I joined the Mind & Life Institute team in my early twenties as an intern. It was 2019 and I’d just spent two years traveling, working, and searching for my life’s purpose as a recent college graduate. A childhood of curiosity and awe for the natural world led me to study the sciences, and my degree in zoology and environmental science showed me what was possible through scientific inquiry and observation. But it also revealed much about the world’s suffering. While I loved my time as a student, as a new graduate I didn’t see a clear path forward. Like many of my classmates, I wanted to be a part of building a brighter future for the planet, but I didn’t know what that meant for my career. Was I meant to be a researcher, an activist, a storyteller? And could I have a positive impact on the issues I care about given systems that seemed unchanging?
Working for Mind & Life was a clear choice—a path where my career could meet my love of science, meditation, and spiritual exploration. My younger self would have never guessed that four years later I’d still be here, representing my generation in Mind & Life’s new strategy to help reach and support young adults like me.
Beginning in January 2022, Mind & Life, with generous support from The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, set out to explore the possibilities for engaging young adults, ages 18 to 30, more actively in our work. In a yearlong process—including interviews with peer organizations, audience research, and visioning sessions—we dove into better understanding the needs of today’s young adults, and how we could better engage and support them in facing a host of unprecedented challenges. Informing this process were younger members of the Mind & Life team and three amazing young adult advisors from our community.
“In a yearlong process—including interviews with peer organizations,
audience research, and visioning sessions—we dove into better understanding
the needs of today’s young adults, and how we could better engage and support them
in facing a host of unprecedented challenges.“
Focus groups and 1:1 interviews carried out with young adults who had participated in our programs, along with younger representatives of peer organizations, told us a lot about young adult’s interests, motivations, overarching questions, and how we could best meet their needs. They were frank in their desire for more community building and mentoring opportunities. They wanted their voices to be heard when designing programs and resources for them. They sought more, and varied, funding opportunities to support their work as changemakers. And they wanted access to more content related to issues they care about—from mental health and climate change to decolonization, racial and gender equity, and challenges stemming from materialism.
Accompanying desk research reinforced a lot of what we heard, including a mounting crisis of meaning among today’s younger generations. Global data pointed to young people’s growing lack of faith in democratic systems and their ability to influence change; their interest in alternative forms of leadership, and desire to connect meaningfully and build inclusive networks and communities.
Building on our 35-year legacy of convening leading researchers, contemplatives, and changemakers to discuss and debate fundamental questions of life, we concluded that Mind & Life has a role to play in addressing this crisis of meaning among young adults, particularly those predisposed to exploring these questions and who have embraced contemplative practice as a pathway toward greater personal, societal, and planetary level well-being.
The strategy that resulted includes elevating young adult voices, tailoring our offerings to better reflect their needs and perspectives, and enhancing opportunities for community building both in-person and online. We’ve already started through creating a Young Adult Advisory Council to guide the process, and by inviting younger staff to participate in decision-making for the organization. Plans are underway to engage younger members of our community as writers for the Mind & Life blog and as presenters at our offerings (like our new Mind & Life Connect program). And we’re committed to fostering community and creating networking opportunities for young adults who engage with our programming, like our 2023 Summer Research Institute. We also look forward to announcing the inaugural recipients of our Contemplative Changemaking Grants in May, with priority given to projects led by emerging contemplative leaders, ages 18 to 30, and those who identify as belonging to marginalized groups.
As a member of the new Young Adult Advisory Council and representative of Gen Y, I’m excited to see how this work unfolds. I see a great need for Mind & Life’s mission in my own life and in my community, and I hope this new strategy connects more young adults to the valuable insights gleaned at the intersection of science and contemplative wisdom.
I look forward to sharing more with you about how Mind & Life responds to this crisis of meaning and shows up for young adults. For updates and news on upcoming Mind & Life offerings, and resources for exploring our interconnection, I hope you’ll sign up for Mindstream, our monthly email newsletter.
Brynn Pedrick is the Advancement Manager at the Mind & Life Institute.