Us millennials, we get a pretty bad rap. The twenty-somethings who can't quite figure out what it is we want to do. It's not that most of us haven't given it the ol' college try - many of us have interned in four different industries, traveled all around the globe, read tons of articles and blogs. But rarely do we find the kind of professional revelation from any of these activities or sources that we anticipated. What the heck are young graduates looking for, these days? Where can they find it?
Let's start with the background. It's not new news that compared to previous generations; the millennials have grown up with an incredible amount of both exposure and access to the Internet. You want to learn the basics of graphic design? Sure, just Google it. Wondering about the best way to split rent between roommates? Of course there's an app for that. But even besides the endless information well and the boredom cures that the Internet provides us with, it also has become our generation's primary news source. We hear about the score of the game on Facebook, we read our friend's tweets about the latest political scandal. We are constantly surrounded by the happenings of the world in a way that no other generation has been. Unfortunately, this means that the tragedies of the day are more visible than ever. But so are the triumphs.
The amount of good our generation has been exposed to is unparallelled. I recently read about Operation Cheer - a man walking across America to raise money for St. Jude's research. I saw a couple of my Facebook friends are doing Bike and Build, which raises money and awareness for affordable housing organizations. I've seen Kickstarter after Kickstarter campaign turn people's far-off dreams, from entrepreneurial to charitable, into realities. There are people in every pocket of the country doing amazing things for others. And well, how can we grow up watching these incredible people do incredible things and sit back and not want to be a part of it?
We can't. And it's for this reason that many recent graduates are feeling, as our parents and relatives will point out a little too often, kind of stuck. If you take the time to talk to a few soul-searching twenty-somethings, you'll find a large chunk of them want to make an impact. They're ready to work hard, but it's important that the reward for doing so extends beyond a paycheck. How can they contribute to something bigger? Where do they go?
Some will go to Teach for America, others to Americorps and a few will spread out in far way countries with Peace Corps. But most of the graduates from top universities across the country follow a well-paved path to financial success. Many will go to graduate school, law school, consulting firms, and big banks - because it's what thousands have done before them, because it's a time-tested path to financial success, often as a way to "figure out what their next move is." But what about the overlooked path for recent grads - the start-up scene?
Chances are, save for a few Mark Zuckerberg types out there, a person is not ready to build a business or an outstanding product straight out of college. Chances are you don't have the funds saved up to send out for samples, hire a designer or coder, or set up a storefront. Chances are they don't have the reputation to recruit top talent to make their idea a reality. But there is no chances when it comes to this: there are thousands of young people who have visions of building something that makes lives easier, employs others, and creates a meaningful and lasting impact.
But before they can build anything, they need to learn how.
Enter Venture for America. A program that sends young grads to work in small start-ups in high need cities like Detroit and Baltimore, Venture for America gives recent graduates a tremendous opportunities to learn the basics of business building (without the financial risk usually associated with a new venture), all alongside a talented cohort of peers, top-notch mentors, and an incredible amount of support.
The best part of VFA (though there are many) is the fact that the word entrepreneur, the word that all fellows strive to be one day, isn't necessarily defined. If you look at the 2013 class, we have physics majors and former D1 athletes. We have fellows from Italy, Manhattan, Houston. There's no two that are even remotely the same - and though most of us haven't met yet, we're already bonded our commitment to VFA's mission: to "restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward and the common good."
It's not a person's name-brand degree, course of study, or resume that's going to determine whether they are going to be able to build something great. It's the will to succeed, and the passion to work towards impact.