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?

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?

Eight Ways to Avoid “Foot-in-Mouth” Disease

These days, it feels like the majority of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook (and other social media platforms), e-mail, blogs, and the capability for many career positions to work remotely, most of us are more comfortable communicating online than we are in person. In fact, because we live in such a tech-inundated world, face-to-face communication skills (especially amongst young people) are at their all-time worst. Needless to say, we could all use some tips on how to avoid miscommunication—for those times when a text message or SnapChat just won’t do.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. And when it happens, it can be a disaster. It’s crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (e.g., politics and religion). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

 

  1. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you can’t control it. Filter is the one aspect of miscommunication is that most out of our control.

 

In short, here are eight ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize later on):

  • Be sure your expression (body language, facial expressions) are in sync
  • Think before you speak
  • Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position
  • Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  • Be a discerning listener when they respond
  • Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
  • Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remember, it’s okay to be professional in casual settings, but not the reverse!

How do your own in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

 Note: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

Let’s Make 2017 the Year of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

~ Epictetus

Question: what one action fosters unity, common understanding, mutual respect, healing, better decisions, more effective management, stronger marriages, families, and friendships, and greater empathy, civility, harmony, knowledge, and perspective? (I think we can all agree these are worthy causes!) Answer: Listening. If we dedicated ourselves to becoming better listeners. I believe it would change the world.

So, what about making 2017 a year when we do more listening and “sharing with” and less “talking to?” A year when we fully engage with each other to forge stronger relationships and greater understanding? And, maybe a year when we celebrate what unites us instead of focusing so much on our differences?

From my perch, this would go a long way in healing our nation, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Here’s what I’m observing:

  • Almost everything today has become politicized, with people holding entrenched views and often vilifying others simply for having different opinions or solutions (as if this will persuade). We’re talking/shouting at each other, rather than sharing our perspectives and seeking common ground. We’re spending most of our time with people who share our views rather than respectfully engaging and listening to others with different points of view (hello college administrators!). This polarizes and divides, rather than unites, and it’s impairing our relationships, mutual understanding, and civility.
  • Technology is significantly interfering with interpersonal engagement and is eroding our relationships. (Question: was this ever listed as a potential side effect when we bought our smartphones?!?) We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted when we’re together, without realizing how this devalues others.
  • Our careers are so consuming and our schedules so full that we aren’t preserving the needed time to nurture, guide, and listen to our children as we should.
  • Businesses are often so consumed with their bottom lines that they’re not fully engaging all that their employees have to offer. Some are even expecting 24-7 responses to emails, which is interfering with family time.

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps if we try these out, we can reverse course:

  1. When we’re enjoying the company of others, we adopt a no-device rule (unless we are using them together). We fully engage with our eyes, ears, and body language.
  2. We adopt the 40/60 rule in how much we talk versus listen in our conversations. (Note: with parents, it should be more like 30/70!)
  3. We spend more time trying to understand each other rather than persuade each other. We keep our conversations constructive and strive to find common ground where it exists (we might discover that our goals are the same but our methods are different!).
  4. We reserve time to invest in our relationships and fully engage
  5. We exhibit self control, respect, and civility when we differ
  6. We listen to positive influences and tune out others
  7. We seek out varying perspectives in forming our views, making decisions, and teaching students (college administrators, take note)
  8. We put our employees first when we manage our businesses
  9. We take time to listen to our spirit, to pray if we are so inclined, and to bask in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Someone once said that “silent” and “listen” are spelled with the same letters. How cool!

As someone who tends to be outgoing and opinionated, this may be among the most convicting blogs I’ve ever written. But, I’m committing myself to do better in 2017 and beyond. I hope these ideas work for you, and the people you’re influencing, too.

Win Some, Lose Some

Coke or Pepsi

Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise

Big Mac or Whopper

iPhone or Galaxy

Rap or Country

Republican or Democrat or ______

We all have our tastes and preferences, and we make our choices accordingly. Sometimes we like our options. Other times, we choose what we dislike least.

And so it goes with our elections—especially last week’s. Like you, I “won” some and “lost” some. (Thankfully, my life goes on because I don’t define my hopes and dreams or faith in America by which person or party is in office. That would be giving them way too much credit.)

But, after observing the aftermath of this election, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts to help us keep things in perspective:

  1. Our nation is clearly divided, but this shouldn’t be news to anyone. In most of my voting years, the Presidential election is always pretty close. Usually, only a few percentage points separate the winner from the loser. So, you should expect half the people will disagree with you! And, yes, they did their homework, too.
  2. Knowing this, the question is how we deal with our victories and losses. Are we constructive or destructive in the aftermath? Do the winners rub it in? Or, do they respond with humility and kindness, knowing that the losers may be struggling with fear, anger, or disappointment? Do the losers resort to whining, blaming, name calling, protesting, and shaming to make the winners feel guilty or stupid? Do they really believe these misguided efforts to “enlighten” will change minds? No, they reinforce!
  3. Let’s remember that citizens consider many different factors when casting votes. What tips the scales one way or the other may be the candidate’s person, specific policies (of which there are many), party loyalty, or other factors. Our decisions are not only influenced by the candidates’ philosophies and positions, but also in how we uniquely weigh their importance. I might emphasize economic policy and someone else foreign policy or social issues, and that’s okay. For these reasons, it is highly presumptuous (not to mention silly, useless, arrogant, and obnoxious) to judge another’s votes. Please, let’s stop this.
  4. There is a tremendous disconnect between the worldview composition of the “mainstream” media and college complexes with the people of the United States. In other words, our population is much more philosophically and politically diverse than are our primary news sources and the educators teaching our young adults. This imbalance is a concern. Judging by our governorships, congressional memberships, and the White House, our nation’s political offices (and our general elections) are quite balanced between Republicans and Democrats. Therefore, so long as our primary media outlets and college educators’ worldviews are skewed (presently Leftward) rather than balanced, there are significant implications:
    1. We are more subject to bias and alarm (intended or otherwise) and less likely to understand different points of view and election outcomes we may not like. If our news and opinion sources are primarily Left-or Right-leaning, we are more apt to consider their information as unbiased truth, when it’s often opinion. In contrast, when we pursue a variety of information sources with differing worldviews, we develop more complete, objective, and informed arguments.
    2. We become more polarized and intolerant of differing views, considering people who disagree with us as uninformed, misguided, or worse. We argue rather than respectfully seek mutual understanding and new perspectives. Or, sadly, as is becoming more prevalent on college campuses, we simply shut others down. Ironically, we often agree on the ends, but simply differ about the means to achieve them! A good example of this is the use of tax cuts or government spending to stimulate the economy. Reasonable and really smart people disagree!
    3. We lose friendships. Now, this is just dumb.

The bottom line is that, politically, we are pretty much a 50/50 nation because of legitimate differences of opinion. So, let’s be respectful and resilient. When elections don’t go our way, let’s spend a little more time respecting the judgments of others, accepting that we don’t hold a monopoly on truth, learning more about opposing views, diversifying our friendship circles and information sources, and finding constructive ways to advocate for our positions the next time around.

And, yes, there will be a next time. After all, we Americans are a fickle bunch.

6 Easy Ways to Show You Care

I hope this post finds you refreshed and uplifted after a Father’s Day well-spent with your family. Father’s day is such a special time to focus on the dads in our lives and show them our appreciation and love. This day always reminds me of the value of relationships—of mine with my parents and with my kids. I’m reminded of the strategic impact that fathers have in the roles of their children, even years after they’ve left the house!

As I reflect on the value of the relationships in my life, I’m reminded of our culture’s vulnerability to two conflicting priorities: relationships and things. While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we’ve regressed in terms of relational health and depth. Sadly, with the distractions of technology and busyness, it seems to be getting worse.

Have you taken the time to think about what you really value in life lately? What are you communicating about your priorities to the ones you love—whether intentionally or unintentionally? You can use the following list as either a self-check or a to-do list. Either way, we hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for communicating your love to others (dads, friends, children, and beyond):

  1. Be fully in the moment. When you’re with someone, be completely engaged (not on your phone, scrolling through Instagram, playing Candy Crush, Snapchatting, etc.).
  2. In a tug of war between relationships and tasks, give the edge to relationships. Our tasks may seem urgent, but relationships should take priority. This is especially true when our children need our attention. Compromise your inconvenience for the times they need your counsel.
  3. Keep family and close friends at the top of your priority list in terms of time and energy. Don’t just give them the leftovers! They deserve your best self.
  4. Express appreciation regularly. Be grateful for the people in your life and share your feelings with them. (I doubt that my kids could have known that my all-time favorite Father’s Day gift from them would be a license plate frame with the engraved words, “Dad’s are cool!”)
  5. Praise them in front of other people. Say something nice about then when they are in earshot. You will help build their self-worth and indirectly communicate how much you value them (parents, this is a great pointer for you!).
  6. Forgive offenses quickly and (really) let them go. After all, you’d want your loved ones to do the same for you, right? On a related note, pick your battles carefully and when arguments do arise, keep your cool and be an agreeable disagreer.

 

Do the people you love know how much you care about them? What creative ideas, license plate frames or otherwise, would you be willing to share?

Connect! (Part 3): Why Hope Matters

pathwaytodestinyforblogWhat does it take to “succeed” in life? This is a question we often ask not only for ourselves, but also for the young adults in our life whom we want to see thrive, succeed, and achieve their destiny.
In our work with teens, educators, and parents, we’ve developed a helpful diagram that illustrates the path that most of us travel throughout life on the road to accomplishing our goals and “life purpose” (aka “destiny”).

You can see it starts off with our personal development, which combines our education, experiences, and nurturing. Next, comes a healthy self-awareness (i.e., Who am I? What do I have to offer? What are my passions and interests?) The invaluable outgrowth of these two steps is a sense of value, hope, and belief in ourselves and our future. Buoyed by these three steps, we can now develop a positive vision for our lives that, through daily implementation, determines our DESTINY.

More often than not, as parents or educators, we tend to jump in at the “vision” or implementation stages when we want to motivate teens (i.e., “You can be whatever you want to be,” or “Study hard; clean your room; stay out of trouble!”). But, when there’s not been enough time spent on the preceding stages, the child may “check out” at the Value, Hope, and Belief step—which makes it exceedingly difficult to impart vision or teach implementation skills. All too often, they drop out of high school or become involved in high risk behavior and groups to find a sense of belonging. Bottom line, when kids don’t feel valued, they lose hope—and may miss out on reaching their full potential as a result. Their destiny is compromised.

Research and experience inform us that the best way to build value in people of all ages is to connect with them—to affirm, relate, and encourage in a relational way. So, how can we do this with our children and/or students, and particularly if our relationships are strained?

For one thing, we have to get to know them as individuals. A good relationship between any two people rests on the platform of mutual respect and valuing the other’s unique gifts and contributions. Each person has characteristics that make him or her special and that set him/her up for a unique destiny. Teens vary remarkably in their needs, reactions, communications, and behavioral styles. This impacts how they respond and relate to the world around them. As famous football commentator and coach Tony Dungy wisely said, “It’s hard to lead someone you don’t know.” This is just as true in educating (or raising) teens as it is in coaching football players!

That’s where connection comes in—and with it, value, hope, and progress toward a successful future. Connection leads to understanding, which can help you:

  1. identify what motivates (and discourages) them
  2. appreciate their strengths and be empathetic toward their challenges
  3. communicate in such a way that they receive your messages in the manner intended
  4. respond to them in such a way that they feel safe, heard, and understood
  5. have realistic expectations of them
  6. respect differences
  7. develop strategies that work best for all of you

Ultimately, when we connect with our kids and students, we foster a sense of hope and expectation they need to thrive. Hope has the power to buffer people from stress, anxiety, and the effects of negative life events. More than that, neuroscience tells us that hope actually changes brain chemistry! Hope motivates learning and enables kids to move forward to their destiny, and to absorb and apply the valuable lessons and skills they need along the way.

Bottom line, the next time there’s a challenge with a student or a child, take a step back. Consider the Pathway to Destiny and see if you can identify where that child has the greatest need right now.  Is it really for a pep talk or a how-to lesson? Or is there perhaps a need to back up a few steps, to focus on the foundations, to communicate, relate, and connect? When we do, we plant HOPE—which has exponential power to propel kids forward on the path to their destiny.

This was Part 3 in a series on Social Emotional Learning; visit our blog archive to see Part 1 and Part 2. Also, check out LifeSmart’s What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources for developing life skills, college and workplace readiness, and a strong personal leadership foundation in high school and middle school students. Conversationally written, and designed to impart life wisdom and practical skills in a relational context, our resources will help you make social emotional learning a vital part of your classroom or home environment.
 

Building Likeability Skills in Our Students

ID-10062570Although Valentine’s Day is all about love, this week we’re taking it down a notch to celebrate like—specifically, likeability! The fact is, likeability is a hallmark of successful people and an especially valuable social skill to nurture in our students. In fact, when it comes to landing a job, it’s often the deal breaker in who receives the offer (and even who wins the Presidential election!).

For some, likeability comes naturally; for others, not so much—especially when they enter new environments like college and career settings and social gatherings. Whether it’s from inexperience, low self confidence, or inadequate training, many struggle with social awkwardness (e.g., withdrawing, coming on too strong, demonstrating poor manners, and being blind to the social cues of others). Unfortunately, these tendencies can overshadow the otherwise great qualities of a person.

We’ve all been in challenging social settings and it’s never fun. But, the good news is that likeability skills can be learned with proper training and experience. To that end, I came across an excellent article written by Travis Bradberry at Forbes.com, “13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People,” which you can access here.

Here’s a list of his 13 habits, which are spot on:

  1. They ask questions
  2. They put away their phones
  3. They are genuine
  4. They don’t pass judgment
  5. They don’t seek attention
  6. They are consistent
  7. They use positive body language
  8. They leave a strong first impression
  9. They greet people by name
  10. They smile
  11. They know when to open up
  12. They know who to touch (and they touch them)
  13. They balance passion and fun

I encourage you to read the entire article as Travis elaborates on these important behaviors. If you are an educator, parent, or mentor, these make for fabulous small group discussions and (especially) role plays. Practice situations where they act out each of these 13 habits—both positively and negatively. This will not only train them how to model likeability, but it will also build awareness of important social cues like body language.

Likeability is a huge factor in successful relationship building. What additions would you make to the list?

photo: freedigitalphotos.net, jannoon028

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!