What is the state of the union with young men today?
I am intrigued to see how the youthful spirit of a young man continues to endure. Young men have this incredible heart that the world is their oyster. I know that can lead to some pretty crazy behavior, but I also think it lends itself to a pretty creative generation. With every new generation, the older generation is often saying something like: “This generation is the worst yet.” And I get it as our world is constantly changing with new challenges. However, I also believe that the same way a young man matured 100 years ago applies to the young men of today.
My one big concern thinking about young men today is that we live in a fast-paced, immediate culture. Everything we want is accessible and available. And in my opinion, the result tends to produce a numbing affect. It deadens our desire for more and allows us to settle for a mediocre life. Rather than asking an older man in the neighborhood to teach us how to change our oil, we just take it to the local car shop. Or even harder, we attempt to forge it alone. We google “how to change a vehicle’s oil”, watch the video, and get up under that vehicle and figure it out ourselves. Sometimes, doing it on our own is right and good. I also think some invaluable things are better passed down from an older generation to a younger generation. I want to see more young men hungry to take on the challenges this world has. We need more of that Leadership spirit.
Working with so many young men at Training Ground, what do you find are the common themes young men are facing and dealing with?
Identity, Faith, Women, Occupation…so many young men have this unsettled part of them that is filled with hope and fear. They are in new water, trying to understand their strengths and hide their insecurities. Most of them can see “real life” on the horizon yet they still have a lot of unanswered questions about who they are. One core struggle for the TG guys is learning to live an authentic life; being honest with themselves, honest with others, and honest with their God. To be authentic and honest requires so much risk of being known, risk of exposure, and risk of rejection. In these risks is also the place of strength, victory, and hope. Vulnerability is also the affect that takes work and intentionality. For a healthy and meaningful life, it is irreplaceable.
Why is Training Ground unique in its approach?
When Xan and I started Training Ground almost a decade ago, we started with the questions we had in our own hearts as young men. I know that spirit continues in the mission. Both newly married and in the real world, we desired to build something that really prepared young men for the marketplace, ministry, or the military. We wanted it to be practical, spiritual, and experiential in nature. We believed and still believe that a young man needs evaluated experiences that empower him to grow. We use work, wilderness, and worship as the 3 main contexts to help this process happen. Also, we really want guys to be in new environments, doing work they have never done before, climbing mountains they have never climbed before, and asking questions about life they have never asked before. Sometimes we use the metaphor of a backpack. Young men come in with their backpack full of their “stuff”. We help them unpack, go through the contents, and get rid of what they don’t need. Then we help them repack their backpack as they head on to their real life trailhead.
Training Ground has a lot of experiential elements to the program, why is that important?
Many men learn by doing. I know it is important to reading the instructions, but there is a mystery attached to how a young man matures. He must have success and failures. In becoming a better man, we believe there are no short cuts; we must go through something. In a lot of ways, we have to feel the sting of sweat in our eyes from working hard to feel we are alive.
Why is a getting a blue collar and hard working job part of the program?
Most of us are afraid of hard jobs. We are afraid of the challenge, the sweat, and adversity. Yet there is a mystery that happens in a young man when he gets to the end of himself with his work; whether he is using his mind or his muscles. Men, in general, have a love/hate relationship with work. We love feeling accomplished and successful, but we are also so quick at letting our job define us. We chose blue-collar work intentionally because of the physical demand, and we also think there is great value waking up the next morning with sore muscles. We also value our young men working along side each other and others. So many amazing stories have surfaced of our TG guys working along men who have been hardened by life only to walk away being impacted by their lives.
Most guys today, aren’t around a lot of older men. What do you find is passed down when mentors and older men teach guys lessons on fly-fishing or hunting, or share about their struggles?
I believe there are few things that are more attractive to a man than another man’s strength to be vulnerable. I know that sounds weird but I think in today’s culture, but younger men need to know the stories of older men. They need to hear what it was like to be 20 years old in years past. Often a young man discovers that the older man had the same questions about life as he does. In some weird way, it helps us not feel alone on this journey to being a man. Also, we need many different father figures as we grow and change and possibly, different older men for different seasons. Yet this can be a tough deal. If we were not brought up around good men then this can be very intimidating. One of my own tough personal stories is how I have had to take it upon myself to find the older men I need in my life. In a perfect world, every older man should see a younger man’s need for mentoring and step in. The sad reality is that most the time a young man will have to initiate the relationship. This very reason is why we have more than 45 older men volunteer their time to mentor, offer their passions like fly fishing or hunting, and shape these young men.
We have always looked at Training Ground as a kind of “life grad school”. TG is place of pursuing God and growing personally in other areas of your life. It is aimed at leadership caliber young men that are hungry for challenge and growth. If you’d like to hear more about what we do, or even apply for this summer’s session in Colorado, check out our website www.trainingground.com or drop me a line at email@example.com.