You cannot help but be impressed by Megan Emme — a social leader, a Millennial leader. Although we haven’t met in person, I can imagine being breathless in trying to keep up with all her activities. Her volunteer experiences add up quickly and then include college. All this, by her own admission, forces her to plan ahead and avoid procrastination.
All these experiences shine brightly as a Millennial and social leader. Embracing empathy, organizing for impact, engaging a community, and developing young leaders — these are just a few characteristics understood by and emanating from Megan Emme.
You will find Megan’s answers encouraging and insightful, and I know you will be energized by the example Megan is setting as a leader.
Q: You are involved in many volunteer activities, past and present. What drives you to get involved? Also, how do you select what you get involved in? Is there a theme?
Megan: When I was in high school I always wanted to do something more with my career, but I had no idea what. I was looking for direction, but I didn’t know where. I wanted to help people in a meaningful way, but didn’t know how. Honestly, I just felt really lost.
One day my dad showed me an article about the California Youth Crisis Line, and how they were looking for volunteer crisis counselors, specifically youth. He told me that he thought it would be something I’d be good at, so I just went for it. I volunteered 8 hours a week, every week, for my entire senior year of high school.
And it was the most incredible, transformative experience I’ve ever had. Most of the time it was exhausting, heartbreaking, frustrating work. But I loved it. I was helping people at the most intimate level. I felt like I was doing something that really made a difference, that my work really meant something. I was empowered. And it gave me the direction I was looking for. I gained the confidence to look for other opportunities.
Everything I’ve done since then stems from that work. I seek to ensure that young people from all backgrounds have the tools to feel the same empowerment that I did. Whether that be by ensuring access to quality education, improving civic engagement, providing space for young people to be heard, or promoting healthy communities. All of these things help young people succeed and strengthen their voice.
Q: With school and your current involvement in Moblize.org, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and Students for Quality Education, how do you balance these commitments with college work? What advice would you give other students who want to balance college with volunteer activities?
Megan: It’s certainly not easy! The big thing is to really plan out everything you do. At the beginning of the semester, map out everything that is due on what date. And come up with a work schedule. Set mini deadlines for yourself so that you’re doing your work gradually instead of rushing to finish your projects right before they are due. Naturally I’m a huge procrastinator. But being as busy as I am, I simply can’t afford to waste my time. The work needs to be done according to schedule or else it simply won’t come together.
I would absolutely recommend that every college student begin working in their field in any capacity they can before they graduate. And get started as early as possible. If you don’t seek these opportunities until your last semester of college, you’re going to miss out on so much. Everyone has to start out small. The earlier you start to look for things to get involved with, the more time you allow yourself to grow.
My entire career took off from becoming a volunteer blogger my very first semester in college. I got my job at Mobilize.org, as well as a job organizing for the Revolution Hunger Campaign, from contacts that I gained at that position.
Working at Mobilize and Revolution Hunger gave me the experience to land my current jobs as an Organizer for Students for Quality Education and a Fellow for Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. I wouldn’t have had any of those opportunities if I hadn’t committed to that first volunteer position. Now I have three full years of applicable work experience and I haven’t even graduated college. I’ve learned so much that I can apply towards my long-term goals, all of which stemming from volunteer work.
Q: When you worked as a crisis counselor, what perspective has this experience given you as a leader and someone who wants to develop young leaders?
Megan: I think the biggest thing is that it helped me develop my empathy and learn not to judge. You have no idea what an individual could be struggling with, or has struggled with in the past. You have to give people room to make mistakes, and can’t discount someone because of your own pre-conceived notions or stereotypes. A lot of times young people want to lead, but don’t know how or aren’t confident in their abilities to do so. You have to help them find their voice, plug into what they’re passionate about, and help them gain the confidence to speak up and act. Everyone has the capacity to be a leader, you just have to give people the tools to become one. True leadership is expressed by creating more leaders, not merely attracting followers.
Q: How would you describe your generation? What impact will Millennials have in the years ahead?
Megan: My generation seems to be stereotyped either as technology addicted lazy narcissists or tolerant progressive young leaders who are using technology to change the world.
But let’s be real here, there is no one size fits all label for Millennials. I’ve dealt with people in my generation who are self-obsessed and lazy. I’ve dealt with people in my generation who are powerful, inspirational, intelligent young leaders. And guess what? I’ve had the same varied experiences with Gen Xers and Boomers. People are people.
There are a few more unique trends I’ve noticed emerging in the last few years that I find to be pretty interesting. I would argue that Millennials are increasingly using technology to share resources creatively and cost effectively, from car-share to bike-share, to music-share. We’re crowdsourcing ideas and using services like Kickstarter to fund our projects. And in a rough economic climate, Millennials are thinking about creating their own ventures instead of seeking the typical 9-5. Just look at all the tech start-ups in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, many of them headed by Millennials.
Growing up with so much technology, I think my generation expect services and processes to be efficient, and if they aren’t working we’ll create a better format. The advent of the internet has leveled the playing field in a lot of ways, giving most people access to knowledge and resources that used to only be available to the privileged. I think it can be universally agreed that has had a significant impact on my generation.
With that in mind, I think as we look to the future Millennials will continue to find ways to innovate and improve. One area in particular that I think will be drastically changed due to Millennial innovation is government services. Millennials won’t tolerate inefficiencies, and as we get older and gain power within the government sector, I would expect that we’ll start to see increasing innovation in the delivery of public services.
Q: Do you have individuals from Gen X or Boomers you go to for advice or insights? What perspective, encouragement, and insights do you gain from previous generations? How do you balance these perspectives with Millennial colleagues?
Megan: Absolutely. The most valuable thing someone my age can do is gain mentors. Be humble and pay attention. You don’t know everything. There are so many older people out there that have so much knowledge to share. And being aware of the experiences of older generations will keep us from re-inventing the wheel.
It would be impossible to list out all the Gen Xers and Boomers that have guided me and inspired me. From professors to supervisors, to family and to friends, I make a point of building connections across generations. At 21 years old, I have so much to learn and so much space to grow. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the mentors that believed in me, and I continue to leverage these relationships for both personal growth and professional development.
I think the biggest thing to be learned is also the most obvious. Older generations know life before the internet. As an organizer and as a non-profit professional, much of my work revolves around gaining support. I think Millennials’ go to solution to gain that support is from the internet. That’s a great tool, but we can’t rely solely on Facebook or Twitter to build community. In person connections are so important, movements don’t live on the computer. And older organizers gained consensus without Social Media to rely on.
The old-school tools are still some of the best tools. If we can learn how to marry on the ground grassroots organizing with online networks, we can create stronger movements. That’s why inter-generation communication and collaboration is so important. We have so much to learn from each other, and by realizing our shared interests we become more effective.
You can follow Megan on Twitter @meganemme or learn more on Mobilize.org.