[Originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of the OC Magazine.]
The title is taken from the mission statement of Open Connections and it is ultimately what we want for each young person—a life full of purpose and fulfillment. With the end in mind, one way that Open Connections supports young people in achieving this outcome is by providing them the time and resources to develop critical and broad life skills that are relevant regardless of their interests.
Before you read any further, please take a moment and reflect. Imagine your young person has transitioned into the adult world. What crucial life skills should they have developed—broad skills that are important regardless of their occupation, interests, and age? What broad life skills have you found to be indispensable through all facets of your life—occupation, hobbies, relationships? What would be your top three?
I posed this thought exercise to our staff as well as the teens in the Shaping Your Life and Group Tutorial IV programs. My goal was to find commonalities and attempt to group the responses into broad, semi-independent categories. I hoped that this would provide an additional lens through which to view the role of Facilitator and perhaps an additional way to describe Open Connections to the general public.
Have you been able to identify your top three life skills? If not, please sit with the question a bit longer. Get clear on what you value for yourself and your young person before hearing the thoughts of others.*
*I would love to hear your picks and reasoning behind them. If you would like to share them, please stop by my office or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I received input from 34 teens and 31 adults (our entire staff and all Board members). After sorting, mulling, discussing, and resorting, three broad categories emerged.
Strong intrapersonal skills, effective communication skills, and practical problem solving/implementation skills. These three categories are not mutually exclusive and perhaps can be best shown as three overlapping circles of a Venn Diagram. I shared my results with our staff, Board, and young people and we are all in general agreement that these three categories provide a good starting point. Perhaps a fourth category will emerge or one of the existing ones will be revised. Only time will tell.
One particularly interesting revelation was that reading, writing, and math did not show up as a main category. Instead, they were viewed as tools in service to broader skills. Through this lens I view math as an important tool that allows me to solve problems, bring ideas to reality, and communicate information. Math is not the end game. Reading and writing follow similar paths—important and useful, but still tools to reach a goal, not the goal itself.
Viewing Open Connections from this vantage point, I would explain OC to anyone who asks as follows:
Our mission at Open Connections is to help young people develop the tools and skills needed to create a life full of purpose and fulfillment. At the broadest level, this translates as a focus on Intrapersonal Skills, Communication Skills, and Implementation or Problem-Solving Skills.
To put it another way, we want young people to leave Open Connections:
At Open Connections, our job is to provide young people the time and resources to develop and hone these holistic life skills.