Connecting the Dots...

Blog Archive from December 13, 2011
A few months ago, I wrote about a transformation at Explore Austin.  I wrote about my experience at 12,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado where, somewhat suddenly, I realized that the 6th grade boys I had mentored and led for the past 6 years were now leading me and my fellow mentors not only up a mountain, but in life, as well.  I explained that, more than anything, I hoped that these young men would continue to beExplorers for life.  This past weekend, I was lucky enough to see the start of that wish coming true.  For the first time ever, our oldest Explorers were serving as Mentors! No longer were they boys looking for guidance, they were young men giving it.  No longer were they followers looking for direction, they were leaders, providing it.  No longer were they Explorers experiencing change, they were Mentors making it.
I watched as part of Explore Austin’s new “Expedition Year”, these Junior Mentors explained to our newest 6th grade Explorers what our program is all about.  I listened as they shared stories of their trips to the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado, relaying the challenges and triumphs they had experienced all along the trail.  I marveled at their ability to discuss the day’s Developmental Asset(Self Esteem) while simultaneously modeling it.  And the whole time, I couldn’t help seeing a little bit of us (i.e. their mentors) in each of them.  I saw Rusty’s mix of discipline and fun in the way Luis connected with his Explorers.  I saw Jamie’s sense of humor and quiet (yet highly impactful) demeanor in Jose as he interacted with his Explorers.  And, I must admit, I saw a little bit of my own leadership style in the way Erik led his Explorers from the front of the group.  In all of them, I saw our passion for changing lives.
And that’s when it dawned on me… perhaps the greatest accomplishment to date for Explore Austin isn’t the 52,000 hours of mentoring, the 22 weeks in the wilderness, the over 8,000 miles paddled, hiked, and biked, or even the amazing addition of a Girls’ program.  It isn’t something found in surveys, or even intestimonials (although both of those matter too!).  Perhaps our greatest accomplishment to date is completing the cycle.  Our mission at Explore Austin is simple; “to change the lives of underserved youth through leadership, mentoring, and adventure.”  This weekend, I saw evidence that we’re meeting our mission. More importantly, we’re perpetuating it!  The lives first changed by Explore Austin beginning 6 years ago are now changing the lives of others.  There is a Chinese proverb that says, “If you want happiness for a lifetime, help the next generation.”  Explore Austin is doing just that.  To me, that’s what it’s all about!
I don’t think any of us who started this journey together could have seen last Saturday’s experience coming.  In 2006, on that first Explore Austin trip to the mountains, we had no idea how the dots would eventually connect, how our lives would be changed, or even how the lives of our Explorers would be changed.  What we did know, without a doubt, is that they would be changed.  Steve Jobs has famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”  In the same speech, he said,  “you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”  Six years ago, as founding mentors, we trusted in each other.  Today, the dots have been connected.  Six years from now, I have no doubt that the number of dots will be greater and the ways that they connect will be different. Yet, like six years ago, I have trust in our newest Mentors that, when they look back, those connections will be just as powerful!