When Adversity Strikes, Reach out to Help Others

When we face adversity, it’s easy to lose perspective and get consumed by our own situation. Sometimes, the depth of our pain or anxiety is well founded. Other times, we might be making more out of our plight than it deserves. (This can happen when we become self-absorbed.)

Whether or not that is the case, there’s a proven solution for working through loss and adversity that may surprise you. It comes through not solely focusing on our situation, but by seeking opportunities to help others. It is a total “win-win” proposition. In face, here’s the inspiring story of a courageous woman who did just that:

“A few years ago in a small rural town in Oregon, a teenage boy died in a drowning accident. In all likelihood his death could have been prevented if an ambulance and trained medical personnel had been available. However, this small town was too poor to afford these services.

The boy’s mother grieved for the loss of her son, but she also transformed her grief into a service to her community. While she could not regain her son, she worked to prevent a similar tragedy. This woman trained and became an Emergency Medical Technician. After completing her training she raised money to purchase an ambulance and trained volunteers to help her. It is estimated that this volunteer ambulance service has saved the lives of over 100 people that might have died, as her son did, due to a lack of emergency care. When interviewed, this woman said, ‘It’s easier to forget your own loss when you are busy helping others.’”*

If you’re experiencing a life trial, find a way to help others even less fortunate than you. This could be a community service opportunity, a mission trip, a visit to a soup kitchen, retirement home, or hospital, or helping a friend or neighbor in need. When you focus outside of yourself, amazing things can happen. One is that you may find your situation isn’t as troubling or bleak as you thought. Another is that you’ll experience the joy and satisfaction from helping others. You’ll begin to count your blessings, which are easy to forget when you face tough challenges. It also helps you forget your own problems for a while and gives you a completely new perspective (which, many times, is exactly what you need!). It might even turn into a new life mission—you just never know!

Can you describe the perspective you gain in your life when helping people less fortunate than yourself? Think about people you know right now who are experiencing adversity of some kind. How can you be a source of support or encouragement to them?


*Story excerpted from The Healing Power of Service, by Edward V. Brown, as shared on www.energizeinc.com.


When Helping Is Hurting: What NOT to Do for Your Kids

What parents don’t want their children to follow their dreams, land a solid job, have strong relationships and family, and enjoy a great life? We want them to be happy. We want them to be well-regarded by others. We want them to be successful.

But, here’s the rub. In a genuine effort to help our kids be happy and successful, there are some things we parents can do that are extremely counterproductive and actually work against our objectives.

Those who commonly work with young adults (e.g., teachers and administrators from high schools and universities, employers, etc.) report growing issues with this younger generation, four of which are particularly troubling: disrespect for authority, lack of social skills, apathy, and an entitlement mentality.  Guess where these particular issues generally originate–in the home! And, they are worsening, according to organizations receiving and trying to work with teens and young adults. The effects of media and culture aren’t helping either!

We can’t point the finger at anyone else on this one. It’s our job as parents to do our part and to help reverse this course, and the younger we can start with our kids, the better. From a parenting perspective, consider this scenario:

Say two-year old Joey is hungry.  Mom says, “Joey, do you want a banana or some grapes?” Joey doesn’t want a banana or grapes. Joey wants a mango. Mom tells Joey he needs to eat what is offered to him. He pitches a fit.  What does Mom do next?  She sends Dad out to the store to buy a mango.  Mom and Dad are happy because Joey’s happy.  Everybody’s happy, right? Wrong.

If this style of parenting continues throughout Joey’s life, as it does for many, what do you think Joey will grow up thinking?  How about:

–       he will always have choices

–       his happiness and satisfaction should be priorities to the people around him

–       he doesn’t have to comply with what he is told to do

–       Mom will always advocate for him to get his way and come out on top

–       other people are there to serve him, not the other way around

Granted, this scenario is overly simplistic, but here’s the point we want to make: Out of our desire to provide the best for our children (and keep them happy), some of our parenting methods may be contributing to their perception that the world revolves around them. If this is the case, they’re in for a rude awakening when they leave home and find that the world owes them nothing. And this is exactly what is happening—in astronomical proportions.

Do you see how this can translate to their life after they leave our home? To their experience in college or the workplace? To interpersonal skills with professors, coaches, and other superiors? To a marriage?  Not very well! Here’s what it can looks like, now and later:

  • Parents doing their children’s homework, chores, etc.
  • Parents defending unacceptable behavior of their children in meetings with school officials
  • Parents complaining to and threatening educators, coaches, and employers when their children aren’t receiving their desired rewards
  • Parents whose lives and schedules are dominated by their children’s activities and wants
  • Young adults who call in “sick” at the last minute because they’ve found something better to do
  • Young adults who don’t take responsibility for their mistakes and shortfalls or show respect to others
  • Young adults who expect teachers and employers to accommodate them instead of the other way around

Entitlement is what we call this attitude, this sense that other people owe us something—that we are deserving, regardless of whether we have done anything to earn it. It stems from the parenting style just described and some undesirable consequences of the “self esteem movement.” As a result, children feel entitled to get their way, viewing rules as arbitrary and voluntary, their needs as paramount, and other people as existing to serve them. And parents, unwittingly, are generally the ones who are cultivating this mindset.

In order for us to give our young adults wings on which they can really fly, we can’t coddle or cave in to them. If we’ve been doing it up to this point (as revealed in our children’s behavior), we need to turn it around fast, before they get out into the real world.

We can’t set our kids up as the center of our universe and let them think the planets revolve around them. It may seem a short-term solution when they’re pitching a fit as a two-year old, or even as an immature teenager. But in the long run, it will come back to bite us—and them.

Dennis_Arlyn_smallerAdapted from Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, by Dennis Trittin and Arlyn Lawrence, available through LifeSmart Publishing and Atlas Books.



There was a time I said, “No” a lot. After all, I was a busy exec with a 24-7 job and a growing family. My life spheres were narrowly focused on family, career, church, and friends. When opportunity knocked (often in the form of requests to serve), my answer was usually the same, “Thanks for asking, but I just can’t fit it in right now.”

Then, one day after a heart-to-heart with myself, I conceded that I wasn’t using all of me. I had some latent passions, but hadn’t created the capacity to pursue them. I decided I would start saying, “Yes.” To give more of me. To make room for new opportunities to serve causes and people I cared deeply about. To stretch myself with new responsibilities, even if they were outside of my comfort zone.

Ever since, my life has radically changed, with new meaning, new missions, new spheres, and new relationships with amazing people I would never have met had I kept saying, “No.” It’s been a profound change for the better.

2013 was a wonderful year for us on so many counts. Jeanne and I celebrated 31 years of marriage, graduated our youngest to pursue her dreams at a perfectly matched university, and watched our son embark on his new career and continue to serve God and others. How gratifying!

It was also a year when some of my biggest highlights were total surprises. Like co-authoring a new book, Parenting for the Launch, which wasn’t even conceived in the beginning of the year! Or, delivering my first Commencement speech—at a private school in Minneapolis! Or, shooting under par for the first time in my life! (And, not on a putt putt course!)

The New Year is a time for renewal and repurposing. For some, it’s also a time for new resolutions, although my highlights tend to be completely unpredictable at the beginning of the year. I love a good surprise, so my plans are always “written in pencil.” That way I can be attentive to (and save some room for) new opportunities for impact that come my way.

What stories do you have inside, just waiting to be told? What skills have been a little dormant and are ready for Prime Time? Who out there needs exactly what you have to offer? What passions are waiting to be pursued? What adventures are lurking if you would just make room and step outside of your comfort zone? What “Yes!” answer would have the greatest impact on others? And, you?

May 2014 be the year when you unleash you! Make it a great one.

Dennis_smaller~ Dennis Trittin




Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? Learn to Analyze Your Spending

When it comes to “budgeting,” many find it right up there with dieting and root canals in terms of the pleasure factor. However, tracking your spending and disciplining yourself to live within your means and save for the future is definitely worth the effort. If budgeting is not a natural bent for you, don’t give up on the idea altogether. You just need a willing attitude and some good resources to help you stay disciplined and on track with your finances.

How do you stay on top of your financial game?

The basic report you should complete (on at least a quarterly basis) is a cash flow statement. This report tallies your income and expenses in several key categories. It’s the surest way to see whether you’re living within your means and where your spending may be excessive. After subtracting all of your expenses from your income, you’ll see whether your net cash flow for that period is positive or negative. Remember, the goal is positive, positive, positive!

There are many online tools to help analyze your cash flow  (e.g., www.quicken.com and www.mint.com). In the past, analyzing cash flow was a lot more work—you had to save your receipts and organize them manually. But nowadays, if you use a debit card and checks for your purchases and bills, and you link your bank account to your online budgeting program, it will automatically categorize your spending and indicate where your money is going. It will even send you an email in the middle of a month to let you know if you’re over budget in a particular category (it knows if you’ve been bad or good)!

Even if it’s just a 75-cent daily newspaper or a $3 latte as you head to work each morning, make sure you account for every single dollar you spend. That’s how you can see exactly where your money is going. You may be surprised when you look at your spending after even just a couple of weeks. The nickels and dimes add up!

Analyzing spending and developing budgets are great skills to develop in the young people in your life. For young adults just starting out, tracking their spending will help determine how much they can afford for rent/housing and a car, significant expenses each month. How much should average living expenses cost? The following are typical expenditure categories and the rough percentages each should represent:

  • Housing/rent (includes utilities)    30-35%
  • Household/personal items                     20
  • Autos/transportation                              10
  • Charitable giving                                      10
  • Savings and investments                        10+ (not an expenditure per se)
  • Entertainment and leisure                       7
  • Debt/loans                                                  5
  • Insurance                                                    5
  • Miscellaneous                                             3

While the above percentages are ballpark figures (and they do change through life),  spending more than five percent above these levels is getting “up there,” with the exception of savings and investments and loans for new college grads. It’s also important to reflect periodic expenses like gifts and vacations in a budget. Holiday spending tends to spike in December, as does vacation spending in the summer. Therefore, it pays to update statements on a monthly or quarterly basis to avoid underestimating expenses. Compare actual spending to these ballpark figures, and you’ll have a good sense of whether you’re overspending in particular categories. And, take special precautions against buying too much house or car—these fixed expenses get many people in trouble.

Wise financial planning requires knowing where your money goes. You’ll make better financial choices, build a stronger credit rating, and develop good savings habits that help build wealth.

Do you track and analyze your spending?  How do you do it?  Have you trained and modeled this to the young adults in your life and, if so, how? We’d love to hear your insight and experiences!


Be the Only You

“Progress” can often be a two steps forward and one step backward proposition. The technological advances of the last two decades are a good case in point. We are so much more efficient and productive (albeit more distracted!) and, in many ways, connected. The access we have to information boggles my mind compared to what it was a mere 15 years ago.

This progress, however, has come at a cost. For one, our lives are not as private as they used to be. In some cases, it’s the result of information or images that wind up in places we didn’t expect (the most egregious example being “racey” photos). In other cases, identities are stolen and manipulated by shady characters. In this latter case, others can literally pretending to be you. This is real and no laughing matter.

Do you and your family know how to protect yourselves?

Identity theft is when an imposter uses your personal information without your permission. It’s a crime and can cause untold problems for the victim. Generally speaking, it’s caused by lost or stolen credit cards, careless disposal of investment/banking statements, providing personal information (Social Security Number and PINs) where you shouldn’t, and various viral and malware attacks. The perpetrator may open credit cards and accounts in your name, forge your signature, and even obtain a driver’s license in your name.

There is an ever-growing list of ways to avoid identity theft. Some of the key ones are:

  • Shredding your financial documents after their use
  • Keeping PINs (for debit cards) and passwords in a safe, private place and changing your passwords regularly
  • NEVER sharing your banking information, passwords, or PINs with anyone (an especially good reminder for young people, who are often used to  “sharing ” everything, to the point of too much!)
  • Signing credit cards immediately and destroying outdated ones promptly
  • Not keeping your Social Security Card in your wallet or purse
  • Not disclosing your Social Security Number unless it is absolutely required
  • Calling your financial institutions and credit card providers immediately if your wallet or purse is stolen
  • Never taking phone solicitations that seek your Social Security Number and never emailing your Social Security Number or PINs to anyone.
  • Only opening email attachments when you are certain as to their safety
  • Treating your personal information as personal and private!
  • Being extremely wary of phone solicitations. If offers sound too good to be true or the sales party is aggressive, steer clear! Personally, I just avoid solicitors altogether. Period.
  • Report suspicious behavior immediately
  • Use the best anti-virus and anti-malware software for your computers

Finally, there will be situations when you simply don’t know if it’s a safe bet. Here, you should consult with trusted people in the know before releasing any information that is private. Always err on the conservative.              

How careful are you with your personal, financial, and computer information? Have you discussed this with the young adults in your life—your children, students, or young adults you mentor? Share your tips and stories with us by commenting below; we’d love to hear from you!

Build and Maintain a Good Credit Rating

January is National Financial Wellness Month. It’s a great opportunity to do some assessing of our financial well being. It’s also an opportunity to think about how well we’re modeling and training the young people in our lives—our children, students, mentees, etc.

Here’s a good example. Can we be trusted to repay a debt? I hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

That’s what we want lending institutions to answer when we apply for a loan or home mortgage. They’re making a bet on us to repay our loans with interest on time, all the time. But, in order for them to conclude that we’re worth the risk, they’ll need to analyze our financial condition. In that evaluation process, one of the key measures they consider is our credit rating. It’s their way of getting independent advice on our creditworthiness.

Most young adults don’t think about this when they’re starting out, but it’s an important principle to instill at a young age—and to be reminded of throughout life. Do you know what it takes to have a good credit rating?

The most commonly used credit measure is your FICO score. Scores from 680-850 are considered good by lenders. Your keys to a favorable credit rating include:

  • Modest debt relative to your assets and income
  • Reputation for paying your bills fully and on time
  • Making regular deposits into your savings and investment accounts
  • Having a modest number of credit cards and preferably with low or zero outstanding balances
  • Paying off debt rather than replacing it with other debt
  • Not bouncing checks
  • Having a positive and growing net worth

When you have a good credit rating, you’ll receive better access to loans, larger available credit lines, and lower interest rates. It also affects your insurance rates and whether or not a landlord wants to take a risk on leasing a house or apartment to you. That’s why achieving a favorable credit rating should be a priority.

What if your credit rating isn’t so hot? You can turn it around. The sooner you start building—or repairing and RE-building, the better. It generally takes seven years for negative items to drop off your credit reports.

One thing to note if you are rebuilding your credit is that simply closing your revolving accounts to improve your credit score won’t necessarily work.  Closing credit accounts not only lowers the number of open revolving accounts (which generally will improve credit scores), but also decreases the total amount of available credit. That results in a higher “utilization rate,” also called the balance-to-limit ratio, which will actually lower your credit score! So, though it seems counter intuitive, just closing accounts is not the answer; rather, you want to pay them off and then wait patiently. When repairing bad credit, TIME is one of your greatest allies, along with PATIENCE and PRUDENCE.

How would a financial institution assess you as a credit risk? If the answer is “good,” then well done! If the answer is “not good,” what are the primary drivers? What specific steps can you take today that will turn it around?