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For the past five years, I’ve served as Executive Director of PULSE. The Pittsburgh Urban Leadership and Service Experience invites talented university graduates to partner with Pittsburgh nonprofits for a year of service and leadership. It is an incredible vocation that connects me with some of the best and brightest. These are young professionals who want see the world not only as it is, in all its brokenness and fragmentation, but also as it could be, a redemptive new reality that is “already, but not yet.”

Each year, we ask our fellows what type of mentor would be most helpful to them for the year ahead. Inevitably, they choose a mentor who can inspire, encourage, and support them personally as they adjust to the real world. They’re looking for life-on-life relationships.

For PULSE, this means pairing each fellow with a slighter older PULSE alumnus who has gone through a similar transition and can provide reassurance and guidance.

It is in these relationships—relationships based upon who you are, not what you do—that transformation begins to take place. PULSE understands that the life of a young adult is larger than the sum of its parts, that inputs don’t always produce outputs, that not everything in life can be measured or quantified. Relationships aren’t mechanical. They’re messy. And that is a good thing because it means that love is present.


The other day I helped a PULSE alum named Johnny move a mattress he bought on Craigslist (As a father of two, I’m the owner of a new minivan). I thought the trip would be pretty quick. It needed to be since my parents were in town, and also because I had a lot of work to do and was feeling overwhelmed. I picked him up. We drove to the seller’s house a couple of miles away. As we began loading the mattress into my van, we realized that it wasn’t going to fit. We deliberated. We bent the mattress into the shape of a taco and shoved it in the back.

The box spring, however, had no chance. So we deliberated again. We eventually shoveled the snow from the top of the van, borrowed some plastic and rope from the seller, and tied the box spring to the roof. With the windows down, we hung onto the box spring and drove 20 mph with the flashers on through the city.

The experience took three times as long as initially planned, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We joked and laughed, strategized, worked together, had a great conversation with the seller, and talked together about life and work. This type of experience is worth a dozen planned catch-ups over coffee.

When love is present, real growth can take root. The transition from college to the working world is tough. Change is ever-present. My former pastor, Craig Barnes, says it best:

“Like the first disciples, you do not have to have faith in how these changes are going to work out, in where you are going, or in your ability to cope with the losses and obstacles along the way. You do not even have to have faith in yourself. All you are asked is to have faith in the one who calls and who loves you too much to leave you alone.”

In PULSE, we are trying to create a community that “loves you too much to leave you alone.” This means encouragement and empathy, confrontation and challenge. We work hard to empower our fellows to dream big, to try something new, to take initiative and go for it.

Pairing in this life-on-life model facilitates that hard work.

Lasting Change

Mentorship in PULSE is built upon showing others the way. It is less about telling, more about living. Young adults need to see and hear—and be in a community with—older adults who live out their beliefs and behavior in an integral manner.

Whether it is strapping a box spring to the roof of a car or showing someone you are sorry for the hurt you have caused, we need people who commit their lives to other people. We need people who are committed to the journey, to the process of making all things new.

Love will do this. It is elusive in our brokenness, but possible in bringing true and lasting change to the lives of young professionals—as well as to people like me who work with them.


Chris Cooke is the Executive Director of PULSE, a nonprofit organization that invites talented university graduates to partner with Pittsburgh nonprofits for a year of service and leadership. Chris loves the creative energy of young adults and is excited to see young professionals explore the possibility of this city through PULSE.

Image by joeldinda. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

Show Me the Way

The BusinessWeek article The Misery of Mentoring Millenials suggests that “For a new generation of workers, the idea of seeking out a single career confidant is…old-fashioned.”

Perhaps this represents more of a shift from single mentorship to communal mentorship than it is a shirking of wisdom altogether. In this series at The High Calling, Show Me the Way, we're addressing this topic as well as the broader meaning of the phrase. Join us for Bible reflections, featured articles, and discussion. Invite your colleagues to do the same. Our hope is that even the most professionally independent among us will remember the power of sage advice as we serve the Lord in our jobs.