Four Steps to Choosing Your College Major and Career

Can you imagine working at a job you hate? Spending most of your waking hours bored, frustrated, or totally stressed out, working with people or for an employer you don’t care for?

On the other hand, imagine working for a company you admire, where your skills are fully utilized, where you can build life-long friendships, where you’re given opportunities to grow professionally, and where you’re rewarded and recognized for a job well done.

I think we’d all prefer the second scenario, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, many don’t experience it because they don’t do the proper homework. Choosing your major and career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life. But, is it?

Unfortunately, far too many grads are disenchanted with their major and career. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll of some 90,000 college grads, 36% regret choosing the major they did! Yes, 36% have buyer’s remorse! This is a shocking statistic given the amount of money poured into our college educations and the importance of actually liking (and succeeding in) a career that fits. I believe this major/career regret stems from the following:

  1. Insufficient research by students on their career options. They are either struggling to find a job in their major or discovering it wasn’t a fit after all.
  2. Insufficient guidance and preparation by colleges provided to students. I speak with far too many college grads who are still uncertain about their careers or are clueless as to how to land a job. This is a travesty.
  3. Too many college majors with limited career connections. Shouldn’t colleges provide students with the percentage of their graduates landing a job in each available major? Many students simply major in what they like (with full support from their counselors) without realizing the challenges in actually finding work.

 

Now that summer is here and many students have college and career on their minds, it’s the perfect time to do some assessing, research, and hands-on learning to get a good grasp of what your future can look like.

The first step is to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. This involves taking an honest and objective inventory of your:

  • Interests and passions
  • Skills and aptitudes (Be honest with yourself here. Don’t say you’re good with numbers when you’ve nearly failed all your math classes!)
  • Lifestyle and workplace preferences (are you laid back? Orderly? Type A? Do you hope to work remotely, travel a lot, etc.? Like working solo or in teams? Thrive on pressure…or not? People or task oriented?)
  • Ability to obtain the necessary qualifications (Degrees, certifications, continued education)

The second step is to develop a list of potential careers that captures your interests, skills, and personal preferences. Learn about the qualifications for each career possibility and consider whether you have the skills and/or are willing to acquire them. Meet with admissions counselors and professors. Attend career fairs. Review the recommendations from any aptitude tests you’ve completed. Meet with actual practitioners in each career area to learn what the job is like. Speak with others who know you best to gain their perspectives.

The third step involves investigating the demand outlook for the careers you’re considering. Do your research to discover which careers are experiencing strong job growth and which majors will qualify you. This step is more crucial than you realize. For every major you’re considering, thoroughly evaluate its employment prospects. Your return on college investment may be at stake!

Finally, seek out work-study, internship, and job shadowing opportunities to get a taste of what the career is like. This will provide a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your preliminary conclusions.

Once you complete this process, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   

A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to the education and training you’ll need to qualify for them. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website.  It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests. Another good option is www.careercruising.com.

 Parents, youth mentors, and educators: Please consider sharing this email with the career-bound students in your life. Use it as a bridge to opening conversations about life direction, career options, and preparation for life as an adult. Then feel free to share your comments and testimonials with our online community; we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Career Readiness: Excelling on the Job

“Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work for it.”

~Author Unknown

It’s day one on the job, and we can’t wait for our corner office, leather chair, and stunning view. Not so fast! Success on the job (including the perks!) takes hard work, and no one is entitled to it. In today’s competitive workplace, employers are managing their staffs with greater scrutiny than ever. Consequently, we must continually justify ourselves by adding value to our employer.

There’s a BIG difference between the MVPs in an organization and those whose careers stagnate. So for our students’ benefit, it’s critical that our career readiness training includes the secrets of workplace superstars. With so many teens and young adults lacking job experience, this segment offers a vital glimpse into the demands of the workplace. The better our students understand this now, the better equipped they will be to knock it out of the park from the first day.

Here are our recommendations for setting students up to excel in the workplace:

  1. Pursue a well-matched career. All-Star employees play to their strengths, and that begins with selecting a career that matches their skills, interests, and personal preferences. This is one reason why students should conduct a comprehensive assessment of themselves and career options (described in an earlier blog) before making a decision. It is also why parents and educators should play a role of guiding the process rather than directing it toward a particular outcome. There is no substitute for loving our work, and that can only be possible if it fits us like a glove.
  2. Model the qualities of workplace MVPs. Career success goes far beyond skills and smarts. Ask employers to identify what stands out among their most admired employees and you’ll hear qualities such as high standards of excellence, integrity, dependability, relational/communication skill, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation/strong work ethic, resilience, humility, loyalty, professionalism, focus, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond. Encourage your students to take these to heart.
  3. Deliver excellent job performance. It’s critical that students understand how they will likely be evaluated on the job. Their performance will link directly to their pay, promotion potential, and overall satisfaction. Generally speaking, their job reviews will include rankings on subjective criteria such as communication, attitude, teamwork, and dependability, as well as on specific goals for the performance period. We recommend sharing the following strategies with students starting on their first day:
  • Ask their supervisor to define excellence on the job and in each of the evaluation criteria. This offers invaluable insights how he/she will be rated in these subjective areas. Then, of course, deliver it!
  • Ask their supervisor to identify the one to three most significant accomplishments the employee could achieve in the next six months. Then, deliver them!
  • Ask their supervisor to share how he/she and the department are being evaluated and how they can contribute to their success. Then, deliver!
  1. Contribute to their employer’s success. MVPs go above and beyond. They proactively seek ways to build value in the eyes of their employer. And, the best way to do this is to positively impact the organization’s success. There are many ways to do this, but here are some of the most powerful:

Improve sales. This can be achieved through adding new customers, building customer loyalty, developing new products/services, and supporting the sales effort.

Reduce expenses. Lowering costs and improving efficiency directly benefit the bottom line.

Innovating. Whether it’s new products or services or better ways to position the company in sales settings, these efforts contribute to the employer’s brand and revenue growth.

Leading. Whether it’s leading projects, teams, or people, the potential for significant impact and reputational value are huge. Seize the moment and use every opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

By knowing how to deliver excellent job performance, your students will be poised to reach their full career potential!

Career Readiness Essentials: Knowing What Employers Value

career fairHere’s a true story from my hometown. She was scheduled to arrive for work as a server for a small family restaurant at 5:00. However, she apparently received a better offer. At 4:55 she called the owner, informing him that she was sick and unable to work. But, merely 15 minutes later, she would be posting pictures of herself with friends at a beach party some seven miles away. When she showed up refreshed for work the next day, she was fired on the spot.

This case example is worth sharing in your homes and classrooms because, in various forms, stories like this are becoming commonplace. Whether from inexperience, lack of training, or simply misguided attitudes, many teens and young adults are struggling on the job. They’re learning the hard way that trophies, so easy to come by when they were young, are much more difficult to obtain in the workplace. But, with proper training, stories like this are preventable.

In last week’s installment in our career readiness series, we discussed the importance of self awareness as the necessary first step to a successful career. Finding a good match begins with knowing me!  Now, in the second step, I need to get to know you: my current or potential employer. But, judging from the horror stories I hear, employer perspectives are a missing ingredient in many career readiness programs. Students need to understand that their career success involves much more than smarts and skills.

To this end, here is our top ten list of qualities desired by employers:

  1. Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; trustworthiness
  2. High standards: a commitment to excellence in work, relationships, and attitudes; actively seeks out feedback and professional development
  3. Reliability: dependable in fulfilling responsibilities; adopts an “on time, every time, with excellence” mentality
  4. Motivation/work ethic: self starter who is willing to go “above and beyond;” industrious and efficient and follows instructions
  5. Team player/relational skill: demonstrates positive interpersonal skills with fellow employees, clients, prospects, suppliers, and the community; encourages others and focuses on the company and team over self
  6. Positive attitude/enthusiasm: displays a constructive and uplifting attitude and passion for both work and the company
  7. Innovative: demonstrates curiosity, creativity, and a commitment to improve processes, products, and services
  8. Resilience: faces challenges head on, rebounds from adversity, and resolves conflict along the way
  9. Professional manner: displays a professional attitude, appearance, and communication
  10. Commitment: is loyal to the company’s mission and core values and represents the company well in the community

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, it’s vital that we train the next generation with these guiding principles. While doing so, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Help them understand that they are there to serve the company, not the other way around. Disabuse them of any sense of entitlement or notion that the world revolves around them.
  • The time to begin modeling these qualities is NOW. Have your students rank themselves on a 1-5 scale. For which qualities are they a 5-star role model? Where do they need to up their game?
  • Through role-playing exercises, have your students pretend they are the owner of a company recruiting for a new position. What qualities would they be emphasizing as they evaluate candidates? By switching them from their usual subservient role to that of the boss, they will quickly appreciate the employer’s perspective.

Once students appreciate the importance of these workplace qualities, they will be better equipped for their entire career management process. That means better cover letters, resumes, applications, interviews, and on-the-job performance. Understanding the qualities valued by employers should be an integral part of your career training efforts. It would have certainly helped avoid a fiasco in my hometown!

From Dreamer to Achiever: Making Your 2017 Vision a Reality

So, what grade would you give yourself regarding your 2016 resolutions? If you’re like most of us, you succeeded with a few, but fell short on more. Sometimes our goals get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t turn our goals into specific plans and actions (i.e., we stayed in dream land). And, sometimes we weren’t that serious about them in the first place.

In last week’s blog, we encouraged you to develop an aspirational vision for 2017, and we hope you’re off to a great start. Your next and greatest challenge is turning your vision into a reality. Depending on how you’re wired, this may come naturally or not. Regardless, one surefire method is to adopt the Plan, Do, and Review approach that is common in the business world. Yes, it works just as well for us as individuals and families and hopefully for you, too!

Planning

Your first step is to prioritize your vision and aspirations. If your list of desires is a mile long, you’ll become disillusioned and lose interest within months. A better approach is to limit your focus areas to no more than three to five (depending on how involved they are). With such busy lives, there’s only so much we can realistically accomplish. If you achieve yours ahead of schedule, by all means go back to your list and add some more!

How should you narrow your list to a manageable number? First, prioritize them in order of potential value and impact. Some will be a bigger deal than others. Also consider the time required for each goal to the best of your ability, and build in the necessary margin. Finally, pay attention to urgency. Some goals may need to be addressed immediately while others can wait. Be especially mindful of goals with set deadlines (e.g., college applications) and plan with a buffer, in case you fall behind.

Once you’ve settled on your top vision areas, develop specific plans and goals to achieve them. Your goals should include target completion dates and specific, measurable outcomes to help assess your progress. And, be sure they’re realistic and achievable. If they’re not, you will lose interest. Been there, done that!

Doing

Now, it’s do time. You’ve set your course, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each of your diverse goals will require different action steps and time frames for completion. Daily and weekly to do lists will help keep you on track and build momentum as you progress. These are especially important for larger goals that require lots of steps. If you’re like me, you love crossing off to do list items! Oh, and remember that whatever you do, do it with excellence and, ideally, on time.

Reviewing

Your final step is reviewing your performance. Ideally, you will have shared your goals with the appropriate party (e.g., your supervisor, parents, spouse/partner, friend, or mentor) and set dates to review your progress. Trust me, accountability works just as effectively in our personal lives as it does in a job review! It adds incentive and motivation and helps keep us on track. If you’re falling behind on any of your goals, these conversations can help you make any mid-course corrections. If you’ve achieved them, be sure to celebrate! You deserve it.

Application for Families and Educators

Goal setting and implementation are essential leadership skills to build in our children, and it’s never too soon to begin. Spend time early in the year as a family to set both individual and family goals (e.g., more harmony, less technology distractions, a community service project). Have each family member select a character quality he/she would like to improve, with other members providing encouragement and accountability. Then, perhaps quarterly, enjoy a family night to review your progress and celebrate with your favorite game or activity.

Educators can also have students develop and record their goals at the beginning of the semester, draft a mid-term progress report, and write a concluding paper at the end of the semester summarizing their performance. It’s a great exercise to build vision and intentionality in our young leaders. Based on my many conversations with young adults, there’s a lot of dreaming out there, but nowhere near enough planning and doing. Together, we can turn this around.

 

 

Casting Your Vision for 2017

So, how was your 2016? Despite the holiday frenzy, I hope you took some time to reflect on the year, highlighting your blessings and, yes, considering what might have gone better. What brought you the greatest joy? What were your personal growth successes? Whose lives did you impact the most? What lessons did you learn from your greatest challenges? Does your future look differently?

Soon, the bowl games will be over and it’ll be time to cast your vision for the new year (including completing our goals from 2016!). With a renewed spirit and fresh thinking, some exciting opportunities may be in store.

Here are some tips to help you craft your vision for 2017:

Personal Growth:

Regardless of our age, we can always take steps to improve our personal (and professional) brand. Perhaps you’ve received some constructive criticism. Or, you wish you possessed a quality you admire in others. This list of positive attributes might stimulate ideas. Here are some additional questions to consider:

  • How would you most like to improve your mind, body, and spirit?
  • Which growth goals, if achieved, would have the greatest impact on your life and on others?
  • What new experiences and learning would allow for growth, enjoyment, or potential impact on the community?
  • How might you manage your time more effectively and reduce distractions?
  • Do you have a solid understanding of your assets, interests, and passions?

Relationships:

Positivity is a powerful force in life, especially in our relationships. It’s why we should begin each year by identifying the relationships we’d like to improve and how we might begin the process. (Yes, it generally pays for us to initiate the steps rather than wait for the other party… as difficult as this may be.)

Here are some other questions worth considering:

  • How is technology affecting your relationships with family and friends? Consider making your family time tech free. Technology IS having a serious effect on relationships and communication, so be on guard.
  • For parents: who could become a potential role model and mentor to your children? They’ll help foster new, valuable relationships and help your children build their network. Also, how can you build stronger relationship capital with each of your children?
  • Are politics getting in the way of your friendships? If so, it’s repair time!

Community:

Our greatest sense of joy, purpose, and fulfillment often comes from serving others. If giving back to your community is an area you’d like to strengthen, these questions might help channel your desire into a plan:

  • If you didn’t have to work for a paycheck, how would you contribute to society?
  • If you could solve any problem or pursue any cause, what would you choose?
  • Which people or needs tug most at your heart?
  • Which organizations or programs are aligned with your passions and could benefit from your talents?

Always remember, someone out there needs exactly what you have to offer!

Career:

No matter where you are in your career, there are always opportunities to “up your game.” These ideas might take yours to a new level:

  • For students, take a skills and interests inventory to identify potential matches. Then, as your candidate list narrows, talk with people in those jobs to gain from their wisdom. It’ll either confirm your interest or steer you away. By investing in your career exploration and understanding your talents, passions, and interests, you’ll be in great shape to find a good fit.
  • For experienced employees: 1) is there a new skill/training that will position you to advance? 2) how can you improve your existing job performance? 3) is there someone you would like to be mentored by or whom you can mentor? and 4) what ways can you contribute to your employer’s success that may, or may not, fit within your job description?

Finances:

Finally, we all should be reviewing our financial goals annually as a course of habit. What ways might you learn to save and invest more, spend more wisely, give more to charitable causes, and improve your financial literacy? Are you on a pathway to achieving your financial goals? What tweaks do you need to make?

Best wishes on your vision casting and for a fantastic 2017!

 

 

8 Financial Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

Money, money, money. Few things in life generate as much interest, yet demand more responsibility. Money is taken into consideration with almost every life decision we make (which is one reason why personal finance courses should be required in every school)! And while money itself will not bring happiness, mismanaging it can surely ruin a person’s chances for success, and cause a lot of UNhappiness.

 

The principles of wise financial management aren’t that tough to master. Truly, you don’t need to have a degree in finance, be a math whiz, or consult a professional financial consultant in order to make smart choices. You simply need to know the basics and abide by certain key principles. It pays to avoid these eight common financial mistakes (and understand their consequences if you don’t):

 

  1. Failure to set goals and plan for major purchases and retirement. It’s crucial that you plan for large purchases (homes, cars, big toys) by accumulating savings, while also making sure you’ll have sufficient resources for retirement. These types of purchases should never be made on impulse or funded by withdrawals from your 401K.
  2. Spending more than you earn and failing to budget and monitor expenses. These days, it’s impossible to get away from ads (they’re on Instagram, Facebook, Billboards, YouTube videos, commercials, etc.). We are constantly bombarded with the idea that we need this or that. It’s important to resist the urge to spend, unless each purchase is within the budget you’ve set. If you don’t have a budget, set one…now! Overspending is the most common source of financial difficulty and stress.
  3. Incurring too much debt, including excessive credit card usage. If you have to put it on a credit card, you probably can’t afford it. That is, unless you pay off all of your credit card balances at month end.
  4. Investing too little and starting too late. In order to build a sufficient nest egg for retirement, you’ll need to save and invest 15-20% of your income. And, the sooner you begin, the greater your assets will accumulate. Start a monthly investment program as soon as you’ve developed an emergency fund worth six months of expenses. This should be a priority in the first year you begin your career.
  5. Incurring significant fixed expenses that can’t be reduced in difficult economic times (e.g., spending too much on housing and cars). Your mortgage or rent payment should not exceed 25 percent of your monthly income. And please, avoid those crazy high car payments!
  6. Ill-timed investment decisions (“buy high, sell low” habits and market timing). Too many investors make decisions on emotion. They take too much risk when the markets are high and panic sell when markets are in decline. Studies show the average investor loses around 2% a year due to poorly timed decisions! Regular investments in a well-diversified program serves investors better.
  7. Impulse buying and lack of value consciousness when shopping. Have a strong grasp on the actual value of the stuff you’re buying. Are those jeans really worth $175 in the long run? How could buying less expensive jeans and putting that money toward something else impact your financial situation in the long run?
  8. Lack of discipline and personal responsibility. This is one of the most important tips. Making sure you have positive cash flow and that you’re set-up well for the future takes some serious discipline and self-control! If you need some help with accountability, consider downloading spending tracker, like those available on mint.com. It’s eye opening how our spending on little things adds up.

 

Because finances aren’t taught enough (if at all) in secondary school or college/university, parents are advised to assume a leadership role. These are CRUCIAL life skills that will set your young people up for success in the real world (and help them avoid potential crises).

 

Periodically check how you’re doing in these areas, too. If we can all successfully avoid these traps, we’ll be in excellent financial shape! It does wonders for our stress levels, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 R’s for the New Year: Reflections, Resolutions, and (No) Regrets

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Looking back on 2015, 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.

For many people (myself included), personal reflection time is the area we sacrifice when our lives get busier. Unfortunately, when this happens, we can get out of balance, grow impatient, and often burn out. We’re not at our best. That’s why it’s so important—at New Year’s and all the year through—to take time to unwind and reflect. 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. (If you are a person of faith, it’s a great opportunity to include prayer for discernment and wisdom.) 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 next New Year’s Eve. 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? 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. It will help you—and them—make needed changes and “relationship repairs” along the way. Wouldn’t it be great, though, to reach the end of 2016—and even to the end of life—and be able to say, “NO (or few) REGRETS?”

Image credit: Brianna Showalter
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Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

Leadership for a Lifetime: Vision

If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.

~Lawrence J. Peter

For those of us who grew up in the Sixties, July 20, 1969 will go down as the most inspirational day of our lives. We gathered around our TV sets in wonder as Neil Armstrong spoke these immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Our nation was brimming with pride.

A mere eight years earlier, America’s new and charismatic president had a vision. As far-fetched as it seemed at the time, JFK challenged Congress to support an initiative to put a man on the moon (safely returned) by the end of the decade. Amid a pool of skeptics, the vision was cast and NASA would successfully achieve this unimaginable mission with months to spare. It was one of the greatest moments in world history.

Question: would this have played out as it did if JFK hadn’t offered his bold vision? Not a chance. It illustrates so well why history’s greatest achievements and admired people are guided by an inspiring vision or purpose.

We might not be in the same league as JFK, Lincoln, Jobs, Disney, Edison, Franklin, Columbus, Mandela, MLK, Gates, Graham, or Mother Teresa, but in our own ways, we can all live with vision, too.  And when it comes to training our younger generation, it’s one of the most important leadership lessons of all.

During the high school and college years, a young person’s focus is clearly on the next step and specifically, on their eventual careers. While this is understandable, it can be argued that a more holistic approach to vision casting is essential. After all, a career is only one aspect of our lives and many if not most people change careers several times.

Is vision just one of those things that you either have it or you don’t? Not necessarily. Environment, training, and role modeling can have a huge impact on a young person’s inclination or ability to live with vision. Here are some suggested topics for parents, educators, and mentors to cultivate vision-mindedness in the young people we’re influencing:

The Big Picture:

  • What difference would you like to make in this world? Describe your dreams.
  • How would you like to be remembered? (The eulogy/tombstone ideas might be a little morbid!)
  • What does “success” mean to you?
  • Whose lives inspire you the most?
  • How can your passions and interests intersect to have the greatest impact?

College:

  • How will you define “success” in your college years?
  • What will you like to have accomplished in terms of academics, career, credentials, experiences, skills, relationships, and personal growth?

Career:

  • Knowing that the career decision needs to be one of the most well-researched in life, describe your 1) interests and passions, 2) natural skills and strengths, 3) personal preferences (on the job and in the working environment), and 4) ability and willingness to fulfill training requirements.
  • What perspectives can help determine that the careers you’re considering would be a great match for your skills and interests?

Service:

  • Reflecting on your passions and talents, what are some ways you can serve humanity?
  • What problems, community needs, and people groups do you feel most drawn toward?
  • When have you felt most fulfilled when helping others?

Family:

  • What are your hopes and dreams when it comes to family?
  • What do you consider the most important elements of a strong, healthy, and purposeful marriage and family?
  • What qualities will you be seeking in a lifelong partner?

Personal Growth:

  • Knowing that great leaders play to their strengths, what are your greatest assets and areas for improvement/growth? (A recommended resource for discovering your assets is this personal balance sheet assignment.)
  • Who do you admire most and why?
  • What are the traits of the person you wish to become?

As the young people in your life develop answers (and some guesses!) to these questions, it’s important to emphasize that our vision evolves over time…few are cast in stone. The key is cultivating a visionary mindset that reflects their entire life and recognizing that each vision is uniquely valuable. No one’s vision is their vision and no one can impact this world like they can.

Great leaders live with vision.

4 Tips to Help Teens Listen to Their Conscience and Stick to Their Values

Parents and teachers, your teens and students are facing tough decisions every single day, and their choices are only going to get more difficult. Where should they go to college? What should they major in? Should they really go to that party? Should they take things to the next level with their boyfriend or girlfriend? This week’s post focuses on choices, and how to ensure your teen is equipped to stick to his or her values and make the right call. We encourage you to share it with the young people in your life or use it as a tool in your classroom or household.

Life is a series of choices, some planned and some not. Some involve fun, while others involve pain and heartache. Some are made from the mind after lots of thought and reasoning, while others are made impulsively from the heart or what “feels right.” Some turn out well and impact our lives for better, and some we regret.

Are your kids ready to make the right choices, both now and in the future?

I had the privilege of working for an inspiring leader, George Russell, who could distill the complex down to profound, but simple truisms. One of them was, “If you’re not sure whether to do something, imagine it as the headline in tomorrow’s newspaper.” Wow! How’s that for clarity and common sense? This works like a charm in our professional and academic lives, but also our personal lives, too—heeding that “inner voice” that has our best interests at heart. I know every time I ignored what my conscience was telling me, I lived to regret it. And, I know I’m not alone!

In a cultural climate where “values” are often measured on a slippery scale of personal taste, convenience, self-gratification, and “tolerance,” kids can get into real trouble when they dismiss the caution signals. That’s why helping young people identify their values and strengthen their conscience is so important. It’s more than important…it’s crucial!

Yes, this is what some refer to as “conscience training.” In times of growing independence, freedom, and opportunities, young people are increasingly faced with risky situations that require quick decisions. In some cases (many that involve alcohol, drugs, sex, social media, and cheating), one bad decision in the heat of the moment may do irrevocable harm to their reputation, college career, personal health and safety, or relationships, and derail their future plans and dreams.

That’s why having—and always listening to—that inner voice is so important in high-risk situations. Here are some ways to help set your teen up for success when it’s their turn:

  • Have them talk about their non-negotiable values. Moreover, encourage them to write them down and stick them in a school binder or on their desk. Make sure they don’t forget the principles that are important to them. These values are a big part of their brand.
  • Realizing that most unhealthy choices involve succumbing to peer pressure, be sure they understand their value and surround themselves with positive people and influences who have their best interests at heart.
  • Discuss potential situations that may put their reputation and integrity at risk. Remind them their best bet is to avoid high-risk situations altogether. And, if they can’t avoid them, they should at least decide in advance how they will react if their values are tested.I’ve heard far too many stories of people who didn’t heed this advice and whose futures were severely impacted because of it. They often lose years of momentum and wander confused and broken in the aftermath. Many times this could have been avoided had they asked themselves these simple questions:

“How will my conscience feel in the morning? What is it telling me to do right now?”

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to make a choice that challenged your value system? Did you have the courage to go with your values over the pressure you received from others? Share your experiences with your teen. Remember that life is about learning and recovering from our mistakes, and that stories are often the best teachers.

Note: We encourage you to visit our Resources page and download your FREE copy of our Personal Balance Sheet Assignment to share with the young adults in your life. Making sure they understand their own value is a crucial part of making good choices!