GOING OFF THE RAILS (January 15, 2018)

A train that’s off its tracks isn’t going anywhere. A Vision Camp can align you with the life track that you want to be on.

Young people losing their direction, going off the rails, is a serious concern, and not just for the individuals themselves and their families. For example, in the UK a group of fifty charities assessed that the lack of early intervention for those who start to lose their way costs the economy over £17BN (US $23BN) each year. In many Western countries university dropout rates are reaching record highs as a combination of high tuition fees and uncertainty over the future of the employment market take their toll; a Harvard University study in 2012 found that only 56% of USA college and university freshmen finished their degree, an astonishing wastage (and waste).

What then can be done to prevent our young people from losing direction in this way? It’s a burning question if we are to maximize the potential of these most precious assets in our society. I would argue that from a young age we need to help children and young adults establish their vision and set out the principles with which they are going to approach the adult world. I call this “being on mission,” and it’s why I have set up my Vision Camps for young people, specifically to help them establish, clarify and strategize their future path.

Once a young person has established his or her vision, values and mission in this way they are much less likely to go off the rails, for the simple reason that they have laid down the track for themselves. They won’t be running along anyone else’s track, with all the frustrations and resentments that journey can carry. The Cambridge academic Terri Alter, who has studied the issues related to university dropout rates, describes 18 to 24-year-olds as “thresholders”; by that she means many of them live their lives close to the edge, where it doesn’t take much for things to go wrong. She found this particularly to be the case at university, where the sudden freedom, coupled with the need for self-discipline in a world less regimented than high school, can often be difficult to cope with. In my camps I aim to remove that risk by helping young people have their direction mapped out by themselves, with expert assistance, before they ever get close to that threshold.

We do this in many ways, by playing games, by having debates, by having intense one-to-one counseling sessions, sometimes just by chatting over dinner. Through a combination of formal and informal interventions, always allowing the young person to lead when they wish, we have found that they leave us with a newfound sense of purpose, ambition and, most importantly, a plan of how to realize the dreams they’ve articulated to us. It’s my long held belief that there isn’t enough emphasis on this sort of preparation for life in the education system, and that too frequently we are asking young people to make a leap in the dark as they approach adulthood. Hopefully by establishing the desired direction of travel and the means of getting there we can minimize the risk of mishaps and instead send our youngsters full speed ahead down the track to fulfillment and success.

This article also appears on Mark’s home webpage, Mark McGregor Leadership Center GMBH.