Branding as a Bridge to Adulthood

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David Brooks’ recent op-ed, Mis-Educating the Young, is a must-read for young people, parents, and teachers alike.

I’ve featured the sections that merit further reflection and compel us to action.

Brooks writes, “Childhood is more structured than it has ever been. But then the great engine of the meritocracy spits people out into a young adulthood that is less structured than it has ever been.” …

And how do we as a society prepare young people for this uncertain phase? We pump them full of vapid but haunting praise about how talented they are and how their future is limitless. Then we send them (the most privileged of them) to colleges where the professors teach about what interests the professors. Then we preach a gospel of autonomy that says all the answers to the deeper questions in life are found by getting in touch with your “true self,” whatever the heck that is.

I used to think that the answer to the traumas of the 20s was patience. Life is long. Wait until they’re 30. They’ll figure it out. Now I think that laissez-faire attitude trivializes the experiences of young adulthood and condescends to the people going through them. ….

Before, there were social structures that could guide young adults as they gradually figured out the big questions of life. Now, those structures are gone. Young people are confronted by the existential questions right away. They’re going to feel lost if they have no sense of what they’re pointing toward, if they have no vision of the holy grails on the distant shore.”

We must confront the systemic problems posed by an industrial model of education that is far too disconnected from the world at large. Young people have to learn to validate their worth and success in a world without grades. They have to make important choices and solve problems that look completely different than problem-sets and assignments in school. Emerging adults no longer have established life-time career choices ahead of them and the markers of adulthood are increasingly difficult to attain.

The “storm and stress” that psychologist Erik Erikson characterized as part of identity development in adolescence seems to span well into one’s twenties - taking a psychological toll on young people as they attempt to simultaneously establish their adult and professional identities. Moreover, young people are expected to face these huge burdens and transitions from an inadequate educational system to the “real world” on their own. 

We can and should do better to support young people find transference between school and life, while providing them with strategies for identity development, connection, and skills acquisition. 

Although the term is certainly off-putting, I believe that personal brand coaching is at least part of the solution to the disconnection felt by young people. 

A skilled personal brand coach will, in the words of Simon Sinek, start with why to help young people develop their personal mission statement and develop meaning and purpose. A skilled personal brand coach with help 20-somethings translate their academic skills and accomplishments to the skills and characteristics sought after by employers. A skilled personal brand coach can help young people channel their energy and skill-set into the most worthy problems to solve. A personal brand coach will help young people connect to leaders in their fields and teach young people how to acquire technical skills and become lifelong learners after one’s formal education has come to an end. 

We live in a country that massively favors entitlements for seniors (Social Security and Medicare) over investments (education spending, for example) in our young people. 

If we care about helping our young people thrive in adulthood, we should care about how they fare in their twenties. Personal branding is just one answer to the many challenges facing young people today.

Meredith Goddard