Not long ago, I sent out an email blast to as many educators across Canada as I could.
The email contained THIS link to a free gap year planning resource. I hoped that this resource would be useful to many young people in taking a meaningful step towards a purposeful gap year. The message generated lots of feedback, including this message from Denis, an educator:
You've got to be kidding, organizing a gap year defeats its purpose, I took 3 or 4 gap years before university, unsubscribe me from this. Actually I will! I can't see this venture working but hey it's a crazy world!
My first thought was: this person interacts with our young people on a daily basis? I felt very unsettled by the possibility of this close-mindedness being imparted to our future leaders.
My second thought was: bulletin board material.
This email now hangs on the wall of my office, and acts as a great reminder of the hard work we need to do to combat this close-mindedness in our society.
Fortunately, it hangs right next to another response I received from a dedicated educator at the other end of the country the very same day.
I wanted to introduce myself, my name is Amanda and I work with youth ages 16-20. One of the initiatives I am working on is a GAP year strategy to help youth by providing some guidance and direction about what a non-academic learning year could look like. I came across your PDF GAP year planning guide and I just wanted to take a minute to reach out.
I think the GUIDE is excellent and hits on all the areas I have been presenting on. I just wanted to thank you for your time, and thank you for this great resource!
Amanda’s positivity provided wonderful relief following Denis’ note. It felt like the emotional equivalent of aloe on a sunburn - cool, tender and rejuvenating. I have, however, suffered many burns to my ego that did not get such immediate relief. While those experiences stung, I am very grateful for them. They each played an important role in helping me use Denis’ email as fuel, rather than seeing it as a hole in my gas tank.
How would I have perceived the message from Denis had I not already bounced back from many failures in my life to this point? I really don’t know. Chances are, I probably never would have sent the document out across Canada to being with, fearful of this kind of feedback.
We all get feedback every day – through words, body language, and, sadly, often silence. When I founded MentorU and Discover Year, people told me things like “You’re crazy to give up your pension to start a business” or “You can’t make a living working with students in Canada – nobody will pay you.”
What if I had not built up a solid understanding of my authentic interests, values, strengths and skills over the past 20 years since I left high school?
I might have listened to them (insert body shudder).
Feedback is so crucial to our personal development and to helping us achieve our goals. Equally as important is learning how to separate and compartmentalize the junk from the treasure. It’s like that man strolling along the beach with a metal detector, seeking out the coins and valuables.
Adolescence and early adulthood - if properly attended to - act as a mechanic, constantly tinkering and refining our metal detectors, so that we can differentiate the gold coin in the sand from the worthless bottle cap.
We all come across bottle caps and coins every day. An inability or unwillingness to take stock and sort them effectively leads to a lack of self-awareness. Taking action to analyze, understand and compartmentalize them leads to greater self-confidence and resilience – foundational skills for developing a purposeful, fulfilling life.
We also have an assortment of valuable coins and worthless items in our own minds that we can share with others. Deciding what to give them and what to throw in the trash is equally as important a skill – one that has serious implications for our health and well-being.
Flipping our bottle caps at others is easy – the caps are useless to us, and it often feels good to ditch the extra weight. Unfortunately, this habit leads to a life filled with judgment, stress and strained relationships.
Giving away our coins is hard. It takes work and requires us to step outside of our comfort zone in many cases. Gold coins are sometimes positive and sometimes constructive. What makes them valuable is that they are offered in a spirit of generosity and genuineness, rather than defensiveness and derision. Sharing these coins consistently leads to a life filled with trusting, loving relationships – a critical component in human flourishing.
So thank you, Denis for your bottle cap. I have compartmentalized it, and will use it as a reminder of the importance of our work at MentorU and Discover Year.
And thank you, Amanda, for your gold coin. Your students and your organization are lucky to have you. It was great chatting with you and I look forward to collaborating in the future to help young people create purposeful lives for themselves. I have a pile of gold coins waiting for you.