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!

Four Ways to Form Authentic Friendships at College

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

– Zig Ziglar

For many first-year college students, one of the most exhilarating aspects is living in the dorms.  It’s an amazing opportunity to test their new wings of independence (albeit with some supervision from the resident advisors and directors), make new friends, and be surrounded by a community of people in the same boat. However, living on a college campus comes with its own set of challenges, and we’d like to address those today.

When students leave high school and enter college or their career, peer pressure does not just simply go away. In fact, the pressure to fit in can feel even feel more intense for some college students. Living with hundreds of other young people can, unfortunately, lead to negative peer pressure, striving to fit in, poor decisions, and even loss of self.  So, here are four ways that you (or the college student in your life) can form authentic and edifying relationships while living on your college campus:

  1. Deliberately seek out friendships in areas in which you’re likely to find people with similar interests. For example, if you’ve never partied in your life, hitting up a frat house party on a Saturday night is not exactly a sure-fire way to land your next BFFL. Do you enjoy staying active and spending time outdoors? Join an intra-mural and seek friends out here. Are you spiritual? Join an on-campus religiously affiliated club or group. Are you a brainiac with a love for academic challenges? Apply for your school’s honor’s program.
  2. Step outside your comfort zone and BE INTENTIONAL. This is a tough one for all of us because no one likes to feel uncomfortable. But, this is how friendships start and you take an acquaintanceship to a deeper level. As cheesy as it may sound, don’t be afraid to ask someone if you can sit by them in the “caf.” Ask one of your hall mates in the dorms to come over and play board games. Or invite an acquaintance from your Art 101 class out to coffee. More than likely, they’ll be glad for the offer! Be proactive. You’re worth it and what’s the downside?
  3. Be aware of your (potential) friends’ core values. This is crucial, because if you fundamentally oppose someone’s values, your friendship won’t be fit for the long term. If you want to do a self-check on the values that are most important to you, you can use this free checklist Make a list of your top ten, and never waiver from them, no matter what! Remember, not everyone in the world is meant to be your friend. So, if someone’s behavior does not align with your values, or you feel you have to change in order to fit in, it’s time to kiss that friendship goodbye.
  4. Be yourself and be vulnerable. Authenticity is the key to lasting, mutual friendship. You must allow yourself to be seen and appreciated for who you really are, and give up trying to be someone you’re not.

 

When life gets busy and your days are filled with lectures, studying, and practice, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain friendships. However, remember that friendships require deliberate actions from both parties in order to stay afloat (maybe ask one of your friends to study alongside you in the library!). More than anything, be true to yourself, never be afraid to say NO if something doesn’t feel right, and don’t hesitate to rely on help from a trusted adult (mentor, teacher, parent) if you’re struggling with your friendships.

3 Tips to Preserve Your (Precious) Reputation

 What is a prized possession you can never get back once you lose it?

The answer is your reputation.

At some point in your life, your values will be challenged and possibly even ridiculed by others. It’s crucial to talk about this now, with the beginning of the college school year upon us. Why? It’s especially common in the years after high to face situations that test your values, integrity, and ability to stand up to peer pressure. It can be a difficult time for many young people with all of this newfound independence (and adversity!).

Will you have the moral courage to withstand the pressure and take the high ground, even if it means you may lose an opportunity or a friendship in the process?

 I was fortunate to have worked with George Russell, the Chairman Emeritus of Russell Investments. He always took pride in saying, “Our company operates with non-negotiable integrity.” He meant it. George always said, “If you’re wondering whether or not to do something, ask how you would feel if it became tomorrow’s headline in the New York Times. Enough said.

Sadly, you can see how poor choices have destroyed the reputations and lives of countless people in the sports, entertainment, political, and business world. Since many of them were heroes to impressionable kids, their missteps have even greater consequence. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen how the loss of trust and respect can ruin lives and relationships.  That’s why I came up with this list that we can apply to our own lives and reputations. Here are three tips to help you hold on to your values and keep your reputation upstanding:

  1. Avoid the “gray area.” It can be tempting to take shortcuts. We’ve all been there. But if you are not 100 percent positive that something is right, ethical, or in line with your values…then just don’t do it.
  2. Surround yourself with people that uplift you, understand you, and make you want to be your best self. If you find yourself comparing, striving, and doing things out of the ordinary in order to fit in, then they probably aren’t “your people.”
  3. Always tell the truth—even white lies can be detrimental to your reputation. It may sound cliché, but honesty is ALWAYS the best policy.

No matter what you do, preserve your integrity, values, and reputation with every ounce of strength you can muster. You will absolutely, positively, and totally regret it if you don’t!

How have you handled situations where you were asked or tempted to compromise your integrity?  Have you shared the story with the young people in your life? Your positive example will encourage them in their own struggles, especially as they embark into adulthood and life after high school.

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Think of a time when someone spoke loving or encouraging words to you. Those words will probably stay with you forever. However, you can probably think of even more instances when others have been critical or mean spirited or gossiped about you. Those words won’t be easy to forget, either, but for a different reason.

Words have incredible power—they can be uplifting and change someone’s life for the better, or they can be destructive and leave people with wounds that will last a lifetime. The thing is, the only words we have power over are our own. Once spoken, there is no way to get them back. Plus, we can’t control what other people do with the words we’ve spoken. Even if you don’t want them to, your words could end up traveling in a million different directions and—depending on what you said—get you in trouble one day. (This is especially true for anything we put on social media.)

It’s crucial to understand that our words reveal much about our character. Our words are reflections of our trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, and respect for others. Also, they’re telltale signs of our temperament and self control. What do your words say about you? How are we doing as a nation?

In recent history, some horrific tragedies have occurred among young people when they were publicly ridiculed through gossip, texts, or social media posts. Some of these even resulted in suicide. So much heartache—all caused by words used heartlessly and irresponsibly. Yes, our words can literally be a matter of life or death, especially to people who are vulnerable.

Here are four ways to guard our words and ensure we’re received as a person of integrity:

  1. Only say things about other people you wouldn’t mind them hearing. Try it for a week and you will truly be amazed by how it affects your choice of words. (I wish every school would take this challenge. Imagine what it would do to bullying!)
  2. When offering constructive criticism, recite it back to yourself in your head before giving it to the person. How would you feel receiving this exact criticism? Be empathetic and CONSTRUCTIVE (not hurtful!).
  3. Do not put anything on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram (even in private messages) that you would not want getting out. The internet is not private, ever.
  4. If you’re in a disagreement with someone, watch out for accusations, assumptions, and the tendency to name call. If you sense that you’re reaching the “boiling point,” pause for at least ten seconds to collect yourself and your thoughts. Above all, strive for mutual understanding and avoid words that incite emotion. A calm tone, especially in disagreements, makes a big difference.

When you apply these concepts in life, you’ll be admired for your tact, restraint, and uplifting spirit. You’ll see that your words can change your heart, body, and mind from the inside out, and your relationships with your friends, significant other, coworkers, and even your children will improve. And, if you can get others to join you, it might be the beginning of a wonderful movement in our culture! Are you up for it?

What are some ways you’ve helped build a positive culture of words

in your classroom, school, family, workplace, or community?

Take Responsibility; Don’t Dodge It

 

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

~Theodore Roosevelt

 Ah, the blame game. We’ve all played it. Most of the time, it simply doesn’t feel good to accept responsibility when we’ve fallen short, so we cast the blame on others (e.g., “If my teacher wasn’t so rude, I wouldn’t have failed the class.” “I know I got a speeding ticket, but my friend made me late!” “My teammates cost us the win.”).

However, we’re all human, so we make mistakes.  Every single one of us. Sometimes those mistakes are completely innocent and happen by accident, and sometimes they stem from a bad decision, a character flaw, or selfish motives. But no matter what, mistakes and shortfalls are part of life. While no one keeps track, they number well into the thousands in a lifetime. That being the case, one has to wonder why it’s so difficult for us to admit our 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. Our pride gets in the way.

Or, maybe we fear how others will react. For people who have been victims of abuse, this is a natural response.

Is there a better way to handle our mistakes?

People who are prone to blame others first 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 most 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, do what you can to make things right, and commit to doing better the next time around.
  2. You can DODGE responsibility, blame someone else (or the circumstances), and walk away from the situation – leaving others (and yourself!) with the problem you created.

Choice #1 will gain you the respect of your family, peers, and colleagues and help you learn from your mistake. It’s an act of integrity. Choice #2, on the other hand, will damage your reputation and deprive you of a valuable opportunity for personal growth.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that might cause us to miss out on great opportunities to learn and grow! That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor. The coach you were convinced benched you every game because “he didn’t like you?” He could have been a great trainer and helped you up your game. That “jealous” classmate? She could have helped you become a better friend.

The long and short of it is this: Accepting responsibility is a hallmark of a true leader and a sign of maturity. The next time you’re tempted to blame first, swallow your pride and admit that you fell 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? Why? How do you develop the value of taking responsibility for mistakes in your teens or students?

Humility Over Pride

The general election is just days away! Things always get pretty crazy during this week every four years—lots of promises made, reflections on presidents of the past, inflammatory rants on social media pages—the list goes on. As I think about what a new president will mean for our future, I also find myself thinking about history, and something I think we are all looking for right now: a little bit of humility.

No matter what political party you are affiliated with (if any), I think we can all agree that Abraham Lincoln was a pretty remarkable man.  Despite his humble beginnings, he accomplished some incredible things (beginning the process of ending slavery, maintaining the union during the Civil War, and setting an example of integrity and wisdom). I wish we had more role models like him today.

One of my own role models during my long investment career was a colleague named Ernie Ankrim, a brilliant financial thinker who became the chief market strategist where I worked. However, as smart a strategist as he was, Ernie was equally gifted in public speaking.

Everyone admired how Ernie shared his insights with such humor and wit. He was the total package and audiences could never get enough of him. (It was painful to follow him!) Yet, despite all of his accolades, Ernie is the one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. If anyone had bragging rights it was Ernie, yet he was always the first to give others the credit.

Ernie’s humility has had an enormous impact on my life and my behavior. Whenever I’ve been acknowledged for a good work or some success, I often think, “How would Ernie respond?” My answer is always the same. First and foremost, I owe my success to others.

Abe Lincoln had a similar philosophy. He famously said, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”

As you travel along your life journey, you’ll have many proud achievements along the way. And you know what?  They’ll likely speak for themselves. You won’t have to toot your own horn to get people to notice you.

Here are three tips to help you become more humble (and I think we can all hope our presidential nominees will apply these to their lives as well!):

  1. Ask for feedback from others. Instead of insisting you’re always right (or your way is the only way), consider asking others for feedback on your performance (what went well and where can I up my game?). They may offer some insight you never would have thought of yourself!
  2. Understand that adversity can be preparation for greater things. Setbacks are a part of life, unfortunately. Humility allows you to accept these obstacles without the fear of failure, to dust yourself off, and start again.
  3. Confront your negative opinions of others. Do you have any deep-rooted prejudices? Chances are, you’re too proud to admit it. It’s important to recognize these (for example, negative views on certain people groups, etc.), and then make the effort to listen and learn with an open mind.

 

And, when successes come your way, rejoice and be grateful to those who helped make it happen. Your acknowledgement of others first, before you give yourself a pat on the back, will be greatly admired and will set you up as a leader of integrity.

When you do something great, is your first instinct to give yourself the credit or others who have helped make you the person you are today? Who comes to mind as someone you would like to thank or give credit?

The Value of Values: Part 3

What do you value most in life? Is it your collector’s hot rod? Your job? Your beach house? Your iPhone? Or, is it something less tangible, like integrity, family togetherness, spirituality, respect, or serving others? Hopefully, it’s one of the latter.

In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been talking a lot about values around here lately, and stressing the importance of instilling strong values in the young people we parent, coach, mentor, and teach. As ethics, morals, manners, and values have become de-emphasized in the public square, political arena, entertainment industry, and corporate boardrooms, we’re witnessing a downward slide in our nation’s character. When character is disregarded or devalued, relativism, “meism,” and chaos fills the vacuum. There’s just no getting around it.

In this last part in our series, I’d like to discuss three more elemental values that are instrumental in creating virtuous and admirable character. Upholding (and believing in) these values not only benefits the upholder, but also his or her family, friends, employer, classmates, coworkers, and beyond. By restoring our societal commitment to character and values, it would truly be a world changer.

  1. Patience. Have you ever lost your patience while waiting in an endless line, or dealing with a finicky customer? Have you ever thrown out some not-so-nice hand gestures in a fit of road rage? Or, how about when you throw a tantrum with your family or friends when things don’t go your way or people disappoint you? The fact is, losing your patience usually does more harm than good in almost every situation. Learning to be patient in all circumstances makes us more pleasant people to be around and allows us to handle stressful situations and conflict in a more level-headed manner. Taking a deep breath and counting to 20 before responding is wise medicine. After all, today’s impatience is often tomorrow’s apology.
  2. Courage. Do you handle tough situations with bravery, or are you more inclined to backing down or withdrawing? Of course, there’s a time and a place for walking away, but sometimes, courage is key. Courage means never letting your fears drive your life, and instead, stepping out of your comfort zone and always doing the right thing and standing up for yourself (respectfully), no matter how un-cool it may seem.
  3. Self-control. This is likely a tough one for many of us. Self-control can be related to our outward behavior (for example, how we impulsively react when we are annoyed or angry), as well as our internal motivations (for example, our relationship with food). When you practice self control, it means that you are able to manage your impulses and respond to temptation in a way that benefits yourself and others. Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, you’re able to reel yourself in and think about your choices before you actually make them. This is a big one, friends. Consider taking a moment to self-check and see if there are any areas where you could use greater self control.

In case you missed the last two parts in this series, you can catch up on them here and here. For our comprehensive positive traits and values list, click here. We encourage you to discuss them with your families and students as a great self-awareness project. Which ones are we modeling well? Where could we up our game? Are any of them outdated? What others might you add to the list?

Thank you for being a part of this series! Have a great school year!

Building Workplace Readiness Skills: Part One

We’ve heard the stories all too often. You have your own stories, no doubt, but here are some of mine:

  • My friend, a corporate executive, was preparing to interview five finalists for a new position; only one showed up on time. (Guess who landed the job?)
  • Another employer was recruiting at a career fair on a college campus. Based on first impressions and conversations with graduating seniors, not a single student was invited in for an interview.
  • A local restaurant owner received a call from an “ill” teenage employee five minutes before start time, yet fifteen minutes later she was posting pictures of herself at a beach party. It cost her the job.

You might think these are exceptional cases, but we hear stories like this all the time from employers of teens and young adults. As accomplished as young workers may be academically or otherwise, far too many are not workplace ready.

As the marketplace becomes more competitive, are we actually regressing at launching real world-ready graduates from our homes and schools? Many agree and point to such contributors as ineffective parenting, lack of whole person training in schools, and high youth unemployment rates.

This is why I’ve been encouraged by the work at the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia and CTECS (Career and Technical Education Consortium of States), who have taken proactive steps to turn the tide. They surveyed employers to identify their most valued workplace readiness skills, and their conclusions, summarized here, establish 21 Workplace Readiness Skills (WRS) for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

[After reviewing the WRS list, we were gratified to learn that our What I Wish I Knew at 18 curriculum (including our “How to Be an MVP Employee” DVD) address 14 of these 21 employer-based skills! You can see how our lessons and success pointers align to these WRS here.]

At LifeSmart, we want to contribute to this crucial conversation by sharing some thoughts on ten of these important skills, starting this week with “Work Ethic” and “Integrity.” We hope you’ll follow along in our series and share your ideas as we go!

Work Ethic   

Fresh out of college, Joe arrives at his new job with visions of grandeur—perhaps a corner office with a great view. Then reality hits—his new work station is a bite-sized interior cubicle. Feeling disgraced, he delivers an inferior product and doesn’t last long.
How can we help the “Joes” we know—whether as students, mentees, or children in our home? Parents can help by instilling the intrinsic value of hard work, avoiding doing their work for them (including homework!), and by not condoning efforts that are clearly lacking.

Educators can help by being mindful of how grade inflation is affecting work ethic and creating attitudes of entitlement. Our colleges and employers are increasingly dealing with both, as students feel “deserving” of special considerations and concessions.

The bottom line: A strong work ethic builds dependability—an essential leadership quality.

Integrity

“We may not always be loved, but we must always be trusted.” This saying is so true! Integrity is one of the most important qualities (arguably number one!) that make up one’s “personal brand.” It’s very difficult to recover from a damaged reputation, and a lack of integrity is often the cause.

 

Here are five attributes of a person of integrity:

  1. They always tell the truth and call out the untruths of others.
  2. They own up to their mistakes and shortfalls.
  3. They uphold high ethical standards, both personally and professionally.
  4. They keep their promises.
  5. They keep their communications about others neutral or positive (especially those who are not present).

 

Whether we’re educators, parents, or mentors, we all have opportunities to incorporate these vital skills into our training of this generation. As you consider those under your guidance, how do they fare on these 21 skills? How might you help address the gaps?

 

Playing the Blame Game Won’t Help You Win

 

Consider this scenario: It’s finals week, and you’ve spent the last few days cramming like mad. Deep down, you know you should have started studying earlier in the month, but with intramural football, that new video game, spontaneous trips to the beach, and Netflix parties with your friends, there just wasn’t enough time. Although you’re doing all the “right things” now by highlighting your reading and going over old quizzes, you’re rushed and anxious.  It’s no surprise, then, to see a disappointing C- at the top of your paper. Regrettably, you know you could have done better.

So, what now? Do you take issue with the professor or teacher, complaining that the questions were too hard? Do you accuse him or her of biased grading, or being out to get you? Do you compare your test to those of classmates who earned better grades? Worse yet, do you recruit your parents to petition on your behalf?!?

Or, do you take personal responsibility for your grade and accept the fact that you underprepared? Will you own the outcome?

We call this topic “Accepting Personal Responsibility for Our Mistakes and Shortfalls.” And believe me, it’s no easy feat. However, it’s a sign of maturity and a hallmark of a true leader. Being able to put complaints, self-pity, and the desire to blame others for a negative outcome aside is a sign of integrity and self-awareness. Moreover, accepting responsibility causes us to live with an accurate perspective of reality.

Blame shifting and negative behavior justification distorts our reality—causing us to live in a world where we believe we do no wrong. It’s rooted in insecurity, and it affects our decision making, job performance, academic achievements, relationships, and more. Everyone else screws up but us, right? Wrong! The real reality is that we all mess up but have the capacity to accept the consequences and learn from our mistakes.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that may cause us to miss out on great opportunities. That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor. The coach who you were convinced benched you every game because he “didn’t like you?” He could have been a great personal trainer and helped you up your game. That classmate who was “jealous of you?” She could have helped you become a better friend.

The long and short of it is this: as we grow into well-rounded, confident, and contributing members of society, it’s crucial that we accept responsibility for our mistakes and shortfalls. Although it may seem difficult at the time, this practice will make us better friends, employees, players, and students who have an accurate and healthy view of ourselves and the world around us. Humility and self-awareness are of high value, so start this practice now!

Can you think of a situation where you stood up and took responsibility for your actions? What good came from it? If you are a parent, teacher, or mentor, consider taking some time to sit down with your teen and talk through real-world examples of accepting responsibility for poor choices.

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!