This Monday, I participated in a career day at a neighborhood middle school. There I spoke to a number of eight-graders about where I’m from, my education background, what I do now, but most importantly, my words of wisdom on how to be successful in life: Dream Big, Work Hard, and Give Back. As each 20-minute presentation progressed, I notice that my body language and tone to the students became increasing more intense: I’m turning into that old man who every kid makes fun of behind his back.
Initially, I was very energetic and light with my approach. This wasn’t my first career day and I love doing this and students are normally very receptive. However, this time was different. The students were still students; there was nothing different about career day program. There was a difference in me. For the first time, I was interacting with kids that directly affect me: these students were in my neighborhood. These kids directly affect the future of where I live. Knowing that, I started acting different.
All of a sudden I had a duty, not option, to excel. I can’t just entertain these students; I need to make sure I equip them with as much information in 15-20 minutes as possible so they can be successful in life!!! I need, through osmosis, tell them my life’s struggles, my mistakes, my successes, the struggles of Black America, the responsibility of next generation of leaders, what schools they need to go to, what organizations to join, what they need to do in order to be great people. The students were puzzled. “Why is Mr. Matt so intense?”
It was then that I understood the plight of the Grumpy Old Man. GOMs see something in us we don’t: they see our potential, and how we are not maximizing it. They see all of their mistakes and don’t want the younger generation to fall into the same traps. They are crying out to us, in their own intense, senile way.
How can we as a society successfully marriage the relationship between the”Young Bucks” and the GOMs? I have a theory: If there are more people advocating positive messages to the community, a small population won’t feel the need to overwhelm themselves with the burden to tell everyone what to do, minimizing stress and eliminating the “grumpiness” factor. We, as adults (both young and old), can do that by mentoring a young person, joining organizations (like Big Brothers/Big Sisters), and showing our young people what it means to be a positive contribution to society.
“If you continually give, you will continually have.”