Every four years, the worldwide calendar reminds us of a secret.
Leaping powers innovation, it is the engine of not only our economy, but of a thrilling and generous life.
–Seth Godin, Blog
So my question that follows is “Are the other three years failing because they don’t leap?” Yes, yes it’s rhetorical, because we know that the other years have actually leapt about a quarter of a day each. We don’t have an effective way to measure that with our calendar other than to ignore, and then recognize it on the fourth year. Now I’m no expert on the calendar or the measurement of time, or all that much really for that matter. And at the same time I do believe there’s a metaphor in there for Emerging Adults.
I’m still having trouble with the term “Failure to Launch” (see my last blog: http://onwardtransitions.com/blog/) and would ask you to think about this process like we do Leap Year. 2015 wasn’t a failure because it didn’t have a 365th day. It got somewhere. It accomplished some things. Probably not all that we hoped it would, but there was some progress. Some backpedaling for sure, but also progress.
Likewise, undergraduate programs are typically structured on a four-year schedule. Some of us take more time, some take less. But we don’t look at sophomores as college failures simply because they don’t have a degree after year two. We trust in the process, and recognize they are moving forward towards an outcome that is on the horizon. An outcome that is easily defined, measured and communicated to the masses: BA, BS, BFA, BSW, we know what it is, we can read the letters on the diploma. Being an adult and performing like one is different and less concrete than being a college graduate.
Having the piece of paper in hand from Positive State University may be part of the “Launch”, but does it define someone as an adult? Research (personally I like the work of Jeffrey Jensen Arnett) has shown us that there are multiple criteria for being viewed as and viewing yourself as an adult (career attainment, financial independence, accepting personal responsibility, building life-long relationships, equal footing with parents, etc.) There really isn’t a degree program for these variables, just a whole lot of experience, demonstration and follow-through.
So maybe someone has tried to get out of the basement two or three times, or had two challenging goes of it in post-secondary school. Maybe things were learned along the way, and they actually became more proficient at some things as they emerged from each launch out into the adult world. And then the same types of themes brought about the same types of struggles, and they needed to go back to the drawing board.
Friend and colleague Jake Weld, from the Mansfield Hall program on the campus of the University of Vermont, describes it beautifully when he talks about some folks needing a “longer runway” for their launches. So maybe we shouldn’t look solely at the takeoff as the measurement tool. Let’s think about the tarmac and how icy and crowded it might be. Let’s consider the types of air traffic controllers who are overseeing the journey after takeoff. And after all, if we stick with the metaphor, we’re really talking about multiple launches probably to multiple destinations.
So to bring it back, the problem is not with launch, it’s with the word “failure.” Jake might encourage us all to see that the launch is emerging from the longer runway. Can you fail to emerge? Maybe. But I think it’s more likely that it will just be prolonged. There might not be a whole lot to brag about when it comes to an emerging adult on a long runway, at least in measurable terms. But it could be that the last experience helped them leap one quarter closer to where they really are trying to get to. We leap forward and backward throughout our lifetimes. Maybe those leaps are critical to each of our ensuing launches.
I promise I won’t try to measure yours.
Let’s talk soon,