From Lemons to Lemonade: Turning a Trial into a Triumph

woman-in-gray-knit-cap-and-beige-coat-3962212No matter who we are, we eventually face trials and crises. They usually happen to us individually (death, sickness, job loss, divorce), but in rare situations, like now, it affects us all. Although the degree and nature of our burdens vary, in generalized crises no one goes unscathed—especially in one that involves both our health and finances. That’s a double whammy that hits extra hard, and we’re all hurting.

The question isn’t so much whether we’ll face adversity, but how we handle it when it’s our turn. For any number of reasons, some deal with it better than others. Whether you, or someone you know, struggle mightily during trials, know that there are strategies that will help you react constructively, especially when a crisis is global. To that end, and in light of the coronavirus crisis we’re all navigating, we offer these suggestions to you:

  1. Envision the other side of the valley. During times of crisis, it’s more natural to stay in the valley and despair in the moment. Yes, we need to fight our battles today, but we also need to remain hopeful. We have faced many crises in our nation’s history and came out stronger each time. Hope is an incredibly powerful antidote to fear. When this crisis has run its course (and it will!), you’ll be able to look back with new perspectives and position for an even brighter future.
  2. Focus on what you can control and leave the rest to faith. When we’re faced with highly complex and unpredictable situations, it’s easy to get bogged down in worry about things we can’t control. The “what ifs.” Granted, we want to prepare for different scenarios, but once we’ve done that, our efforts are best spent on working our plans—doing our best, day-by-day, to move forward. Then, to the best of our ability, we rely on our faith for the outcome.
  3. Invest in yourself, your relationships, and in others. In difficult times, it’s especially important that we allow ourselves quiet time to reflect and/or pray. As a person of faith, I can’t possibly describe how beneficial this is for me. My prayers and petitions provide a sense of peace and perspective like no other. At the same time, it’s essential to ramp up our investment in our friends and loved ones. The at-home time and togetherness we are now experiencing is providing endless opportunities to take our relationships to new levels. So, let’s make the most of it. Finally, there is nothing more meaningful to the spirit, or more impactful to your community, than helping others. However you can, find ways to offer your compassion and talents to those who can benefit.
  4. Set, and abide by, your highest priorities. It goes without saying that our distraction factor during trials rises exponentially. Sure, we need to be flexible, especially with our kids, but the more attuned we are to our priorities, the more we’ll accomplish and the less anxious we’ll be.
  5. Consider what brings you peace, joy, and gratitude. Crises have a way of clarifying what’s really important. And, they’re usually the simple things, aren’t they? Our loved ones. Cherished memories. Our dreams. The beauty of nature and art. The inspiring stories of people who have impacted the world. What music, books, or movies lift you up? What, and who, makes you laugh? What encourages you most? What environments allow your spirit to soar? What scrapbooks or albums capture your greatest memories? What picture books or clips show your favorite scenery? Whatever they are, immerse yourself in them. Stay positive with all of your might.
  6. Teach your children valuable life skills. With schools suspended or out for the year, parents have an unusual opportunity to teach children practical life skills they’ll eventually need for adulthood. Examples include banking, budgeting, laundry, cooking, nutrition, landscaping, housecleaning, changing a tire, self-defense, career exploration/surveying, resume writing and interviewing, identity theft prevention, time management, and manners. Trust me, one day they’ll thank you for it.
  7. Heighten your discernment. It’s sad, but true, that many people and media sources use crises to instill chaos and fear to advance an agenda, rather than focus on objective facts and information that is beneficial to the public. They subscribe to the “bad news sells” philosophy. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult to trust media outlets and articles, especially in this election year. So, here are some tips to help you identify red flags of bias and disinformation in the media:
    1. Is the headline/commentary designed to alarm or inform?
    2. Are the sources balanced and credible or skewed in favor of an agenda?
    3. Are the questions/commentary/stories trivial or substantive?
    4. Are sources named? (Be on guard for any article or interviewer question based on “sources say” or “some people say.”)
    5. How much of an article/interview is based on objective facts or opinion/politics?
    6. Are they generalizing an unusual occurrence to incite fear?
    7. Does the media outlet report the good and the bad?
    8. Do interviews/articles feature supposed experts who have highly extreme viewpoints that are ill-supported and designed for personal gain/exposure?
  8. Be aware of human behavioral tendencies. As a former analyst and investment manager, I was fascinated by studies of human behavior that impacted financial decisions. Here are a few relevant examples:
    1. Fear is more powerful than greed. Stock market declines are much swifter and sharper than corresponding increases. Investors are more prone to panic selling than panic buying.
    2. The more frequently investors look at their portfolios, the more risk-averse they become. This is because they react more strongly to losses than to gains.
    3. Investors are heavily influenced by emotion when making decisions. They have a notoriously poor record of timing their investments because of a “buy high, sell low” mentality.By now, you can see how these tendencies also apply to our lives beyond finances. Translated: 1) we become more fear driven and often focus on negative news during crises, 2) we become more distressed and anxious the more frequently we consume news and social media, and 3) our decision-making objectivity can get compromised when we’re driven by our emotions. So, consider whether/how these human tendencies might be affecting you, and whether your emotions are being influenced by how frequently you consume news.

When this crisis eventually blows over, you’ll be able to look back and consider what you’ve learned through the journey—about yourself and the world around you. Did you make the most of it? What new perspectives and insights did you gain? How did it affect your relationships? Did it change your priorities?  What life lessons did you learn? Your children? How will your future be informed by this trial?

Friends, this is your opportunity to shine. Let’s make the best lemonade we can.

Be well,

The LifeSmart team

Parenting With Freedom or Fear: The Bicycle Test

man-standing-beside-his-wife-teaching-their-child-how-to-1128318

When we wrote our new book, Wings Not Strings: Parenting Strategies to Let Go with Confidence, we chose our title based on the imagery it represents. At launch time, will we, figuratively speaking, release our “eagle” with wings to soar, confident, capable, and free to fulfill his/her dreams? Or, will we be releasing a “kite,” whose strings we control and maneuver out of fear, and whose freedom we inhibit?

Although our title was aimed at the teen being launched, it occurs to us that it also applies to parents. Let’s start with an illustration.

I’d like you to think back to when you were teaching your child to ride a bike. Your journey may have begun with a push balance bike that they scooted with their feet on the ground. After mastering this (with great pride!), they graduated to a small tricycle that they maneuvered with their hands and feet on the pedals! Your “big boy” or “big girl” was brimming with confidence and you were just as proud. The next step (or should I say, giant leap!) was a two-wheeler with training wheels. This was a big challenge for them, and you likely trotted alongside every step of the way. After a while, your child got the hang of it (more pride), and at some point, they probably snapped at you, “I can do it myself!” You backed off and they rose to the occasion. They were filled with pride, and by stepping away, you showed you believed in them. It was harmony.

Then came the final test: taking off the training wheels! Perhaps your child initiated it or maybe you needed to give them a nudge when you knew it was time. They took their position while you balanced the bike and ran alongside, holding on for dear life! You took your hands off for a few seconds so they could feel the freedom and stay upright and in balance. After enough practice, it was time. You let go and set them free, knowing there may be bumps, bruises, and falls along the way. Their pride was palpable. And, so was yours. You prepared them for the journey, and they were on their way. You showed them you believed in them. You trained them for independence.

And, so it goes with parenting for the launch. Are we parenting with a sense of freedom or from fear? Are we still, figuratively speaking, holding on to the bicycle as they face their new challenges, responsibilities, and decisions in the teen years and beyond? Here are some self-awareness-building questions that will offer you some clues:

  • Do we give ourselves the freedom to know that it’s their adult life to live? Or, do we feel we can and should attempt to control their outcomes?
  • Do we focus our training on building leadership, core values, and life skills for adulthood or more so on their performance today?
  • Do we encourage them to take healthy risks and experience varying outcomes and adversity or do we protect them from failure?
  • Do we teach them for independence as an empowering coach or micromanage them (do their chores, complete their applications, etc.)?
  • Do we prepare them as a future adult or still treat them as a child?
  • How much of your life is dominated by your role as parent and how often are your thoughts and activities related to your children?
  • Do you feel primarily responsible for your child’s happiness and success?
  • Do you find yourself succumbing to peer pressure from other parents regarding your child’s performance or accomplishments?
  • Do you perceive your impending launch as an opportunity for growth or with a deep sense of loss?
  • Do you even subliminally message to your child that you hope they stay close to home after high school?
  • Do you feel your relationship is at risk when you exert your parental authority and, therefore, hesitate to discipline your child?
  • Do you tie privileges to respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness or give in to keep them happy?

As with most arenas in life, effective parenting requires healthy balance and perspective. Unfortunately, many families are being managed out of fear today, especially when parents attempt to control their children’s outcomes. It not only stunts the children’s growth, but also robs them of the joy and pride of doing things themselves, and destroys their self-confidence. Sadly, it also causes near-and long-term relationship strains and resentment toward the parent. It’s hard enough to control our own lives, much less those of others, including our children. That’s a cross no one should bear. Parenting with a sense of freedom—preparing them for the journey and then taking your hands off the bicycle—is the better way to go.

For more information, we encourage you to check out Wings Not Strings. It will encourage and equip you to parent with the freedom you deserve.

We’re Busting These Nine Career Myths

grayscale-of-woman-in-black-flat-sandals-walking-803951Over the years of mentoring 17-24 year olds, we’ve been struck by the numerous misconceptions that are causing anxiety, disillusionment, uncertainty, insecurity, strategic mistakes, and regret as they plot their career courses. Whether due to incomplete training in high school and college, lacking self-awareness, or mistaken assumptions, their progress is being thwarted by several career-related myths.

This blog is designed to help you debunk these myths with the teens and young adults under your guidance. It will not only give them greater peace of mind, but also instill valuable career savvy in positioning them for success.

  1. Success is all about smarts. So many young people are misguided into thinking that you need a 4.0 GPA or an Ivy League degree to succeed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Employers routinely cite soft skills (aka: leadership/character skills) as more important. This was confirmed in the 21 Workplace Readiness Skills identified by Virginia employers in an extensive survey. Employer comments such as, “We hire for attitude and train for skill” are becoming more commonplace. This is an especially important message to share with students who are less academically gifted.
  2.  You need to know your future career while in high school. Undecided high school students can become insecure or feel pressure when their friends are more certain of their future career/major pursuits. This is deeply unfortunate because: 1) many students haven’t conducted extensive career surveying or are lacking in self-awareness and 2) many “decided” high school students eventually change their minds in college (or elsewhere) when they are exposed to a variety of courses; most change their major at least once. This is why we encourage high schools to emphasize the career process(and extensive surveying) rather than career adoption, where possible. We do recognize, however, that for certain majors, a definitive choice needs to be made while in high school—hopefully after vigorous analysis.
  3. College is automatically your best route. Fortunately, more schools are realizing the downside of “college for all” messaging. High college dropout and low completion rates, significant costs/debt, difficult job acquisition in certain majors, and the availability of many well-paying jobs that do not require a four-year degree are having an impact. We need to guard against even subliminal messaging that paths other than a four-year college are somehow inferior.
  4. Choosing your major is a sufficient career strategy. With a recent Gallup survey indicating that the greatest regret of college graduates is the major they chose, it’s clear that students need to be more strategic in their selections. This includes: 1) researching the realistic job prospects in that major, 2) strategically selecting their minor, and 3) not choosing their major until they’ve spoken with practitioners with jobs in the majors they’re considering.
  5. It’s STEM or bust. Whether overt or subliminal, one message that is being promulgated in schools and universities is that STEM is where you need to be for an excellent career. Importantly, even though many of today’s most successful companies are in tech-related industries, by no means do even a majority of their jobs require technical degrees. For example, tech companies still need marketers, communicators, human resources professionals, attorneys, accountants, client service representatives, and the like. Those who are not analytically, technically, nor mathematically inclined should by no means feel insecure if their skills and interests lie elsewhere.   
  6. Your professors and counselors know best. One of the most common regrets of college graduates is that they gave too much credence to the career advice of professors and counselors who: 1) often lack a real world understanding of the job market and 2) don’t know their students that well. College students are impressionable when it comes to advice from professors and assume counselors know more than they do about actual jobs. As a result, students can overly rely on the advice of others who don’t have all the necessary information or perspective. When 40% of graduates with Bachelor’s degrees regret the major they chose, you know we have a problem. It is painful to see how misguided so many students are as a result of this myth.
  7. Your degree is your guaranteed ticket to a great job. Many college graduates falsely (and regrettably) assume that once they earn their degree, the job offers will magically follow. They quickly learn that they gave their college and degree too much credit in the job acquisition department! This is especially problematic when, unlike accounting or nursing for example, one’s major is either broad (e.g., communications, economics) or not necessarily linked to jobs (e.g., many humanities or ____ Studies majors). It is critical that students have a definitive job acquisition strategy before they choose their major and before they graduate. Many don’t and live to regret it, especially when their loan payments are due!  
  8. A good resume will automatically get you into the game. While an excellent resume is a must to land interviews and win jobs, it is only one piece of the puzzle. These days, employers rely heavily on online applications where it is not always easy to stand out from the crowd. It is extremely valuable to also have: 1) a great cover letter and application and 2) an insider going to bat for you. Here is where networking becomes so important. Also, it’s critical to know the job-posting platforms, regularly screen job openings of interesting employers, and have outstanding interview and follow-up strategies. It’s all about persuading the employer that you are the best person for the job. That means knowing your value proposition for the job opening at hand and effectively communicating that throughout the process.
  9. You should hold out for the perfect job. Young adults are naturally idealistic, but this can be a severe impediment when it comes to the job search. Some are so specific and demanding about their first job that they severely limit their choices. By holding out for perfection, they forego a good job that positions them for their dream job when it becomes available. Given that employers generally give preference to current employees when recruiting, it can pay off to land a related position and compete when the desired position becomes available. Many young people are floundering because they let their egos get in the way of landing their first job.

Finally, we encourage you to share What I Wish I Knew at 18 with your children and students. Our career chapter offers these, and many other insights and strategies.

Ten Verbs to Start Your Parenting Day

love-scrabble-text-wood-208099Although it is certainly our desire, sometimes it’s not easy to be at our parenting best. The busyness and challenges of life, and our children’s dependence on us, can leave our tanks near empty at times. Stresses in our own lives are not always easy to compartmentalize, and they can easily spill over into our parenting. And, during the teen years, when our relationships often experience greater strain and conflict, it’s common to carry our frustrations and irritations into the next day. Sound familiar?

To help get your parenting day off to a good start with a fresh attitude, we’re sharing our top ten parenting verbs (with definitions courtesy of Dictionary.com). Think of them as words to live by as you parent to the best of your ability. They will grow your children and strengthen your relationships when you live them out. Here goes:

  1. Inspire:to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence. Children do their best when they are intrinsically motivated and inspired. Share inspirational stories and people and help them discover what inspires them. Set high standards and challenge your kids to be the leader they can be. 
  2. Empower:to give power or authority to. One of the most powerful motivators is to be respected, and it applies to children, too. Although they are still under our authority, the more we can place them in situations where they can demonstrate leadership, the more motivated and growth-minded they will become. This becomes even more important in the teen years.
  3. Encourage:to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence. One of the surest ways to build self-confidence in children, and a strong relationship, is to be an encourager rather than a critic. Many children today are exhibiting a fear of failure due to parental overprotection or undue performance pressure. Instead, place your children in situations with uncertain outcomes and be their biggest cheerleaders whether they win or lose. It’s huge.
  4. Understand:to perceive the meaning of. One of the best relationship builders is to “listen to understand.” Often when we communicate, we are so focused on proving our point or convincing the other party, that they inevitably shut down. Mutual understanding should be a key goal of any communication, and it is made possible by empathetic and active listening. Your kids, and especially your teens, will appreciate you for it.
  5. Affirm:to state or assert positively. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is our affirmation of their uniqueness, virtues, strengths, and worth. Kids need to know they matter and to be valued more for their person than their performance. Make it a point to compliment their character and leadership qualities whenever you can, and it will pay huge dividends.
  6. Value:to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance. We all need to know that we matter, and this is especially true when our children exhibit self-doubt or have disappointing outcomes. They can feel like they are letting us down. Parents, this is your greatest opportunity to shine, whether through spoken or written words of affirmation.
  7. Engage:to occupy the attention or efforts of a person.Because of overscheduling and technology, today’s children and parents are suffering relational disengagement. We see it everywhere. Children need our undivided attention when we’re together, especially in the teen years when their interest in communicating with parents is more sporadic. Be all in.
  8. Enjoy:to experience with joy; take pleasure in. There’s nothing like seeing parents and children have fun together. It builds memories and relationship capital. However, when we overschedule our children or ourselves, or predominantly focus on academics and performance, we squander opportunities to truly enjoy one another. Be fun. Be playful. Enter their world.
  9. Coach:to give instruction or advice in the capacity of a coach. As children grow, our “maturity differential” with them gradually diminishes. So, when they enter the teen years, it becomes increasingly important to communicate as a coach and influencer rather than as an authoritarian. This mind-shift enables us to move from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat in our child’s life and position for a flourishing adult-to-adult relationship.
  10. Believe:to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something. Aside from unconditional love, our belief in our children and their future is one of the most important gifts we can give. It’s like having the wind at their backs. How can children be optimistic and hopeful when it’s not expressed by their parents? When you’re their cheerleader, and their believer, it’s gold.

Well, what do you think? Which of the above come naturally to you and which are more challenging? How might your children rate you on these verbs?

We encourage you to live out these verbs to the best of your ability and strive to begin each day with a renewed spirit. To help out, we created a special handout that you can access here. Be sure to print it off and keep it in a place where you can see it from time to time. To all of you parents out there, we salute you and believe in you!

Three Tips for Lasting Love

man-carrying-woman-standing-on-the-ground-and-surrounded-by-853406As many of you may have noticed (and many of you may have not), the hit NBC show “The Bachelor” is back for its 23rd season this winter. That is 23 seasons of one man (this year, it’s Pilot Pete) dating a couple dozen women, with hopes of proposing marriage to one in less than two months. The show has a cult following, but it’s no wonder only a very small percentage of the outcoming relationships make it long-term. The whole premise is very unrealistic and doesn’t make sense for relationships in the “real world.”

Why do so many love to watch this show? Maybe it’s because people can relate to the drama of trying to find that “special someone,” and watching someone else go through it has some sort of twisted, vicarious appeal?

Dating can be the best of worlds and the worst of worlds, particularly for older teens and young adults. There are so many new, fun, and interesting people to meet as one’s circles expand (hello, college!), but it’s also a mystery because you never know what will become of the people you meet. I recall feeling like I was on an emotional roller coaster at Six Flags at that stage of life, wondering if this new prospect was Mrs. Right. (Eventually, I would find her seated next to me in a finance class at Grad School.)

Do you (or does the teen/young adult in your life) have a random or a strategic mindset when it comes to dating? Do they have solid ground rules and strongly-held values guiding them, in contrast to the ones displayed on “The Bachelor?”

Although true love can happen opportunistically (e.g., when my undergraduate college sweetheart and I were successfully matched at a computer dance!), it pays to lay down some personal ground rules in your dating life.  One way is to become a “3D dater!”

Here are the 3 D’s:

Be Discriminating 
Be highly selective with your choices of dates. Sadly, so many people define their self worth by whether they’re dating someone that they “date for dating’s sake” and often compromise their values along the way. It always pays to be choosy by strategically focusing on people who share similar interests, values, and goals. What are your “must haves” and “nice to haves?” If a prospect is lacking in anyof these respects, it pays to move on. Trying to force a square peg into a round whole doesn’t work for most things, but especially when our goal is a forever relationship!

Be Discerning
Be wise when you date. Many people approach dating so impulsively and emotionally that they simply don’t think clearly. (“Love is blind” comes to mind.) Understand what you want in a relationship (your expectations) and have the courage to move on if it’s not a great fit.

Be Deliberate
Be patient. This is often the hardest thing to do when the infatuation is intense (or when a computer matches you!). However, if the relationship is truly meant to be, it needn’t be rushed. If you’re feeling pressured, have the strength and self respect to put on the brakes. If they’re not willing to, they’re probably not the best choice for the long term and you’re only delaying the inevitable.
By being a 3D dater, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success rather than settling for short-term, superficial gratification that’s so common today (ahem, reality TV dating). You’re much more likely to find lasting love with fewer peaks and valleys (and heartaches) along the way!

If you are a teacher or parent, this would make for a great discussion topic with the teens under your purview. What are their must haves? Nice to haves? If they’ve dated thus far, what have been the biggest lessons they’ve learned? Don’t be shy about sharing your experiences. They’ll love it!

How This teen Wrecked Her Part-Time Employment

white-ceramic-cup-2878708Are your teens/students ready to excel in the workplace? Here is a story from our area of how one teen chose pleasure over work. If you’re a teacher, parent, or guardian, it would be a valuable case to discuss with the adolescents under your guidance. It directly addresses some of the concerns employers are expressing about their younger workers. Here goes. . .

An Italian family moved to Port Smalltown (not the real name) to establish a new restaurant, living out their dream. Because of their incredible food, staff, and service, it quickly became a hit with the locals. This family poured their heart and soul into their business and was very supportive of the community. That included hiring some area high school students to help fund their college education. One such student (not her real name) was Shelby.

With training, Shelby soon became a valuable employee. She received great tips due to her exceptional service and was given additional hours as a reward. Go Shelby!

But one day, at 4:55 p.m., Shelby called in sick for her 5:00 p.m. work shift. Not surprisingly, the owner was very disappointed with this news. Somehow, they would have to address the problem. Customers were lining up outside to dine, anticipating a great experience.

Then, imagine the owner’s surprise when a co-worker announced 20 minutes later that Shelby was posting pictures on Instagram from a nearby beach party. Judging by the pictures, Shelby was having the time of her life.

The next day, Shelby arrived at the restaurant at 4:45 p.m. to begin her evening shift. She was promptly taken aside by the owner and fired on the spot.

Assignment: Decisions have consequences. Make a list of Shelby’s infractions with the actions she took. What leadership and character qualities did Shelby fail to exhibit and why do you think she was fired over this? What attitudes do you think guided her behavior? What did she lose by her actions and what lessons do you hope she learned?

Some readers may think examples like this are rare, but trust us, they are not. The greatest complaints we hear from employers involve work ethic, dependability, and professionalism. We encourage you to explore our What I Wish I Knew at 18 book and curriculum which holistically builds the leadership and soft skills young people need to succeed. (And, hopefully, to avoid situations like Shelby’s!).

Is This Your Year to Fertilize or Prune?

watering-plants-with-a-watering-can-6442Those of you who know me well know that gardening isn’t my thing. In fact, my thumb is so brown that you wouldn’t want me near your plants! I’m not sure why, but I think I overdo it with watering and fertilizer. More is better, so they say.

And, so it often goes with our early planning for a new year. I, for one, habitually fall into that trap. It might look something like this:

  • A five new goals list, complete with a fancy new planner to keep me on task
  • A listing of a dozen new podcasts or TED talks to listen to
  • A membership to that new health club in town
  • Two new magazine subscriptions and a plan to tackle my book backlog
  • Cut 15 minutes off of my sleep time so I can do more

Compelling new additions to my already full plate, right? Or, back to the gardening analogy, more water and fertilizer applied to a plant that’s already stressed. Here is where moredoesn’t necessarily fix the problem—especially when the first word we use to describe our life is, “busy.”

Or, could this be a year where less may be more? Where we do some judicious pruning in order to bear more fruit? I heard this in a sermon the other day and it really resonated. So, when I returned home, I did what any non-arborist would do, and googled, “Benefits of pruning.” Here were some of the takeaways:

  1. Stimulates a strong network of healthy new growth
  2. Improves fruit quality
  3. Improves root formation
  4. Removes those unsightly sucker branches that stunt growth and nutrition

I rather like these! Instead of always adding, perhaps a trim here and a trim there will stimulate even greater abundance—in our plants and in our lives. Here, a pruning candidate list might look like:

  • Spending less time on social media and devices
  • Cutting back or eliminating time spent on reading, listening, and watching programs/content that brings us down or stresses us out
  • Reducing our consumption of addicting, unhealthy substances
  • Eliminating toxic elements and relationships from our lives
  • Trimming anything that wastes our time or resources
  • Addressing regrets and busyness that’s interfering with our relationships
  • Reducing spending on non-essentials to improve our financial peace of mind

So, what about you? Could your life use a little more fertilizer or pruning? I think I’m going to try some pruning for once and see how it goes.

Happy 2020 from all of us at LifeSmart! We hope this will be your most abundant and fruitful year yet.

 

 

A Simple, Yet Profound Idea for Building Resilience

four-men-sitting-on-platform-923657For years, grit and resilience have been cited by leadership experts and psychologists as key ingredients to success. Given the following synonyms, antonyms, and definition of resilience, it’s easy to see why:

  • Synonyms: adaptable, buoyant, strong, hardy, rebounding
  • Antonyms: fragile, delicate, weak, vulnerable, defeatist
  • Definition: ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, etc.

Who wouldn’t want our children to be able to rebound from adversity and challenges with renewed purpose, confidence, and personal growth?

And, yet, as we talk with employers, observe the contemporary college scene, and visit with college students, we’re struck by how often resilience seems lacking in today’s young adults. What gives?

Could it be that our culture’s growing emphasis on empathy is creating some unintended consequences? In many cases, we believe the answer is, “Yes.” Although empathy, in the right proportion, is certainly an admirable quality, it can easily morph into sympathy if it’s overdone and misinterpreted as such by the affected party. It can, and often does, lead to an entitlement and victim mentality if we’re not careful.

Arguably, this occurs most when parents overly coddle when their children face adversity or discomfort. Out of compassion and fairness, parents often react by overprotecting, expressing sympathy, intruding on their child’s behalf, and even defending poor behavior/performance to authority figures (a common complaint from teachers and coaches). Not surprisingly, the downstream consequences in children can include low self-confidence, emotional fragility, defeatism, lacking perseverance, and disrespect. Unfortunately, it’s even happening on college campuses, courtesy of administrators employing overprotection strategies.

To that end, I came across a magnificent letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal on November 4 by Carla Albers of Colorado Springs. She was responding to a previous editorial on the topic of Bias Response Teams at universities. Here is an abbreviated version of her letter:

“Your editorial brings back memories of my daughter at age 6 or 7. She came into the house crying and crawled onto my lap. Two neighbor children said something that made her feel bad. After drying her tears, I asked her if she wanted other children to control how she felt, and told her she could choose to not let what someone else said make her feel bad: ‘Who do you want to be the boss of how you feel? You or someone else?’ She perked up and said, ‘I want to be the boss of me!’ Out the door she ran.

Years later, my very successful adult daughter told me that was the best piece of advice I’d ever given her. Perhaps campuses could replace their Campus Climate Support teams with ‘I’m the Boss of Me’ teams.”

We believe Ms. Albers hit the nail on the head. In a world that has become increasingly polarized and politicized, and where bullying has taken on new forms, our children are being increasingly tested by the words and actions of others. As we consider the synonyms and antonyms of “resilience” mentioned earlier, we’re witnessing growing signs of the latter—whether in how we respond to others or to the adversity that we face in everyday life. This should be concerning to all of us influencing the next generation.

The challenge for parents and educational leaders is whether to consider their children’s difficult situations as teachable moments to build resilience, or simply to offer empathy. In our view, the best answer is a healthy balance of both.

 

Your Compliment May Mean More Than You Think

hian-oliveira-n_L_ppO4QtY-unsplashThe other day, a friend of mine posted this request on Facebook: “Share the most meaningful compliment you’ve ever received.” What a great idea! It was fun to read the responses and ponder my own.

After thinking long and hard, I made my choice. But, first, a little background…

Back in 8thgrade, I was the one of the shortest guys in my class. As you can imagine, I was occasionally self-conscious about it—especially while slow dancing! I don’t ever recall sharing my sensitivity with anyone, but, somehow, a special someone must have gleaned it.

It was the end of the school year and everyone was signing each other’s yearbook. One of my “must haves” was my revered science teacher, who we affectionately referred to as Mr. Ed. He was voted by students as Teacher of the Year that year, and deservedly so. I was eager to read his comments, and this is what he wrote…

“Denny, there’s a saying that good things come in small packages. I think you prove that saying.”

Wow.

To state the obvious, I never forgot that. And, I never forgot him. He made me feel like I was 6’2 and a million bucks!

What made Mr. Ed’s compliment stand above the others? A big part of it was WHO he was—a man so deeply admired. Second, his words were simple, profound, and focused on WHO I was. And, third, this encouragement had lasting inspirational power—a challenge, if you will, to live up to his sentiments about me.

I rarely, if ever, saw him after, but Mr. Ed’s words in a yearbook now 51-years old and faded had a huge impact on my life. And, I’ll bet that many of you who consider this question will find that yours, too, came from a teacher. God bless our teachers!

Which brings me to a question and a challenge. Do you intentionally look for opportunities to bless someone with a meaningful compliment about WHO they are? (It’s one thing to compliment someone about an accomplishment, but when it involves the PERSON they are, it has even greater impact.)

Might you be the Mr. Ed to someone today?

What’s the most meaningful compliment you’ve ever received?

And, in case you’re wondering, I eventually peaked out at 5’9,” which wasn’t too shabby.

How to Become an Empowering Parent

animal-avian-bird-3114473Our goal as parents should be to raise well-prepared, self-confident future adults who are ready to fulfill their dreams and purpose. Our goal should not be for them to “stick around” as long as possible, to control as much of their lives as we can, or to be their best friend. No, in order to be a parent who empowers, our parenting philosophy and approach need to be aligned accordingly

Of course, it sounds easy to be a purposeful and intentional parent, always keeping our goals in mind. However, it’s more challenging than it sounds! With our busy lives (jobs, activities, travel, friends, kids’ schedules) and constant laundry list of daily to-dos, we are pulled in many different directions. The long and short of it is this: once our teens mature, it’s time to say “goodbye” to a control-oriented approach and “hello” to coaching and empowering. This means giving incremental freedom as our children demonstrate maturity, responsibility, and integrity.

This is one of the greatest gifts we can give them—our belief in them.

So, how do we actually DO empowered parenting?

There are several pillars that we recommend you make a part of your parenting approach, but today we will focus on your parenting philosophy. Philosophically, it all starts with adopting an empowering mindset. Embrace that you are no longer raising a child, but an adult you want to see reach his or her potential. This shift makes a huge difference! Here’s how to get started:

  1. Establish strategic parenting goals. Productive people are goal setters, and this applies to parenting, too. Develop goals and values to guide your children and create your family’s “brand.” This makes a great team-building project to do with your children and can help you better understand each other as you grow together and look forward to the future.
  2. Don’t forget that you’re their parent, not their friend. When our children are little, there’s a maturitychasmbetween us, and it’s easier to feel like the one in charge. However, that gap narrows in the tween years and even more so when they’re adults. When this gap shrinks (and concurrently, when our teens exert more independence and pushback), many parents mistakenly move into a friend role. In their mind, it will help keep the peace and their teen happy. However, this can lead to chaos and disrespect, and your teen can miss out on important life lessons.
  3. Remember, it’s their This may seem to contradict the pointer above, but when held in healthy tension, it actually doesn’t! The difference is the driving philosophy that raising self-confident children is about them, not about us. It’s about helping them understand their potential and chase after their own dreams. We must not impose our own desires, as it will deprive them of the freedom they need to soar. To do otherwise will breed resentment in the adult years that is difficult to overcome.
  4. Teach for independence. Often, parents fall into the trap of doing things for their children because it’s easier, takes less time, gives them a better outcome, etc. However, in order to empower, make sure that instead of doing it for them, you show them how to do it. After all, the acid test of parenting is whether your children can do something well without your help or reminders. This is a vital step in developing the life skills they will need to master as they enter adulthood.

With these pointers applied to your parenting philosophy, we are confident that all parents can position their family for a successful launch. By being intentional and purposeful, we can empower our teens and give them the wings—not strings—they need to soar.

For more information on empowering parenting, we invite you to check out our new book, Wings Not Strings.