Push them to problem-solve challenges on their own

How can we help young adults who experience (sometimes debilitating) mental health challenges?

The presence of anxiety and depression among America’s youth is strong. I was blown away by a recent Slate article on this topic, written by Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise and AdultIn her article, “Kids of Helicopter Parents are Sputtering Out,” Lythcott-Haims shared some troubling statistics describing the prevalence of the mental health crisis on college campuses. In her article, she cites evidence linking “intrusive parenting” with struggling students.

For example:

  • 2012 study of 438 college students reported in the Journal of Adolescence found “initial evidence for this form of intrusive parenting being linked to problematic development in emerging adulthood … by limiting opportunities for emerging adults to practice and develop important skills needed for becoming self-reliant adults.”
  • 2013 study of 297 college students reported in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that college students with helicopter parents reported significantly higher levels of depression and less satisfaction in life and attributed this diminishment in well-being to a violation of the students’ “basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence.”
  • And a 2014 study from researchers at the University of Colorado–Boulder is the first to correlate a highly structured childhood with less executive function capabilities. Executive function is our ability to determine which goal-directed actions to carry out and when and is a skill set lacking in many kids with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Many of my young adult and college student clients have struggled with, or are currently working through, the thwarting impact of mental illness in their lives. In a recent presentation I made for parents of incoming college students I invited them to consider how their relationship with their student is changing as the student prepares to start college.

My first bit of advice – “Push them to problem-solve challenges on their own.” 

I go on to invite them to watch out for Madeline Levine’s signs of overparenting, which Lythcott-Haims cites in her article when she writes:

“Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of The Price of Privilegesays that there are three ways we might be overparenting and unwittingly causing psychological harm:

  • When we do for our kids what they can alreadydo for themselves;
  • When we do for our kids what they can almostdo for themselves; and
  • When our parenting behavior is motivated by our own egos.”

(Takes deep breath).

Again, I calmly say… “Push them to problem-solve challenges on their own.” 

From my perspective as someone who works with job seekers daily, I can tell you that a client’s resilience and their capacity for independent problem-solving are probably the traits that I most hope to help them build through our coaching relationship.

Why? So many reasons!

Employers want to hire folks who are resilient in times of struggle, and who have the independent problem-solving skills to manage through obstacles in their workplace. These skills also serve our students well in their actual job searches (which can be up and down while waiting for the right opportunity to come to fruition).

Finally, I suspect problem-solving will be one of the skills that will best serve this generation going forward. I tell my clients that today they are actually preparing themselves for jobs that do not yet exist. With the speed with which change is occurring and the forces of technology and globalization, for example, the future for young adults is uncertain. However, the good news is that with problem-solving and career development skills on their side, they will be ready for these challenges and prepared to convert that unknown landscape into a very positive and hopeful future.

Reflection:

What are your best strategies or techniques for helping young adults and college students to begin cultivating their own independent problem-solving skills?

(One of favorites you can use when they come to you with an issue?  Begin by first asking, “Wow, that sounds tough. What are your ideas for how to get through this?” … and see what brilliant ideas they come up with first… ) 

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Tips for the job search season

College students around the country are approaching graduation with anxious anticipation. This time of year is a busy time supporting not only recent college grads, but also those who may hear news about graduation and reflect on where they wish they were professionally.Whether you are embarking on your first job search post-graduation or in step with the season and eager to branch out at explore new horizons, this nice recent article, “9 Tips for College Seniors Looking for That First Job,” from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development inspired my own list of tips for the job search season.

1. Make a plan.
I typically tell clients it can take 6-9 months to find a job. Sticking with it and being focused in your search is key to success. It can be challenging to find energy for the sometimes tedious aspects of the job search process, especially for college students who are just coming off of stressful finals and commencement activities. My advice: Make a plan for yourself with clear goals.

  • How many jobs per week do you plan to apply for? It is better to set a smaller goal, but put in application materials that are tailored to each position to which you plan to apply.
  • What steps must you take to be ready to apply for jobs? For example, do you need to revamp your resume or have a career consultant review your materials and offer feedback?
  • What time-frame is reasonable for each of these small tasks? Plotting out your goals and milestones on a calendar can really help you feel confident in knowing which tasks to handle first, and it can give you an idea of whether you are on track with the timeline that feels comfortable to you.
  • You can also take time to document your goals or vision for a happy work life now. You can look back on this if times get stressful or if you seem to lose track of your center in the stress of the job hunt.

Finally, you may also want to set up a job search spreadsheet where you can keep track of all the positions you have applied for and the dates so you know when it would be appropriate to follow-up. Having your goals and timeline determined, and having your organization systems in place will help you start your search on a strong foot.

2. Use all the resources available to you.
Many college graduates assume that because they have graduated they no longer are eligible to utilize the career services offices on their campus. This is true in some cases, but not all. Be sure you are taking full advantage of your resources as an alum in addition to seeking out private career consulting support, if appropriate.

Also consider the resources and career support available to you through groups you are a member of, such as professional associations or faith communities, for example. Stay in touch with faculty members who know you well – they hear about many openings. Also attend to your network and be sure you are leveraging your relationships to help put your network to work for you.

3. Balance your search across the visible and invisible job markets.
Speaking of networks – balance the amount of time spent on applying for posted jobs vs. investing energy in cultivating your own network. I teach a networking class at the University of Minnesota and it is always surprising to me how few students realize the full power of networking. Up to 70-80% of jobs may never be posted, so be sure you aren’t just competing with all the other job seekers for that visible job market.

To network effectively, you should be prepared to let people in your life know:

  • A bit about who you are
  • What you are interested in
  • The skills and strengths you bring
  • And where you see yourself headed

Through formal and informal connections, seek out opportunities to tell people that you are a recent grad or that you are job searching, and offer them enough detail about you so they can ascertain how they can help you in your search. This allows you to tap into the invisible job market. In your job search plan, be sure you set goals related to how many networking meetings you hope to have each week or month in addition to focusing on applying for open positions.

4. Pay attention to your online life.
When job searching we typically spend a lot of time and energy on our resume and cover letter. It is great to tailor these to specific positions, but it is also becoming increasingly important to attend to your online presence:

  • Linked In is becoming more of a norm across industries, which is a great thing because you can oftentimes highlight your strengths and skills in more interactive and interesting ways online as compared to in a formal resume. Spend time getting acquainted with Linked In, not only as a tool to collect contacts but also as a tool you can use to mine for potential networking contacts who may know about positions that are “invisible” to the general job search scene.
  • Depending on your industry or field, you may also want to develop your own personal website you can link to from Linked In or your resume where you are able to showcase more about who you are and what you are seeking in your next position.
  • Finally, “Google yourself” to see what prospective employers may discover about you online when they do a quick search. Clean up any privacy settings on social media and make adjustments as needed. Again, a career coach or career consultant can help you think through all of these aspects of your job search and candidate profile.

5. Be present to the process.
Job searching is stressful one day and exhilarating the next. There are a lot of ups and downs in this process and it can start to feel pretty disorienting after even a short time in the thick of it. My last tip is to be present to the process.

Try to take a step back and keep that big picture in mind:

  • What is your ultimate goal?
  • What are your values?
  • Are the kinds of positions you are applying for still in alignment with who you are and what you desire next from your work?

If you get to feeling low about your prospects it can be tempting to just begin applying for any open position. Stay focused on your goals and interests, and review that purpose statement or vision you crafted for yourself at the start of your search so you ensure you are staying true to yourself through the process.

Always listen to your gut. If you notice you do not have energy or enthusiasm for a specific position or industry, for example, maybe you should really listen in to what might be going on. Be present and reflect on what you are learning through the process. Sometimes we discover that the job search reveals our goals or priorities are a little different than we first anticipated they would be.

If you are looking to make a job change, reflect on whether you are running towards something or running away from something that isn’t working – and if the thing that isn’t working in your life is really your work at all?

Being this mindful in your job search process can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but staying in touch with yourself during your search is key to finding longer-term happiness and meaningful work that satisfies. 

I wish all the recent grads and spring job searchers out there good luck in the search!

Fear + decisions

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.”
― Michelle Obama

One short little sentence, but such a profound insight. This quote resonates with me today because recently I have been leading several workshops that engage students and professionals in reflection on decision-making in their lives. Our conversations about decisions always end up with some time talking about fear and the very real struggle we experience trying to muster the courage to move beyond fear to make sound choices.

What are your biggest challenges to making effective choices? Does fear catch you by surprise or show up in your self-talk more often than not? How have you learned to trust your fear instincts to stay safe when the situation warrants, but be flexible in overcoming fears when they simply represent limiting beliefs? What grounds you in these chaotic moments?

Envisioning possibilities is hard

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‘No, no, Tess – go read “What Color Is Your Parachute!” Watch some TED Talks about finding your passion! Go take a class that you’ve always wanted to take!

Great advice… But inside my head – I was paralyzed. Getting your brain to really, really open up to all the possibilities – it’s so much harder than I ever imagined.”

-from Tess Vigeland‘s 2013 World Domination Summit talk, “What the Hell Are You Doing?!”, here in print or audio.

This afternoon I found Tess Vigeland’s familiar voice coming through my speakers while I was working on some planning tasks. Here was a professional with public radio superpowers, and she was talking about her own struggle making sense of her decision to leave Marketplace. Incredible.

Too often I think we assume there are two camps of people – those who have it together and are on a path, and those who are lost. In reality I think most of us are somewhere in between. We are broken, afraid, and struggling to find signs to reassure us that we will be okay. Career transitions are painful, even when they are fruitful. They leave their marks on us, challenging our confidence and assumptions we have about who we are and the world we live within.

When we are looking for work or trying to decide if we should make a change our dear family and friends who love us will just encourage us to open up and dream, as if we haven’t tried to do this. Yet when we are stressed by job changes and questioning whether we will be okay, it is very difficult for the mind to open up to creatively envisioning a multitude of possibilities for us.

While it is hard to dream in times of distress, stretching yourself to stay open and think big is essential for finding our way to what is next for us.

Next time you find yourself in that place, consider these three thoughts:

1. Know that you alone are enough. You are perfect and you and the gifts you bring are very much needed in the world.

2. Take heart in knowing you are not alone. Even Tess Vigeland feels overwhelmed by these major transitions!

3. Apply equal parts reflection, rest, and forward progress. When we are in the midst of chaos it can be tempting to push harder to work towards the certainty that we crave and yet these transitions require space and time to breathe in new life, energy and possibility.

Give yourself space to notice the uncomfortable or distressing feelings you are experiencing and try to decipher any meaning or lessons therein (I know, that sounds terribly naive, but try). And then rest.

Rest your anxious mind and heart. Give  your search a break. Live into the spaciousness of this moment and find balance between the reflection, rest, and forward progress. My hope for you is that in doing this you will be gentle towards yourself when you are feeling tender, and you will give your own inner truth a chance to be heard and to influence your path forward in a way that is both unexpected and glorious… maybe not right away… but maybe someday, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Finding change at the heart of it all

People say the only constant is change. In my case, change is the constant thread through which I view the world. So you can imagine how excited I was to find change at the heart of our discussions about cultural and linguistic competence today.QuoteonChange-TawaraGoode_June2014

Today’s lesson in change came from Tawara Goode, who is the director of the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University.

The discussion centered on ways we can help further the cultural competence of higher education institutions and create more equitable institutions for students, staff, faculty and the broader community. With my love of all things change, I’m not sure why I hadn’t previously thought of change being at the heart of this work. Of course!

In order to embrace new ways of working and being, we need to first let go of old trappings before we can come to terms with this new and uncertain future. Wrapped up in this letting go period can be deep fear and insecurity. This is certainly true in the context of social justice work.

Ask why efforts around diversity and inclusion struggle so mightily? As Goode pointed out today – the struggle is embedded within our national challenge to engage in meaningful dialogue about difference. That struggle remains a growing edge for so many individuals and institutions alike. But at the heart of it all is the struggle for creating systemic change.

We know from business contexts that close to 80 percent of change efforts fail. My guess would be that efforts to assess and strengthen cultural competence face similarly bleak statistics.

Despite it all today I walked away feeling more hopeful and energized than ever. The work is difficult, yes But I feel heartened by finally seeing the change implications that are embedded within efforts to improve cultural competence on campus. This new perspective on issues of social justice work has me examining the ways I can continue to contribute to moving this shared work forward and the possibilities and tools that may be good support for the journey.

Today, as a result of this training, I am grateful for moving from feelings of overwhelm to empowerment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battling $1 trillion in student loan debt

Which is more frightening? Considering  the individuals who collectively struggle under the burden of $1 trillion in student loan debt in our country or thinking about the ways this dynamic is driving the chasm between the rich and poor ever-wider? Last week the Associated Press reported that our collective student loan debt has reached the $1 trillion milestone  for the first time ever. Exceeding all other forms of personal debt. StudentLoanDebtCapGown

As someone who works in higher education and talks with students about their professional futures each day this is terrifying and it should be for you too. Sure, social justice concerns abound in this situation but even the most privileged should be scared.

We all possess significant gifts that we are meant to contribute to make our world as vibrant, enriching, and sustaining as possible for us all. When there are individuals who look at the simple mathematical facts about whether college is attainable to them and see that it is a guaranteed net loss – what will it mean for society if these folks stay away? When students increasingly choose their majors and career paths not solely based on their interests, gifts, and financial opportunities — when the finances dominate the decision — what will it mean for our teachers? For our social workers? For folks in law enforcement?

From my vantage point, sitting across the table from students who are wrestling with all these dynamics daily, this IS a national crisis and one that needs the focused and thoughtful attention of policy makers, government leaders, community groups, and colleges and universities and the students they serve.

 

Image source: http://www.veooz.com/news/VH1nIZt.html  

Are we asking the wrong questions? (Part I)

s-LOST-largeFrequently I find myself sitting across the table from a college student who is anxious and eager to have me help them answer burning questions about major and career choice. The conversation is different depending on the student, but many of them have similar struggles finding their path:

  • What is the “right” major?
  • What jobs can you actually do with this major?
  • Would this major or that major be better?
  • What about a minor? Which will make it easier for me to get a job?
  • And the dreaded… My parents want me to do this, but I am not sure. What do YOU think?

At the heart of all of these questions is a longing to know: How will I decide? Will I be okay? 

I have great compassion for students struggling to find their place. I remember not long ago sitting in a career coach’s office with similar questions, although mine were maybe a little different. My struggle to find career satisfaction was less about not knowing what inspired me, and more about figuring out how I could get paid to do work that I enjoyed. In many ways I still struggle to feel like I am fully able to realize all my professional potential and interests through my day job. More on that another day.

Yet recently, I find myself pushing students and prompting them to consider whether they are really asking the right questions at all? Could it be that we aren’t even close to the target? 

The world of work has changed dramatically and traditional-aged “millenial” college students face an uncertain and thrilling new terrain. Regrettably many of their coping skills are not sufficient to help them weather the challenge. (For more on this see Brooke Donatone’s recent Slate article: Why Millenials Can’t Grow Up).

So what are we to do? Shouldn’t we push these students to ask tougher questions? The kinds of questions that will help them find their place, clarify their purpose, and contribute their greatest gifts in service of the world?

Of course we should.  

Frameworks for pushing students to consider bigger questions abound, yet one particular initiative has captured my attention this week. The Association of America’s Colleges and Universities (AACU) has launched an initiative called Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP). What intrigues me about LEAP is that it brings together educators and employers, challenging both groups to consider what skills and qualities are most needed to meet the demands of our global community and economy in this time. Consistent with other surveys, LEAP suggests that the skills needed to thrive in this new landscape extend beyond narrow professional training.

By defining Learning Outcomes, High-Impact Practices, and Assessment strategies, the LEAP initiative outlines a framework that career coaches, academic institutions, families, employers and other concerned groups can use to challenge our nation’s young professionals to consider bigger questions about what meaningful work will mean to them.

Further, they highlight successful partnerships between colleges/universities and employers that demonstrate how mutual interests can be achieved through careful planning. One of the most interesting results of this effort found that “93% of employers say that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major” (Source: Association of American Colleges and Universities- Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) Employer-Educator Compact, April 2013).

If undecided and exploratory students (and working adults, for that matter) are struggling to figure out how to decide, wondering if they will be okay, trying to sort out who they are and who they wish to be… Is the question really, “Which major is right?” Absolutely not.

So what questions should we be asking? And where can we find the answers that students, families, and our communities truly need to thrive in this uncertain space? 

Stay tuned for a future blog post as the conversation continues in Part II. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.

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Do not worry about the landing place too much.

A friend and dear mentor recently sent me a lovely card in celebration of my upcoming graduation. Enclosed was a small magnet of a little yellow butterfly with a note saying the gift was to remind me of the butterfly’s annual wisdom of growth, transformation, and metamorphosis.ButterflyMagnet

This friend did not know that the butterfly has been an important symbol for me over the last year. I love the image of transformation we can take from the butterfly and I have done a lot of thinking about butterflies over the last cycle of seasons. For these reasons, this small gift from my friend ended up being far more touching than even she intended it to be. It brought me pure joy.

In the last year as I have been thinking about what I can learn from butterflies and their cycle of life, they have started to show up in different ways. I notice them outside, on clothing people are wearing in meetings, on a little note card from a friend, in bowls I use daily in my kitchen but ignore. Now, finally, one arrived at my door just for me. An affirmation of the noticing I have been doing all year.

In this spirit, and because it fits with my intention for this week of “Open hands, warm heart,” I share a simple poem I wrote one day in May last year when I was struggling to find my way. This was written after a walk along the Sammamish River Trail near my home in Woodinville, WA. I hope it brings a bit of lightness to any heavy spots in your heart.

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“I left.” The times we walk away.

Why am I here? What am I called to do? What work is mine to do?

These questions regularly bounce through my mind. Today was no different. I spent the day at a conference that invited me to examine the role that race and equity play in my life. Naturally this has me thinking about connections to vocation and community. What am I called to do… and, within which community am I called to be? These are the big questions.

Community is never perfect, but I know that without it I am lost. I think we are all lost without a sense of community, at least in some shape or form. What it means to belong may look different for different folks, but at the end of the day, this belonging is necessary. This need to have a place rests at the very core of our being.

During the conference today, Paul Gorski, presented on Consumerism as Racial Injustice. Whew! A big topic. I had not really considered the way my consumer choices support racial injustice. Sure, I have considered how the foods I buy may or may not be sustainable, but I never thought about my purchases as being at all connected to racial injustice.

Considering the ways that small choices in my life, like the foods I eat, may perpetuate racial injustice was painful. It is difficult to think that by living my life, through my very basic actions, I am participating in a system of oppression that not only hurts people of color, but also hurts me. When I heard the presentation I was uncomfortable. I wanted to be anywhere but there. A few people left, but I stuck with it.

Later in the conference we had a debrief session with a guided facilitator and one of my fellow participants said that she was one of the people who had to get up and leave. She said she felt powerless to change things, and the problems seemed overwhelmingly big. I get it. I felt the same way. Thinking about how small I am and how hard it is for me to really impact my community can be painful. Yet I also realize that because I am a White woman, I have the choice about whether or not I want to sit with the discomfort I felt during that presentation. I have the privilege to be able to decide to what extent I am going to invite challenging topics into my life. Or not. When it hits a bit too close to home or begins to challenge me enough, I can say stop. I can retreat to my place of privilege and ease.

My ability to select when and to what extent I feel vulnerable in my life reflects a special power I hold as being a member of a privileged group. It is not a given for folks from other racial and ethnic groups. For many people, there is no choice to decide whether or not they “want to go there” today. Systemic oppression in our country is there all the time. It is daily, it is ever-present, and it is everywhere. I am lucky enough to be able to choose when and how I engage with systemic oppression in my life. Sometimes this power to decide saves me. If I had to let it all wash over me all the time it would overwhelm my spirit in ways I cannot imagine. Of course this is all too familiar for many folks.

During our small group debrief of the presentation we also talked about the ways White people typically follow and perpetuate the predominantly individualistic U.S. culture.  It is up to me to change these oppressive systems. have to be good at this work in order to engage. I should know how to do this work well. When we fall short in our minds, or when it feels too hard? I might choose to opt out. Oh my.

So then. How to find the way forward? Can I be healthy and happy AND do this work? What would such a life look like? Living from a place of guilt and shame is no way to live. I must move beyond this, but the path is not clear.

For me, the question comes down to asking myself, “What is mine to do?” What piece of this work can I take on? How can I do my part to build a more just society? Perhaps I can do only so much today, but maybe tomorrow I can do more. Or next week.

These questions lie at the heart of considering what I personally feel called to do. What is my sense of vocation? For me, a piece of it is in discovering my unique gifts and figuring out ways to apply them in the world to make it a more just place. A more sustainable world. A healthier community, not just for me, but for us all. It is not just a dream. I have a deep faith in believing a more equitable world is possible, and I feel confident that a piece of that work is mine to do. It may not be clear to me now, but there is a quiet voice I cannot ignore. 

What do you feel called to do? In what ways is this impacted by your sense of belonging? In what ways do you want to get up and leave? When would it be easier to walk away than to engage? What would it take for you to lean in to the discomfort instead of retreating?  

Begin with the end in mind.

How can we strive to move through our lives with more openness and trust, especially in the times and situations that scare us and challenge us the most? In what ways can we begin to cultivate a spirit of abundance, even in small ways? How will we find the courage to break open our personal and professional lives and extend a bit of grace and peace in a world with such deep need?

Through this blog I will explore these questions from a multitude of lenses, focusing on leadership, inspiring change, supporting personal and community wellness, and I will share tips and strategies that I discover through my own experiences, interactions with students, conversations with mentors, and from the big ideas that captivate my attention and inspire in me a sense of excitement and hopefulness for the future.

It may seem like a wild mix of topics, but my hope is that the themes and concerns that inspire my writing will capture the space you hold for deep reflection in your life. I hope you will feel inspired to add your voice and perspective to help shape the dialogue here. I invite you to join me in this conversation as I dive into an exploration of what gives me joy. The place of purpose in my life.