The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given. . .

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? How about the best gift you’ve ever given? Can you come up with your top three? What’s the common denominator between them all? What makes the gifts so special?

More often than not, when I ask people these questions, they usually respond with gifts that:

  • were not expected
  • were ones they (or the other person) really needed
  • showed how much one person knew or understood the other
  • were not necessarily things, but experiences
  • were sacrificial on the part of the giver

That’s how I would describe the favorite gift I have ever given. And today, I’d like to tell you about it. Grab a nice cold glass of egg nog and enjoy . . .

It would be my first Christmas away from home. Four months earlier, I trekked from Wisconsin to my new home in Seattle to seek my MBA degree. Having left all of my family and friends behind, I knew Christmas of 1979 would be tough.

After experiencing (and not enjoying) my first solo Thanksgiving, I decided to see if my meager bank account could support a surprise trip home. Although a flight to Green Bay was out of my price range, I could pull this off if I flew to Chicago and had someone drive me the remaining four hours north. Bless his heart, my friend Bruce offered to be my chauffeur to and from O’Hare.

Once my top secret trip was scheduled, I made a point of sounding extra lonesome on my weekly calls home. (Yes, a little nasty but in the end they wouldn’t mind!) My parents were having mixed emotions about this Christmas, too.

After our long, snowy ride, we arrived at my brother Rick’s house late on the 23rd and reviewed our plans. Rick had acquired a large empty cardboard box, big enough to fit yours truly. It would be addressed to my parents from the North Pole, and the grand unveiling would be set for 9:00 a.m. Christmas eve on their upstairs apartment doorstep.

As Rick drove me to my parents’ place, the suspense became almost unbearable. When we arrived just outside their door, I placed the box over my head and crouched down, sitting on top of the bottom flaps to hold it in place. After giving the “all clear” signal to Rick, he rang the doorbell and rushed down the stairs out of sight.

Let’s pause so you can fully imagine this. You are an unexpected Christmas gift on your parents’ doorstep and are about to shock the living daylights out of them! My heart was about to explode.

My mom, in her mid-Sixties, answered the door and shouted, “Oh my, Lil, what’s this?” (Lil was a similarly aged neighbor visiting.) Her presence only added to the raucous. Next was “My, this is heaaavvvvyy! What could be in here?” Lil added, “I don’t know, but let’s try lifting it.” Listening in on their speculation, I almost lost it!

Well, to make a long story short, these ladies tried their best to lift it (while I, inside, was desperately holding down the flaps!). When one of my boots stuck out, I knew it was time. I counted to three and in one move jumped out of the box and cried, “Merry Christmas!” Just try to imagine their shock. It was truly priceless. And, within five minutes, it was all around the entire complex.

A Christmas present no one would ever forget.

This season, we focus on what I personally consider to be history’s greatest gift—a savior, named Jesus. He was and is an unexpected gift that came to mean everything to this world, and He came from a Giver who knew exactly what we needed.

Over the next week as you spend time with those you love, think about the reasons behind your gifting. Is this the year for your greatest gift?

Merry Christmas from the LifeSmart family.

The Gift of a Giver

During this time of year, we are inundated with suggestions of ways we can help others. Whether it’s the Salvation Army volunteers wearing Santa hats and ringing bells outside your local grocery store (I do that!), organizations making it possible for you to “adopt” a family less fortunate than yours, or packing up shoeboxes full of goodies to send to children in third world countries—there are countless ways you can make a difference. To be honest, I think it is a welcome change from the messages we most often hear all the other months of the year.

“Follow your passion. Do what makes YOU happy. You’re awesome. Find yourself.” These phrases should sound familiar, because they seem to be everywhere these days. Young people all across the globe are being encouraged to discover themselves and follow their hearts. These messages aren’t necessarily bad by any means—we all need to follow our passions—however, life really isn’t all about us. When taken to the extreme, this mindset contributes to self centeredness and an entitlement mentality and can send our children the wrong message. So, this holiday season, and for the other months of the year, I encourage you to direct your life toward others.

As the holidays approach swiftly, what if we all went from being self-focused to other-centered? Think of what a difference we could make in the world! After all, I think most successful people would say that their biggest life accomplishments have more to do with what they’ve done for others, rather than what they’ve done for themselves. Giving can be a greater gift to the giver than to the receiver.

Where are you directing your life right now—toward yourself or toward others?  Spend some moments thinking about how you spend most of your time, energy, and resources. Talk with your family about the ways you can shift your focus toward others. Whether it’s by yourself, with a friend, or as a family unit, brainstorm some ways you can impact your community during the holidays and beyond.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Donate a Thanksgiving meal to a local family who can’t afford one this year
  • Serve meals or collect clothing for your local mission or shelter
  • Adopt a family (or child). Some organizations you can do this through are: Doing Good Together, Soldier’s Angels, World Vision, and the YWCA. Also look for local organizations or programs near you.
  • Visit those who are lonely (bedridden, in a nursing home, etc.). Call local senior centers or nursing facilities to find out how you can help. Dust off those rusty caroling skills! Or, take someone out to lunch who is missing a loved one.
  • Donate to Toys for Tots or similar programs
  • Make a difference in the lives of foster children. Look into ways you can help during the holiday season with organizations like Together We Rise or Children’s Action Network.
  • Encourage paying it forward. Even if it’s just buying a Pumpkin Spice Latte for the car in line behind you at Starbucks, it will bring joy to someone’s day! One of my favorite stories is about someone who pays for the groceries of others.

 

I promise, you’ll receive far more in return than you give. Your life will have more balance, your spirit will soar, you’ll make new friends, and you’ll maximize the impact of your life. Oh, and you’ll also make the world a better place in the meantime! What’s not to love about that? Happy holidays!

 

The Road to Resilience: Part Two

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road… Unless you fail to make the turn.”

~Helen Keller

Last week, we talked about the importance of resilience. Adversity is unavoidable and comes in many forms, so we so we shared five tips for developing resilience, (If you don’t want to read the entire blog from last week, here’s a summary of our five pointers: Keep a healthy perspective, know your worth, tap into your support system, take care of your health, and forgive.)

While we hope these five tips will help you build resilience and avoid self-pity or defeat, we thought it might be helpful to talk about what resilience doesn’t look like. This way, we can evaluate our tendencies when dealing with adversity. So, without further ado’, here are five examples of non-resilience when facing trials:

  1. Making excuses and blaming. This is a common response when adversity stems from our own mistakes or underperformance. And, why not? Isn’t it easier to try to justify ourselves than to admit we’ve blown it? However, making excuses will never propel us forward, and it’s a colossal turnoff to others. If you want to better yourself and your relationships, remember to choose to accept responsibility and learn from your mistakes. It’s one of the surest signs of maturity.
  2. Using drugs or alcohol to cope. These are false comforts that mask the negative emotions (anxiety, despair, sadness, loneliness, etc.) we often experience when living through adversity. In fact, drugs and alcohol actually make things worse. Not only do they prevent us from dealing with the situation at hand, they can cause us to make poor decisions that only make matters worse. So, if you’re going through tough times, please reconsider reaching for that bottle of wine (or drug of choice). You will not come out on the other side with clarity, joy, or a solution. Rather, try those tips we shared last week.
  3. Withdrawing. It can be tempting to lean on ourselves or deny the problem when the going gets rough. Social withdrawal can be especially damaging because our friends, family, and other relationships are incredibly useful (and willing!) resources to help us deal with adversity. Isolating ourselves from the world and refusing to accept our current reality will only make matters worse—it can lead to self-pity, bitterness, and depression. Resilience manifests itself as the opposite of withdrawal. It means facing your challenges head on and relying on the support and wisdom of others to help get you through. #dontgoitalone!
  4. Whining. Nope—just don’t do it. If you feel that you need to be vocal about the adversity you’re facing, try using humor. (Humor, can, in fact, cause you to think more creatively. It’s great for problem solving and definitely more constructive than whining!) Whining will only damage your credibility—it won’t do anything to fix your problem. And, it’s BORING!
  5. Withering. In the last few years, we’ve witnessed a popular trend on campuses of seeking protection from anything that we either disagree with or might bother us. Such students are demonstrating an unprecedented level of fragility and hypersensitivity that is worrisome. Further, it reinforces the entitlement mentality that is permeating the younger generation. It’s time for administrators to step up. This is not preparing them for life after college.

 

Although it would be nice if there were a magic antidote to our adversity, we all know it doesn’t exist. It’s why developing resilience is paramount.

So, how do you approach adversity when it strikes? Do you have other examples of what resilience doesn’t look like to share with us? We’d love to hear!

Risk Aversion and the Importance of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Part Two

Last week, we talked about risk aversion (especially in millennials and the younger generation) and the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone in all areas of your life. We are continuing that theme this week. (If you missed last week’s blog, you can find it here.)

When we think about our favorite feel-good movies—those with memorable heroes and heroines and happy endings that make our souls feel full—what’s the general plot line that comes to mind? For many of us, they feature protagonists who boldly step out of their comfort zone, defy the status-quo, and take risks with highly uncertain outcomes. We see them believe in themselves enough to try, work their tails off, overcome obstacles of all sorts (including fear), and eventually, win the prize.

We like these kinds of movies because they make us feel empowered and hopeful. But, honestly, how many of us actually live out our day-to-day lives like the heroes and heroines in our favorite movies? Are we willing to push back against the nay-sayers, summon the courage,, and boldly forge ahead, even if we don’t know how things will turn out?

This week, in our second installment in our series on risk aversion, I’d like to share three more benefits to stepping out of your comfort zone and living a fearless, confident life.

  • Successful people go for it. It’s one of the most identifying hallmarks of a true leader. They take each situation as it comes, and make a decision out of confidence rather than fear. Successful people do not fear what others think, nor do they let their insecurities hold them back from pursuing their goals. And, they’re not shy about expressing their views, even if their opinion might be contrary to others.

    (In the same vein, know that it’s perfectly normal to care about or acknowledge what other people think of you. The key is making sure you do not fear their opinion, nor let their opinion determine the way you feel about yourself.)

  • One of the greatest joys in living life—our biggest confidence booster and our biggest source of motivation—is stretching ourselves, trying something new, and being surprised by an amazing outcome. In most cases, whenever you decide to simply “go for it,” you’ll be glad you did.
  • We often try to avoid uncertainty, because, well… it can be uncomfortable. However, life is full of uncertainty, yet true leaders take the time and initiative to solve problems. Understand that life is a learning process, and the process itself sometimes matters more than the outcome! Even if things don’t turn out as hoped, at least you tried AND you gained a learning experience to help you the next time.

 

Consider making a list of the things you’ve been wanting to do or try but you’ve been hesitant to take the plunge. Do you see any common denominators? What’s the underlying risk aversion or insecurity? Vow to yourself that you will consciously decide to step out of your comfort zone and follow those pursuits. Trying is a sign of self respect!

Many (and I mean MANY) people cite their biggest life regrets as the risks they didn’t take. So, I encourage you today… raise your hand. Be the first to answer the question. Accept that job. Move to that city. Take on that internship. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and refuse to live your life with regret! Maybe it’s time to take off those training wheels, and give it a go!

Get in the Game to Access Your Career

Two college graduates found themselves in the same, all-to-common, predicament. They received their degrees and assumed, like many, that the job offers would flow their way. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories… especially with graduates whose degrees don’t naturally connect to specific careers. To these grads, it’s been surprising, confusing, and frustrating. Sadly, neither college prepared them for how to access the job market with their respective majors. And, it was taking its toll.

Let’s see how they’re handling this challenge.

In the first case, he is serving at a local food and tavern establishment, waiting for the perfect job to come his way. He has been approached by the owner of a company in his desired field, but has declined opportunities to apply for the open positions because they didn’t meet his high standards. Unfortunately, pride and entitlement have gotten in the way. He continues to flounder, hoping that someday, somehow, his dream job will appear on his doorstep. For some inexplicable reason, staying the course in a dead end job is better than taking a slightly imperfect job in his desired field.

In the other case, she decided to consider somewhat related positions, albeit at a lower levels than desired, in order to enter the industry. She even expanded her geographical range to find job openings—despite knowing it would mean a brutal commute. This is a good news story that is still playing out. After landing the job, she was promoted in two months (!) and is now in line for the job she wanted.

The difference? He is proud and stuck in neutral. She took her medicine, got in the game, and will soon be reaping the rewards in the fast lane.

In my mentoring, I hear variations of this scenario all the time. Many graduates are struggling to find the entry positions of their dreams, losing self confidence, and stubbornly resisting the steps needed to enter their career. They’re disillusioned because they thought their degree would punch their ticket.

Life is hard! What to do?

When I advise young adults entering the workforce, I ask them to envision a dartboard where their dream job is the bull’s eye. The question is what to do if the bull’s eye isn’t available? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Expand your territory. In many cases, your dream job isn’t available in your desired location(s). If so, see if there are open positions in other acceptable locations. Sure, it might mean a move farther away than you hoped, but you have to be flexible and go where the jobs are!
  2. Expand your positions. Here, you might have to swallow some pride and be willing to consider entry positions (and internships) that are at levels below your expectations. As you screen different career sites and apps, broaden your horizons to see if there are related jobs that you can access. Sure, it might take a little longer to land your dream job, but by considering jobs in the “nearby rings around the bull’s eye,” you get in the game and position yourself for the eventual prize. Remember, employers generally give preference to current employees when filling positions. It might take two steps to hit your bull’s eye, but you’ll still hit it!
  3. Create a matrix of desired positions and employers. Make a list of several acceptable job titles as you screen sites such as Indeed.com. Then, regularly, screen to see which jobs are currently available. Also, identify employers you would love to work for and regularly screen their sites to evaluate open positions. Be flexible in considering job openings at interesting employers. It may not be the perfect starter position, but new opportunities will eventually arise. And, you’ll have the inside advantage!

 

Sometimes we simply need to be more flexible and humble when it comes to accessing our careers. But remember, in order to win, you need to get in the game.

Our Best Success Pointer, Ever? You Be the Judge.

When I wrote What I Wish I Knew at 18, I had no idea which specific pointer might resonate most with readers. After all, each of my 109 life success pointers had its own reason, place, and value. I’m often asked which is the most important one of all. I have tremendous difficulty answering this question, and I wrote the book!

To my surprise, though, one pointer seems to be resonating most of all, especially with those who are using our student guides with kids. Any guesses? It’s the one called, “Love and friendship take time… and timing.” Surprisingly, it’s having a powerful impact on adults, too!

What’s all the excitement about? In this particular lesson, we encourage young people to be patient in cultivating new friendships. We describe a relationship pyramid with four progressive stages of depth and help kids understand the parameters and privileges that go with each level. The stages, in order, are:

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend, progressing from an acquaintance)
  3. Friend (a “graduate” from the Prospect pool)
  4. VIP (very important person in our life—a select list!)

Those who take a healthy approach to relationship building are selective in determining who stays or moves among these stages. We help readers understand that time, trust, and shared beliefs/values/interests are the defining qualities that determine whether a relationship will graduate, regress, or stay at the same level. For example, you shouldn’t expect—or permit—the same level of intimacy and trust with an “acquaintance” as you would with a “VIP” (e.g., very close friends/family members).  Looking back, my biggest relationship messes were when I made some incorrect “stage assignments.”

Clearly, this isn’t rocket science. However, there seems to be something extra special about this pointer because we receive far more comments on it than any other. Why? In this age of Facebook “friendships” and other social media relationships (Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), intimacy (or false intimacy) can form too quickly and sometimes almost dangerously. The goal with this advice is to frame relationships in a more natural, realistic way, and offer a more mature perspective.

Many young people today are rushing into relationships and behaviors before they’ve been properly qualified (thanks, in no part, to our cultural messages). In their quest to make new friends or fit in, some compromise their values by engaging in behaviors with the two lowest levels that should be reserved for friends or VIPs. It’s happening more frequently among middle schoolers and is especially common on college campuses when students get lonesome and strive to make new friends quickly. In the end, many relationships fall precipitously down the pyramid, often with severe consequences, when regrettable decisions ensue…

It’s not only kids who need this advice, it seems. At a recent educator conference, a parent who had been going through What I Wish I Knew at 18 with her teenage daughter thanked us for this particular lesson.  “That pointer,” she proclaimed, “changed MY life!”

Have YOU been reading What I Wish I Knew at 18 with a young person or going through the Student Guide with teens in your life?  Which pointer has impacted your teen(s) the most?  Which one has impacted YOU the most? We’d love to add to list of “People’s Picks” for Best Success Pointers!

3 Tips for Conquering Conflict

Question: What do the Montagues and Capulets have in common with convincing a five-year old to eat her brussels sprouts? Answer: Conflict! We can all relate to this on some level, right? Whether it’s conflict with a boss, coworker, spouse, child, friend, parent, teacher, or even a next door neighbor, the fact is conflict is a part of life! We aren’t going to always see eye-to-eye with everyone. What matters is what we do (and how we react) when conflict arises.

We invite you to use this article as an opportunity to perform a self-check. How do you rate on your levels of self control, understanding, and respectfulness when conflict arises in your life? What can you do to better handle conflict with others?

Here are three tips to help you manage conflict:

  1. Respect yourself and your right to be heard. Whether it’s peer pressure, a challenge to your rights, personal safety, or position, it’s important to stand up for yourself. Sometimes, we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or insecurity. Also, certain personality types (especially the “S’s” in the DISC model) are so focused on “keeping the peace” that they risk being taken advantage of, especially by people with dominant personalities. Although conflict is uncomfortable, we must respect ourselves in the process while being respectful to the other party. Don’t ever sacrifice your well-being or comfort for the sake of someone else. You deserve to be heard just as much as the other party.
  2. Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflicts arise from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer. (This is especially true when it comes to talking politics. The current political climate is pretty tense, and conflict is high—both on social media and in real life.) We may want the same outcome as others with whom we disagree, but simply have different strategies to get there. Always strive for mutual understanding, while being attentive to your tone and body language, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Consider having a heartfelt retroactive talk about it once things have calmed, and vow to do better next time if it didn’t go as smoothly as you’d have liked. And, remember that barking, yelling, and name calling won’t change anyone’s mind, anyway. Instead, it usually emboldens.
    Finally, if you’re in a heated conversation and your emotions are bubbling, try using this phrase: “I have a different perspective.” If the other party is disrespectful after that, simply suggest a follow up conversation at another time and move on.
  3. Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. However, when we harbor grudges and refuse to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer. Strive for reconciliation whenever possible and don’t hesitate to seek support. Holding a grudge and/or refusing to ever speak to someone again will not make you feel better—it will feel like a burden that just won’t go away.

The ability to manage conflict is a hallmark of a true leader and a symbol of integrity and maturity. What is your favorite tip for handling conflict? Do you have any life lessons from past experiences you’d like to share?

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?

Stop Comparing; Change the World

I often hear from young people that they feel dissatisfied with their lives. They report feeling lost, unnoticed, and hard-done-by, and that everyone else seems to have it better than them. And exactly where are they perceiving these messages from, you might ask? Social media.

With social media (sadly) being the chief influencer of millennials, many teens and young adults find themselves comparing themselves to “Instagram celebrities,” and therefore feeling inadequate for not measuring up. Of course, we all know that “social media isn’t real,” but it can in fact be very hard for some people to separate what they see on Facebook or Instagram from reality. They are constantly bombarded with images of success, wealth, unattainable body ideals, and other unrealistic expectations. They’re left feeling lost, unworthy, and searching for a meaning that nothing on social media will ever give them.

If you have a teen or college student in your life (or if you are one yourself), I encourage you to share this message with them.

The times in my life when I have experienced pure joy and fulfillment have been when I did things that had a lasting impact on other people. Not when I lost a certain amount of weight, not when I bought a new car, not when I bought a whole new wardrobe, not when one of my posts was liked by hundreds of people, and not when I had a certain number of friends (online or in real life).

It’s crucial for young people to understand that true joy comes from doing good for others and using their gifts and talents to impact the world for the better. It most certainly won’t come by comparing yourself to social media stars or to the most popular students in your class. .

To the young people, I urge you: your time is now. Now is the time to serve others and impact the world. If you want to experience meaning and ultimate joy, turn off your smart phone and aim to make your life a living legacy by using the best that you, uniquely, have to offer. In this way, you’ll see your impact firsthand while inspiring others in the process. And, you’ll be changed for the better, too!

If you are finding comparison hanging over your life like a dark cloud, find a cause you’re passionate about or an issue you believe needs addressing, and chase after it. In this blog post, you will find some tips for discovering what inspires you and how to make your impact..

What opportunities will you pursue today to invest in others and help make life a little (or a lot) better for someone else? Strike while the iron is hot, and start building your legacy.

Remember, what you see on social media will ebb and flow. Trends and celebrities will change, but your legacy is what will last forever. Don’t wait to change the world!

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.