Want to learn about next generation? Talk to them

I didn’t know what to expect as a 30-year-old back at a boarding high school.

The opportunity to attend English and Theatre classes again, as well as dance rehearsal for “Godspell,” would clearly result in a lot of nostalgic fun. But I was still slightly unsure as to why I was selected to speak about my career to students at Blair Academy in Blairstown, from which I graduated more than a decade ago.

I wasn’t a celebrity actor, author or athlete, a CEO of a thriving tech company, or even a volunteer with the Peace Corps.

What could my story teach them? Why did it matter? Would I be enough?

Well, in speaking about my current and past lives to students currently attending Blair, I found I learned just as much (if not more) from them as they could have learned from me.

Which is exactly the reason why I think more schools should create an Alumni Roundtable Series such as this one.

We’ve currently got five generations in the workplace, the older of whom tend to stay in their lane while climbing the corporate ladder, and then, increasingly so, the younger of whom choose to jump off the ladder completely.

Here’s why:

Up-and-coming youth are often not being heard and included in much more than coffee runs and notetaking. That is a disastrous mistake — one these sorts of informal, multigenerational discussions could help to change.

For example, I thought I would talk more with students about the importance and challenges of the ever-present news cycle — instead, I found myself listening to incredibly well-informed students (on both sides of the political aisle) carefully and respectfully dissecting and analyzing it over their family-style dinner.

I imagined I might mention my research into manufacturing when discussing lucrative career paths students could pursue — until a busy senior took time out of her day to show me the new Chiang Center of Innovation and Collaboration, complete with 3D printers and a heavily-utilized robotics laboratory.

I had anticipated students asking me what my day-to-day was like as a business journalist — yet, while they did ask insightful, career-driven questions, they tended to home in more on who I was as a person, and not simply what I did for work.

Speaking with these teenagers about successfully pursuing and incorporating one’s passions into their work, while also encouraging and guiding them on how to pursue entrepreneurial ventures as they looked toward college, reminded me of who I was when I was their age, and how far I have yet to go.

But these “kids” are smarter than we are. They often know exactly what it is they want from the workforce, and how to get it. Their curiosity and ability to network impressed me beyond belief, and I, for one, left our discussion invigorated.

Still, my day did not stop there, as the level of intelligence, perseverance and creativity does not stop with private boarding schools, either.

When I returned home that evening, I helped my tween brother design his own business cards to distribute around his neighborhood, as he explained to me how he wanted to market his winter snow removal services to grow clientele.

I am incredibly excited for the future of work, knowing that, as millennials accept more positions of leadership, these are the employees we can hire — and continue to learn from.