A Message to Well-Intentioned Older Folks Who Want to Offer Advice to Young Adults
It is not that we don’t appreciate your experience or interest in our future. However, what you might not realize is that sometimes your advice or questions do more harm than good. These conversations cause us more anxiety than they do a space for open discussion, discovery, and excitement for the multitude of possibilities open to us. Below are a few things to consider when talking to a recent graduate or a young adult:
1. Please Don’t Project Your Fears, Past Traumas, Or Ageism Onto Us
As an older individual, we understand that you lived through more experiences than us and might be eager to let us know what options or dangers are out there. But please understand that we are creating our own experiences in real time. We don’t have the luxury of looking back and shaking our heads at all the silly things we did when we were in our 20's . We are living those “silly" experiences. Telling us that you were “stupid” or “crazy” back when you were our age doesn’t make us feel good. Projecting your past fears/traumas onto us does not serve as a cautionary tale, it’s more of an uncomfortable conversation where we watch you re-live your younger years. Be gentle when discussing the possibilities of the future with us, it is never an easy conversation to have. A safe space to discuss this will help us cope with the unknown. Sometimes we want to share our thoughts and ideas about the future without your past taking center stage.
2. Grad School May Not Be For Everyone Right At This Moment.
This may seem like a no-brainer as education stretches her arms in so many ways to greet us in this day and age. But we all see the faces you make when we mention “taking a break” or “travel” or “work”. We notice the eyebrows furrowing and the inevitable question, “You are going back to school, right?” Or we get, “Well you could take classes now and get a head start!” Please think about what it is like to be in our shoes after four years of devoting our lives to earning a degree then finding out that degree might not reach its full potential without real world experience and more school. Please think about how refreshing it might feel for some of us to grow as professionals or as humans without an institution behind us. Passively insinuating that school is the golden ticket pressures us into this socialized narrative that school is the only option to achieve any real success or fulfillment. Overwhelming those of us who want to go back to school with the many challenges that come with it does not help us "see the light", it actually stunts our growth and excitement. We both know that there are many options out there to achieve our goals and aspirations, we need support in embracing those options.
3. Journeys Are Like Fingerprints
I cannot tell you how many conversations I had with friends distraught because they were not doing what everyone else was doing, be it going straight on to graduate school or taking a few years off. Please support us by encouraging creativity in our path, not trying to make it fit everyone else’s. We too put ourselves in boxes sometimes and need help to see the excitement in adventure. When we hear that we are deviating from the norm, we become anxious when things do not go “as planned”. My mothers literally strapped me down to earth to finish my graduate school applications. I was extremely anxious because of what I heard happened to you if you didn’t go back to school right away. Luckily my parents supported my journey as it was being written and when the time came for me to accept a job in New York, I did not feel like I was deviating from the perfect path; I felt like I was creating my own, which is my perfect path.
4. Please Ask Us If We Want Your Opinion/Advice Before You Offer It
As some do when they see a pregnant woman and regurgitate all they learned during their pregnancy, it is common that older folks do the same when it comes to plans for our lives. We are getting so much input from family, friends, and colleagues that most of the time we don’t know which way to turn or when to trust our own advice. When I was looking for the perfect grad school, everyone who had a mouth had an opinion. When I started to date, everyone had a philosophy and thought it was the right one for me too. For me, it was more helpful to hear, “What do you think is best?” This simple question gave me the agency to present my own ideas, fears, feelings, and philosophies. It gave me the chance to figure out how I truly felt. Sometimes we just want our idea to stand alone in the air without scrutiny so we can see it for ourselves. Once I could claim that space, I was able to give more attention to people’s advice or suggestions (if I asked them for it). If we do not ask you for your advice, we are not looking for it. If you think we are or you are concerned, please give us the safe space to let that conversation start. It will help us so much more.
Although these are helpful hints for older folks, I think it is a great reminder for us young adults as well. When listening to people we trust and hearing their advice or suggestions, we need to remember that is all it is, advice and suggestions, words. It is our choice if we want to take it. It’s our choice. We are allowed to feel lost and confused and it is okay to ask for help. We are not going to always get it right and sometimes there is no "right". Someone once told me that it was not helpful for him to tell the universe what he didn't want to be, it was more helpful that he be prepared for whatever the universe had in store for him. Patience is rarely a willing friend of mine but came up a lot in these few months after graduation. I so want to be at the finish line of my development as a woman of melanin, a poet, an activist, a leader, but that is not where the beauty lies. The silver lining, the diamond dancing on the ocean shore of our stories, the gift is really in between: the journey.
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...