Recently the volunteers in my region organized a career/college fair for high school students. During the event we had activities to help youth think about their future and set goals. We also had a wonderful group of Paraguayan professionals join us to share how they got to their current positions of success.
The Paraguayans that spoke with us had amazing stories.
- The youngest woman on the panel, an accountant, talked about how difficult it was to leave the home of her parents to study. In Paraguay, it’s common for children to live with their parents until (or even after) they are married and leaving one’s community is uncommon. She talked about how hard it was to live with people who weren’t her family for the first time. She worked all day, attended class at night, and studied from evening until early in the morning.
- One woman is the director of a university, has a doctorate, and is earning another degree. She’s achieved this despite losing her mother at 9-years-old and navigating a childhood with a less-than-loving stepmother.
- The one man on the panel is the owner of a hostel in Asuncion that is popular among Peace Corps volunteers. He talked about how he’s always wanted to be his own boss. His love for travel inspired him to open a hostel. Before he was able to open the hostel he used to work 12-hour, sometimes 14-hour, days at other businesses. He is now successful enough to hire people to help him run the hostel, but when he started he was on call 24-hours, 7 days a week.
- Another woman left her family, the countryside, and everything she knew to study to become a professor at what many call the best university in Paraguay. She worked from early morning to afternoon, went to class in the afternoon, and studied in the evening. She was forced to go against her beliefs and sham support for the dictator as part of her admittance into the university—she noted how this was one of the most difficult parts of her studies for her.
These Paraguayans had inspiring stories and they also had good advice. They all recommended that youth find work about which they are passionate because, “work doesn’t seem like work when you love it.” They talked about making goals and sticking with them—even if it takes years to finally achieve them. They talked about finding inner motivation and strength to push through any obstacle.
One thing struck me, however, as I listened to them. They talked a lot about sacrifice and hardship. The warning of sacrifice and hardship is a familiar yarn to me because that’s what first my high school teachers, then my college professors, and then my bosses talked about when giving me advice.
It’s not bitterness that made these Paraguayans and all of my mentors focus on the sacrifice and hardship that got them to where they are. They forewarned that the path to personal success is bumpy and hazardous because they wanted to help prepare youngsters for the journey. Listening to the tale of challenge being told to the next wave of aspiring youth I had doubts.
We all must make sacrifices and face hardship in life. As someone in my childhood used to say, “If life were easy, it would be pointless.” But now being the listener, not just the sapling trying to soak in every drop of wisdom, our emphasis on hardship gives me pause. I don’t think youth need warnings or cautionary tales. They already know life is perilous. They need inspiration and encouragement to find their strength. We can tell our stories without giving them a tragic edge.
The matter-of-fact stories of my great-grandmother come to mind. She was born in 1907 to parents only several years settled in the US, having come from Germany. She lived into her 90s—almost 100 years of history that spanned 2 world wars, the Great Depression, and countless other moments that made history. Her stories never talked about sacrifice or hardship, they talked about life. Things happened and she survived them, and by telling her stories she implied that us (the listeners) would survive life too. She suggested, with her smile, that we would probably not just survive, but we might also give life a good run for its money.
Life is sacrifice and hardship. Even the happiest children know about challenge and disappointment. But, what we (adults) know that maybe youth don’t know yet is how to survive, even when the hurdle is more than dropping your ice cream cone. We’ve had more years of trouble and yet we haven’t lost sight of happiness.
When we tell our stories we can’t just focus on the events. We should share our thoughts and emotions. We should tell the greens what we learned and what made us smile and laugh despite everything. Youth want to know how we found the light because they’re still in the tunnel. They don’t want to just hear our take on the tunnel.