In late 2015, one of the nation’s oldest service organizations made a bold move: It appointed a 26-year-old as president. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps is a pioneer organization that’s aided communities for 60 years via tens of thousands of social justice volunteers. But it needed a fresh perspective that could carry it forward. That’s where Timothy Shriver Jr. came in as the group’s youngest-ever leader.
Shriver came to JVC from the Future Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping young Americans find their purpose, which he helped build after graduating from Yale in 2011. But even before that, he held a series of leadership positions at home. He helped his younger siblings with everything from algebra homework to hitting a baseball.
There’s a reason my brother is a good leader: He works tirelessly to get others to see that they are leaders, too.
I am one of those younger siblings. With me, Timothy Jr. goes by the less-presidential-sounding Timbo—a way to avoid confusing him with my father, Timothy Sr. How did Timbo become an international service leader at age 26? Timbo never did manage to teach me an expert baseball swing—and do not even get me started with algebra. But my brother did help me learn that even if my bat did not quite contact that ball, I could continue breathing and hold my stance. Today, I face the terrifying projectile as opposed to running for my life. That five-ounce sphere has nothing on me!
Joking aside, there’s a reason my brother is a good leader: He works tirelessly to get others to see that they are leaders, too. He leads by telling people yes. He guides people into a world of possibility by telling them that he will join them and stay with them, because he believes in them.
I recently asked my brother why JVC made the move to hire such a young president. “JVC has been powered by passionate, young people—our volunteers—for its entire history,” he says. “To hire a young president demonstrates how firmly this organization believes in the power and creativity of young leaders, and all that our generation has to offer the world.”
He acknowledges that some might see the spiritual aspect of the JVC as an obstacle, since many young people today are leaving organized religion. But he knows his generation still seeks a path to faith, purpose and belonging. “I know that the Jesuit tradition has that in spades,” he says. “That’s a big reason why we’re attracting more and more young people to join us.”
My brother has inspired a new definition of leader for me. A leader is a persistent believer. A leader is successful because they believe in their goal and they persist.Timbo became a leader at age 26 because he believed that age was not a factor. Yes, he believed in experience and he believed in learning from an expert. However, he said that learning from an expert should allow us to open our minds to possibilities rather than limit us. A good leader believes in the good of humanity and persists “unapologetically” for the good of humanity. A good leader is willing also to be led.
"We Need Our Young People to Be Catalysts"
The following piece is from Timbo’s TedX talk in Manhattan Beach, in which he discusses youth leadership in the context of his career at the Future Project, where he was “Chief Dream Director.” The Future Project is a rapidly growing startup with a mission to help young people discover their potential. Dream Directors go into schools, working with students throughout the year both to discover a dream worth pursuing and to bring it to life by building a Future Project, which can be a campaign, a new club or organization, a product, or an event. Here’s an edited excerpt of the TedX talk:
We need our young people to be catalysts. Luckily for us, young people are way better at this than adults, and I think I know why. There’s something that young people have, that, as we get older, becomes increasingly hard to hold onto: the beginner’s mind. A famous Zen Buddhist quote tells us that in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, and in the expert’s mind, there are few.
It’s important we teach our young people the skills they need to succeed in the world, but when left unchallenged and unbalanced, it becomes really hard to hold onto that beginner’s mind that can see new possibilities. That’s what we need today. And that’s what we relay with the Future Project.
Every adult-led fix—for school culture, for bullying—focused on a deficit model. What do we need to stop? How do we stop bullying? How do we stop this behavior? How do we change these kids and all these things we’re screwing up?
Young people saw it differently. They said, we don’t want to stop anything; we want to start something. We want to start a transformation in our school that establishes a new culture, a new way of doing things, that will stop bullying before it even starts, that will create a space for every person to be themselves.
How do we create these spaces? How do we help young people do this? Like the oxygen mask on the airplane, you have to apply this to yourself before you apply it to anyone else. You cannot help someone uncover and launch his or her dream unless you’ve done it for yourself.
If there is anything I have learned, it’s that we all need Dream Directors. This work is some of the hardest work that we’ll ever have to do, and we need support. When we created this character, this new role for high schools, this person whose job it was to do this work in a school, we realized we hadn’t created anything, but we had named something. We had all had dream directors in our lives—people that had seen the best in a person, seen the best in a team, and pushed those people into action.
Find yourself a Dream Director. Find someone who can see something in you and push you to be that. Be a Dream Director yourself. Find someone, find a group, find people in your lives who will believe in unapologetically, who you will hand support unapologetically, earnestly, in their pursuit of their dreams.