I’m in the middle of a radio tour for my new book, Crew: Finding Community When Your Dreams Crash. Out of these interviews, I’ve begun to articulate a few key points about my book, my story and my research.
The first is: Young adults are facing very real social and economic obstacles that their parents never had to face.
Secondly: How do we, as those who love a young adult, or ourselves a young adult, walk with someone who is currently shipwrecking on the rocks of adult life?
I’ve come up with a list of five questions based on my research in young adult identity development to ask every young adult struggling with the very real challenges of modern American life. These questions can help move them beyond the black and white thinking of adolescence and into the more individuated stages of self-authorship. Big thanks to Marcia Baxter Magolda’s work. Much of my research comes from her studies. You can read all about her books here.
Here are the questions:
1. What do you need right now?
This question forces us, the companion, to stop and listen. Sometimes, we come at our young adult’s problems with all sorts of fixes, but we will never help them get anywhere as long as we are focussed on what we want to tell them. The key is to stop and listen to what they think they need.
This question offers a second perk in that it forces our young adult to reflect on their own state of being. Being able to say what they need entails a level of critical thinking and self-awareness that helps move them toward reflection and self-authorship.
2. How are you taking care of yourself right now?
Again, it is so, so important to help our young adults begin to think critically about their own stories. Sometimes, when we are shipwrecked, we are tossed around on the waves of distress and stop taking care of our most basic physical and emotional needs.
Forcing our young adults to step back and look at themselves through the lens of this question helps them to start owning their mental and physical health. From there, they can start to turn outward and solve the problems that are stacking up around them.
3. What things about your shipwreck can you control? What things are beyond your control?
Once they’ve begun to take care of themselves, now they have the mental, emotional and physical reserve to start addressing the problems, and obstacles facing them. The next step is to come to terms with what they can control and what they can’t. Once they can break down the obstacles in this way, the overall mountain of the problem can start to look more and more manageable.
The point here, as their Good Company, is not to fix what is out of control for them, but to collaborate with them on what they can control.
4. What are you keeping as important to the “essence” of you during this shipwreck?
And here is the coup de grace of all questions. We ask our young adults what they are doing to preserve the “essence” of themselves because the entire point of being good company is to help them become Self-Authored. Marcia Baxter Magolda coined this term and has done years of studies around helping young adults learn to become self-realized adults. Some amazing books of hers to check out are: Authoring Your Life and Making Their Own Way.
5. Who can you identify as supportive partners in your Shipwreck? What are they doing that’s helping you own your own story?
Finally, no young adult can make it through their twenties and early thirties alone. While they may feel totally isolated and abandoned, this can often times be more a result of their physiological responses to difficulty and distress than actual reality.
First of all, they have you! You’re there asking them these wonderful questions, but also, they need to think critically not just about their own well-being, and self-authorship, but who they are inviting to walk with them on this journey through shipwreck to home.