About ten years ago, I began treating a young man, Richie, who, despite being bright and engaging, was an abysmal high school student, struggling miserably through sophomore year. Richie had two main interests, video games and electric guitar, and everything else-including academic achievement-took a serious backseat to these twin pursuits. How he ultimately graduated, I will never know, but somehow he churned out enough credits to march down the aisle with the rest of his senior class one sunny June day and receive a diploma. Based on the number of phone calls and conferences I had been a part of during his high school years, I suspect that the school's administration and faculty were as happy to see Richie finally depart as he was to go.
Not surprisingly, however, even though he had left high school, he had not yet left home, and his first several post-graduation years were inconsistent and difficult ones, both for him and his parents. He started a rock band but couldn't get it off the ground, possibly because the band members were smoking too much pot to effectively mobilize their marketing and rehearsal efforts and move forward. He then decided to take some computer classes at the local community college, but quickly lost interest and withdrew without actually earning any credits. Then he started up another band, one that fell apart when his drummer, and best friend, was arrested for drug-dealing and sent to a rehab. Following this debacle, he gamely enrolled in a technical institute to study computer repair, bankrolled by his parents, a nine-month program that he actually did complete. However, he abruptly quit his first job after three weeks, finding the work intolerably boring.
At this point Richie's family returned to me for family therapy and continued their treatment through this exasperatingly unproductive phase. Partially as a result, none of them ever quite gave up, despite many tense moments and complicated choice-points. I helped Richie to understand how his behavior was actually eliciting the parental nagging that he so detested, and helped Richie's parents to see that many of their efforts to "motivate" him, despite being well-intended, were backfiring. We worked on establishing more effective inter-generational communication, and clarifying the extent to which Richie's parents should be financially supporting him at this stage in his life, and what he should be responsible for at home in return for their support. I assisted Richie in exploring career possibilities and his parents in broadening their social network and taking up some new interests. All three of them commendably made the adjustments that resulted in a more livable family life.
Nevertheless, when Richie reached the age of 22 without substantial progress towards self-sufficiency, they all agreed that he would take an extended visit to a favorite aunt and uncle on the West Coast, at which point he and I lost touch with each other for a long period of time.
One day, however, just a few years ago, I received an e-mail from him, completely out of the blue, which began with an apology for not having stayed in contact. I will never forget the next sentence, however, which began with the words, "I wanted to happily let you know that I am now a millionaire." Astonished, I continued reading his e-mail, and learned that while he was out West he had found friends who shared his passion for both video games and rock music, and who invited him to collaborate with them on a rock-based video game that they'd been working on. They eventually designed a product that was becoming extremely popular and making all of them a good deal of money. The name of this game? Surely you've heard of it...the ubiquitous and inestimable "Guitar Hero".
In other words, Richie, who barely graduated high school and was not even close to a college degree, was now in the position of accruing more income in one year than most of his fellow high school students combined, and doing so by pursuing something that he actually enjoyed doing.
The point of this story is not that the ultimate goal of human development is striking it rich, nor that everyone is destined to be rewarded abundantly for following their passion. My point is simply that it's unwise to give up on young adults no matter how maddeningly uneven their developmental trajectory may be, and that the more empathy, patience, understanding and faith that we are able to summon on their behalf, the greater the chance that they will eventually find ways to forge ahead with their lives in positive ways, and, through so doing, not only pay tribute to their parents, but, more importantly, to themselves.
"Emptying the Nest" will explore the complex challenges entailed with leaving home in contemporary culture, both from the parents' perspective as well as from the young adult's perspective, and provide guidance and advice to both generations so that everyone can successfully evolve to the next stage of their development. At the same time, it will help you to build, re-build, or maintain the family connections that sustain us all as we each discover and follow the distinctly original pathways of our lives.