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Young Man

Young Man. Every male has been called this at different times throughout their lives. I have learned that Young Man has many meanings. More than a statement, it is a cultural glue. And, as a 50+ year old, I think I finally know how important it is.

When I was in 2nd grade, my father was the tribal leader for my Indian Guides tribe (remember, this was a long time ago!). We learned how to build a fire, make tools we needed to complete tasks, support our fellow "Indian", and serve our community. Our tribal leaders told us that this is part of being a young man, being able to take care of ourselves and serve others.

As a middle school boy, I recall us being called "young men" by my basketball coach. It was a call to us, to learn discipline and hard work, to respect teammates, and work together. I felt differently when called a "young man". It was an aspiration. Something ahead of me that I was to think about.

When I grew as a teenager, manhood evolved. High school is a time of learning your place in the world. For me, I was tested in physical strength through sports. Something about competing physically is energizing. That's where respect is earned in a way that can only occur in the presence of your male peers. It brings a confidence that is a part of the transition to becoming a man. The same thing occurred when I started dating "young ladies". In my life, I had parents (mine, my friends, at church) who modelled real manhood. Show respect. Open doors for women. Assist our elders. Be gentle with children. Encourage.

However, it is also a time of exploration. "Borrowing" my parents' car at 1:00 am to go out to the beach with friends. Learning that things I might say to other guys are inappropriate in front of the fairer sex. At this age, it is when the idea of a man materializes as a mix of strength, restraint, and confidence. It is also at this age that I started to clarify what MY values were. However, I was a work in progress.

So, at this time of life, the father of a young lady I was dating took me aside, and addressed me as "young man". He said it with respect. We had a great relationship. In those words, it was understood that I was working things out, like all teenagers. He was also showing that if I want respect, I must show it. Bring her home by 11:00. Call if there's trouble or a problem. In other words, by dating my daughter, you are accountable to me. "Young Man" at this age becomes an expectation. My ability to be worthy of the term was based on my ability to be accountable.

Young man, Are you listening to me I said, young man, what do you want to be I said, young man, you can make real your dreams but you've got to know this one thing. No man, does it all by himself I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf*

I have always been a self-starter. I have been skilled in mathematics and quantitative problem solving since a young age. As I established credentials through college, and entered the work world, I showed up with a new suit, briefcase, and a ton of confidence ready to take on the world. I quickly learned that college is a mirage. It is a manufactured environment that ideally places one in a worthy peer-group for intense study in preparation. The real world, however, is much different. Not everyone is motivated. Some have been there for forty years and were on their way out. Others looked at college grads as privileged brats. Managers would see me as a great addition to the team, but as one who is still green.

I didn't understand it then, but I was part of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I thought college prepared me to hit the ground running with the latest analytical methods and statistical techniques. I had self-taught on a few programming languages. I had come to reach the peak. However, this is where reality came in. "Young Man". In the less hospitable corners of my company, this was said with contempt. "Young Man, the real world doesn't care about your opinion. Get the work done." "Young Man, do it this way."

I didn't get it. It wasn't encouraging. It wasn't challenging me to be bigger and better. They didn't understand where I was coming from. They were just trying to get their job done and didn't want my "thinking" to get in their way. It was a job, not a MENSA test. I did not like being called a Young Man. It was demeaning.

I had a great mentor at that time. He was the head of a sales unit I supported. He liked the way I was thinking. He liked that I was solving problems for his clients. He also saw me as a younger version of himself. He would say "ok, Young Man, I got one for you". A problem to fix. A challenge. It could have been "hey hot shot". With a smile. Respect. It was around this time that I noticed that I was the youngest one in my career. I was the youngest manager supporting teams much older than me. I was the youngest on a cross-department re-organization team. The youngest award recipient. One of the youngest C-level execs at one of the big advertising conglomerates. Those were great moments, and I used my youth as a credential, at least on the inside.

My career changed after 9/11. I started my own firm while approaching the age of 34. This was before the prominence of 20-year-olds building multi-billion dollar businesses. They existed, but not as common as today. All of a sudden, "Young" didn't seem like a positive. Clients, especially well-known, Fortune-1000-type companies, like to see a seasoned executive when they are trusting their business to someone. I had the bravado, track record, and capability to produce, so my new journey had begun!

Good years. Bad years. Partners come, partners go. We built a successful marketing technology firm, with over 35 employees. All of a sudden, my kids had grown, our business was on the right track, and I have salt and pepper hair. As I approached 50, I noticed something. I was no longer the youngest one on the team. I was the oldest, or one of the oldest.

I started meeting my daughter's boyfriends. I noticed that they were young men. Lanky, awkward, unconfident, unaware. I found myself calling them "Young Men". I invited one of them to help me take apart a patio deck on a Saturday. I know he didn't have any idea how to do it, so I took the time. A new skill. Time together. Build confidence. He messed up. We fixed it. Building Young Men became a part of me. At work, of course, there are Young Men and Young Women, and there is no distinction when it comes to mentoring and training. I'm more likely, in this day and age, to say "I recall a few things about being your age". Technology is different today, so I really am an "Old Man" in their eyes. And you know what? That's ok. Young Men and Young Ladies today are smart if they focus on what they want out of life.

Hey, it's good to be a young man And to live the way you please Yes a young man is the king Of every kingdom that he sees There's an old and feeble man not far behind And it surely will catch up to him Somewhere along the line. **

So, now, as I move on to another phase in life, in my early 50's, I spend a bit more time with family, the hardware store (when did that start??), and in social settings. Every once in awhile, I will be in a discussion with someone in their late 60's, 70's, or 80's. They will call me a Young Man. At this stage of my life, I know what it means. Brad, you've got a lot of fight left. You have the gift of time to give and receive life. The world is wide open to you, and you've made it this far successfully. Give it all you've got. Not just for you, but for us. And the Young Men to follow. We've brought you this far, and now it's your turn. Your time.

So, Young Man is very important. It provides a dream for the young. It is an expectation. It is a warning, and an inspiration. A connection that surpasses generations. It is also something that we all share as men. Young Man, we have work to do!

* Y.M.C.A., Village People, 1978

** Somewhere Along The Line, Billy Joel, 1973


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