20 Ways to a Happier New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

How to Build a Growth Mindset in Your Students and teens

dirt-gardening-grow-1214405Looking back, our high school days were great, okay, or disappointing (or worse!) depending on the year. So, we should expect that our kids will be starting this new school year with excitement, ambivalence, and maybe even dread, often depending on the previous year. Regardless of where your children/students are attitudinally, here’s one thing they can all benefit from as they make their grand entrance—taking the Growth Challenge.

What’s the Growth Challenge, you might ask? Here’s a quick synopsis: Have your students/children take note of where they are now in key aspects of their life. Then, have them identify some focus areas for growth/improvement. Next, encourage them to develop plans to meet their growth goals. Finally, have them assess their progress quarterly (and make adjustments to their plan as needed). In the business world, we call this the “plan, do, and review” cycle, and it works for people too!

As parents, teachers, and mentors, we play a big role in the success of the next generation. Of course, the responsibility for their choices does not fall on us, but it is our job to equip, encourage, and empower them. One powerful way is to help facilitate the Growth Challenge. Here are a few steps to get you going.

  1. Begin with a holistic self assessment. Have your child/students record how satisfied they are in terms of: 1) academics (grades, specific subjects, study habits, etc.), 2) relationships (friendships,, family, network), 3) physical health and well being (fitness, health, nutrition), 4) emotional and spiritual health (self worth, confidence, contentment, faith, gratitude, temperament), 5) leadership/soft skills (integrity, dependability, work ethic, team mindedness, time management, professionalism), and 6) interests/extracurricular activities. 

Then, based on their self evaluations, have them identify their greatest growth priorities for the coming year for each category. Which could have the biggest impact in the near future? In the long-term? Give them some time to think about this, and encourage them to record their thoughts in a journal or device.

  1. Have them develop their top overall priorities based on their conclusions from each category. Parents, teachers, and mentors, you can help them prioritize by sharing your own knowledge or experience, but don’t make up their minds for them. (For example, if a student is hoping to enter the military after high school, physical training might fall higher on the priority list than a student who plans to intern at an art gallery.)

Encourage them to record their three to five top priorities for growth. Don’t let them go overboard making a laundry list. Next, have them set specific, achievable goals for each of their top priorities. What would constitute success to them? What are some measurable ways that they can track their progress? Then, have them develop action steps to help their goals become a reality.

  1. Finally, suggest a quarterly review (with a mentor, counselor, parent, or teacher) to assess their progress, and make any midcourse suggestions or corrections necessary to achieve their goals.

Not only will this “growth challenge” help them progress this year, but it is a discipline that will serve them for a lifetime.

Let’s start building a growth mindset in our children, teens, and students. The future belongs to them, but it starts with us.

If you want to see a sample “Growth Challenge” mock-up for reference, you can find it here.

Want to Change the World? You Don’t Have to Wait.

 

I don’t know about you, but the times in my life when I experience pure joy are when I do something that has a lasting impact on others. I mean, is there anything better than knowing you’ve made a positive difference in the world! Deep down, we all dream about being earth shakers.

Unfortunately, many people wait until their later years (if at all) to serve others and truly impact their community. History is filled with hermits who leave large nest eggs after they die, never having taken the time to give back while they were living. What a colossal waste! Similarly, there are many people who spend their lives focusing on themselves and their present wants, and completely ignoring the possibility of using their resources to help others.

You can avoid that mistake by committing to making your life a living legacy. In fact, there is no better time than now. This new year, make it your resolution to live your life with an outward focus. In this way, you’ll see your impact firsthand while inspiring others in the process. And, you’ll be changed for the better, too!

Not long ago, I spent a day with high school students at a prestigious prep school. It was technically a “day off” on the school calendar, but over 150 courageous students showed up for this special program focused on tackling difficult life issues. The stories in my group ran the gamut, but they mostly involved a lack of parental love or excessive pressure to perform (by parents) and to be popular (with peers). Seeing their lack of self worth was gut wrenching to me.

What struck me about this experience was: 1) the willingness and transparency of the students to admit their needs and be open to the wisdom of the adult mentors, and 2) the humility and commitment of the adult volunteers to also be transparent and real, and to invest their time and energy in our younger generation.

This was but one small opportunity in a field of millions, and I felt honored to serve. All around us there are people of all ages and causes that would benefit from our time, our energy, our input, our investment. Are you paying attention to the ones who would benefit from you?

In What I Wish I Knew at 18, I encourage my readers to take some time to evaluate what “causes” inspire them and provide some guidelines for discovering what those are. In the same vein, this free resource also gives students (and parents and educators) the opportunity to take inventory of their most prioritized values.

Which opportunities will you take today to invest in others and help make life a little (or a lot!) better for someone else? Whether you’re a student or an adult, strike while the iron is hot (and before it’s too late to set New Year’s goals!) and build a living legacy. Someone out there needs exactly you!

Don’t wait to change the world!

What are some examples in your life where you experienced pure joy and fulfillment? Or, where you had a significant impact on something or someone?

 

 

The Road to Resilience

As much as we all wish that life was an easy, straight shot road to success and happiness, we know that isn’t the case. Even when we practice diligence, discipline, commitment, respect, honesty, and integrity as we work toward our goals, there’s simply no way to avoid pitfalls and obstacles in life.  We’ve talked about handling adversity before, but this week we’d like to specifically address developing the character quality of resilience.

Resilience is defined by Merriam Webster as: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Take a moment to reflect on how you usually respond to difficult situations in life. Do you bounce back quickly, or do you let life’s trials negatively affect your mood, outlook, relationships, motivation, and work/school performance?

Resilience is not a character trait we are born with. Sure, maybe some are naturally “tougher” than others, but it’s important to remember that resilience is a value we must develop within ourselves. Being resilient means making a conscious choice to not let adversity drag you into defeat or despair. It means choosing to look for a deeper meaning and potential life lesson in each bump in the road and forging ahead to the other side of the valley.

It is difficult to generalize on resilience because adversity comes in many forms, such as:

  • Personal underperformance—bombing the exam, being cut by the team, throwing a costly interception, forgetting lines in the play, getting laid off from the job, losing an election, etc.
  • Group underperformance—losing a winnable game, bombing a group project, losing a major contract to a competitor, etc.
  • Consequences of unhealthy/unwise/damaging decisions
  • Social/relationship struggles—challenges with making friends in new environments, maintaining friendships, break ups, family battles, etc.
  • Family dysfunction
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Death or illness of a loved one
  • Financial crises
  • Bad luck—life’s lemons that just happen…to us all.

As you can see, some adversity is from our own doing, but much of it is not. We don’t always have control of our situations, but we DO have control over how we approach our battles and challenges. And, that’s where resilience comes in.

With all that in mind, here are five tips to help you develop resilience in your own life:

  1. Keep a healthy perspective. Remember that everyone faces challenges and adversity, and some of the richest aspects of our life journey come from battling through our toughest times. We grow as a person and, in time, can use these experiences to come alongside others who are facing similar challenges. So keep the faith and work through the problem to the best of your ability, realizing that (in many cases), good can come from it. Today’s valley is NOT your new normal.
  2. Know yourself and your worth. When you have a strong sense of self, you are less likely to let insecurity and uncertainty drag you down. When you are self-assured, you can confidently handle life’s curve balls and know that mistakes or other negative circumstances are not a direct reflection of who you are as a person. And, you will be less likely to blame yourself for situations outside of your control. #Icandothis!
  3. Tap your support system. Whether you rely on your siblings, parents, friends, neighbors, mentors, or faith community (if applicable), it’s important to have a safe network of people who you can talk to and lean on during hard times. Make sure you have people in your life whom you trust to give you helpful, truthful, and constructive advice. It’s nearly impossible to be resilient when you’re going through life on your own. Surround yourself with positive influences through thick and thin. And, don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed.
  4. Take care of your health. We’ve all realized at some point in our lives that our mental and physiological health are very closely connected. High levels of stress and other damaging emotions can lead to a greater increase of sickness, pain, and exhaustion. In order to handle adversity with resilience, make sure you are sleeping well, eating healthy, and getting in some physical activity. It matters much more than you may think!
  5. Forgive. Depending on the source of your adversity, it may involve forgiving yourself or others. It’s not always easy, but it’s difficult to truly recover without it.

 

When life hands you a lemon, your resilience, courage, determination, and positive support system will help you through. Being able to look beyond your current circumstances and knowing that your life is not going to crumble because of them is key. More often than not, our best life lessons and personal growth come from the hard times.  So, when you build resilience, every sphere of your life will benefit. You are a special and unique person—have confidence that you can always find a way to persevere, overcome, and make a comeback. #Yesidid!

Last week, we shared the first five of our top ten parenting goals for the year. Here’s a recap:

  1. Equip and empower for independence
  2. Develop soft skills and professionalism
  3. Invest in your relationship
  4. Build a strong work ethic
  5. Quash any sense of entitlement

We hope you took some quality time to consider how you’re doing and ways to improve. As imperfect parents, we can all do better. So in that spirit, let’s review the remaining five:

  1. Help them build their network: Parenting is a team sport. And, during the teen years, we need all the help we can get! Research shows that every child needs at least five caring adult role models who offer wisdom, love, encouragement, friendship, and connections. In addition, workforce recruiting is changing so much that having an inside advantage is almost a must. The time for your teen to build his/her network is NOW, and parents, you can give them a big head start by introducing them to great people you know. It’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give to your children.

 

  1. Promote effective time management: Today’s teens and young adults are bombarded by attention grabbers and distractions. Whether it’s technology, social media, or video games, their ability to focus, problem solve, and spend time on what really matters is being compromised. It’s vital to teach our children that time is a precious asset that needs to be managed wisely. Among other things, that means: 1) developing daily “to do” lists organized by priority and urgency, 2) understanding that work comes before play, and 3) limiting the time they spend on low value activities like social media. It’s all part of the “adulting” process, and one day they’ll thank you for it.

 

  1. Cultivate self awareness: In our conversations with high school (and even college!) students, we’re struck by how little they really know themselves. And yet, many schools and parents are pressuring them to know exactly what career or major to pursue. That’s one reason why we encourage students to build their self awareness. Among other things, this involves: 1) inventorying their strengths (assets) and challenges (constraints), 2) identifying their interests and passions, and 3) understanding their personality style and personal preferences. Tools such as the DISC personality test and LifeSmart’s Personal Balance Sheet help students to understand who they are, what they have to offer, and what opportunities will help them thrive. Let’s help them make these long-term decisions with some clarity!

 

  1. Avoid overcommitting/respect balance: You’ve all heard about the rise in mental health issues among teens and young adults, including anxiety and depression. We’re stressing out our kids in a major way, and some of this is the result of overscheduling and committing our kids to build their resumes. Their lack of down time to decompress is clearly taking a toll. Parents, we need to be mindful of how much free time our kids have to reflect, chill, enjoy nature, and pray if they’re so inclined. Let’s be more vigilant about the time requirements for activities before they sign up. Proper balance is a key ingredient to good mental health, and you can help make that happen.

 

  1. Have fun: College prep exams. Resume building. College applications. Career planning. Financial aid forms. Yes, the upper high school years are fraught with pressure—all the while our students have to be… students! And, as parents, it’s easy to be so consumed by our children’s success that we get stressed out too. When that happens, we can forget about one of the most important things for a family’s well being—having fun! What do your kids enjoy doing together the most? Camping? Hiking? Playing sports? Watching movies? Playing games? Building things? Cooking a meal? Attending concerts? Enjoying a campfire? Whatever it is, be sure to make room for it. The years really do fly by, and these moments will build relationship capital for a lifetime. #enjoyyourkids

 So, these are our top ten. How about yours? We hope you enjoyed them and that they serve you in the years ahead. We’d love to hear your thoughts and encourage you to share with your friends, too.

With best wishes for stronger families and brighter futures,

The LifeSmart Team

 

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.