How to Conquer Career Anxiety (Part Two)

adult-black-and-white-black-and-white-440581In part one of this series, we shared the challenges many young adults are experiencing with their career selection decisions and some general tips. In this week’s blog, we offer some additional specific advice to high schoolers, college/vocational students, and graduates already in the early stages of their careers or who are seeking employment.

High Schoolers

In our visits with these students, we regularly hear concerns over the pressure to know what career/major to pursue, insecurity when peers seem further along, and the college for all messaging so common these days. Because teens are still discovering who they are, we believe these pressures are unfortunate and concerning. Parents and educators should be encouraging career curiosity and exploration without direct or indirect pressure “to know.”

Here are some specific suggestions for high school students:

  1. Focus on the process more than the outcome. This is a time to be “career curious” rather than placing undue pressure on making a formal decision. You are still developing a sense of self and haven’t even scratched the surface on the variety of careers that could be a good fit. You also haven’t taken advanced courses, which play a significant role in confirming or rejecting your initial leanings. And, remember, just because some of your friends have decided shouldn’t even be a consideration.So, use this time to take career surveys/assessments, visit job fairs, and talk with people who have jobs in the fields that may be of interest. Research companies and industries. Build your knowledge base ahead of time.
  2. Remember, a four-year college isn’t your only choice. There are many available careers that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree; these are often overlooked. Vocational school, the trades, and the military might be attractive options that fit who you are—and that are financially accessible.
  3. No, you don’t need an Ivy League university to succeed. So many students completely stress themselves out by thinking that being accepted into an elite school is their only ticket to success. Not true! Not by a long shot. There are many pathways you can take and schools that will punch your ticket. It’s much more important who you are than what undergraduate university you attended. Please take this to heart.
  4. Build your professional network. In today’s job market, candidates who know someone who works for the employer have a considerable advantage. Even if you are planning to attend a four-year college or pursue graduate school, the time to begin developing your network is now. Have your parents, relatives, friends, teachers, and mentors introduce you to people who are in interesting fields that may become your advocates. Your initiative will pay huge dividends in the future.

College/Vocational Students

The first few years of study involve taking a variety of courses to build your foundation and give you a flavor of some potential career options. However, this is but a small subset of course offerings and potential majors from which you can choose. Regardless, in order to finish in four years (assuming this is your plan), you’ll need to finalize your choice of major as you begin your junior year. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this decision in your first year. In many, if not most cases, you’ve not taken a sufficient variety of courses to make a truly informed decision. Here are some other tips:

  1. Be extremely intentional about the courses you take. Many students look for the “easy A courses” to pad their GPAs rather than selecting those with strategic, career benefits. Don’t squander your opportunities. The more relevant the courses, the greater your conviction will be when you declare your major.
  2. Be strategic about selecting your minor. Think of your major and minor as a strategic package. In many cases, your minor will be the field you go into!
  3. Don’t choose your major before talking with practitioners. Far too many students declare their major without the slightest idea of what the jobs are actually like. You simply cannot rely on your educators having intimate knowledge of the various jobs since most have primarily worked in academia. Actual practitioners can give you a much better perspective.
  4. Don’t compromise. It’s entirely common for collegians to change majors; that’s certainly a better option than settling on something you’re not interested in and excited about. If, after your courses and research, you conclude your major isn’t a fit, look for greener pastures.

 Graduates/Early Career Individuals

The level of disillusion we see in young adults within the first few years of graduation is significant. Most were not prepared for the difficulty with this transition, often because their educational institutions didn’t offer the assistance they needed. It is striking and disheartening to visit with graduates who thought their degree would somehow magically punch their ticket. We see this too much.

For the most part, their challenges relate to finding an interesting job in their major or liking the job they landed (and by default, the major they chose). Life in the real world can be a rude awakening. Here are some tips that can help:

For Job Seekers:

  1. Forget about perfection. Many young adults seeking employment are looking for the perfect job: always stimulating, well paying, great flexibility, convenient location, and with a meaningful impact on the world. And, when they don’t find it, they prefer to wait it out until one materializes. More often than not, it doesn’t. You may not find perfection, but you can still find something that will be satisfying if you loosen the reins a little.
  2. Get in the game. Related to the previous point, many companies don’t offer the exact position you’re looking for today, but something close. Figuratively speaking, if you can’t hit the bull’s eye in the dartboard, expand your search to the first ring or two around it. If you land it and do well, you’ll be well-positioned as an insider to compete for your dream job when the it becomes available. Remember, it often takes several steps before we hit the bull’s eye.
  3. Go where the jobs are. Depending on one’s career choice, there may or may not be positions available in your desired location. The bottom line is you need to go to where the jobs are rather than assume they will come to you.
  4. Evaluate your marketing and job searching. If you’re struggling to win job offers, consider having an independent professional review your resume, discuss your qualifications, and conduct a mock interview. A few tweaks to your marketing can be just the thing you need. Also, be sure you’re doing all you can to identify available positions. Many young adults aren’t taking full advantage of recruiting services/sites, and others are beating them to the punch. Finally, be sure to check whether you know any insiders of companies with interesting openings to see if they can advocate for you.

For Dissatisfied Workers

  1. Don’t expect your first position to be a dream job. Young people are idealistic and often struggle with motivation when it’s not always stimulating. Remember, your initial position may not be indicative of your dream job, but it’s still the right fit, and you need to prove yourself on each position. Have patience and do your best. . . the rest will take care of itself.
  2. But, it might not be a fit after all. No matter how much you enjoyed your courses, it doesn’t always mean that you’ll love it as a career. If, after a period of time you are highly dissatisfied, explore other options. You never want to get stuck in a career rut, and sometimes, it’s only after we experience a career that we determine whether it was truly a fit after all.

We hope you found this series helpful and invite you to share it with young people who may be experiencing these situations.

How to Conquer Career Anxiety (Part One)

adult-alone-anxiety-1161268Through the years, we have had numerous opportunities to mentor teens and young adults in the 16-24-age range regarding their careers. We see firsthand the stages of: 1) high schoolers getting a sense of their future career and plotting their education/training course, 2) college/vocational students who are finalizing their career decisions and are closer to entering the workforce, and 3) graduates who are experiencing the first few years of their careers (or job searches), now with a “taste” of the choices they made.

Although many are content and confident in their respective stages, others are anxious, concerned, or disillusioned. Here is a synopsis of the concerns we hear:

  • High School Students: “spooked” by peers who have already decided on their careers/majors (and, not realizing how many will eventually change their minds!), they feel insecure and stressed out when still undecided. Also, the “college for all” messaging is causing considerable anxiety and insecurity with students who are weighing other, better-fitting options.
  • College/Vocational Students: many are confused and unsettled about their final career/major selections, after taking courses and changing their minds. It is common for college students to switch majors multiple times, but each change produces anxiety. With each passing semester, pressure mounts to “bite the bullet” to avoid lengthening their studies.
  • Graduates/Early Career Individuals: many experience difficulty: 1) finding a job in their major (or at all), 2) knowing how to search for positions, and 3) being fulfilled in their job. Each has its unique challenges and frustrations, especially when job offers don’t materialize as expected.

If this sounds like you, or someone you know, please don’t lose hope. You’re in the early stage of a long journey, and with the right mindset and methods, you can enjoy tremendous career success. With that, we’d like to offer some encouragement and advice for each of these situations.

General Tips  

  1. Take charge of your career selection. Many young people are allowing others too much influence on their decisions. In the educator realm, this includes high school teachers, professors, and counselors who often lack direct knowledge of the private sector and the day-to-day aspects of different fields. Teens and young adults are highly impressionable at this stage and often defer too much to others who do not know them (or all the realistic career fits) sufficiently well to command such influence. Additionally, they are often swayed by friends who rarely possess sufficient knowledge to be very helpful; their advice is often counterproductive. Choosing a career/major needs to be among the best-researched decisions in life, and we, individually must take the lead role.
  2. Focus on selfawareness. No one knows you like you. Accordingly, your career selection requires a thorough understanding of self: your interests, skills and assets, personality, stressors, work environment preferences, income desires, and passions. Questions such as, “Who am I?” and “What do I have to offer?” are vitally important inputs to making a well-fitting career decision.
  3. Consider a variety of options. Although many young adults know with conviction what career they want to pursue, most don’t. Even if they think they know in high school, they often change their mind with the benefit of courses and more knowledge of other options. Sadly, some 40 percent of college graduates with Bachelor’s degrees regret their major (based on a recent Gallup survey)! All of this suggests that people aren’t researching their options thoroughly enough before committing. This is an unfortunate, and very expensive, regret.The solution is to research and evaluate several options with the aid of career assessments/surveys, job shadowing, internships, and conversations with those in your professional network. There is no substitute for talking with people in the fields you are considering. They are invaluable in providing they day-to-day perspectives of the job and the career path/qualifications required.
  4. Don’t forget to research industries and companies. Often, young adults select careers based primarily on their skills and courses and deemphasize the various industry options. For example, a graduate in accounting could work for a public accounting firm, a private or public company in any number of industries (e.g., banking, health care, technology), or a non-profit organization. Individuals are more fulfilled when their skills are used in specific fields and companies they’re excited about. So, in addition to skills assessments, be sure to explore different industries and employers via Career Clusters, libraries, Chambers of Commerce, suggestions from your network, internet searches, and career placement firms like Indeed. This research will help to select a better long-term fit.
  5. Evaluate employment prospects of different majors/careers. Far too many students are selecting their majors without thoroughly researching the corresponding job market. Post-secondary education is simply too expensive to select majors that don’t offer realistic employment prospects! Before committing to a specific field/major, obtain statistics from your educational establishment regarding the percent of graduates who landed full-time jobs in their field. Many many majors today have no realistic jobs at the end of the rainbow or are so general that it is extremely difficult for graduates to actually work in the fields they are pursuing! Understandably, this is a tremendous source of frustration and disillusionment for graduates who didn’t know any better. Educators need to step up their game in this regard! Big time.

In part two, we will provide specific recommendations to high schoolers, college/vocational students, and graduates employed or pursuing employment. We encourage you to share this series with the students, children, and mentees under your guidance.

13 Ways to Become More Likable

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Although Valentine’s Day is all about love, this week we’re taking it down a notch to celebrate like—specifically, likeability! Of course, love makes the world go round, but it’s true that likeability is a true hallmark of a successful person! It’s an especially valuable social skill to nurture in our teens, mentees, and students. In fact, when it comes to landing a job, the likeability factor is often the deal breaker in who receives the offer (and even who wins the Presidential election!).

For some, likeability comes naturally; for others, not so much—especially when they enter new environments like college and career settings and social gatherings. Whether it’s from inexperience, nervousness, low self-confidence, or inadequate training, many struggle with social awkwardness (e.g., withdrawing, coming on too strong, demonstrating poor manners, and being blind to the social cues of others). Unfortunately, these tendencies can overshadow the otherwise great qualities of a person.

We’ve all been in challenging social settings where we feel insecure, overshadowed, or underprepared, and it’s never fun. But, the good news is that likeability skills can be learned with proper training and experience (or life application). To that end, I came across an excellent article written by Travis Bradberry at Forbes.com, “13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People,” which you can access here.

Here’s a list of his 13 habits, which I think are spot on:

  1. They ask questions
  2. They put away their phones
  3. They are genuine
  4. They don’t pass judgment
  5. They don’t seek attention
  6. They are consistent
  7. They use positive body language
  8. They leave a strong first impression
  9. They greet people by name
  10. They smile
  11. They know when to open up
  12. They know who to touch (and they touch them)
  13. They balance passion and fun

I encourage you to read the entire article as Travis elaborates on these important behaviors. If you are an educator, parent, or mentor, these make for fabulous small group discussions and (especially) role plays. Practice situations where students act out each of these 13 habits—both positively and negatively. Also, have your students make a list of unlikeable qualities to highlight the differences. These will not only train them how to model likeability (while avoiding unlikable behaviors!), but it will also build awareness of important social cues like body language, eye contact, facial expressions, language choice, and more.

After reviewing this list, did you notice some important underlying themes? Here are some we found: 1) focusing more on others than yourself, 2) being authentic rather than trying to impress the other person, 3) demonstrating positivity, and 4) being respectful. All are great themes to remember.

Likeability is a huge factor in successful relationship building. Often, likeability is the key that will land someone their first date, win the job offer, or help them make a new friend in homeroom. Although it shouldn’t be our life goal to make everyone like us (or to ever worry about what they’re thinking about us), likeability focuses on being warm, friendly, and mastering social skills.

What additions would you make to the list?

This V-day, Believe in Your Teens Unconditionally

affection-dad-daytime-960829Have you ever had someone believe in you more than you believed in yourself?  How did that make you feel? It probably made you feel like you could take on the world (or whatever situation you faced at the time). That is how powerful unbridled belief from others can be.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the world is ablaze with talk about romance, kind gestures, and LOVE. At LifeSmart, we believe that believing unconditionally in someone is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate love.

Many successful people also point to their parents’ or guardian’s belief in them as the driving force behind their success. They believe that if their parents hadn’t been confident in them from the get-go, they wouldn’t be in the same place today. I am precisely one of those people, and I will be forever grateful for my parents’ unconditional love and belief in me (even if I may not have always felt deserving). It helped more times than I can count—including when I dropped a full grade point on my GPA during my first year of college versus high school. I remember how this caused me to question whether I was college material. However, I was sustained by their belief in me and turned things around the remainder of my academic career.

Teachers are also in a special position to demonstrate belief and affirmation in their students. I remember being one of the shortest boys in 8th grade, and this sometimes affected my self-confidence. I’ll never forget when my favorite teacher, Mr. Wulgeart, wrote the following in my yearbook, “Denny, there’s a saying that good things come in small packages. I think you prove that saying.” That meant the world to me.

Do your children (or other young people in your life) know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them unconditionally and believe in them unequivocally? Do they know that you see them as talented, worthy, and brimming with potential? Make certain they do rather than assume they do. It is a tremendous asset for teens to be surrounded by adults who believe in them—who can affirm their uniqueness and value. This Valentine’s Day, make sure your belief in them is an inner voice, encouraging them to dream big and persevere through life’s challenges.

Your child, mentee, or student will make his or her share of mistakes along the way (I know I sure did!).  But having the benefit of unconditional acceptance and belief from you will soften those blows and provide a safety net they can always count on.

Not so sure how to let them know you’re their biggest fan? Here are some ideas:

  • Be upfront. Whether it’s at a meal, during a tutoring session, or after a class, be willing to open up. Tell them that you believe in them (and why). Call out some of their greatest assets and character traits. Don’t just compliment them for their achievements; look for opportunities to appreciate their most admirable qualities and when they do something kind.
  • Write them an affirming letter or note. Stick a note in their lunchbox, or if you’re a teacher, consider putting a sticky note on one of their assignments. Knowing you went to the effort to do that will speak volumes to them!
  • Be generous with your time. What says, “I believe in you” more than carving out time in your busy schedule to do things they will enjoy?
  • Let them overhear a compliment you make to another.
  • Speak from experience. Share your own downfalls, mistakes, and past life experiences. A little perspective from a “pro” can boost their confidence and build trust!

We can be the cheering squad that calls out the strengths and affirms the dreams and potential of the young people in our lives. It’ll let them know that if they were a stock, you’d be a buyer! And, the best part of all? Your belief will breed their belief in themselves.

Who could benefit from your gift of affirmation and belief today? What ways do you show you care about the children, students, and mentees in your life?

Our Top Ten Mentoring Themes

american-best-friends-blond-hair-1574650.jpgIn the cold of winter, few things warm our hearts more than celebrating National Mentoring Month. For those of you who are working or volunteering in this vital role, we salute you. One of the most powerful factors influencing the health, well-being, and hope of young people is having a caring mentor in their lives. Thank you for being that person to love and coach them toward a brighter future.

At LifeSmart, we are often asked by mentors what are the most important life lessons to impart to their mentees. Since our book, What I Wish I Knew at 18, has 109 life success pointers, this isn’t an easy question for us to answer! Nonetheless, after giving it some careful thought, we came up with our top ten list. Whether you’re a mentor or parent, teacher, or coach, we hope these ideas will make an impact as you guide and influence young people.

  1. You’re in the driver’s seat. There is a saying that life is what you make of it, and it’s so true. No matter our backgrounds or circumstances, our hard work and initiative will make all the difference. So, make it happen, don’t wait for it to happen. #lifeisuptoyou

  2. Character and attitude matter more than you’d think. Young people often think success is all about smarts, wealth, or circumstances. Don’t buy it. In the long-term, their values and soft skills will matter more. So, help them build a strong personal brand with qualities like integrity, high standards, dependability, resilience, relational skill, work ethic, positivity, kindness, respectfulness, gratitude, and humility. #morethansmarts

  3. Surround yourself with positivity. Every influence, whether friends, music, books, or media has a positive, neutral, or negative impact on our lives. It pays to emphasize the positive and minimize the negative and to be aware of which is what. When it comes to friend selection, emphasize quality over quantity by focusing on people who share their interests and values. #bechoosy

  4. Get to really know yourself. The teen years are consumed with busyness, change, pressures, and key decisions. Unfortunately, they often sail through life without truly understanding themselves—like ships without a rudder. By building self-awareness in areas such as their assets, values, personality, interests, and passions, you can help them build self-confidence and a positive vision for their life. #selfdiscoveryiskey

  5. Success requires vision and There are dreamers and there are achievers. Buoyed by “you can be anything” messages, young people often assume their dreams will naturally, somehow, come true. Disillusion naturally follows when reality hits. Help them turn their dreams into goals, their goals into plans, and their plans into actions and you will make a huge difference. #lifetakeswork
  6. Time is precious, so use it wisely. The older we get, the more valuable is our time. Successful people carefully manage their time, focus on their priorities, and avoid distractions to the extent possible. Today, technology and screen time are presenting innumerable challenges to effective time management. Help them control technology, rather than allowing it to control them. #guardyourtime

  7. Give everything your best. Whether it’s our biggest project or smallest task, having high standards and putting forth our best effort are signs of a true leader. This is especially true when we’re part of a team and others are depending on us. We may not always win, but we can always hold our head high when we give it our best. #allintowin

  8. Develop a growth mindset. Although we can never guarantee a positive outcome, we can work to get a little better every day. This includes our knowledge, wisdom, skills, character, health, and relationships. A key ingredient is committing to be a lifelong learner. Growth is a sure momentum builder. #onwardandupward

  9. Deal constructively with adversity and disappointments. Life is filled with bumps and potholes, often outside of our control. Unfortunately, many mentees face challenging life circumstances and often, family dysfunction. Help them understand that adversity happens to all of us, that it grows our character and our value, to take one day at a time and work the problem, to keep the faith and a maintain a positive attitude, to tap into their support system, and to pursue healthy stress relievers. #youcandoit

  10. Life is about love. No doubt about it. The key ingredient to a happy and fulfilling life of positive impact is love. How well do we demonstrate love to others? Do we love and take care of ourselves? Do we love what we do? Do we love the journey and not just our wins? Do we love and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us? And, if we’re a person of faith, do we love God, too? What if success was measured in units of love? It would change the world! #livetolove

Well, there you have it. . . our ten best list. We hope these stimulate great conversations with the young people under your guidance and that they are inspired to take them to heart.

Keep up the great work! We’d love to hear your ideas, too.

 

20 Ways to a Happier New Year

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With the dawn of a new year, we’re inundated with lists of the 10 best this or five best that. I don’t know about you, but the problem I have with many of their ideas is they’re often vague or difficult to sustain over the course of the year. Despite our best intentions, we try them out and then peter out.

Nonetheless, at the risk of “piling on,” we’d like to share our recipe for a happier new year, 2019 style, with some creative ideas that might just stick. After reflecting on what makes people happy and unhappy, here is our eclectic list of suggestions that you might try on for size. No, we can’t guarantee a happy year, but I’ll bet money they’ll at least make you happier!

  1. Forgive someone: We thought we’d get the toughest one out of the way first! Sure, it may be difficult and emotionally draining, but one of the surest ways to better emotional health (and spirits) is to forgive. There is freedom in “letting go of” someone or something that has been a proverbial thorn in your side. It takes courage and strength, but it is oh so powerful. Try it.
  1. Renew an old acquaintance: One of my greatest joys in the past few years has been reconnecting with long-lost friends, some I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. It has been an absolute blast to the point where we’re “regulars” once again. Who might be on your list?
  1. Reread your favorite book: Here’s a sure thing. Think of an all-time favorite book you read years ago and reread it. With the passage of time, you’ll gain new perspectives and probably discover some things you missed the first time around. It’ll feel like you’re wearing that favorite old sweater once again.
  1. Seek balance and time to reflect: Can I just say it? We’re all too busy juggling life’s this and that. And, some of us pour our entire lives into one thing (usually careers). Be sure you maintain a healthy balance and a varied life—one that also reserves quality time to reflect, pray, meditate, and breathe. Quiet time is a must, and yet it’s usually the first to go. Sleep is a close second.
  1. Watch/listen to/read less news: We are being manipulated by our news media. And, I’m not just talking about the political spin that permeates almost every article or segment. It’s the deliberate effort to cause alarm, agitation, and fear by focusing on negative news stories and sensationalizing them. This is based on a belief that people are more interested in negative, than positive, news. Don’t fall for it. Consider how news is affecting you.
  1. Unfriend obnoxious people: We all “pilot test” some of our “friends” on social media to some degree. The challenge is we don’t know ahead of time what they’ll post and can even feel guilty “unfriending” them. Many of our “friends” choose to post things that either bring us down or incite controversy and angst by sharing their always-learned opinions. It’s irritating, it stays with us, and it’s a lousy way to spend our time. Just do it.
  1. Mind what’s on your mind: At the risk of stating the obvious, when we’re not doing things, we’re usually thinking Some of what we think of most brings happiness while others bring us down or cause endless worry. Where does your mind usually travel? Is it to positive/constructive places or otherwise? Be attentive to what brings you joy and consciously increase those kind of thoughts.
  1. Count your blessings: Arguably, the most powerful ingredient to happiness and joy is gratitude. And, not just the Thanksgiving Day kind. The every day kind. One great idea is creating a gratitude jar of notes you/your family have written about something you’re thankful for and then reading them later on. Whatever works best for you, having an attitude of gratitude is a sure bet.
  1. Enjoy more music, nature, art, and humor: When life is extremely busy, we can become so task oriented that we “squeeze out” the creative/ simpler things that bring joy, curiosity, and wonder. Whether you’re an observer or a “doer,” be sure you make room for these pleasures. They’re sure to brighten your day.
  1. Prefer in person to tech: Research is showing that, notwithstanding all of our social media “friends,” we’re becoming lonelier. Our screen time is often me time, and when we use tech as our primary means of communicating, we lose much. The solution is easy—more face-to-face time. Sure, it’s not as quick, but who cares! We all need this, and that includes you.
  1. Fix a regret: One of our greatest burdens is carrying a regret, whether from something we did or didn’t do. Depending on the nature and impact, it can consume us and sap us of our happiness. Do you have regrets? Are there steps you can take (conversations, apologizing, seeking forgiveness, doing) that would free you of this burden? Consider it a gift to yourself.
  1. Make someone’s day: Do you want to feel really great about yourself? Then, do something that will make someone say to you, “You just made my day!” or “You were an answer to prayer.” Seek out those opportunities where you can help, and be the solution to a problem. They’re everywhere waiting for you. (And, while you’re at it, consider mentoring a kid. They need you.)
  1. Seek out good news/stories: Good news is everywhere and so are great stories of human kindness. Sometimes we have to look a little harder to find them, but they’re there all right. Proactively explore sites, books, and articles that will uplift and inspire you and surround yourself with positivity. I even subscribed to an age-old magazine to do just that. It works!
  1. Remember, it’s okay to say, ‘No”: Some of us chronically overcommit to the point where we sacrificially run our tank on empty. We want to be helpful and please, but when we’re already consumed with busyness, we need to be more selective in what we agree to do. So, please don’t be afraid to say, “No” or “Not now.” Always save room for the people and things that matter most.

  2. Raise your irritation threshold: I used to let small things bother me until I realized that it was my choice. No more! In life, we’re constantly exposed to things or people that are irritating, but it doesn’t mean we have to let it drag us down. My mother always told me not to sweat the small stuff, and eventually, I took her words to heart. I should have sooner!
  1. Take more walks: One thing that reduces our happiness quotient is when we’re overly busy and our pace is frenetic. Not surprisingly, we also resort to fast-paced workouts (often indoors) in order to maximize results in a short time frame. To keep balance, stay active, and have some quality time to unwind and enjoy our surroundings, be sure to make room for walks, too. They’re a nice change of pace.
  1. Do something creative: So much of our time is task focused that we only use part of our brain. One way to counter this (and bring fun and joy into the equation) is to tap into your creative side. Whether that’s music, art, building, or otherwise, you’ll find it enjoyable and therapeutic. Also, be sure to check out the courses at your local community college if you’d like a little instruction. Is there a latent talent lurking inside?
  1. Initiate good cheer: Go out of your way to cheerfully greet the people you come across. It’s amazing how people will respond to you and how much it will lift your own spirits! Give it a try and you’ll see. Good cheer is a two-way street.
  1. Worry less: This is pretty self-explanatory. Worry robs us of joy and, frankly, does little good. Turn your worries into an action plan instead, and see how it builds hope and positive momentum. Tap into your support system, too.
  1. Start a Gourmet Club: “Huh?” you say. Here’s how it works. Find four people (or couples) and agree to meet quarterly on a rotational basis. The host is responsible for the setting, cuisine, and main entrée. The others bring dessert, beverages, side dishes, and appetizers in agreement with the cuisine. First, we mingle, then we eat, and then we follow with a game night and lots of fun conversation. We did this years ago with friends and are starting anew with our adult children. It’s a blast and it builds our cooking prowess, too!

So, there you have it. Let us know how it goes and which ones resonate most. Here’s to a Happier New Year to you and your family!

3 R’s for the New Year: Reflection, Resolution and (no) Regrets

resolutions-scrabble-3237This past year was pretty crazy for a lot of us. Big moves, big transitions, successes at work, new relationships, but also losses, hardships, and obstacles. When you look back on 2018, do you have any regrets? Are there things you did and wish you hadn’t—or things you didn’t do and wish you had? Any relationships that are strained? Opportunities missed?

We all have regrets from time to time. However, you can minimize big ones (or avoid them altogether) if you periodically ask yourself the regret question and then actually do something about it. The new year is a great time to start, but reflecting on our regrets and resolutions is a great practice to adopt all year long (and a great thing to journal about!).

For many people (myself included), personal reflection time is the area we sacrifice when our lives get busy. Unfortunately, when this happens, we can get out of balance, grow impatient, and often burn out. We’re not at our best, because we aren’t taking any time for ourselves to reflect on what really matters. That’s why it’s so important—at New Year’s and all the year through—to take time to unwind and meditate. Frankly, it’s the only way we can go deep with ourselves—to explore how we’re doing and consider where we’d like to go.

Find a place that inspires you and quiets your soul, and let your mind ponder some new growth possibilities. You’ll be surprised by your renewed spirit and by the new ideas and insights that can surface during quiet times like this.

I also find there is wisdom to be gained from older people who are in a naturally more reflective stage of life. When I’ve asked some of them about their life regrets, I’ve heard things like:

  1. I didn’t spend enough time with my loved ones.
  2. I didn’t tell my family and friends that I loved them often enough.
  3. I was too stubborn or proud to admit my mistakes and apologize.
  4. I chose bitterness over reconciliation.
  5. I allowed my life to be consumed by work.
  6. I was too hesitant to take risks, try new things, and believe in myself.
  7. I wasted too much time.
  8. I didn’t appreciate the little things in life.
  9. I valued things over relationships.
  10. I worried too much.

Do any of these apply to you? Be honest! Although regrets run the gamut, did you notice that most involve relationships and priorities? This is why it’s so important that our life be balanced and our priorities right. When we see something is out of order, let’s resolve to make a mid-course correction.

After some time for reflection, ask yourself what resolutions you’d like to make for the upcoming year, especially those that might minimize regrets by the time the next new year rolls around (hey, it’s only 365 days away!). The Oxford English Dictionary describes resolutions as “(decisions) to do or to refrain from doing a specified thing from that time onwards, or to attempt to achieve a particular goal, usually during the coming year.”

What have you been doing that you’d like to stop doing or doing less? What have you not been doing that you want to begin? Are there new growth opportunities or experiences on your bucket list? Then, don’t stop there. Turn your resolutions into goals and your goals into executable actions. That’s living with intentionality!

This discipline of regrets, reflection, and resolution is a good one for all ages. Consider sharing it with the young people in your life. Wouldn’t it be great to reach the end of 2019—and even to the end of life—and be able to say, “NO REGRETS?”

 

 

How to Start Holiday Traditions Your Teens Will Love

adult-chef-cooking-1655329For children, the holidays are the most magical time of the entire year. Young ones are enamored with the story of Santa Claus and his reindeer, excitedly watching their behavior to make sure they’re on the nice list. And of course, there’s the Elf on the Shelf tradition, which brings a sense of anticipation and wonder into the homes of each family who has one. Everywhere they look, kids are greeted with the Christmas magic that they so firmly believe in (Lights! Santa pictures! Cookie decorating! Class parties!).

For, teens, however, finding the Christmas magic can be a lot more difficult. Thanks to changing hormones, changing interests, and oft-fluctuating moods, teens can often give the “eye roll” to many family-centered holiday traditions and pay more attention to their cell phones. While young people desire close relationships with their family, they also strive to establish an identity separate from their family through friendships and school-related activities. However, studies show that a strong family culture is crucial in creating security and identity in teens (and in keeping them grounded!). Parents: As you gather with loved ones over this holiday season, it’s up to you to initiate powerful bonding opportunities that your teen can count on.

What makes a tradition powerful, you might ask? Well, that’s up to you! What sort of things do you and your teens enjoy? What is your cultural heritage? What foods do you like to eat? What’s important is that your traditions counter instability and alienation, making your teen feel connected to you and the rest of the family. Here are some pointers:

  • Establish routines that your children can learn to rely on. “Mixing it up” is great most of the time, but in this situation, predictability is key. At the beginning of the holiday season, make it clear that you have certain days set aside for certain family activities.
  • Involve your teens in the planning. Depending on the event or activity, let them choose who comes, help plan the meal, or prepare the food or dessert.

One of my favorite family traditions from childhood was our annual trip to the tree farm. Being one of five kids, there was no shortage of opinions when it came time to finally pick the tree. My parents helped mitigate the bickering—but still made sure all parties were involved—by switching off “girls’ years” and “boys’ years.” One year, dad and the boys got to choose the tree and the next year, it was up to mom and the girls. This made us all feel involved and special, but also gave us something to look forward to year after year.

  • Remember how “anticlimactic” Christmas can seem. There’s so much build up and anticipation, but then in what seems like the blink of an eye, it’s all over. Use this reminder to focus on the experiences, not the things. This is the perfect time to build memories, not stockpiles of STUFF.
  • Teens interpret high levels of control from parents as signifying that they’re “less than.” Be flexible with your teen, allowing them to communicate with you what traditions they see as important or especially significant to them.
  • Never underestimate the power of game night. Some of my most favorite memories from childhood took place at my parents’ long farmhouse table over a board game with my siblings. Game nights were the source of endless laughter, inside jokes, petty fights, and memories that we still laugh about today. Some favorites were Apples to Apples, Scattergories, Balderdash, Risk, Stock Ticker, and Ticket to Ride.

No matter what your holiday traditions look like, may this season with your teens and children be filled with love, laughter, generosity, peace, and of course, good food. We hope this holiday season is one that you will all remember for decades to come.

Better Yourself (and Your Holiday Season) by Expressing Yourself to Others

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“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

-Brene Brown

With Christmas just around the corner, most of us will be spending time with family in the coming days and weeks. Although family time is incredibly precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted, it can still be very difficult (strained, tense, emotional, etc.) for some. How does time with people we love end up being so tough sometimes? It’s hard to fully understand, but it’s a reality for a lot of us.

Perhaps it’s because it feels easier to put on our “everything is A-okay” face, and we don’t express ourselves honestly and openly. Deep down, we feel vulnerability, so we put up a wall that blocks anyone—even people close to us—from seeing how we really feel. We stuff our emotions, pretend everything is fine, and sweep conflicts and complaints under the carpet (until next year). Or, we find the path of least resistance is to keep a grudge and revert to passive aggressive behavior rather than reconcile with our family members (hmm, how well does that work?).

Many of us (especially us guys), have been led to believe that expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness. We think it makes us look like “less of a man,” overly-emotional, or out of control. However, that’s not the case at all—it’s actually a sign of emotional maturity! But whether it’s from our upbringing or a distorted perception of what “weakness” is, we pay a price if we don’t express our feelings. Being honest and authentic with others is a healthy practice, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Brene Brown, a world-renowned psychological researcher says: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

“What’s so wrong with not talking about how I feel?” many may be asking. Well, for starters, plenty! First off, it deprives others of knowing how you really feel (How can they contribute their support or apologize if they don’t know what’s wrong in the first place?). Second, suppressed feelings can cause stress and, if severe, illness and depression. Third, deep-rooted offenses and resentment can cause explosive reactions when they’re eventually released. The balloon pops rather than gently losing its air. It’s not good for anyone.

This Christmas season, I encourage you to learn how to freely and appropriately express your feelings to the people in your life. Here’s a short test to help you judge how easy (or not) it is for you to be “real” and authentic with your emotions. Consider the following phrases and ask yourself how often you share them with others:

I love you

I am proud of you

I respect you

I made a mistake

I am scared right now

I am grateful for you

I am sorry

I am worried about…

Please forgive me

I’ve really had you on my mind.

I am grateful for you

This is how you made me feel…

Some of these are naturally easier to express than others, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Expressing your feelings and communicating openly and honestly are life skills that can be learned and refined. With that, here are three simple tips to help you open up:

  1. Be sincere. Speak the truth, and speak from your heart.
  2. Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice. Certain body language (arms crossed, hands on hips, standing above the other person, etc.) or voice tones may counteract your words. Sincerity is key to any apology.
  3. Avoid finger pointing and accusations. Instead, talk about how certain situations made you feel and strive for understanding.

As we enter the Christmas season, I hope you enjoy your times of togetherness. Use them to practice expressing the “real you” and maybe to repair a strained relationship. Remember, successful people express themselves not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.

Happy holidays from all of us at LifeSmart, and may your holiday season be filled with open, communicative, and fun-filled time with your family and friends.

How would you rate when it comes to expressing yourself? Are there phrases on the above list that you have difficulty saying? Why?

 

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Words (Part Two)

adult-beverage-breakfast-302810Well, we hope you didn’t experience any dog bites or bee stings last week, but if you did, we trust that our latest blog on some of our favorite words helped pull you through. Recall, we’re adapting the “My Favorite Things,” song to words that have special meaning to us this time of year. Our first six favorite words were: Peace, Reflection, Family, Joy, Beauty, and Self-Care. Did you accept our challenge and make your favorite word list? We hope so.

Here are this week’s low-cal word alternatives to crisp apple strudel:

Hope: Without a doubt, one of the most powerful ingredients to a happy and fulfilling life is hope. No matter what our current circumstances, hope helps us endure and gives us a head start in tackling each new day. Simply stated, without hope, we are consumed by the present as “our normal” and struggle to cast a positive vision for our future.

Dictionary.com defines hope as, “the feeling that what is wanted can be or that events will turn out for the best.” This perfectly captures why we honor the educators and mentors who pour themselves into the lives of children at risk. How often it is that their hope comes through relationships with caring adults and/or through faith in God. So, whether you’re a parent, educator, mentor, colleague, or friend, be on the lookout for opportunities to instill hope in others. This is the season of hope, right?

Compassion: Arguably, there is no time of year when the differences between the haves and have-nots are more apparent. Gifts may be plentiful and extravagant or nonexistent. Cupboards may be full in a well-heated home or nonexistent when one lives under a bridge. Some are soaring in their careers while others struggle to find work. Some live in families that exude love and affirmation, while others experience dysfunction, abuse, or neglect. Some are so healthy they take it for granted while others are challenged with chronic illnesses or just heard bad news from the lab.

And yet, each of these is the domain of a different kind of First Responder: the Compassionate. No matter how difficult the circumstances, they are called to bless the hurting. Yet, ask anyone who is so inclined and they’ll tell you they receive more in return. Whether it’s their job, a volunteer opportunity, or simply being available, they deserve our utmost admiration. We can also be that compassionate soul, too and financially support those organizations offering comfort to the world. We’re all in this together. #beablessing

Generosity: One of history’s most beloved stories (and films) is A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is a study of contrasts, abruptly transforming from a miserly crank to a giddy, child-like philanthropist making up for lost time. Honestly, I watch the movie every year, reflecting on opportunities where I could have been more generous.

Each of us has time, talent, treasure, and relationships to offer the world. How we go about this is a function of what we have to offer, where we can offer it, and deciding to offer it. Instead of requiring a catalytic, Scrooge-like experience, let’s all commit to generosity as a way of life. The opportunities are endless.

Creativity: Unlike any other month, December offers more ways to use our creative juices and marvel at the talents of others on display. Whether it’s music, theater, decorations, or homemade gifts, we’re surrounded by human originality and performance this time of year. And, it’s truly awesome.

In a world that seems preoccupied with programs for the analytically inclined, we believe the “creatives” are undervalued and underappreciated. So, this season, and throughout the year, seek out opportunities to invest in the arts and to increase your creativity quotient. It enriches our lives and our world in immeasurable ways.

Simplify: Okay, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, right… he picks the craziest time of year to tell us to simplify when I can barely keep my tank full!” To that, we say, “Well, yeah!” My world and your world are getting more complex and distracted by the day, so this is a great reminder to push back from time to time. Our mental health and productivity are at stake if we don’t.

Here are some ways to simplify: 1) each year, check your wardrobe for items you haven’t worn in a year and donate them to the local clothing bank, 2) consciously schedule yourself downtime in your calendar, 3) reduce by half the amount of free time you spend on your technology (at a minimum, don’t check it so often!); this will free up time for family and “me time,” and 4) do a detailed “time budget” for a week to analyze how you’re spending your time; reduce/eliminate low value activities.

Cheer:  I once attended an Andy Williams Christmas show and correctly predicted his opening song: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” In it, he encourages us to be of “good cheer.” Well, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us. When we’re cheerful, we’re glad, and that’s a good thing any time of the year.

Let’s face it, we are drawn to people who are positive and cheerful rather than negative and dour. Cheerfulness rubs off on others (unless overdone to the point of being unnatural) and is key to making a good first impression, winning new friends, and influencing people. And, the more cheerful we are, the more cheerful we are. (No, that’s not a typo.)

So, there you have it… twelve of our favorite words for this holiday season and throughout the year. We hope it spurred you to consider your favorite words, and it’s a great assignment for your children and students, too.