Millennials have a curious reputation.
They seem to care less about materialism than previous generations and sincerely desire to change the world. But, they’ve also been tagged with being the most unfocused, selfish, and lazy of all generations. While every generation and person is different, one thing is certain: You will be seriously challenged in your journey and will need all the legit knowledge, experience, and help you can get. Guaranteed.
In my creative and strategic branding agency, I work closely with Millennials. This has given me tremendous insight into who they really are. I love their hearts and wild-eyed passion to do huge things. They aren’t easily intimidated by challenges and are willing to try something new, even without knowing exactly what they might be getting themselves into. I totally respect that. But, I’m concerned that one really smart aspect of previous generations might be slowly slipping away — apprenticeships. And they might just miss out.
To me, apprenticeships are very different from mentorships or internships. Apprenticeships focus on professional skill development, compared to mentorships which are more personally focused and internships which can just be trivial and a waste of your valuable time.
My first real job was at a sign company when I was 16. My boss was a national award-winning sign artisan and a fiery stickler for excellence. Initially, he invited me to come hang out with him and check out his shop. I was completely enamored by the pure beauty and hand-crafted aesthetic of the art he created. It was organic, messy, difficult, and unlike anything I’d ever seen before or since. Though I wasn’t sure where this was going — it didn’t really matter. I was hungry to learn and was all over it. Oh, and I needed a job.
So, for several months, I hung out, watched this amazing artist at work, asked an occasional question and waited for the right moment. And, the right moment came. In retrospect, that moment literally changed the trajectory of my entire life.
“Will you teach me how to use a brush to letter signs,” I asked. (Yeah, that’s how it used to be done before technology.)
He briskly walked over to the corner, grabbed a large broom, shoved it in my face and said, “You learn how to use this brush, and I’ll teach you how to use the other one.”
So began my grueling apprenticeship and a truly amazing life experience. For nearly three years following, I picked up trash, cleaned toilets, cleaned brushes, and ran errands. This was a real apprenticeship — and it came with conditions.
I was required to show up at least one hour before work and stay at least one hour after for at least three days per week to learn the craft on my own time, for zero pay. It was brutal.
On top of all that, he often quoted Proverbs 22:29 and thoughtfully critiqued everything I did — constantly. He would often give me detailed feedback and then tell me to “Do it again.” He pushed me to excellence in everything, and it was just what I needed.
After a couple of years, he said, “You’ve proven you aren’t afraid to work hard, and you’ve gotten really good.” Finally! For several years after that, I successfully worked on client projects and cranked out high end signs. He was pleased with my work. We had happy clients. I then went on to experience several other apprenticeships.
I now draw significantly every day from what I learned during those years. I often act instinctively out of the principles and character that were burned in my heart and mind. These apprenticeships stretched and challenged me in profound ways. They were rich and irreplaceable learning experiences.
If you want to have a meaningful profession and fulfilling career, you should:
1. Seek out a real apprenticeship and beg someone to give you a challenging experience. Invite them to create an experience that will quantum leap you in your skills and attitude. You’ll thank them later. There’s simply no substitute for paying your hands-on learning dues.
2. Resist the urge to settle for a menial, mind-numbing internship or a coddling mentorship. Seek more meaningful and challenging opportunities that will truly develop the best in you personally and professionally and that will yield long-term dividends.
3. Don’t try to bypass key steps in your personal and professional growth. There are no shortcuts. You’ll be tempted to take the easy path and just skate past the pain, but don’t. Surround yourself with people who care deeply about you, know your weaknesses and aren’t afraid to call it like they see it in you. Subject yourself to the pain and learn to appreciate the character it builds.
4. Even if you aren’t able to become an apprentice “officially,” you should at least cultivate the heart of an apprentice. You won’t regret it.
Kerry Bural is insane about helping ministries, churches, and leaders gain momentum and enlarge their footprints. Give this man a whiteboard and a marker, and he will distill clarity from even the most complex. He’s the founder and principal of The Resonate Group, a strategic and creative brand development and advancement firm. Passionate about helping ministries resonate with those they’re trying to reach, Kerry blogs frequently at ResonateOrDie.com. You can connect with him via Twitter: @ResonateOrDie or @KerryBural or through Facebook. He and his wife, Deborah, reside in Tennessee with their three beautiful children.