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Developing Ourselves and Our Communities Takes Time


It was a graduation for a community class that had been running once a week for the last few months. The instructor looked around the room and lauded how the new graduates might go on to plant seeds of knowledge wider than he might ever see. While the class had been split between a Zoom and in-person group, it was nice, he said, to see younger members for a change, not just retirees.

Many of the older members nodded. I sat as a guest of one of the younger graduates, most in their 30s. They likely knew why they were able to be part of this class: They finally had time.

The pandemic did many things, including giving us a chance to investigate new experiences. Many organizations branched out to their members via Zoom. People like me took it upon themselves to infiltrate interest groups in other parts of the state that tend to forget that the other half of the state exists. Other people sought both life and professional development through those organizations and found time to investigate others in their community. It was a tumultuous time, but the pandemic gave us an opportunity to use time in ways we may otherwise never have been able to.

Years ago, when a professional development group debated moving their meetings to a leisurely lunch-hour meeting, my pushback came as a surprise. I told them that if we did that, many of us young members with salaries and hour-long lunches — both already a luxury — would only have a half-hour to be at the meeting, given travel time.

One older retiree looked at me incredulously. "Wouldn't your boss allow flexibility for this? You'd be learning things and networking," she said. "My bosses always encouraged us to get out and meet others, maybe pick up new skills."

I explained that my boss was more interested in my being back behind a desk at a specific time, even if my job didn't face the public. She couldn't understand, and at the time, neither could I.

Over the years, my jobs did benefit from me choosing specific professional development that grew my abilities as a whole person and not just in the format of their choosing. For example, when I started to freelance on the side of my full-time job and interviewed many different types of people, I returned to work and could ask better questions of clients. I also slowly overcame that strange millennial distaste for phones.

Don't get me wrong: I still prefer an email or text to a phone call. And there is a special hell for those who call you to read your email back to you.

Even with the more flexible bosses, if the professional development didn't align precisely with your job duties — not just broadening another skillset or giving in to general curiosity — then their latitude with your interests waned considerably. It seemed that many bosses didn't see you beyond the role you filled for them. They didn't see you as a part of a community they lived in as well. But those are the same people who look around and complain that the youth isn't as engaged with the community as they used to be.

Many young women and men would be more involved if they had time — and if community engagement was promoted as a cultural tenet as much as the cult of productivity. When us younger generations work to develop ourselves, bootstrapping it up as it were, we've had to tuck that time into pockets of low priority. It also starts to look like burnout because there are only so many hours in a day.

The pandemic gave us a little otherworldly time to look at what growth in ourselves and our communities could look like. When our bosses don't allow for that, or promote that, not only do they lose out on better and committed employees, but our communities also lose out on invested and engaged residents.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com.