With so much lamentation about the youth of today, it was encouraging to experience a fresh perspective on our future leaders, one that will restore your faith in humanity. I sat on a panel for our Congressional District where we interviewed candidates for the United States Service Academy nominations.
I reviewed each of the applicant’s resumes two weeks prior and was astounded by their many accomplishments. The panel took twenty minutes to speak with each candidate, asking a series of questions, and I took note of the recurring themes that defined these future leaders…
Adversity: When asked if they thought they learned more from success or adversity, 9 out of 10 of them replied adversity. I’m that I had figured that out by age 18. They all realized the role of struggle and challenge in making them better individuals. This was not a group of babies with the silver spoons still in their mouths. Some came from single-parent homes, blue-collar backgrounds, working as hard as they could in the public school system. As one candidate so aptly said, “Success could be just luck. Adversity motivates me to improve.”
Mentoring: They each had someone in their lives who guided them when they were younger. For some it was an uncle who served, for others it was a school counselor who praised them for their leadership potential. Never underestimate the role you can have in developing a future leader. Robert Frost said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” Somewhere along the line, someone awakened the seeds of greatness in these individuals, giving them a desire to develop themselves to the fullest.
Discipline: Show me what a person does with their idle time and I’ll show you where they’ll be in twenty years. Each of these candidates had a resume more robust than most adults. They served on sport teams, in academic societies, in community activities. They ran fund raisers, mentored younger students, and worked a variety of jobs. To say these young people were hard workers would be an understatement. If idle hands are the tools of the devil, this group is nothing but divine. As one commented, “I try to keep my schedule full in all areas of my life.”
The closing question was, “why should we chose you over the other candidates?” My favorite answer was this: “I can’t speak for the others; I’m sure they’re all very highly qualified. All I can speak for is myself and tell you that I have done the very best I can and am ready to serve.” So next time you lament the millennials, remember this next batch of leaders on the horizon. The one thing we can all do for them is to take the time to encourage their greatness and model the discipline they’ll need to be the best of the best. And if we do just this, I can assure you the kids will be more than alright; they’ll be tremendous!