Priceless Mentoring Conversations

mentoring

You did it! You’ve entered into one of the most important and fulfilling roles you’ll ever play. You’re a mentor. And now that you’ve signed up, you’re probably wondering, “What next?” And, then you remember all of the mentors who invested in you and how they…

  • Listened to what was on your mind and heart
  • Encouraged you every step of the way
  • Inspired you to be more than you ever imagined you could be
  • Shared real life stories to help you face difficult situations
  • Offered wisdom that you would apply in the years ahead
  • Understood you and believed in you

    These are the hallmarks of a great mentor.

If you are a new mentor, perhaps you’re asking the question, “What should we talk about?” Of course, the answer depends on the age of your mentee and whether yours is a more formal or informal mentoring relationship. If it’s a formal one, you’ll be given guidance and direction from your program leaders. Regardless, the age of your mentee will also inform your conversations…helping them navigate life NOW while sharing a glimpse of what lies ahead in the next few years. That’s different for a fourth grader than for a middle schooler or high schooler.

In our work with What I Wish I Knew at 18, we are often asked what are the most important topics to share with the younger generation, whether in the classroom, the home, or in mentoring relationships. Drawing from our recent “Leadership for a Lifetime” blog series, here are some invaluable subjects to discuss in an age-appropriate way and when the timing is right:

  1. Their uniqueness, value, and strengths. Far too many young people have an incomplete understanding of the treasure they are to this world. You can help them build their self awareness of who they are and what they have to offer. This Personal Balance Sheet exercise can help.
  2. The importance of positivity. It is said that you become the average of the five friends with whom you associate with most. Whether it’s friends, music, video games, TV, movies, or websites, surrounding yourself with positive influences is a key in life.
  3. Living with vision and intentionality. Today’s students are facing tremendous pressures, distractions, and anxiety with little margin to spare. It’s easy to become consumed with the NOW. Have them share their dreams and their goals for the next five years. Then, encourage them to make plans to turn their dreams into reality.
  4. Building a personal brand based on integrity. Brands aren’t just for businesses like Coca Cola and Starbucks! Encourage your mentees to develop a strong set of core values like integrity, work ethic, dependability, kindness, generosity, respect, teamwork, humility, and high standards of excellence. Share whom you admire the most and encourage your mentee to do the same, and you’ll open up this critical topic.
  5. The value of adversity and the power of resilience. Help them understand that adversity happens to all of us (using your own story for examples). The question is, How will we handle it? Share the personal growth you’ve gained from adversity and how those who helped you often faced similar challenges. Today’s adversity can become tomorrow’s encouragement to someone else!
  6. Time is of the essence. We’ve never faced a time when distractions were more prevalent. Help your mentees understand that time is a precious asset and should be managed accordingly.
  7. The secret formula to life. In the end, life is about how we use our time, talents, and treasure to make the world a better place. Through conversation and volunteering together, you’ll help them appreciate the formula, U>Me.
  8. Stay flexible. While you may have a lesson topic in mind, it’s important to ask whether there’s anything special they’d like to discuss. Whatever that is, that’s where you go!

We hope these suggestions lead to unforgettable conversations with you and your mentee. We salute you and wish you the very best in your mentoring relationships!

Leadership for a Lifetime: Resilience

Now is no time to think of what you do not have.

Think of what you can do with what there is.

Ernest Hemingway

ID-100352171You don’t have to live very long to realize that things don’t always go the way we plan—or the way we want. You’ll bomb a test or get a low grade in a class. A boyfriend or girlfriend will break up with you. You may get sick or experience an injury. It may take a while to make friends or find your dream job.  But, when these kinds of things happen, you don’t have to let your circumstances overwhelm you. You can be RESILIENT!

The most resilient, impressive leaders I know have found ways to be courageous in the face of great adversity; life challenges lift them up instead of knock them down. Adversity happens to everyone, and it can take many forms. Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared to handle adversity well. Peter Gray, Ph.D., a research professor at Boston College, recently wrote for Psychology Today about this issue:

“A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services at a major university to join faculty and administrators for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life… (Later), that head of Counseling sent a follow-up email, …including this sobering paragraph:

‘Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been … a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life… The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students.’”

The everyday bumps in life will happen; you can be sure of it! And since it’s not likely we’re going to avoid adversity, it pays to learn to take a healthy perspective to it.

Resilient people don’t give in to anger or despair when faced with a setback. Instead, they tap into a greater purpose to bounce back stronger than ever. They know how to bend to inevitable failures and tragedies and not break. Here are six habits of people who know how to confront adversity and move on to live their lives stronger than before:

  1. They are persistent and have a strong sense of purpose.
  2. They are self-confident and self-reliant.
  3. They have a strong network of supportive relationships.
  4. They accept that adversity is inevitable and are not resentful. They don’t have a victimized (“Oh, poor me …”) mindset.
  5. They are optimistic. They perceive bad times as a temporary state of affairs and an opportunity for personal growth.
  6. They take care of their health. They know how to deal with the physiological and emotional toll that stress and adversity take on their bodies and minds and take proactive steps to stay healthy, fit, and positive.

If you want to be a resilient person, it also helps to be self aware of your own stressors. Stress comes in different forms to different people, and with different underlying causes. What’s your biggest stressor? Is it time? Finances? Relationships? Academics? Order vs. chaos? If you know this about yourself, you can fight through stress/adversity by tapping into your stress relievers (exercise, quality time with friends/family, time alone, prayer, music, etc.). DON’T make the mistake of turning to false comforts to make you “feel better” when adversity hits. That’s how people get sucked into addictions like drugs, alcohol, and overeating, or into bad relationships because they don’t want to be alone. We address resilience in our book, What I Wish I Knew at 18, with an entire chapter devoted to “Overcoming Adversity.”

You have to be able to see past the current circumstances and know your world is not going to ultimately crumble because of any of them. There are so many wonderful things about YOU, built into your character, personality, and unique skill sets, that you can draw on to find a way to persevere, overcome, and bounce back. This is resilience and it is one of the hallmarks of great leaders!

For more tips on developing resilience, check out our blog series: “Stress-Busting Tips for Parents and Teens,” Parts One, Two, and Three.

 

Photo: Freedigitalphotos.net, by Sira Anamwong

Not All Challenges Are a Closed Door: Handle Adversity One Step at a Time

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

– Winston Churchill

 

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

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

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

Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net, Stuart Miles

Take Responsibility for Your Mistakes; Don’t Blame Others!

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible
for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

 When we experience a personal disappointment, it’s usually because we made an innocent mistake or our effort simply fell short. Is one worse than another? Well, to my way of thinking, a mistake is a little more serious because it’s an error, whereas a shortfall may have occurred despite our best effort. (After all, we can’t always win.)

Since we’re all human, mistakes and shortfalls are part of life. While no one keeps track, they number well into the thousands during our lifetime. That being the case, one has to wonder why it’s so difficult for people to admit their mistakes and accept responsibility.

Is it because the words “I’m sorry” don’t come easily? In such cases, it’s sometimes easier (and feels less shameful) to blame others and make excuses.

Is there a better way to handle our mistakes?

People who are prone to blame are actually reflecting their own insecurities. Implicitly, they assume their relationships can’t withstand an acknowledgement of a mistake or shortfall. However, it’s a false assumption, especially since people appreciate it when someone admits a mistake and asks for forgiveness.

When you make a mistake or your best efforts fall short of the goal, you can do one of two things:

  1. You can TAKE responsibility, apologize if appropriate, and do what you can to make things right.
  2. You can DODGE responsibility, blame someone else (or blame circumstances), and walk away from the situation – leaving others with the problem you created.

Choice #1 one will likely gain you the respect of your family, peers, and colleagues and help you learn from your mistake. Choice #2, on the other hand, will cause damage to your reputation and deprive you of a valuable opportunity for personal growth.

Why not exercise a little humility and take the high road? Learn to swallow your pride and admit it when you’ve fallen short. You’ll be respected and admired by others when you do… and you might be surprised by the grace they extend to you in return!

Do you find it difficult to admit your mistakes and accept that you aren’t perfect?

Are you harder on yourself than others would be if you took responsibility for your shortcomings? Share your thoughts and comments with our online community by commenting below; we’d love to hear your perspective!

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!

Adversity: Preparation for Greater Things

When something crummy happens in your life, do you ever just sit back and ask “why me?” or think to yourself “I don’t deserve this!” When the going gets rough, it’s hard to see past our own circumstances into the “master plan” that may lie ahead of us.

None other than Walt Disney, the master of happy, once said, “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Funny thing—when I look back on my greatest adversity, I’m struck by how often I actually benefited from it! It just didn’t feel that way at the time. It took retrospect for me to realize that the hardship was really for the greater good.

One of life’s greatest adventures is seeing what becomes of our trials. Was it a necessary lesson to grow us? Might it be the catalyst for something new and better? Will it ever make sense? Or, was it just…stuff?

Take these examples:

  • My wife’s health challenges allow her to encourage others facing similar battles.
  • Bombing my calculus final exposed my math limitations and motivated me to select a better fitting major.
  • A difficult investment performance period taught me important lessons about humility.
  • All those times girlfriends broke up with me…Hey! They freed me up to marry Jeanne, my wife!

Who knows, when life serves you a lemon, it might just be the makings of a refreshing glass of lemonade. At least give it a shot! It doesn’t hurt to change your perspective and open your eyes to the potential impact that a seemingly impossible situation might have.

What is your own personal perspective on adversity? When you’re faced with a tough situation, how do you deal? Do you have any examples of times that a trial has turned out for the good, or somehow strengthened you as a person?

4 Tips to Help You Learn from Your Defeats

In recent years I’ve had the great privilege of visiting an alternative high school that serves the neediest and most challenged of students. One particular encounter with a high school  principal—a man who had given his life to reach and impact disadvantaged youth—left me inspired and encouraged. His stories of the ups and downs of working with that student population reminded me of the unforgettable introduction to “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” when the narrator would dramatically announce, “…the thrill of VICTORY and the agony of DEFEAT.” Seeing a homeless student with a violent gang background graduate from high school—victory! Seeing another go back to the streets—defeat.

No matter where our life path takes us, we’ll experience victories and defeats. Whether it’s sports, contests, career, dating, education, or business ventures, you win some and you lose some. Most of us don’t have too much difficulty with the winning part.

But sometimes, we don’t win. But does this mean that we’ve technically lost? No!  Many of our “losses” prepare us for our victories later on. They can be a major stepping stone—that is, if we choose to learn from our defeats.

Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packer fame used to say that winning “is the only thing.” Famed basketball coach John Wooden, on the other hand, simply asked his players to play their best, and that was good enough for him. Although he set a very high bar for his players, he was more process driven than outcome driven.

I’m probably more in John Wooden’s camp (despite growing up 20 miles from Green Bay!). Winning may be an important goal, but I don’t believe we’re losers if we don’t finish in first. The key is to learn from a defeat and use it as input for the next practice and for future strategy.  Want a couple tips for making this happen, just in case? Try these:

  1. Don’t see a defeat as an “end all.” In most cases, it’s not the end of the road. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities, new relationships, etc. Something better may be around the corner! Consider if it’s a teachable moment and a catalyst for personal growth. As Helen Keller said, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn.”
  2. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Change is not always a bad thing.
  3. Accept that you are not always right and you won’t always have the best strategy. Seek out advice and perspective from others.
  4. Approach situations with the mindset that you’re going to give it your all. You can’t be dissatisfied when you’ve done your very best!

It pays to humbly celebrate your victories and gain and grow from your defeats. You’ll be positioned you to do better the next time (perhaps with a better outcome!), and it will take some of the sting out of your losses! Helen Keller had a great perspective.

How have you handled your victories and losses? Do you view a short-term loss as a learning experience?? Are you satisfied with the outcome if you did your best?

4 Tips for Handling Adversity

In the popular kids’ book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, the small protagonist starts out mournfully, 
“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair. When I got out of bed I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running. And I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

Ever had a day like Alexander’s? Or even a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad WEEK?  Month? Year?

Adversity, unfortunately is a fact of life, whether it’s as small as waking up with gum in our hair or as big as experiencing a major health issue, discouraging career setback, or the loss of a loved one. When facing our toughest times, we simply don’t know how deep the pain will be or how long it’ll take to recover. For many, this kind of uncertainty can lead to hopelessness and even depression.

It’s important to remember that every trial has a different recovery path—some admittedly longer than others—but you WILL recover. That’s why in hard times, it’s essential to maintain a sense of hope. After all, some of our greatest triumphs will come following a pe riod of despair. We just don’t know it at the time!

When we’re in an emotional valley, it helps to remember that it won’t always be this painful, and that one day we we’ll experience joy again. Thankfully, time has  a way of healing and getting us through our toughest challenges. We may even come to realize that our adversity prepared us for something greater or was even for our own good!

Regardless of the adversity you experience, it’s critical to remain hopeful and connected to your support system. This may mean reaching out to others for hel p rather than relying solely on yourself (tough for us independent types!). After all, that’s what friends are for, and you would do the same for them!

Finally, if you’re really struggling with a tough time, consider “projecting” your situation onto a friend by imagining that he (or she) is experiencing what you are. What objective advice would you give if him or her? Then, listen to your own advice! It may sound a littl e strange, but it works!

Bottom line: When hard times come, keep going, keep looking up, and keep moving forward.  It’s an ancient and proven truth that day follows night and “joy comes in the morning!”

During times of trial have you found ways to engage the principle that
 
“Day follows night… and joy comes in the morning?”
 
We’d love to hear your stories and suggestions!

3 Ways to Handle Unhealthy Stress

Did you know there’s good stress and bad stress? Good stress keeps you motivated and focused, enabling you to be your best self. Your first big job interview, an early flight to catch for your dream vacation, or a first date where you want to look your best are all examples of good stress. But there’s also bad stress…a loved one passing away, financial hardship, health problems, unemployment, or a bad break-up.

Admittedly, most of us don’t take the best care of ourselves when we experience bad stress. If not handled correctly, negative stress affects our appetites, sleep, work performance, relationships, and our emotional well-being. That’s why it’s essential to take care of ourselves while facing hard times and cope with our stress in healthy ways.

1. Prioritize sleep.
When we’re stressed out, it’s easy to lie awake in bed at night, anxious about what is happening or what’s to come. But when you’re sleep deprived, your metabolism slows, you become moody, and your relationships suffer. Sleep deprivation can actually impact your blood pressure and blood sugar! Therefore, it’s important to get a healthy amount of sleep. Try setting aside some time to relax before bed. Take a bath, read a good book, or drink some decaf tea before you hit the sack. Try muscle relaxation techniques to ease your tension, making it easier for your body to drift into sleep. When you’re well rested, you’ll be better prepared to handle the negative stressors in your life.

2. Exercise.
My best stress reliever is running. Not only does it relieve tension, but it gives me time to pray and think about my current situation. My best thinking comes when I run and allow my mind to roam free. That, together with the physical exertion of cardio exercise, helps restore my peace of mind and takes away my butterflies. If running isn’t for you, exercises like dancing, walking, yoga, or bicycling can have the same therapeutic effect.

3. Surround yourself with your support system.
Friends cheer us up. Friends make us laugh. Friends are a shoulder to cry on and offer perspective. Friends keep us healthy. Although it’s hard for most of us to ask for help, it is an incredible blessing to be surrounded by loved ones when you’re going through a hard time. In fact, if we don’t ask our friends for help when we need it, we’re depriving them of the opportunity to shower us with love and encouragement—something friends love to do!
 
You might have different stress outlets than the ones I’ve suggested. But whatever they are, remember to use them. If you’re not healthy—whether it’s emotionally, mentally, or physically—you won’t be fully equipped to deal with negative stress. If you focus on your own well being, getting through your current trial will be that much easier. These are the times to “look out for number one!”
 
Do you find that it’s harder to take care of yourself while going through trials? How do you deal with stress? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? We can always learn from each other!

The Benefits of Counting Your Blessings

Count your blessings. It’s a bit of a cliché phrase, but it is incredibly good advice.
 
While others are adding up their troubles and stressing about life situations they can’t control, you could be focusing on personal contentment and happiness by considering all the little blessings in your life.
 
As I think about the people I’ve known in my past, the people who have regularly counted their blessings (both big and small) seem the most content. They take nothing for granted and appreciate the simple pleasures in life. They’re marked by joyful spirits and seek opportunities to pass that joy on to others. By counting their blessings, they’re able to take major challenges in stride because they remember what they’re truly thankful for. Doesn’t that sound like someone you want to be like?
 
Did you know that researchers have found that there are lasting benefits from counting your blessings? A recent study asked participants to think about three blessings at the end of the day and why they thought those blessings happened. The results were astounding. By practicing what the researchers called, “The Three Blessings Exercise,” every participant experienced more positive moods and less negative emotions and depression symptoms within one week. Wow!
Not only is counting your blessings an age-old bit of wisdom, but it’s also a positive exercise backed by science. Your disposition, outlook, and ability to handle life’s disappointments will improve if you reflect on your daily blessings.
 
So, why not give it a try? Record your three biggest blessings each day, or, better yet,  start compiling a blessing list. Keep it handy and refer to it often!
 
Do you regularly count your blessings? If you do, have you noticed it having a positive impact on your life? What are you most thankful for right now? It adds a spring to our step, doesn’t it?