By Diane Tran
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ― Lao Tzu
Emergence as evolution
As the founder of Minnesota Rising, a generationally-based group, I’m often asked about the point at which our Millennial generation will no longer be referred to as, “emerging,” but could be considered “emerged.” While there will be a point in time at which, as individuals and as a cohort, we could be said to have moved on from the “emerging leader” moniker, that is not to refute that our journey and learning is lifelong and thus we will always be emerging into the next experience. For this reason, it will be increasingly valuable to have a sustaining generational cohort to help us mark, grieve, and celebrate transitions, and with whom we will be able to note our progress as individuals and as a group.
The start of a new year provides a timely opportunity to re-evaluate and intentionally choose which roles and practices we bring into the new year. That which we leave behind in 2014 is just as important as what we decide to bring along and to life in 2015. In fact, the practice of letting go is an essential part of our ability to make space for and embrace the other things we aspire to moving forward. The ability to relinquish long-held assumptions, practices, and roles helps us to keep an open mind about and to make use of that which arises. More importantly, it keeps us from holding too tightly to specific positions, ways things are done, or limited interpretations of what “should” be as we navigate and shape the emerging future.
Organizing as origin
When I was a child, my family lived in a cul-de-sac in which I loved to organize neighborhood baseball games, hide-and-go-seek-tag, and a faux radio station. My parents told me that whenever we left a McDonald's playplace, they'd always have to wait for me to say good-bye to a new friend I'd made before we could go. From an early age, it was apparent that I was an organizer and that meaningful relationships were very important to me.
I was first elected to the Student Council in 6th grade and subsequently found other opportunities throughout my adolescent years to serve as a youth organizer and spokesperson for Target Market, Healthy Communities Healthy Youth National Panel, National Youth Leadership Council, Youth Leadership Institute, Student Campaign for Child Survival, Youth Teaching Youth, and Leaders of Today and Tomorrow, among other youth-led groups. Becoming deeply involved with numerous peer-to-peer youth leadership organizations, I began to identify strongly with the role of youth activist and leader. I discovered a profound sense of purpose in making sure that the voices and perspectives of youth were heard and represented in conversations about policy, community health, and equity. As a young leader, speaking out and taking action allowed me to be the change I wished to see in the world.
As the years progressed, however, this time-bound aspect of my identity was annually challenged as I aged. When I hit age 18 and became a legal adult. When I turned 20 and was no longer a teenager. When I turned 21 and was able to purchase alcohol legally in the United States (never mind that I was living in Namibia at the time). When I turned 23, 25, and 28, respectively, and aged out of eligibility for key youth leadership opportunities. And finally, when I turned 30 this past year and was no longer a “twenty-something.” As I so identified as a youth activist and leader, each subsequent age meant I was being made to move away from and have less direct access to something I cared about deeply. Since I could not play those roles myself any longer, it felt as though I was losing connection with the work that had energized me for so many years and the roles that had initially helped shape my sense of purpose.
As I reflected on entering a new decade, however, it struck me that even if I, myself, was starting to age out of the youth category, that didn’t mean that the work I had been doing to provide young people at-large the opportunities to engage, lead, and share their voices needed to end. Instead, I could find new ways to support young people (as many of the adults who supported and mentored me had done) as an adult. Rather than having to stop engaging on a topic I hold dear, I now merely have a different point of entry from which to continue supporting youth leaders. What I value is ensuring that young people are invited and equipped to live and lead in this world, and I can do that regardless of my age.
Sustaining values, revolving roles
As Minnesota Rising works to help our generation become “built to adapt,” we must focus first on identifying our core values and a shared vision. Having a foundational understanding and common agreement provides us a unifying agenda, for which our individual expressions of and contributions to can vary over time as we each grow and develop. In this way, we can more readily release our holds on specific roles or responsibilities, recognizing that through partnering in this larger effort, we each have the freedom and opportunity to evolve our specific involvement. We can shed our practices and assumptions more easily as we transition into the next thing, and those who come after us can have opportunities to take those seats or to create entirely new seating arrangements more relevant to their needs and desires.
We can begin practicing this key competency of letting go by recognizing what Minnesota Rising means for our generation—a space where we can ask, “Why wait?” and work collectively—while simultaneously letting go of whether it needs to mean anything to subsequent generations. Forsaking the idea, early and often, that the things we create or that matter to us must live on in perpetuity, we can become increasingly comfortable with the impermanence of institutions and instead invest in the endurance of our shared values over time.
Those born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s in the United States will always be Millennials. How we express that in the roles we take on as well as the roles that we let go of will allow us to gracefully transition, share power, and look forward to the future as another opportunity to learn. As a new year dawns, what roles and practices might you let go of? In what new ways might you express and live out your core values? And how could letting go of who you are help you to become who you might be?