth.
Before we judge a young adult for not having a job, let’s first discover whether it’s because they’re lazy or if they’re feeling tempted to give up because of constant rejection.
We all know what it’s like to feel rejected. Let’s not add to another’s experience of it.
3) Buying Their First Home
Remember what it was like buying your first home? There was probably a lot of excitement. For the first time in life, you had your place that you could decorate your way. Maybe you had dreams of customizing and remodeling your new place as if you were living in your own episode of Fixer Upper.
But, do you also remember how scary it was? I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say, “Colleges should offer courses in mortgages!”
That’s right…there’s no manual for that. And the consequences can be very real!
During this time, it may be possible that your young adult friend is experiencing a heightened sense of excitement combined with fear. Additionally, they may be feeling a lack of control since so many important decisions have to be made quickly with little experience to guide them.
How much does a home inspection usually cost? What are the hidden bank fees? How do I know if I’m being taken advantage of? This level of confusion is hard for anyone to experience, let alone someone who’s experiencing it for the first time.
The best thing for mentors to do is to offer advice, but only when it’s solicited.
If you feel like your young adult friend needs guidance, feel free to speak up but ease into the conversation. The worst thing you can do is make them feel like they lack the control needed to own the situation themselves. Instead of claiming control over the situation by offering unsolicited advice, enable them to take control of their own situation by asking leading questions that lead to answers.
4) Discerning Marriage and Religious Life
This may be the time in a young adult’s life when mentors are needed the most. It’s evident that millennials are putting off marriage compared to previous generations. Although this is a concern for society as a whole, the real poverty is the lost opportunity for young adults to experience the abundant joy that only a healthy marriage can provide.
The desire for intimate union is inside all of us. It’s part of being human. We were made for community and we were made for intimacy. So why put it off? Why not just commit already?!?!
Fear Is Paralyzing
I believe the main reason is the fear of losing something great, not a lack of commitment.
Unfortunately, most people these days have experienced the pain of divorce. When statistics prove couples have a better chance at failing in marriage than succeeding, fear kicks in and they naturally settle for something less such as cohabitation.
How do we mentor during this time?
We must first understand their fears and objections. If you find yourself engaged in a conversation with a young adult who is putting off marriage, try discovering their fear before lecturing them. There’s a difference between preaching and ministering, and this situation calls for ministry.
If you indeed find there are no legitimate objections, and they are just putting it off, feel free to provide that “come to Jesus” moment! However, if there is fear due to past experiences, try your best to diffuse it. You can do this by hearing their objection, processing it, and communicating it back. Then, when you do provide feedback it proves that you considered their objections and still came to your conclusion.
Discerning Legitimate Fears
It’s also important to help them understand what is a legitimate fear and what isn’t.
If they’re afraid that their partner may not be “the one,” this is a legitimate fear. Walk with them through that journey and help them figure it out. It may be they need to cut off the relationship entirely, or they just need to work a few things out. If it’s fear of not having enough money, help them discern whether they need to create a financial plan or if they’re just blowing their concern out of proportion.
Sharing your personal experiences is very helpful when helping them face their fears.
Regardless of the situation, listen first before preaching. By removing the barriers caused by fear, you will treat the root problem and not just the symptoms.
What About Vocations to Priesthood or Religious Life?
The same can be said for those entering the priesthood or religious life. If you sense somebody is holding back due to fear, remind them they won’t become a priest or religious tomorrow. The next step is visiting a seminary or talking to a vocations director, not taking vows!
Fear is just meditation on evil. We can waste so much energy on it. Fr. Brian Fallon is the Assistant Director of Vocations for Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He likes to advise people to ask the right questions. Instead of asking, “Am I supposed to be a priest?” he advises asking, “Am I supposed to spend time discerning in the seminary?” Taking one baby step at a time will get your young adult friend further that standing still out of trepidation for taking one giant step.
For more info, check out this blog post by Fr. Fallon titled, How Do You Know if You’re Called to Be a Priest?.
5) When Life Isn’t Going as Planned
When a young adult’s life isn’t going as planned, the best thing a mentor can do is empathize.
Did you know there’s a difference between empathy and sympathy?
Dr. Bené Brown states that, “Empathy fuels connection with someone. Sympathy drives disconnection.” This connection is what people desire most, even more than solutions. It may seem natural to offer solutions as a way to show how much you care. I have been guilty of this a number of times. However, this is a sympathetic approach and it doesn’t draw us into the other person’s experience.
Saying something like, “I don’t know how to fix your situation, but I’m glad you told me” is much more effective than saying, “Cheer up. Things will get better some day.”
Here are some steps a mentor can take to be a good empathizer:
- Take perspective. Understand that the other person’s pain is reality to them.
- Do not pass judgement on them
- Recognize emotions in the other person and communicate them back.
The point of empathy is to feel with people. It requires vulnerability. When the urge comes to solve problems, stop and pause for a second. Use that moment to enter into the world of your young adult friend as opposed to shouting solutions from the sideline.
The situations listed above cannot be avoided for most people. They’re a natural part of life. There’s a season to experiences these transitions, and there’s a season to mentor people through them. Jesus calls us to not only acknowledge others’ pain, but to accompany them through it.
Mentorship is a way to answer the call to be merciful. The best definition of mercy for me came from Msgr. Jack Schuler during one of his homilies. He said mercy is, “willingly entering into someone else’s mess.” If we want to engage the young adult culture, we have to be willing to enter into their mess before offering solutions to their problems. By responding in this way, we show profound mercy during the times when they need it most.
When have you experienced the need for a mentor? Did we miss anything in this post? Share your thoughts by leaving a reply in the comments below.