In some ways I think this may have been the hardest aspect for us to wrap our minds around. We look at the program we were offering and think some variation on, “I wish I would have done something like this right after college” or “Young adults need direction, our program will help them find it.” Such is the nature of the generational divide.
The first statement is based on memories of our own experiences and what we think we might have needed at the time. I myself have said that if I had done a program like this I might have found the same development in a year that ended up taking four years. Taking our own experiences, motivations and wishes for what we might have done and pasting it onto young adults today is problematic to say the least. We reduce complicated individuals with their own motivations and ambitions into a neat picture that we feel comfortable with and understand. Unfortunately, the picture we have created of who young adults are and what they want doesn’t look anything like the real people it is supposed to represent.
The second statement takes this even further, assuming we know what young adults need and how they should receive it. In our society it is expected that children have their needs defined for them, reaching adulthood means you get to define your own needs and are responsible for fulfilling them in a healthy way. Young adults are adults! Some may not feel confident in their newfound adulthood yet but many will bristle if they feel they are still being treated like children.
At the same time, our program model gave us an example of the kind of impact that we could have for our participants and community. The things we had hoped to accomplish for and through them are legitimately good things! But there is a degree to which these benefits are more about what we want than how young understand their own challenges. We used an existing program structure that has served others well for a long time but did not pause to ask any young adults if it was sufficiently compelling to earn their participation.