How to Be a Better Twentysomething

5 things generations before you wish you knew now.

I admit it—I’m old. By 57, I’ve managed to become a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, health care executive and doctoral student from the “I can have it all” generation of women.

Now, I finally realize I am tiring myself out. Upon reflection, I see the new Millennial generation coming up from behind with so much energy and enthusiasm, ready to take over for me. That's a good thing—a promise for the future. I admire you for all your independence, your adventurous nature, your strong faith, your command over communication and your desire for balanced, meaningful lives. At the same time, I remain cautious on your behalf as you come of age in an expansive world in which there are seemingly no boundaries.

As you venture forth, here is my wish list for you to do well.

1) I wish you would make friends with your elders.

Even though you may think we have no idea what is going on or what the world is about, there's nothing like experience and someone to share it with you. We know that no matter the specifics of your surroundings, issues or particular problems, everything comes down to how we relate to one another, to ourselves and to God. We have a lot to share with you about life that spans the diverse width of your circumstances and ours in different generations. Take us up on it—it can't hurt to ask.

2) I wish you would cultivate more slowed down, offline time.

We know you have little patience for delays or system failures when you’re trying to be productive, but those of us who have walked a few more miles know that sometimes God works in ways we don’t predict. The faltering Internet connection on your laptop at the airport can be a life-altering gift to the grief-stricken woman sitting next to you when suddenly you are inspired to share your life in Christ. That hard drive crash can be two days you spend cleaning up your mother’s garden, reconnecting with the smell and feel of the earth, earning the praise from your mother (that never gets old) and the irreplaceable feeling of getting a job done. Patience remains a virtue, still.

We would like you to appreciate that we worked hard to build what exists so far and that we have considerable sweat equity invested in it.

3) I wish you would talk to me without checking your phone.

We get the fact that your lifestyle is one of instant and continual contact, no matter what you are doing, where you are or who you are with. This constant, nomadic connection allows you to efficiently blend your day, creating a mix of working, shopping and relating to others via text—all happening interchangeably and often simultaneously.

While it is possible to do this, maybe it’s a bit overdone. Turn off the cell phone during meals and relate face to face. Look into my eyes. Feel the squirm of discomfort in being seen by me as well as experiencing the impact your words are having on me. Learn to be intimate and authentic in person. Anything you can say over a text is an entirely different experience waiting for you if you say it while looking into another’s eyes. Trust me.

4) I wish you would expect to work your way up the ladder (a little).

We know you are faster, brighter, quicker and masterful multi-taskers like none other. We know you also don’t want to work 80 hours a week because balance in life is critical to you. At the same time, you expect to make more than we do and start out of college with very high-paying jobs.

This is admirable and very much in keeping with your high expectations and abilities. Yet until your generation rules the world, you still have to work with people who are not going to hand over the keys to the kingdom to the untried and untested. We would like you to appreciate that we worked hard to build what exists so far and that we have considerable sweat equity invested in it. We get that you are experimental learners and quick on the uptake, but this still does not replace experience. Expect to have to get some until you are in charge and can do it however you see fit.

We have a lot to share with you that you would find helpful about life that spans the diverse width of your circumstances and ours in different generations.

5) I wish you would teach us what it’s like to be you.

You are inheriting a world so full of choices, where we saw only duty that was necessarily undertaken to raise you. You love all kinds of music; we were stuck with rock, classical or maybe a little country. You are digital natives, fully conversant in all manner of technology and media and manage it effortlessly, while many of us don’t even do email. You stand up for yourselves, making it known that there ought to be a better system, a better way to do something, and then you do it. We focus on trying to make the best use of what exists to get the job done. In other words, we have something to learn from you too.

Mentor us—since mentoring is a relationship of learning on both sides. We can learn what you experience, see and want from life and the world you live in, and maybe even change for the better ourselves.

Many are quick to point out the generational differences between us—of which there are many. But all differences aside, my biggest wish for you is that you’ll thrive—taking up the strengths of the generations before you and pairing them with innovative qualities of your own.