Why we need to listen to our younger generation (my TEDxPhoenix talk)

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Last year, I was asked to speak at TEDxPhoenix, a self-organized local offshoot of the global Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Conference. The theme was “Optimists and Catalysts.”

Given the caliber of any TED-related event, I got a little freaked out about choosing a topic for my talk.

I thought about a humorous anti-cubicle rant — that would certainly link to book sales, a smart business move, right?

I thought about business lessons learned as a martial artist – an area I have wanted to explore for a long time.

I thought about self-esteem and worthiness, but then realized that Brenรฉ Brown already did the perfect treatment of the topic at TEDxHouston.

Then it came to me.

Youth. The power of youth.

It has been the quiet subtext of almost everything I have done in my life.

Daniel Pink just wrote in The Telegraph about a great question to ask yourself if the “What is your passion?” question locks you up:

What would you do – or are you already doing – for free?

I love young people. They inspire me, make me laugh, and keep me young.

And as long as I can remember, I have reached out to them, taught them, and mentored them, whether I was getting paid for it or not.

So I decided to talk about three young catalysts who make me optimistic about the future for my TEDx talk.

Here it is — 10 minutes from the center of my heart. (Link to YouTube here)

The three inspiring people referenced in my video are:

Amanda Wang, (@rethinkbpd) graphic designer, mental health activist and boxer. Amanda’s tireless work on behalf of others like her who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder remind me that our pain is our greatest strength.

Willie Jackson, (@williejackson) former corporate citizen, current web entrepreneur and Chief Technology Officer of Seth Godin’s The Domino Project. Willie reminds me that free minds will drive economic recovery. You will see a lot of co-conspiring between us this year, since we have a few joint projects brewing.

Averian Chee, Dinรฉ (Navajo) artist, community activist and new father. Ave reminds me that beauty is all around us, despite challenges and suffering. Ave’s website is currently being worked on, so for now, the best place to reach out to him is on Facebook

How can we support the younger generation?

  • Find them. Which young people in your community are doing amazing work? Look on the web, in companies, schools, colleges and non-profit institutions. If you are a teenager or twenty-something, look further back, in middle school or grammar school to find the movers or shakers. They are there!
  • Ask them. “How can I help you do your work?” Then do your best to deliver.
  • Amplify them. Use your clout and reach to get them in front of the audiences they want to reach.

For those of you who get fired up about this like I do, there is some more mentoring advice in a post I wrote for American Express Open last year, Mentor the Next Generation or Risk Irrelevance.

Amanda, Willie and Averian are just a tiny sliver of the powerful and remarkable group of young people around us.

They are everywhere. Go find them.

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19 Responses to “Why we need to listen to our younger generation (my TEDxPhoenix talk)”

  1. […] Why we need to listen to our younger generation (my TEDxPheonix talk) […]

  2. Kevin Cullis says:

    Hi Pam,

    Great talk. This week at my JA (Junior Achievement) class a young lady said that the JA class was her best one, despite the rest of her life. I had to hold back some, but could not stop smiling at her and the rest of the class. We can’t just sit and point at the kids and not get involved, there is so much lost energy and talent that they need to be encouraged NOT to go after the cubicle, but their own life.

    I took the plunge into entrepreneurship and have not looked back. If someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d write a book I would have laughed at them just as my family did when I told them five years ago that I was doing just that.

    Follow your talent AND the market, there’s still time.


  3. Nigel Chua says:

    Hi Pam

    I agree with your input regarding the power of youth – their raw energy, their purist ideas and their honesty. I can appreciate that. Interestingly, I not only enjoy their company, their enthusiasm, but I found myself needing to pull back occasionally, and to spend time with people whom are my seniors (I’m talking about 10-20 years) who have a different approach (experienced, wisdom, and patience) that I appreciate at the same time.

    Perhaps I needed a balance.

    But you know, the youths of today are increasingly interesting – I know of one who is 15 this year, and has started his social enterprise through art. He calls his firm art with a heart, where he paints and sells his painting for fund raising and funneling the profits to underprivileged in Indonesia. I love his works, and just recently supported him by buying one of his art pieces called Rainbow (see http://www.nigelchua.com/entrepreneurship-small-business/projectvision-by-elijah/).

    Nonetheless, enjoyed the read. Keep it up! =)


  4. Zoe says:

    Wow! Thanks Pam for reaching out to today’s youth.

    And thank you even more for encouraging others to do the same.

    I’m a hard working gen Y – I support my family since my dad doesn’t pay child support – and have a few businesses under my belt. But because of my age, older generations look at me as though I must be a lazy slacker – or inexperienced – or worse: for being female in a male dominated business environment.

    People treat youths as though they have no value to add to the conversation. Deep down, people know this is not true. Youths ARE the future.

    I remember being in a room filled with older, male, successful business associates two years ago (I was 24 then), we all gave out suggestions regarding a venture but my ideas were completely ignored. Later I was told by an associate that my age and inexperience made it difficult for them to take what I had to say seriously!

    When the boomers leave us with their debt ridden economy, broke welfare systems, climate change, food & water shortage who’s left with the mess to clean up? Gen Y and beyond.

    I get really tired of hearing older generations complain about youths, because we are a reflection of how the previous generation raised us.

    Keep up the great work Pam, I’ll help spread the word!

  5. Kirk says:

    i think it is generally a good idea to listen to another person regardless of age.

    learning is a dynamic process and our daily interaction wit another person will help us to grow into a better person some how.

  6. I enjoyed the talk, Pam… and appreciate your highlighting three individuals that I may not otherwise have learned of.

    I’m following them with great interest.

    I think Willie and I in particular may have a lot in common.
    – I’m a Triiibes member,
    – an ex renegade rat racer, and
    – a techie.

    Well, I used to be a techie.
    I’m much more of a storyteller, now. Post-rat-race. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great talk – I hope you’ll do more such talks and share with us on the Internets! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Take care,


  7. That’s great stuff Pam. Too often young people are marginalised when they need to be embraced. You can’t rely on the same old faces for fresh new ideas!

  8. Adrienne says:

    Hi Pam,

    I just finished reading a post about the go getters of the younger generation, 21 and under who are already paving the way for themselves. Wow, if I only had that much drive when I was their age.

    With the innovation of technology, these younger kids grew up with a computer in their hand. Heck, I was in my 30’s before it was even introduced if I recall correctly to all of us “regular” folks. These kids are just so smart today and with the right support and direction, a lot of them will be millionaires before they hit 25.

    Yep, listen to the younger generation and you just may be pleasantly surprised with what they share. I know I am.


  9. Pat Rocchi says:

    Pam, this is one of the most heartfelt and forward-looking presentations I have ever heard. Like you, I am tired of hearing so many of my fellow Boomers speak of the poor work ethic of the upcoming generations. These young people are being criticized not so much for what they are, but for what they are not — US, their forebears. They are different from their parents, not worse.
    It was 50 years ago that the Boomers were willing to declare that “the times, they are a-changin.'” I agree that we have to clear the way for the next generation and grant them the same respect that we demanded.

  10. Wonderful Pam. Truly. From your heart right to mine. I recently got to connect with Willie Jackson and am uber jealous he’s working with Seth Godin and now you. But I can see why. What an incredible force young people have to shape this world.

    I am sure you have connected with Cameron Herold but he also spoke at a TedX event (a huge feat for anyone so congrats) on why we need to raise our kids to be entrepreneurs http://www.ted.com/talks/cameron_herold_let_s_raise_kids_to_be_entrepreneurs.html


  11. Kit Brown-Hoekstra says:

    That burning need to give back and make the world a better place really resonates with me. I have always loved kids, though I preferred the little ones (with their senses of wonder and ability to stay fully present) to those complicated teenagers–and then I became a stepmom to 2 of them and started hanging out with teens more. You are so right; there are many amazing kids doing things that our generation could not have even conceived. Gives me hope.

  12. fas says:

    Maybe the youth have a new approach according to changed surroundings which motivate us!

  13. lilalia says:

    Your talk was inspiring. I have worked for years with younger colleagues and can only mirror your sentiments about honouring the goodness of the young. Thank you for sending this message out there.

  14. Susan says:

    I heard you call Ramit Sethi your ‘young mentor’ and loved that sentiment. I learn a lot from younger friends and coworkers that have been in my life. How they see the world in and of itself is an inspiring point-of-view changer. I’ve also noticed bloggers 10 years+ younger than me are the ones that feel compelled to reach out and touch base with me. I love it!

  15. […] You can read the full story and the amazing work Pam does at Escape From Cubicle Nation: […]

  16. Pamela says:

    I so agree Carol! So much of advice on mentoring has to do with us telling them what to do — sometimes, they do need advice, but often, they just need help clearing the weeds that block their great work. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. This is so true! You simply CANNOT rule out the younger generation as a source of education. It may seem a bit trite, but I remember hearing speech about what the younger generation has given us and it was eye-opening. One of the things that touched my mind and my funny bone was that it was the younger generation that thought to put slogans and logos, etc. on T-shirts. The rest is history. BTW, that was MY generation and I am 60 now. The thing is, you can’t rule out anyone when it comes to learning.

  18. Adam King says:

    I’ve spent well over 15 years working with kids both troubled and privileged. The thing I took away was the simple wide eyed wonder of observation. The simple act of a child’s observation on the world made their following commentary much more valuable.

    When others were dismissing them as simple kids who didn’t know better, I found myself gaining wisdom with the conviction of a man who had forgotten how to simply exist in a state of awe at my world.

    This is just one of the many reasons why our younger generations desperately need to be taught to retain the genius they’re born with, instead of silencing it under the weight of conventional wisdom and society’s pressure to conform.

    Brilliant talk Pam.

    • Pamela says:

      I so agree Adam! I often sit back in awe of my own kids: “LOOK MOM! A FLY IS ON THE WINDOW!!!” they said with unabashed enthusiasm. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Love that you have worked with youth for years. Thank you for that!