I spent my Saturday talking to teens about my current job and my experiences in college. The experience was very rewarding and I encourage folks to do similar activities. In addiiton to community service looking good on a resume and giving you a warm tingly feeling all over, working with young people provides an opportunity to get some clarity on what kind of work you do and why you do it. You end up reflecting and learning more about yourself without even trying.

1. You have to think outside of the box: Aside from the fact that young people often think they are oh-so-special and unique, many young people haven’t been required to filter down their interests into one path. They are more likely to demonstrate a variety of interests and are eager to participate in activities that allow them to explore those interests. As a result when talking to them about my career choices, I have to think of how my field is inviting to different kinds of people.

The nice thing about working in nonprofits is that this isnt difficult–the sheer size and diversity of the field makes it easier to attract different people. How may someone who is interested in business keep up with their passion for painting? What opportunities exist for someone who likes kids but doesnt want to teach? The issue of work-life balance is a concern, even in high school!

2. You have to be simple and straightforward: Kids dont like jargon. Period. It’s not impressive, it’s irritating. You’re more likely to hear “Why is she talking like that?” as opposed to “Oh she’s so smart!” And with short attention spans, you have to be on point and keep the conversation flowing and relevant. A huge change from professional meetings and conferences where jargon and random anecdotes are the norm. Because of the fact that I need to be more to the point, I have to choose my words carefully to get my point across. What are key ideas about my field that they should come away with?

3. You have to explain your choices. Why did you pick that major? Why are you doing that job? Why did you leave NYC for Philadelphia? Why did you go to South Africa? Why, why. why, why, with an occasional “how” thrown in for follow up. These questions ask that you think about the choices you have made and why you have made them. Sometimes the answers aren’t pleasant. To be honest, coming into college much of what I did was based on what I thought I was “supposed to do.” However, other decisions, like spending 9 months in South Africa, were made for personal reasons and have turned out to be good for my professional development as well. What’s my motivation?

It’s these kinds of experiences that make me miss working with young people. This is one of many instances where the students really taught me.

I had an amazing time volunteering with Let’s Get Ready! They are always looking for people to donate their time and talent to help young people explore and reach their goals. They do work in NY, PA, NJ, MA, and CT, so if you want to help out, shoot them an email!