It's sad, but it's true. The sad part isn't that there are people out there that need role models...we've always needed role models. That's part of the reason why I dedicated an entire book the to subject. Whether you're 13 or 43 years of age, having a role model can be instrumental in your development as a human being regardless of if you're talking about as a son or a dad, a student or a professional, a thinker or a doer.
I recently heard "Y-Size Your Business" author Jason Ryan Dorsey speak about the differences between Baby Boomers (mid '40s to early '60s) and Gen X (early-to-mid '60s to late '70s) and Gen Y (late '70s-to-early '80s to 1995 [the last year you could be born and comprehend Sept. 11th according to Dorsey]) and the thing that I kept thinking back to was the fact that 18 years old isn't the age by which Americans become adults anymore.
But you could strongly argue that there's never been a time in history where the most role-model-needy group in America are 24-year-olds.
- I'm a part of the first generation that didn't know how it felt to drink legally before age 21.
- I'm a part of a generation that sends 80% of its college graduates back home with their parents instead of into the job market.
- I'm a part of a generation that grew up with MTV and ESPN...the two networks most responsible for reducing the need for anyone to read books or newspapers as a source of infotainment because we've had Real World and Jersey Shore for our sexual education and laughs and SportsCenter prevents us from, say, having to watch an entire baseball game.
- I'm a part of a generation that has seen how important political participation can be (e.g. Barack Obama) while also seeing how sensationalized political engagement has become (e.g. Fox News).
- I'm a part of a generation that counts Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z and Tyler Perry as national black icons. All impressive and respected individuals in their own right, but certainly no Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s and Ella Baker's in that bunch. And Keith Olbermann is no Edward Murrow.
- I'm a part of a generation that saw our parents get divorced at an all-time high rate and is "paying it forward" to the next generation by waiting longer to get married and have kids, if at all.
- I'm a part of a generation that switches majors in college and switches jobs every couple of years and still expect success to come overnight. Why? Because we grew up hearing about how Bill Gates didn't even graduate from college. And LeBron didn't even go!
- I'm a part of a generation that has seen the greatest achievements in film (Spielberg? Hanks?), music (Michael Jackson), sports (Michael Jordan) and technology (the Internet) but doesn't even understand how to qualify what a great achievement is in civic leadership, literature and politics.
- I'm a part of a generation that has seen more gender equality than ever before in the academic and professional aspects of life while allowing something like "hook-up culture" to put women in an entirely different, but still inferior, position when it comes to social dynamics.
- I'm a part of a generation that found out about Sept. 11th, Hurricane Katrina and bin Laden's death within minutes thanks to the Internet, while having that news given equal traction in the airwaves as Charlie Sheen's tirade, Lindsay Lohan's breakdown and Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.
These things don't directly point to the need for role models. What they point to is a need for clarity about the world today. The problem is, role models are typically people older than us. People of a different generation. So they can't possibly understand our day-to-day challenges and dilemnas, pop culture and technology the way someone within our generation could. So rather than reach down to offer a helping hand or mentoring session, they reach into our pockets for marketing success and into our minds via political trickery.
We're six years older, but we're just as amendable and gullible as previous generation's 18-year olds. We're sold on college as a way into the professional world, sex as a way into marriage and Facebook as a way into friendship. Previous generations were sold on manufacturing as a means to financial stability, political activism as a way to effect change, and credit cards and mortgages as a way to legitimize one's self-worth.
What's needed isn't just role models from Gen X to educate those of us from Gen Y. Besides, there are 80 million of us and not that many of you. What's needed is role models within Gen Y who can share best practices with others within our generation. People of our generation want to do it on their own, but they also want to know how others did it on their own. We're not great at giving credit to others, but we're great at stealing from those worthy of getting credit.
That's why people like Donald Glover, Shelby Knox, Levi Maestro, Tea Obrecht, Natalie Portman and Derrick Rose are worth paying attention to. Their boundlessness, passion, energy, words, beauty and humility are all characteristics we should aspire to have but are never sure how to attain. Once we can start figuring this out and helping ourselves, we can better understand how to take advantage of the help other generations have to offer.
Up next...how the Black community isn't all that different from 24-year-olds...maybe.