In this issue we look at the ninth step of the series for parents on how to empower and launch your child into adulthood. The key point from our introduction was that the underlying goal of healthy parenting is to prepare sons and daughters to be self-reliant, independent individuals who are at home on this planet and in the culture in which they plan to live.
9. Encourage and support at least one "life-transforming adventure" One reason people love adventure stories is that they sound the call to awaken.
Adventures beckon people to leave the comfort and safety of the known and to step upon a path, which appears both rich with possibilities and pitfalls. As soon as one steps across that threshold, the guardians of the threshold appear. To move forward, sometimes a mentor is introduced which will assist the adventurer in developing new skills to outsmart the forces that block them. In most fairy tales, the hero faces at least three obstacles before they are able to return home with the wisdom gained from the journey.
The adventure is known by many as the hero or heroines journey. It is the journey of "the hobbit" in Lord of the Rings, of Parzival seeking the Grail and of so many other age-old stories. Each of the stories carries a theme; the young person is called to an adventure and is changed by the experience into someone more they had not formerly been.
Sometimes the one being called does not immediately respond to the call. There are even those who always avoid the call and never make the journey to discover who they really could be. If a person refuses the call, a part of them remains stuck. These people often end up bitter at the end of their lives.
One of the natural times for "the call" to come is in late adolescence, or early adulthood. If you think about it, this is the first time that a human being is fully equipped developmentally. They are physically, mentally, and emotionally fully formed as an adult of the species. They usually, however, have not yet gained full use of these attributes. Life calls them to now activate and integrate all the parts; to take this fully functioning being on a test drive.
Most indigenous cultures, as well as some modern day sub-cultures, have named this call to adventure a "rites of passage". For example, the aborigines in Australia are called to a "walkabout." The reason I especially like this story is that the community mentors and prepares the young adult for the experience. On "a walkabout" a young person begins a six month trek into the wilderness alone. The journey and everything that he or she needs has been told to them in songs and stories throughout his or her life. By recalling the tales of the "old ones" told around the campfire, he discovers he has the secrets to the journey and can travel safely.
Unfortunately, Western culture has lost its connections with the myths and stories that would guide a young person into the next phase of life. So many of our young people are not prepared, have not been mentored, and therefore appear to stumble around in the dark. They have no memory of stories or songs to guide them. Even worse, they have very few wise Elders or mentors who have taken the full journey to adulthood.
We assume high school and college are supposed to prepare a person for stepping out into the world. For a lucky few, that seems to work. But many young adults appear to be as lost as ever even after completing college. This can be attributed to the lack of inner work that is required by the hero's journey.
We tend to think that if you have a degree or know how to make money that you are ready for life. Today most college graduates are unprepared for life and are surprised about what is expected of them. They are also lacking in even the basic skills that our consumer culture is based on; accumulating wealth, managing money, and gaining prestige. Sixty percent move back home with their parents.
Many young people feel lost. A new term has been coined to define the state of these young people called "Quarter Life Crisis." Without experiencing the hero's journey, it is impossible to enter into full adulthood where one has access to his or her own vast wealth of inner resources. Plus, a true hero's journey prepares you to use your natural abilities for the world we currently live in.
For this reason, we recommend that you encourage your young people to adventure out in the world for a while before they ever begin college. A Canadian guidance counselor told me recently that only 17% of college graduates in Canada go into the field in which they majored in college. I would guess the percentages are close to that in the USA. The young person hasn't been tested enough in life to know who they really are and what they want for their lives. It isn't enough to choose a path in life that you want to prepare for based on intellectual definitions or an interest inventory. The same guidance counselor told me that most choices for college majors are made using college catalogs. Again, a life-transforming adventure provides "dirt time" where your whole being finds its direction.
There is another tool used by almost every past spiritual culture called a "vision quest". The initiate goes to a solitary place and spends three to forty days crying for a vision. The purpose is to get the Creator to reveal the path that would best benefit you and "all your relations". The experience is designed to help you face your fears and limiting beliefs. It also enhances ones awareness and sharpens the inner voice of wisdom. Some participants encounter spiritual guides and vivid visions. Almost all come back with profound experiences and guidance for the path to follow.
This next point will probably lead to some frustration: You, as a parent, will probably not be able to set up the journey for your adult child. You can, however, free them to answer the call when it comes. It might mean you have to let them venture off the track you had planned for them, which might be an unconventional path. Sometimes well-meaning parents are the ones who convince their young adult to not follow the call to adventure. The answers, in the parents mind, seem very logical as to what their adult child should be doing with their lives. But this is not normally a logical process.
Also, it is not your job to fund their call to adventure either. Doing so could take away valuable lessons about self-sufficiency, awareness, improvisation, adaptability, ingenuity, and trusting oneself. You want them to be moving towards further self-sustaining independence. Sometimes that means allowing them to feel some pain and discomfort without you having to be the one to "fix it."
The upside for you as parents will be the incredible adult-to-adult relationship that you can form once they have completed the journey. Your sacrifice will be letting go of the need to have your adult child need you. If you are the one struggling to let go, it may be a sign that it is time for you to take your own life-transforming journey.
About the Authors: Randy and Colleen Russell direct Parent Workshops for Empowering Young Adults and lead workshops and coaching for families and individuals. For more information call 208-255-2290 or visit