I started working in human services when I was in high school and apart from a year and a bit, I have spent my entire career working in nonprofits. The profession has changed a great deal and in many ways the world seems much smaller now than when I began. Computers were only for the rich and or well connected then, now it seems everyone has one and with that connectivity we can communicate across the globe and do so much more than we had ever imagined.
My generation is getting a bit older though we are not close to retirement. The hair is not as thick as when we started and wrinkles are immigrating in great numbers but we are still on top of our faculties and on top of our game. So many of my generation seem to think that the current generation is weaker than we ever were, that they whine, complain and are lazy. Some refuse to hire them, others take little interest in them and do little to help them learn their craft. As for me, well, I’m in the majority that realizes that they are our future and I will do everything I can to see them succeed. After all, if they win, we all do.
Sometimes we must take pause and think about our career and how we can pass the torch to the next generation. Will it be upon our death; at our retirement, or will it be in phases? To me, phases can be the most efficient way to prepare them. I’d like to think we are leaving big shoes to fill after all, so why not let them grow into them gradually?
I remember how hard it was when I clawed my way into the field. I remember the nicknames “puppy, Bambi, newbie” and a host of others. Some were said in jest, some with derision as they felt that though I had the same degrees or more than they had that I had not earned my way in. My generation was lazy as well in their eyes. Still, we persisted and now many of us are the leaders that we once worked hard to impress.
The other day marked a milestone in that I did my last session in the first office I had in the nonprofit I founded. I remember opening it as I was finishing up on my doctorate. How we lacked even a fax machine at the start and found our furniture at estate sales, flea markets, hand me downs etc. The office was very crude in those days with even a subtle breeze causing the old single pane glass to rattle. We painted it to make it look nice and even refreshed the floors but that glass needed to wait a while until we could replace it. Over the years we grew and eventually bought a 2nd building and rehabbed it. I kept the first office as we already owned it and wondered if my son would ever want it. I split my week at one office or the next while he went to graduate school and got the post grad hours that he needed to be credentialed. He has that now. He has been working elsewhere for several years actually. I will go to the new office while he will get his chance in my updated older one.
My last session was uneventful. I said good night, finished my paperwork and then took a minute to look around. I remembered the day when most everything in that office was put in place. I remember the younger man’s clothes and my visions for the future. I remember him graduating High School, starting college, graduating again and going through grad school and entering the field. He became a man during the years I worked in this office. While I have no idea where my son will go I know he wants to work with me in that office for a few hours to start. Maybe he will one day run the charity, maybe he will only work a few hours for a bit and then move on, or he may just work a few hours and never progress beyond. We simply do not know. I do know however that I want him to have the best chance at success that he can have. I did the same when my wife decided to enter the field as well.
So as I start to pack up the many treasures that I have collected over the years, patch the nail holes and begin to paint this office so it becomes not a hand me down but a fresh start, I will get the benefit of watching him come into his own. The color of the office may change, the outlooks will have a younger set of eyes perhaps but the desire to make a real and lasting change will remain.
He is not trying to be me, no more than I tried to be my mentor. Out of all my furniture he has said that he would like to keep my craftsman style desk. Gone will be the barrister bookcases and my favorite leather couch. So too will be my favorite nick knacks and paintings. He will have his own style, just as he will have his own favorite techniques.
We will not have to totally remove the name from the door as I gave him my own at birth. The letters after it will differ some.
That’s the thing about handing off to the next generation. We cannot expect that they will become younger versions of ourselves even if they carry our DNA and name. We cannot expect that they will do what we did or like what we like. Truth be told, I never encouraged my son to join this field and when we told me he was thinking of entering the field I sat him down and gave him ever reason not to. Once done I asked him if he was still interested and when he said he was I replied “good, now let me tell you every reason why you should.”
To all those that are entering the field I wish you the very best of luck and hope that you have or will have mentors that embrace you and help you grow strong in life and in the field. For those like me, that are well into their careers, I encourage you to embrace the next generation now, not later. Nourish them and nurture their development in the field regardless if the generation before us did the same.
It doesn’t take a lot to help. You can:
- Take on interns if you have not been doing so.
- Share your favorite books, techniques or tricks of the trade.
- Write about your field to share information to others.
- Share your triumphs and how you got them.
- Share your mistakes and how you could have prevented them.
- Share your time, be there for them when they need you, and when they could just use a friendly face.
- Listed to them, their ideas, dreams and general desires without judgement but do offer them constructive feedback.
- Let them know the importance of competence and ethical behavior but also let them know that they WILL make mistakes and when they do, how they handle it will make all the difference.
- Stress the need for self-care even if you are weak in this area.
- Let them develop their own voice while also teaching them the value of listening.
- Share your space with them as possible. Let them learn to fly in an atmosphere that allows them to land safely.
- Let them go when it’s time, just as they will need to let you go one day.
- Embrace the change; embrace the future and accept that we will not be here forever.
As the end of our working days become closer than the beginning, how we embrace those that will define our profession can make all the difference. Leave a mark on the next generation now while you have the time to see it grow. We are all in this together.
”Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He can be contacted at [email protected] He is internationally certified as a counsellor and counsellor supervisor (USA & Canada). *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA