The following is an excerpt from a blog post by Steve Moore. Steve is an author, speaker, and president of Growing Leaders. To read the full post, visit the Growing Leaders blog.
When transition collides with disruption, we can feel the need for an intermission. For students, this is often described as a “gap year,” and it is a growing response to the pandemic.
Research by the Art & Science Poll Group conducted in the summer of 2020 found that “Roughly one in six high school seniors say they definitely or most likely will not attend college in the fall because of the coronavirus; of those, 16 percent plan to take a gap year. That compares to fewer than 3 percent who have taken a year or more off between high school and college in the past.”
According to Year On, “Whether you decide to gap with a program or your own self-structured gap year, the personal, social, and academic benefits of gap years are indisputable.”
What Should Happen in a Gap Year?
One of the common and preferred components of a gap year is international travel. The pandemic increased the number of students taking a break while eliminating the possibility of exploring the world.
How can we help students experience the benefits of a gap year when they can’t leave?
1. Exchange adventure for curiosity.
Even if you can’t travel you can be curious. How could curiosity open a door for self-directed learning and the seeds of passion in your life?
2. Expand opportunities by growing your network.
You probably already know or have access to the people who can help you get where you want to go in life. They are friends of your parents or the parents of your friends. Make it a priority to connect with them. Leverage your curiosity to grow your network by asking questions. Relationship building is a critical skill for any career. Here are a few questions to help you get started:
3. Advance your career by investing in yourself.
College isn’t an end in itself. It’s to prepare you for a career, but don’t start with a career. Start with you. As Parker Palmer put it, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” The gap year is a perfect time to slow down for some self-discovery and personal development with a special focus on self-awareness.
4. Create an alternate ending.
It’s not healthy to deny or ignore the disappointment you feel about the disruption of your expected transition into life after high school. You may feel guilty about embracing these feelings because others have been affected in much worse ways by the pandemic. Begin where you are emotionally, then imagine yourself as a screenwriter, creating your own transition experience that brings closure to one season and opens a door to another.
Could This Happen During a Pandemic?
We began thinking about our current parameters (social distancing and remote learning) and how a young adult might still be able to experience an incredible “gap year.” What if a student could continue whatever they’re doing, but participate in a “virtual gap year?”
What if they could join a community of young adults who want to keep growing; who want to avoid getting stuck, but who may not be flourishing on a college campus yet? So, we are hosting a Virtual GAP Year. We’re focused on helping students create a Get Ahead Plan (GAP). The six-month experience begins and ends with a virtual event, supported by monthly engagement through video training, virtual cohort meetings, and two one-on-one coaching sessions.
We’re excited about this opportunity and would love for you to consider:
For more information, visit myvirtualgapyear.com
Do you know a student who could benefit from this opportunity? Encourage them to apply. Use the promo code LT2021 to waive the $50 application fee. Contact us at email@example.com with any questions.
The National Student Clearinghouse released their latest college enrollment numbers on October 15, 2020. They are showing that a month or so into the fall 2020 semester, undergraduate enrollment is running 4% below last year’s numbers. “Most strikingly, freshman students are by far the biggest decline of any group from last year, with a decrease of 16.1% nationally and a 22.7% drop at community colleges in particular. First-time students account for 69% of the total drop in undergraduate enrollment.”
It is not surprising that many undergraduate students may be putting their college plans on hold amid uncertain times. This means a lot of students who might otherwise be in college are doing something else right now. I couldn’t help but wonder what this season looks like for those who are waiting to reengage their college plans. While mental health risks for college students were high prior to the pandemic, we are now seeing an increase in depression rates for college students since the beginning of the pandemic. It is critical for students today to have support and encouragement in this season as they make decisions that will allow them to thrive amid the uncertainty.
If you know a college-aged student who has put their plans on hold, or who is reconsidering their plans, here are a few ways to encourage them:
Here at Leading Tomorrow, we are excited to be partnering with Growing Leaders and nexleader to offer a 6-month virtual gap year experience, beginning in January 2021. We will be working with students to pursue their goals and create a personal Get Ahead Plan (GAP). For more information visit the website. Do you know a student who could benefit from this opportunity? Encourage them to apply. Use the promo code LT2021 to waive the $50 application fee. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Do you know a young person who has put their college plans on hold? Maybe a young leader in your life is needing some direction and confidence in the midst of uncertain times. Here at Leading Tomorrow, we are so excited to be partnering with Growing Leaders and nexleader to offer a 6-month virtual gap year experience, beginning in January 2021. We will be working with students to pursue their goals and create a personal Get Ahead Plan (GAP). Online events and interactive modules, a small group cohort of other students, and a certified coach will help developing leaders grow in their self awareness and lead themselves more effectively.
For more information, visit the website or contact us. Use the promo code LT2021 to waive the $50 application fee.
In this season, our relationships have adapted to a world of social distancing and virtual interactions. Whether we are spending more time with our kids as they homeschool or do virtual courses, or spending less time with students or employees who are learning and working from home, there are unique opportunities to encourage and support the young people in our life. One way we can do this is to identify and acknowledge how they are smart, the natural intelligence they have, and affirm and encourage them in developing their abilities.
This is a generation that is incredibly individualistic and is growing up in a world that tells them identity is fluid. This can create uncertainty, confusion, and anxiety. This is further complicated as social media creates a tendency to compare ourselves to others. Young people today need confidence to understand themselves and grow in their abilities. We can help them.
Dr. Kathy Koch, in her book The 8 Great Smarts, talks about the different types of intelligences we can watch for in the lives of the Gen Zers around us. She gives descriptions of how each type of intelligence thinks, responds, and learns. There are great suggestions for activities to do with young people based on their interests, and ideas for guiding them into a career field that fits who they are.
The eight great smarts that she delineates are:
· Word Smart
· Logic Smart
· Picture Smart
· Music Smart
· Body Smart
· Nature Smart
· People Smart
· Self Smart
I highly recommend Dr. Kathy’s book. As a parent who is Word Smart, it has given me so many great insights as I raise Picture Smart and Nature Smart kids. As a People Smart coach and educator, I have learned to better appreciate and relate to the Self Smart people I coach and teach.
As you engage the Gen Zers in your life, I encourage you to pay close attention to the “smarts” they possess, encourage and guide them as they develop the unique intelligence they possess.
Like many of you, I remember the days before social media and smartphones. Now, it seems we can’t live life without them. From checking in with family to accessing the weather, news, and sports, most Americans now seem inseparable from their devices. These devices also accompany us to work, where we utilize them there as well.
As a Generation Z researcher, I wanted to see how this generation uses technology in the workplace, and how employers can utilize their innate expertise. Having grown up in the late 90s and 2000s, Generation Z has always had the internet and smart technology at their fingertips. A 2019 study by Adage indicated that 98% of Gen Z’ers surveyed owned smartphones and 94% owned laptops. Gen Z engages with friends, interests, and now school almost entirely through their devices.
Several recent studies also revealed that Gen Z is more comfortable working from a tablet or smartphone than laptop or desktop in a work environment and use their smartphone at work as their primary communication tool. Gen Zer’s want to work in an environment that has fast, reliable tech, and wants to use this tech to communicate with their supervisors and colleagues. Gen Z are well-acquainted with video tools like Zoom and Skype, having used FaceTime and Snapchat throughout their teen years.
COVID-19 has forced many employers to shift to remote work. While many Gen Zer’s, Millennials, and Gen X’ers are used to using applications like Zoom, MS Teams, and Skype, learning to navigate these apps under the pressure of working from home can be difficult and stressful for many older employees. We’ve all received the frantic text, call or message, “How do I turn on my camera??”. To assist older employees with using video, chat, or other workplace technology, I recommend utilizing your Generation Z employees’ expertise.
Utilizing Gen Z’s technological skills may help your company in a couple of ways. Appointing young employees as leaders in this area may help you better engage with and retain this group of employees. Research shows that Gen Z needs to feel a sense of purpose, achievement, and advancement in their job, or they will quickly move on. Designating Gen Z’ers as the go-to for team tech questions will give them a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to display leadership even if they are in frontline or entry roles.
Pairing older employees with Gen Z’ers may also have an added benefit – as members of Generation Z communicate with and help their team members, the mature team members also have an opportunity to get to know the younger members. Perhaps the director or VP who would never get to know the frontline employee is suddenly relying on them for virtual tech assistance. What an amazing chance for a learning exchange to occur! While the Gen Z employee assists with technology, the more tenured employee also has an opportunity to mentor or provide wisdom to the younger employee, which may outlast the tech questions and strengthen the virtual team.
Note: I recommend inviting rather than assigning Gen Z’ers to help their team members access and troubleshoot tech– you will receive a much more favorable response (a monetary or non-monetary incentive such as an extra day off, small gift, or bonus may also help).
Growing up in an age of rapidly expanding technology and a constant information stream, Generation Z possesses skills and ideas that organizations should employ. Utilizing Gen Z’s technological skills is one way to engage younger employees and strengthen your virtual teams during COVID-19.
Last time, I wrote about some of the challenges facing Millennials and Gen Z while practicing social distancing. These include the increased potential for loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Here, I would like to share a few strategies for those of us who are parents, teachers, mentors, and leaders as we seek to engage and support the young people in our lives at this time.
- Pause and be present. As my husband and I have been juggling work with the kids at home full time, I often feel like I am always scrambling to catch up. Last night, my daughters were tired and stressed. So, we turned off all the devices, and just sat together in the dark stillness of the living room for a while. After a few minutes, one of my daughters started sobbing. When I asked her what was wrong, and just waited, she began sharing a situation that was making her feel stressed. We talked about it and I was able to encourage and affirm her. Everyone went to sleep with smiles. Sometimes, amid the busyness, whether it is with our kids, a student, or a young colleague, we need to make sure we are creating spaces to just pause and be present with them.
- Be proactive and intentional. As we are having fewer face-to-face interactions these days, it is important to be proactive and intentional to ask young people how they are doing. Engage them with open-ended questions (What is most difficult for you during this time? How are you feeling about…? What activities help you? How can I support you?). Practice active listening skills. Asking good questions and attentively listening is one of the best ways to communicate interest, care, and support. In many cases, young people do not need us to give them the answers, they just need to feel like they are not alone, and that someone is encouraging them as they work out the solutions.
- Extend grace. We are living in unprecedented times as globalization and technology are accelerating the change and impact of events in our world. We are absorbing information and change in ways people have never experienced before. While daunting for all of us, young people often lack the experience and maturity that help provide perspective and stability. As a result, we need to extend some grace when behaviors, statements, and attitudes in the lives of those around us are less than optimal. Love and acceptance help create opportunities for speaking wisdom and encouragement that can equip a young person to grow through this time.
- Model healthy coping skills. Many of us are managing extra stress and anxiety these days. One of the greatest gifts we can give young people is to model and engage them in healthy coping strategies. Take your kids for a walk or bike ride and get some exercise instead of turning on a movie. Have a “game night” with colleagues or extended family and talk while you play cards over video chat. Set aside time to “unplug” from all devices and read a book or build a puzzle. Serve someone in your community together.
History shows us that adversity and difficulty can build resiliency and character, if engaged effectively. As we mentor the young people in our lives, may we leverage the opportunities during this unprecedented season to build memories and skills that will help them for a lifetime!
Clinical psychologist, Benjamin F. Miller, wrote that America was already on track to face a mental health crisis before the COVID-19 outbreak. While many Americans are feeling the emotional toll of the pandemic, Millennials and Generation Z represent particularly vulnerable groups. Many were already suffering from declining mental health. The new normal of social distancing is increasing the loneliness and isolation that so many within these generations are experiencing.
Many argue that technology allows us to connect effectively even while separated physically. While this is true, we know that in-person interaction is better for emotional health than virtual connection. Jean Twenge, in her book, iGen addresses this issue. She explains that if virtual connection were as valuable as face-to-face connection, then “teens who communicate via social media and text should be just as happy, be just as likely to dodge loneliness, and be just as likely to avoid depression as teens who see their friends in person or engage in other activities that don’t involve screens.” However, the research demonstrates that, “teens who spend more time on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy….all screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.” As we consider this research alongside the fact that most classes, church groups, sports practices, even some camps, not to mention almost all social interactions, have been moved to a virtual format involving screens, the potential for increased depression, unhappiness, and loneliness is evident.
While technology is undoubtedly a gift during this time, it is not without significant risks. Twenge reports that “the correlation between social media use and loneliness appears across all demographic groups: boys and girls, Hispanics, whites, and blacks, and those both lower and higher in socioeconomic status.” Twenge also reports that “eighth graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27%, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework cut their risk significantly” and that “teens who spend more than three hours a day on an electronic device are 35% more likely to have at least one suicide risk factor.” Research by Brigham Young University indicates that loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity and present a risk for premature mortality.
Nicolas Kardaras in his book, Glow Kids, explained children between the ages of 10 and 17 today will experience nearly one third fewer face-to face interactions with other people throughout they lifetimes as a result of their increasingly electronic culture, at home and in school. He goes on to explain that “an emotional connection is built, however, when eye contact is made during 60-70% of the conversation…the less eye contact, the less a connection is made.” Our kids, teens, and young adults today desperately need the emotional connection that comes from meaningful face-to-face time.
Peter Gray, my favorite researcher on the importance of play, notes a correlation between a decrease in playtime and a rise in major depression, anxiety, and suicide. Gray writes, “If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less.”
As we navigate a season where many playgrounds are closed, sports and team events are cancelled, and other activities are being held virtually, we must be vigilant to monitor the mental and emotional health of the young people in our lives. Reduced emotional connection and increased risks for loneliness and depression are serious threats to the well-being of our young people at this time. We must be proactive to find ways to meet their needs for face-to-face interaction, emotional connection, and healthy activity and play in ways that will allow them to thrive.
The following is a guest article written by Katy White. Katy serves as the director of Goer Experience with GoCorps, where she coaches Gen Z college graduates who are considering how to use their skills to serve globally.
In my work with Generation Z students, I’ve become more and more convinced that Gen Z is poised to make a significant impact on the world. They are innovative thinkers with a desire to usher in change. Yet they face many challenges within themselves and their world. How do we as leaders and mentors help them grow into the world changers God has appointed them to be?
Over the years, I’ve discovered a few best practices to help lead this emerging generation. One of the most important is to engage your students from a coaching mentality. Commonly, mentorship involves the mentor imparting information to the mentee. This is a “download” approach, which involves the mentor spending the majority of the time communicating and the mentee spending the majority of the time listening.
However the coaching mentality flips this script. In a coaching relationship, the communicating primarily comes from the coachee. In a sense, this is an “upload” approach, allowing the student to process with their coach what is going on internally.
Your role as the coach is to create the welcoming space for the coachee to share, guide the conversation to draw out thoughts and ideas, ask questions that lead to opportunities for reflection and realization, actively listen to what is being shared, and reflect back insights the coachee was able to discover and conclusions they were able to reach themselves through the conversation. Practically, as a mentor this should look like spending 30% of the time talking and 70% of the time listening.
Why is this important? The desire to feel understood, I believe, is in all of our natures. Yet in particular, Gen Z has a deep desire to be seen and heard and is strongly motivated by individualization and personalization. When a student feels that you understand who they are, where they are coming from, and what is unique about them, you have earned the trust and authority to challenge, exhort, and encourage them. You are also then able to paint a picture of how God purposes to use them for His kingdom.
How can you accomplish this? First, seek to understand their interests, skills, doubts, fears, dreams, desires, future plans, etc. Then, use reflective words - their language of how they are describing themselves - and connect it to Biblical principles and kingdom purposes.
Learn to be a master at asking questions. Jesus was! Many times Jesus would even answer someone’s question by asking another question. Jesus asked questions to reveal the root of the issue, expose a heart condition, illustrate a kingdom concept, or create a relationship and communicate care.
Do you need help becoming a master questioner? Think of questions as a branch. Start with an easier, straightforward question that then has related questions that branch off to reveal more breadth and depth to an answer. For example, an easy question to begin exploring what a student’s interests is “What is your major?” Branch questions include, “Why did you choose that major? Did you start with that major, or did you switch into it? Why did you switch? Have you enjoyed the degree program? Why or why not? What has been your favorite and least favorite class and why?”
Another example of a starter question is “What has been challenging this week?” Branch questions include “Why was this challenging? Have you faced a similar challenge before? How did you respond? Are you happy with that response? How do you wish you could have responded? What can you do to help you respond in this way next time you face a challenge like this?”
Become a curator of good questions and you will be able to empower this generation to understand more of who they were created to be, recognize and address their fears and challenges, listen the Holy Spirit, and take steps towards fulfilling God unique call on their lives.
As we all watch the unfolding COVID-19 situation, I am struck by the fact that it will undoubtedly be a significant period effect, especially for Generation Z (b. 1996-2012). Period effects are events or circumstances that significantly influence aging cohorts at a point in time. I have been considering how we, as leaders, mentors, teachers, and parents can seize some of the opportunities that it presents for equipping and encouraging the young people in our lives to thrive even amid difficulty.
While there are very real threats and cause for concern with this global pandemic, I am convinced that there are also opportunities that come with adversity and uncertainty. As we consider what they might look like for those of us who engage Gen Z students and young adults, I think there are several important skills that we can focus on modeling and instilling in the young people around us in the days ahead:
Coping with stress, fear, and anxiety
Often we do not fully experience the stress our kids feel, for example, with cyberbullying or the pressure to score well on tests. The COVID-19 situation, however, is one that we are all facing together. It provides a unique opportunity for us to walk alongside the young people in our lives through an uncertain time and model healthy coping strategies and behaviors. Here are a few ways we can do that:
o Talk about what we are feeling and do some fact-based research together to understand what is happening. Discuss how our faith and values help us navigate situations like these.
o Identify productive projects we can focus on if we have unexpected downtime, for example, learning a new skill (ie. playing an instrument, sewing, drawing, cooking), completing an unfinished project, cleaning, organizing, painting, or writing!
o Find ways to enjoy nature and get exercise. This might be discovering a new workout routine, going on a nature walk, riding a bike, or visiting a state park.
o Invest in important relationships and meaningful interactions. Call grandma, video chat with a sibling, or chat with your neighbor.
Guarding what we listen to, watch, and read
There is increasing research that correlates depression and mental distress with social media use. That was before the world found itself battling a pandemic. Scrolling social media and news feeds right now does provide some helpful information and connection, but it can also contribute to anxiety, fear, and frustration. This does not help our emotional and mental health during a crisis. As a result, it can be helpful to set healthy limits. For example, I am limiting my own checking of social media and news to once or twice a day right now. This allows me to catch up on important updates and messages from friends. I am prioritizing other things to read and listen to...my kids, podcasts, and books that have been on my list for a while. These give me valuable information and are feeding my heart and mind with creative ideas and hope. By modeling this, I can also help my kids create healthy guidelines for what to read, watch, and listen to in their extra downtime.
Caring for others
It is easy amid a crisis to get consumed with our own well-being. I don’t know what my children may face in their lifetime, but I want them to be thoughtful, compassionate, and generous regardless of the circumstances. The COVID-19 situation provides many opportunities for us to model and teach these characteristics through our own responses and behaviors.
With the young people in our lives, we can find ways to consider what others need in this difficult time. For example, making cards and gifts for friends in a senior care facility, doing yard work for neighbor, or taking a meal to a shut in. There are many people working hard right now to serve their communities. Find ways to express appreciation; maybe that is simply smiling at the store associate who is working on their day off to stock shelves.
Amid difficult circumstances, it is usually normal people doing selfless and generous acts that helps everyone navigate the adversity. May we equip the young people around us to make that kind of contribution!
The following guest article was written by Josiah Cassellius, a Millennial manager and co-host of The Leading Tomorrow Podcast.
If you have ever looked into retirement investing you have likely come across a term called compounding interest. The earlier you put money into investments, the more you will have over the course of time as the interest compounds and grows your initial investment. If you keep putting money into a good fund, check in on it from time to time to make sure everything is still on course, compounding interest will be a significant reason you have a comfortable retirement.
Unfortunately, many people continually put off beginning those investments, believing they can better utilize the money themselves, and they miss out on those long-term gains. In much the same way, leaders feel the same pressure to simply plug holes today and kick the can of future gains down the road. They see a project that needs to be done quickly and, instead of teaching someone how to do the job, they simply do it themselves, or delegate to an experienced worker. When the same type of problem arises again, and it always does, it requires attention, and the leader again needs to take care of it themselves, taking up their valuable time. If they had followed the early investment strategy, they would have taken short-term losses, but the long-term gains would have increased.
There are promising young people entering organizations every day, talented individuals who simply need a guiding hand to show them the ropes and give them a chance. Unfortunately for many of these young people, there are not enough experienced leaders who are able or willing to sacrifice time in the present to teach them.
When I got my first full-time job, I had the good fortune of finding favor with my manager, and he took time to train me on a handful of tasks, and then he left me to accomplish them. When he returned I had done the work, and had some follow-up questions. This happened over and over until I had a good grasp of most of my area. After that, my manager simply needed to ask me to do something, and a task was accomplished without him needing to be involved, because he had invested in the short-term, he was able to see gains in the long-term.
As leaders we sometimes struggle to believe that someone will be able to learn what we already know, or we believe that we can do it better or faster ourselves, and that it’s not worth the effort to train someone else. When we go this route, we miss something very important: compounding interest. A good leader, like a good investor, will put in some work, and then allow the investment to grow.
While it is important to not interfere with an investments’ growth, it is critical to check in on it from time to time to make sure it is still working as efficiently as possible. Good leaders employ this approach with their followers: they invest in good people and allow them to work unimpeded. They check in with them from time to time and offer appropriate direction and affirmation, make sure they are still on track to meet the stated goals, and encourage them to pass on their knowledge to even newer workers. Using this approach, a good leader can multiply themselves, and find they are doing less work, while getting more results. Their employees or volunteers will be happy because the organization is operating smoothly, and everyone is growing and expanding their skillsets. The earlier the investment into younger leaders begins, the more time they will have to grow, and the greater the return on investment will be.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!