For the sixth year in a row, I spent spring break in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with a bunch of college-aged men. If you remember back to your college spring breaks, it was all of that and then some. The "all of that" is pretty self-explanatory; it's the "then some" that's most unusual. The American Leadership Academy (www.ALACabo.org) is based there and with a goal of "training tomorrow's leaders today" it's an organization I'm proud to be affiliated with. The ALA is the brainchild of Jerry Nelson, a 78-year-young serial entrepreneur who, among his many exploits, started Ticketmaster and found water in Scottsdale, Arizona, before the city was developed.
In 2008, the ALA will introduce more than 700 young men to industry leaders, scientists, motivational speakers, and successful entrepreneurs -- all there to share the life lessons they've learned outside the classroom. Where were these kinds of programs when we were going to school?!
Whatever information I give each year, I get back just as much, if not more, from these young men. As much as I try to stay hip and cool -- and even though I'm only 37 and college seems not that long ago -- the generation gap is ever present. I've seen professional speakers who are used to motivating rooms full of other middle-aged business people bumble over words they've spoken many times before, semi-paralyzed at addressing a t-shirt wearing, sandal clad, next generation. As unusual a situation as it is for many of the speakers, however, it is even more unusual for the young men eager to hear things they probably never heard in school or at home.
What they hear is exactly the kind of stuff all kids should get a chance to hear -- one generation talking to the next on lessons of life, love, and regret; on victories and defeats; on getting up after you fall -- all dished out from the same real world these men will soon be facing. And as impossible as it is to summarize with one word exactly what it is they get out of these sessions, I'd say "confidence" comes close -- confidence that with the right attitude, the hard work needed to succeed at whatever endeavor they pursue, and the ability to dream big and then stretch to get there, yes, it's possible they too can succeed. Their ears, their minds, and their hearts need to know this, and you can just feel the positive energy throughout the sessions. I always leave charged by that energy and feeling good that I played a small part in generating it.
Here's where the business part comes in. Many of the people who work with me at Aquascape and with you at your companies are the same age as the ones who go through the ALA each year. Why deprive them of the important thoughts, words, and feelings their minds, hearts, and souls so desperately need? If there's one thing almost everyone from our younger generation needs to hear from us, it's the encouragement and confidence to believe in themselves. They might be as scary to us with their iPod rocking ways as we are to them, but it's our genuine interest in them that just might give them the confidence they lack in themselves to make their dreams a reality.
So, the next time you're riding that young worker for yet another mistake, take a step back and think about yourself at 20-something and what it is you know now that you didn't then. Then share it! It just might make all the difference in the world. For both of you.