From Lemons to Lemonade: Turning a Trial into a Triumph

woman-in-gray-knit-cap-and-beige-coat-3962212No matter who we are, we eventually face trials and crises. They usually happen to us individually (death, sickness, job loss, divorce), but in rare situations, like now, it affects us all. Although the degree and nature of our burdens vary, in generalized crises no one goes unscathed—especially in one that involves both our health and finances. That’s a double whammy that hits extra hard, and we’re all hurting.

The question isn’t so much whether we’ll face adversity, but how we handle it when it’s our turn. For any number of reasons, some deal with it better than others. Whether you, or someone you know, struggle mightily during trials, know that there are strategies that will help you react constructively, especially when a crisis is global. To that end, and in light of the coronavirus crisis we’re all navigating, we offer these suggestions to you:

  1. Envision the other side of the valley. During times of crisis, it’s more natural to stay in the valley and despair in the moment. Yes, we need to fight our battles today, but we also need to remain hopeful. We have faced many crises in our nation’s history and came out stronger each time. Hope is an incredibly powerful antidote to fear. When this crisis has run its course (and it will!), you’ll be able to look back with new perspectives and position for an even brighter future.
  2. Focus on what you can control and leave the rest to faith. When we’re faced with highly complex and unpredictable situations, it’s easy to get bogged down in worry about things we can’t control. The “what ifs.” Granted, we want to prepare for different scenarios, but once we’ve done that, our efforts are best spent on working our plans—doing our best, day-by-day, to move forward. Then, to the best of our ability, we rely on our faith for the outcome.
  3. Invest in yourself, your relationships, and in others. In difficult times, it’s especially important that we allow ourselves quiet time to reflect and/or pray. As a person of faith, I can’t possibly describe how beneficial this is for me. My prayers and petitions provide a sense of peace and perspective like no other. At the same time, it’s essential to ramp up our investment in our friends and loved ones. The at-home time and togetherness we are now experiencing is providing endless opportunities to take our relationships to new levels. So, let’s make the most of it. Finally, there is nothing more meaningful to the spirit, or more impactful to your community, than helping others. However you can, find ways to offer your compassion and talents to those who can benefit.
  4. Set, and abide by, your highest priorities. It goes without saying that our distraction factor during trials rises exponentially. Sure, we need to be flexible, especially with our kids, but the more attuned we are to our priorities, the more we’ll accomplish and the less anxious we’ll be.
  5. Consider what brings you peace, joy, and gratitude. Crises have a way of clarifying what’s really important. And, they’re usually the simple things, aren’t they? Our loved ones. Cherished memories. Our dreams. The beauty of nature and art. The inspiring stories of people who have impacted the world. What music, books, or movies lift you up? What, and who, makes you laugh? What encourages you most? What environments allow your spirit to soar? What scrapbooks or albums capture your greatest memories? What picture books or clips show your favorite scenery? Whatever they are, immerse yourself in them. Stay positive with all of your might.
  6. Teach your children valuable life skills. With schools suspended or out for the year, parents have an unusual opportunity to teach children practical life skills they’ll eventually need for adulthood. Examples include banking, budgeting, laundry, cooking, nutrition, landscaping, housecleaning, changing a tire, self-defense, career exploration/surveying, resume writing and interviewing, identity theft prevention, time management, and manners. Trust me, one day they’ll thank you for it.
  7. Heighten your discernment. It’s sad, but true, that many people and media sources use crises to instill chaos and fear to advance an agenda, rather than focus on objective facts and information that is beneficial to the public. They subscribe to the “bad news sells” philosophy. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult to trust media outlets and articles, especially in this election year. So, here are some tips to help you identify red flags of bias and disinformation in the media:
    1. Is the headline/commentary designed to alarm or inform?
    2. Are the sources balanced and credible or skewed in favor of an agenda?
    3. Are the questions/commentary/stories trivial or substantive?
    4. Are sources named? (Be on guard for any article or interviewer question based on “sources say” or “some people say.”)
    5. How much of an article/interview is based on objective facts or opinion/politics?
    6. Are they generalizing an unusual occurrence to incite fear?
    7. Does the media outlet report the good and the bad?
    8. Do interviews/articles feature supposed experts who have highly extreme viewpoints that are ill-supported and designed for personal gain/exposure?
  8. Be aware of human behavioral tendencies. As a former analyst and investment manager, I was fascinated by studies of human behavior that impacted financial decisions. Here are a few relevant examples:
    1. Fear is more powerful than greed. Stock market declines are much swifter and sharper than corresponding increases. Investors are more prone to panic selling than panic buying.
    2. The more frequently investors look at their portfolios, the more risk-averse they become. This is because they react more strongly to losses than to gains.
    3. Investors are heavily influenced by emotion when making decisions. They have a notoriously poor record of timing their investments because of a “buy high, sell low” mentality.By now, you can see how these tendencies also apply to our lives beyond finances. Translated: 1) we become more fear driven and often focus on negative news during crises, 2) we become more distressed and anxious the more frequently we consume news and social media, and 3) our decision-making objectivity can get compromised when we’re driven by our emotions. So, consider whether/how these human tendencies might be affecting you, and whether your emotions are being influenced by how frequently you consume news.

When this crisis eventually blows over, you’ll be able to look back and consider what you’ve learned through the journey—about yourself and the world around you. Did you make the most of it? What new perspectives and insights did you gain? How did it affect your relationships? Did it change your priorities?  What life lessons did you learn? Your children? How will your future be informed by this trial?

Friends, this is your opportunity to shine. Let’s make the best lemonade we can.

Be well,

The LifeSmart team

Parenting With Freedom or Fear: The Bicycle Test


When we wrote our new book, Wings Not Strings: Parenting Strategies to Let Go with Confidence, we chose our title based on the imagery it represents. At launch time, will we, figuratively speaking, release our “eagle” with wings to soar, confident, capable, and free to fulfill his/her dreams? Or, will we be releasing a “kite,” whose strings we control and maneuver out of fear, and whose freedom we inhibit?

Although our title was aimed at the teen being launched, it occurs to us that it also applies to parents. Let’s start with an illustration.

I’d like you to think back to when you were teaching your child to ride a bike. Your journey may have begun with a push balance bike that they scooted with their feet on the ground. After mastering this (with great pride!), they graduated to a small tricycle that they maneuvered with their hands and feet on the pedals! Your “big boy” or “big girl” was brimming with confidence and you were just as proud. The next step (or should I say, giant leap!) was a two-wheeler with training wheels. This was a big challenge for them, and you likely trotted alongside every step of the way. After a while, your child got the hang of it (more pride), and at some point, they probably snapped at you, “I can do it myself!” You backed off and they rose to the occasion. They were filled with pride, and by stepping away, you showed you believed in them. It was harmony.

Then came the final test: taking off the training wheels! Perhaps your child initiated it or maybe you needed to give them a nudge when you knew it was time. They took their position while you balanced the bike and ran alongside, holding on for dear life! You took your hands off for a few seconds so they could feel the freedom and stay upright and in balance. After enough practice, it was time. You let go and set them free, knowing there may be bumps, bruises, and falls along the way. Their pride was palpable. And, so was yours. You prepared them for the journey, and they were on their way. You showed them you believed in them. You trained them for independence.

And, so it goes with parenting for the launch. Are we parenting with a sense of freedom or from fear? Are we still, figuratively speaking, holding on to the bicycle as they face their new challenges, responsibilities, and decisions in the teen years and beyond? Here are some self-awareness-building questions that will offer you some clues:

  • Do we give ourselves the freedom to know that it’s their adult life to live? Or, do we feel we can and should attempt to control their outcomes?
  • Do we focus our training on building leadership, core values, and life skills for adulthood or more so on their performance today?
  • Do we encourage them to take healthy risks and experience varying outcomes and adversity or do we protect them from failure?
  • Do we teach them for independence as an empowering coach or micromanage them (do their chores, complete their applications, etc.)?
  • Do we prepare them as a future adult or still treat them as a child?
  • How much of your life is dominated by your role as parent and how often are your thoughts and activities related to your children?
  • Do you feel primarily responsible for your child’s happiness and success?
  • Do you find yourself succumbing to peer pressure from other parents regarding your child’s performance or accomplishments?
  • Do you perceive your impending launch as an opportunity for growth or with a deep sense of loss?
  • Do you even subliminally message to your child that you hope they stay close to home after high school?
  • Do you feel your relationship is at risk when you exert your parental authority and, therefore, hesitate to discipline your child?
  • Do you tie privileges to respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness or give in to keep them happy?

As with most arenas in life, effective parenting requires healthy balance and perspective. Unfortunately, many families are being managed out of fear today, especially when parents attempt to control their children’s outcomes. It not only stunts the children’s growth, but also robs them of the joy and pride of doing things themselves, and destroys their self-confidence. Sadly, it also causes near-and long-term relationship strains and resentment toward the parent. It’s hard enough to control our own lives, much less those of others, including our children. That’s a cross no one should bear. Parenting with a sense of freedom—preparing them for the journey and then taking your hands off the bicycle—is the better way to go.

For more information, we encourage you to check out Wings Not Strings. It will encourage and equip you to parent with the freedom you deserve.

We’re Busting These Nine Career Myths

grayscale-of-woman-in-black-flat-sandals-walking-803951Over the years of mentoring 17-24 year olds, we’ve been struck by the numerous misconceptions that are causing anxiety, disillusionment, uncertainty, insecurity, strategic mistakes, and regret as they plot their career courses. Whether due to incomplete training in high school and college, lacking self-awareness, or mistaken assumptions, their progress is being thwarted by several career-related myths.

This blog is designed to help you debunk these myths with the teens and young adults under your guidance. It will not only give them greater peace of mind, but also instill valuable career savvy in positioning them for success.

  1. Success is all about smarts. So many young people are misguided into thinking that you need a 4.0 GPA or an Ivy League degree to succeed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Employers routinely cite soft skills (aka: leadership/character skills) as more important. This was confirmed in the 21 Workplace Readiness Skills identified by Virginia employers in an extensive survey. Employer comments such as, “We hire for attitude and train for skill” are becoming more commonplace. This is an especially important message to share with students who are less academically gifted.
  2.  You need to know your future career while in high school. Undecided high school students can become insecure or feel pressure when their friends are more certain of their future career/major pursuits. This is deeply unfortunate because: 1) many students haven’t conducted extensive career surveying or are lacking in self-awareness and 2) many “decided” high school students eventually change their minds in college (or elsewhere) when they are exposed to a variety of courses; most change their major at least once. This is why we encourage high schools to emphasize the career process(and extensive surveying) rather than career adoption, where possible. We do recognize, however, that for certain majors, a definitive choice needs to be made while in high school—hopefully after vigorous analysis.
  3. College is automatically your best route. Fortunately, more schools are realizing the downside of “college for all” messaging. High college dropout and low completion rates, significant costs/debt, difficult job acquisition in certain majors, and the availability of many well-paying jobs that do not require a four-year degree are having an impact. We need to guard against even subliminal messaging that paths other than a four-year college are somehow inferior.
  4. Choosing your major is a sufficient career strategy. With a recent Gallup survey indicating that the greatest regret of college graduates is the major they chose, it’s clear that students need to be more strategic in their selections. This includes: 1) researching the realistic job prospects in that major, 2) strategically selecting their minor, and 3) not choosing their major until they’ve spoken with practitioners with jobs in the majors they’re considering.
  5. It’s STEM or bust. Whether overt or subliminal, one message that is being promulgated in schools and universities is that STEM is where you need to be for an excellent career. Importantly, even though many of today’s most successful companies are in tech-related industries, by no means do even a majority of their jobs require technical degrees. For example, tech companies still need marketers, communicators, human resources professionals, attorneys, accountants, client service representatives, and the like. Those who are not analytically, technically, nor mathematically inclined should by no means feel insecure if their skills and interests lie elsewhere.   
  6. Your professors and counselors know best. One of the most common regrets of college graduates is that they gave too much credence to the career advice of professors and counselors who: 1) often lack a real world understanding of the job market and 2) don’t know their students that well. College students are impressionable when it comes to advice from professors and assume counselors know more than they do about actual jobs. As a result, students can overly rely on the advice of others who don’t have all the necessary information or perspective. When 40% of graduates with Bachelor’s degrees regret the major they chose, you know we have a problem. It is painful to see how misguided so many students are as a result of this myth.
  7. Your degree is your guaranteed ticket to a great job. Many college graduates falsely (and regrettably) assume that once they earn their degree, the job offers will magically follow. They quickly learn that they gave their college and degree too much credit in the job acquisition department! This is especially problematic when, unlike accounting or nursing for example, one’s major is either broad (e.g., communications, economics) or not necessarily linked to jobs (e.g., many humanities or ____ Studies majors). It is critical that students have a definitive job acquisition strategy before they choose their major and before they graduate. Many don’t and live to regret it, especially when their loan payments are due!  
  8. A good resume will automatically get you into the game. While an excellent resume is a must to land interviews and win jobs, it is only one piece of the puzzle. These days, employers rely heavily on online applications where it is not always easy to stand out from the crowd. It is extremely valuable to also have: 1) a great cover letter and application and 2) an insider going to bat for you. Here is where networking becomes so important. Also, it’s critical to know the job-posting platforms, regularly screen job openings of interesting employers, and have outstanding interview and follow-up strategies. It’s all about persuading the employer that you are the best person for the job. That means knowing your value proposition for the job opening at hand and effectively communicating that throughout the process.
  9. You should hold out for the perfect job. Young adults are naturally idealistic, but this can be a severe impediment when it comes to the job search. Some are so specific and demanding about their first job that they severely limit their choices. By holding out for perfection, they forego a good job that positions them for their dream job when it becomes available. Given that employers generally give preference to current employees when recruiting, it can pay off to land a related position and compete when the desired position becomes available. Many young people are floundering because they let their egos get in the way of landing their first job.

Finally, we encourage you to share What I Wish I Knew at 18 with your children and students. Our career chapter offers these, and many other insights and strategies.