Smile–It Means More than You Think

ID-10092716“Let us make one point, that we meet each other with a smile, even when it is difficult to smile. Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family….for smiling is the beginning of love.”
― Mother Teresa

Have you ever thought about what your smile—and your countenance in general, really—say about you? When I first meet someone, I look at their eyes (are they kind?) and their mouth (are they joyful?). I am sure that judging a first impression based of eyes and smile might sound crazy to some, but actually, these cues are often spot on. They are great indicators of a person’s level of engagement with those around them. If the eyes and mouth don’t make a great first impression, it’s likely the rest of the person won’t either.

What impression do you give other people when they meet you for the first time? Your countenance matters, probably much more than you realize! After all, the person you just met could become a new friend, future spouse, future in-law, potential employment reference, employer, manager, industry contact, mentor, or client. The fact is, life is a series of chance moments with others, and you never know what might become of the people you meet and the role they could play in your life.

There’s a wise saying: “You never get a second chance to make a good impression.” In fact, most employment recruiters will say that the first 30 seconds of an interview will make or break your chances! Yes, that’s 30 seconds! For some, it only takes five!

In order to master the art of relationship building, it’s essential to make a great first impression with everyone you meet. Here’s all it takes:

  • Demonstrate through your countenance, words, andbody language that you’re happy to meet them (key: smile!)
  • Give a firm, confident handshake and look them in the eye
  • Be positive and enthusiastic
  • Be inquisitive. Show an interest in them and in what they say. Focus more on listening to them than talking about yourself.
  • Remain engaged in the conversation and avoid distractions like calls and texts
  • Use good manners and be gracious

Surprisingly, many people just don’t get it. They allow negative thoughts, cynicism, suspicion, self-focus, insecurity, and indifference to cloud their countenance. They may not realize it, but it shows—and in job interviews and in life, it doesn’t end well.. They may say all the right things, do all the right things, yet wonder why others aren’t warming up. Many times, it all comes down to countenance. Your smile can make all the difference!

Do you make sure to always wear a smile, especially when meeting new people? What are your tips for making a lasting first impression when you meet others? When you meet someone new, what are the first things you notice about them?

Photo:, by stockimages

Parents: Your Voice is More Powerful than You Know

In our conversations with parents of teens, their greatest struggle is a sense of loss of influence. But, while teens are listening to other voices during this season (their friends, acquaintances on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, celebrities, parents of friends they see as “cool,” etc.), they are not necessarily cutting ties or rejecting their ideals. In fact, many times what may be perceived as a rejection is more a re-negotiation of their former parent-child relationship. Perhaps their teen isn’t saying is “I’m rejecting you.” Rather, he or she may be saying, “Hey, I’m almost grown up. It’s time to cut a new deal,” or “Give me some credit; I get it!” or “Come on, let me try and figure this out on my own!” Whether we’re talking about curfews or communication, relationships or jobs around the house, what we want to avoid is burning our bridges.

If this rings true for you, it’s a golden opportunity. If you recognize and react to this new reality with trust and they handle it well, you can build an even greater platform for parental influence and relationship in your teen’s life. This matured relationship can be a source of great benefit and pleasure to you both in the future.

Be encouraged. Statistics support the idea that, despite appearances to the contrary, parents are still the number one influencers in a young person’s life. The majority of teenagers report that they have values and general beliefs similar to their parents and consider their parents as being highly significant in their lives.

Here’s something we can guarantee: your children will make some not-so-great choices throughout their adolescent years, but they will also make some wonderful ones. They will stumble and make great strides. Sometimes, they’ll want you to pick them up, dust them off and set them straight again. Other times, they’ll prefer you keep your distance and let them handle it on their own.

If you’re worried about the voices influencing your teen’s life, or if you’re struggling to  get through to them on your own, try these exercises:

  1. Make a list of the five most influential people in your teen’s life. Are you happy with the list? Whom would you like to add? Is there anyone about whom you have concerns? Discuss these with your spouse or parenting partner. Come up with some strategies for ensuring there are strong, positive third party voices in your teen’s life.
  2. Ask your teen to identify the top five people he or she admires most and why. What are the common denominators? The people they admire can be an indicator of your child’s priorities and values. Do they align with your family’s?

If you have the benefit of a variety of positive, encouraging, and healthy voices in your child’s life (coaches, mentors, relatives, teachers), you’ll be able to approach the launch with a greater sense of peace. He or she will be all the more prepared for the real world, where we all have to sort the good voices from the bad. Hopefully, they’ll surround themselves with the good.

That’s all part of the journey on the road to adulthood. Just remember, no matter how tough the going gets, you are your child’s main influencer and they DO value what you think.

Parents, do you feel that you have a good line of communication with your teen? Have you had to take a more “hands off” approach lately (especially with those who have recently graduated high school)? What strategies have you used to cope? What have you learned from other parents?

To learn more, or to order your copy of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World (Dennis Trittin & Arlyn Lawrence, LifeSmart Publishing), visit


Everyone Needs an Emergency Savings Fund (and How to Start One)

ID-100237370Sometimes our plans go awry and the unexpected happens. You lose your job. You take a pay cut when your employer trims the budget. You’re out of work for months recovering from surgery. Your roof leaked (or, in our case, our septic system backed up!) while you were on a long vacation. Your washer and dryer went out. You dropped your smart phone in a puddle. What will you do?
Hopefully, you’ve planned for emergencies and contingencies.
According to a 2011 survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 64% of Americans don’t have enough cash on-hand to handle a $1,000 emergency. This means that if a crisis strikes, big or small, and you DON’T have money put away for emergencies—they’re in for a world of hurt. They’ll realize the hard way that they needed a special fund for life’s unexpected lemons.
An “emergency fund” is an account set aside with money earmarked solely for high impact contingencies that inevitably surface  As a rule of thumb, it contains four to six months worth of average monthly expenses (invested in safe, short-term investments) will help serve as a buffer in these unfortunate situations. During periods when the economy is weak and your job may be in jeopardy, it’s sensible to build a six to twelve-month emergency fund to give you an extra cushion. Establishing an emergency fund should be your first financial priority once you begin your career.
To determine how much you should have in your emergency fund, you should first identify what constitutes six months’ worth of normal household expenses. (Include expenses like your mortgage or rent, utilities, loans, insurance, gas, groceries, and other essentials, allowing a small amount for incidentals and entertainment, etc.)

Then, once your balance reaches six months worth of expenses, it’s hands off! You’ll need to resist the temptation to withdraw from your emergency fund for vacations, high tech toys you think you can’t live without, or any other non-emergency expenses or indulgences.
Ultimately, what an emergency fund buys you is peace of mind. When the invevitable happens, you won’t have to scramble around for the money you need and you won’t have to turn to credit cards or other debt. It’s like an insurance policy you’ll be glad you have when life throws you a big fat lemon!
How have you created an emergency fund?  Can you think of a time that your savings came in handy? It’s never to soon or too late to start. Do you have any other tips or advice, or creative ways you were able to save up for an emergency expense fund?

Picture:, PC- FrameAngel
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Not All Challenges Are a Closed Door: Handle Adversity One Step at a Time

ID-100271746If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

– Winston Churchill


What’s your reaction when the going gets tough?  Do you just keep trudging right along, or are you more likely to go back to bed and hope that when you wake up, it will all have blown over?

There’s something to be said for both of those approaches in their own way and at the right time. Sometimes we need to ride out a trial or a sticky situation and let it resolve itself. Other times we need to buckle down, roll up our sleeves, and attack the problem.
Easier said than done?  Not necessarily.
When our most difficult trials occur, such as the loss of a job or the end of a cherished relationship, it’s easy to get consumed with hopelessness and despair. These emotions are often followed by panic and a complete sense of failure. People in this situation have difficulty seeing the other side of the valley. It’s a terrible place to be.
There are two key ways to avoid this trap. One involves perspective—considering that some good may come out of this experience. At least give it a chance! Perhaps an even better job opportunity might come your way. You may find a new friend or love interest that’s a better match. Who knows? The fact is a change in one’s direction often requires a catalyst that’s negative in the short term. So, it pays to consider whether it’s a new beginning or an important growing lesson.
The second key is to develop a step by step plan and take things one day at a time. Rather than focusing so much on the outcome (which often seems insurmountable), divide it up in pieces and work the plan. This way, the situation doesn’t seem so overwhelming and you’ll build momentum with each small success. As you make progress, you become more optimistic and perform better. There’s nothing like seeing some light at the end of the tunnel to help you regain hope.
A perfect example comes from the corporate world where managements are controlling their headcount (and payrolls!) like never before, even despite posting record profits. Many excellent and dedicated workers have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. This is extremely painful because of the economic hardship and the loss of the daily contacts with colleagues and friends. People tend to react to this situation in one of two ways. Some fall into a deep trap of bitterness and self-pity, waiting for something good to come along. Others use this as an opportunity to consider new career possibilities and/or to improve their skills. Then, they actively seek out new employment situations, often finding them superior to their former job. The same is true for younger people who don’t make the team or get into the college of their dreams.
You’d be amazed at how often these kinds of disappointments prove to be the catalyst for a better future. By taking the process step by step, you sustain a positive attitude during your transition period and prepare yourself better for the rest of your life. And this doesn’t just go for job losses; the same principle applies in many other challenges you may face in your life time.
When a trial strikes or your circumstances throw you for a loop, think about ways to slow down, step back, and focus on what (and who) is important. Remember that time heals pain, and, as Scarlett O’Hara famously said as she stood on the smoldering ruins of Tara in Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.”

When you go through an especially tough time, are you able to take things one step at a time? Do you see how progress helps improve your confidence and attitude? How can you encourage someone around you with this perspective? Please share your stories, insights, and questions with us; we’d love to hear from you!

Photo credit:, Stuart Miles

Parenting is a Team Sport

Last Valentine’s Day, the parents of our teenage daughter’s best friend took the girls and a third friend out to a fancy restaurant. The dad gave the girls pretty rings and a pep talk about their priceless worth and the importance of loving and respecting themselves. He had contacted my husband Doug and me earlier to ask our permission and we happily consented.  After all, he was reinforcing something we felt strongly about and we were glad for Hillary to hear it from more than just us.

Doug and I (Arlyn) joke all the time that parenting is a “team sport”—and our team extends beyond ourselves as Mom and Dad. Some experts believe the magic number is five—that every teen needs at least five adult voices in his or her life that will reinforce positive values and a healthy self-image. For our kids, these voices have included:

  • their grandparents and other extended family members
  • family friends
  • youth group leaders/mentors
  • teachers and coaches
  • parents of some of their friends

It’s been rewarding to see the different perspectives and qualities these other “voices” have contributed, especially at times when Mom and Dad were a little less popular! They offered wisdom in diverse areas like:

  • work ethic
  • integrity
  • perseverance and self-discipline
  • relationships
  • financial management
  • spiritual life (faith, encouragement, prayer)
  • practical skills like construction, painting, cooking, and car repair
  • the value of family
  • aspirations for college and a successful career
  • modeling a lifelong marriage

Do you have the benefit of other influences in your teen’s life that will tell him the same things you would? The unique value of other adults in our teens’ lives is not just the wisdom they offer, but the fact that they are listened to. So, if our voices are temporarily devalued and our influence seems to be waning, we can recruit others to “shore us up.” Plus, sometimes other adults offer unique perspectives and insights that we as parents simply lack.

For example, when one of our kids was going through a rough patch in high school, his track coach stepped in and brought some much needed perspective, encouragement, and accountability. This coach was also our son’s AP Psychology teacher. Because of that expertise, he was able to offer him unique insights that spoke directly and objectively to his logical nature, helping him better understand himself and his reactions. It ended up being a win on a number of levels.

Guaranteed: your children will stumble here and there as they make great strides. Sometimes, they will want you there to pick them up, dust them off and set them straight again. Other times, they’ll prefer you keep your distance and let them handle it. In these instances, having those important third part voices in place will be great backup support.

If your teen is having a tough time, who in your life could become an asset for the situation? It always pays to know, and to keep them in your “hip pocket” just in case!

What do you think about the idea that “parenting is a team sport?” Who are other adults that you would consider to be on your “team?” If you need to shore this up, who are some likely candidates?