These Are a Few of Our Favorite Words (Part Two)

adult-beverage-breakfast-302810Well, we hope you didn’t experience any dog bites or bee stings last week, but if you did, we trust that our latest blog on some of our favorite words helped pull you through. Recall, we’re adapting the “My Favorite Things,” song to words that have special meaning to us this time of year. Our first six favorite words were: Peace, Reflection, Family, Joy, Beauty, and Self-Care. Did you accept our challenge and make your favorite word list? We hope so.

Here are this week’s low-cal word alternatives to crisp apple strudel:

Hope: Without a doubt, one of the most powerful ingredients to a happy and fulfilling life is hope. No matter what our current circumstances, hope helps us endure and gives us a head start in tackling each new day. Simply stated, without hope, we are consumed by the present as “our normal” and struggle to cast a positive vision for our future.

Dictionary.com defines hope as, “the feeling that what is wanted can be or that events will turn out for the best.” This perfectly captures why we honor the educators and mentors who pour themselves into the lives of children at risk. How often it is that their hope comes through relationships with caring adults and/or through faith in God. So, whether you’re a parent, educator, mentor, colleague, or friend, be on the lookout for opportunities to instill hope in others. This is the season of hope, right?

Compassion: Arguably, there is no time of year when the differences between the haves and have-nots are more apparent. Gifts may be plentiful and extravagant or nonexistent. Cupboards may be full in a well-heated home or nonexistent when one lives under a bridge. Some are soaring in their careers while others struggle to find work. Some live in families that exude love and affirmation, while others experience dysfunction, abuse, or neglect. Some are so healthy they take it for granted while others are challenged with chronic illnesses or just heard bad news from the lab.

And yet, each of these is the domain of a different kind of First Responder: the Compassionate. No matter how difficult the circumstances, they are called to bless the hurting. Yet, ask anyone who is so inclined and they’ll tell you they receive more in return. Whether it’s their job, a volunteer opportunity, or simply being available, they deserve our utmost admiration. We can also be that compassionate soul, too and financially support those organizations offering comfort to the world. We’re all in this together. #beablessing

Generosity: One of history’s most beloved stories (and films) is A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is a study of contrasts, abruptly transforming from a miserly crank to a giddy, child-like philanthropist making up for lost time. Honestly, I watch the movie every year, reflecting on opportunities where I could have been more generous.

Each of us has time, talent, treasure, and relationships to offer the world. How we go about this is a function of what we have to offer, where we can offer it, and deciding to offer it. Instead of requiring a catalytic, Scrooge-like experience, let’s all commit to generosity as a way of life. The opportunities are endless.

Creativity: Unlike any other month, December offers more ways to use our creative juices and marvel at the talents of others on display. Whether it’s music, theater, decorations, or homemade gifts, we’re surrounded by human originality and performance this time of year. And, it’s truly awesome.

In a world that seems preoccupied with programs for the analytically inclined, we believe the “creatives” are undervalued and underappreciated. So, this season, and throughout the year, seek out opportunities to invest in the arts and to increase your creativity quotient. It enriches our lives and our world in immeasurable ways.

Simplify: Okay, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, right… he picks the craziest time of year to tell us to simplify when I can barely keep my tank full!” To that, we say, “Well, yeah!” My world and your world are getting more complex and distracted by the day, so this is a great reminder to push back from time to time. Our mental health and productivity are at stake if we don’t.

Here are some ways to simplify: 1) each year, check your wardrobe for items you haven’t worn in a year and donate them to the local clothing bank, 2) consciously schedule yourself downtime in your calendar, 3) reduce by half the amount of free time you spend on your technology (at a minimum, don’t check it so often!); this will free up time for family and “me time,” and 4) do a detailed “time budget” for a week to analyze how you’re spending your time; reduce/eliminate low value activities.

Cheer:  I once attended an Andy Williams Christmas show and correctly predicted his opening song: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” In it, he encourages us to be of “good cheer.” Well, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us. When we’re cheerful, we’re glad, and that’s a good thing any time of the year.

Let’s face it, we are drawn to people who are positive and cheerful rather than negative and dour. Cheerfulness rubs off on others (unless overdone to the point of being unnatural) and is key to making a good first impression, winning new friends, and influencing people. And, the more cheerful we are, the more cheerful we are. (No, that’s not a typo.)

So, there you have it… twelve of our favorite words for this holiday season and throughout the year. We hope it spurred you to consider your favorite words, and it’s a great assignment for your children and students, too.

 

Change the World by Giving of Yourself

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That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing. ~Simone de Beauvoir

The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.  ~Albert Einstein
 

The holiday shopping frenzy has begun! I am willing to bet that almost all of us have walked out to our mailbox only to find multiple Christmas catalogs and “coupon books,” alerting us of all the newest gadgets and clothes we need to buy this season. Everywhere we go, we are inundated with messages that tell us we need to buy more, more, more. If you ask me, this materialistic mindset takes the joy out of the holidays!

To me, the greatest joy comes from the giving of ourselves—not in the STUFF.

People who live generously—not just with their money, but with their whole person (time, talents, friendship)—deserve special admiration. They’re not motivated by fame, fortune, or scoring the newest iPhone on launch day, but rather by joyful service. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness make them inspiring treasures to us all. And although those values tend to get more press during Thanksgiving and Christmas, they are values we should all aspire to live by all year long.

Generosity is a paradox. The culture around us screams materialism and commercialism. Buy. Accumulate. Indulge. However, there is a whole world out there that desperately needs what we (yes, you) have to offer.  It invites us to give, serve, help, and empower. The paradox of generosity is this: the more we give, the more we get! It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We find our life by losing it. We win by putting others first. We gain by giving away. And, our greatest memories are of the gifts we gave rather than the ones we received.

This kind of generosity requires sacrifice—not just financial, but personal. Yes, it can be stretching and uncomfortable. But slowly, we begin to realize there’s more to life than what we own and can hold onto. We don’t take those things with us when our time is up.

Have you ever wanted to change the world?  This is where it starts. In fact, how you eventually impact the world will be driven not merely by what you have to offer but what you choose to offer. It’s the ultimate generosity test, isn’t it?

What do you uniquely have to offer the world? There are many different avenues that can allow you to allocate your personal resources to serve others. As you reflect on how you can live generously this Thanksgiving week, consider these three questions:

  • What talents, skills, and resources do I have to offer?
  • What groups or community segments (e.g., youth, elderly, homeless) do I feel most called to help?
  • What organizations will allow me to use my time, talents, and treasure to help those I feel most passionately about?

Could your answers to these questions be a New Year’s resolution in the making?

What would happen in our communities if we all cultivated and demonstrated this heart of generosity and “other-centeredness” as a way of life, embodying the qualities of generosity and compassion in our everyday dealings with people? I think the world would be a more welcoming and empathetic place!

With that in mind, here are some ideas for living generously this holiday season—and throughout the year:

  • Make a donation to an organization serving people and causes you are passionate about
  • Look for ways to be creatively generous if you are on a limited budget.  How can you give time? Attention? Acts of service? Material possessions?
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in your city.
  • Visit a nursing home or hospital. Listen to their stories, or tell some of your own. Just sit with them if that’s what brings comfort.
  • Allow yourself to be interrupted without being irritated—this is a mark of a generous spirit. (Or, put down your mobile device and give the people around you your undivided attention.)
  • Make yourself available to people or organizations, free of charge, for consulting on a topic on which you have expertise.

This short list of ideas just scratches the surface—you may even come up with better ones! The bottom line is this: Living generously will bring help and hope to others and immense joy to you in return. You’ll receive far more than what you give. Nothing compares with using all of you to serve and improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of the holiday season!

 

How Gratitude Can Change Your Life

adult-backlit-beach-320007Have you ever noticed how people experiencing the same thing can react so differently? Why is it that some who face a loss or disappointment maintain a surprisingly upbeat spirit, while others wallow in self-pity or anger? Some seemingly shrug it off while others are consumed by it. Some battle through it, sustained by their resilience, hope, and faith, while others suffer from feelings of entitlement or victimhood. Same situations; polar opposite reactions.

For most of us, it’s more natural to struggle when adversity strikes—at least initially. After all, we may feel hurt, disappointed, lonely, scared, or angry. That’s why people who are able to stay positive, even under life’s most difficult trials, really stand out.

Do these people have a special ingredient? I believe they do, and that ingredient is gratefulness. Regardless of their circumstances, grateful people find a way to call on their blessings and appreciate what they have. They choose to see the glass as half full. They are sustained by hope. They view adversity as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. And, despite living in a materialistic world, they don’t allow economic circumstances to dictate their happiness. (In my experience, this is the most common takeaway from students who go on mission trips.)

Those of us who are surrounded by parents, family members, teachers, mentors, and coaches who model this character trait are much more likely to be grateful than those who are not. Gratitude has a way of “rubbing off” on others because it is such an inspirational and admirable virtue. As you self reflect on your “gratitude quotient,” consider the following proven benefits:

  1. Gratitude improves your physical health. Studies have shown that grateful people have fewer aches and pains (yes, you read that right), and are more likely to take care of their physical health. They tend to practice healthy habits such as exercising and getting regular check-ups, which can contribute to increased longevity and life quality.
  2. Grateful people have better sleep. Here’s a tip: spend a few minutes jotting down what you’re thankful before bed every night, and you will likely have a longer and more restful sleep.
  3. Gratitude helps create better relationships. Of course, saying “thank you” is a practice of good manners, but a 2014 study in Emotion shows that it can also win you new friends! Saying “thank you” to an acquaintance makes them more likely to seek out further engagement. So, whether you’re thanking the local barista for your latte or a distant relative for graduation gift, acknowledging their efforts can open the door to new and better relationships.
  4. Gratitude can help improve your self-esteem. For years, research has shown that gratitude can help reduce stress. However, a 2014 study published in Journal of Applied Sport Psychology has shown that practicing thankfulness can actually play a major role in overcoming trauma and cultivating resilience. Recognizing all you’re grateful for—even in the hardest of times—can be life changing.
  5. Gratitude can reduce aggression (and increase empathy). Did you know that grateful people are more likely to act in a pro-social manner, even when the people around them are acting negatively? Grateful people are less resentful and retaliatory and demonstrate greater empathy and understanding (than those who do not engage in gratitude practices).

Of course, this looks different for everyone (some people write in a gratitude journal, some people silently acknowledge all that they are grateful for, others decide to pay it forward), but the point is that being thankful can completely transform your life. Here are some additional ideas to build your “gratitude quotient:”

  1. Actively seek out and surround yourself with grateful people. Ask them to share how they maintain a positive attitude while facing adversity and disappointment. Some of their strategies may work for you.
  2. Volunteer to help those less fortunate. This is especially beneficial to counter an entitlement mentality.
  3. Maintain your sense of hope in all circumstances. Consider when you overcame challenges and draw on them when new situations arise.

Developing gratitude is an especially beneficial life practice for teens and young adults, as they are constantly inundated with messages telling them they need to be better, look different, buy certain things, and generally just “keep up” with the people around them (not to mention the peer pressure they feel on a daily basis!). Gratitude is a powerful antidote to entitlement.

So, whether you’re a teen, college student, parent, or educator, know that we can all use some of these positive side effects in our lives! This holiday season, we encourage you to begin the daily habit of practicing gratitude. Meditate silently on your blessings, jot down a bullet-pointed list every night, or talk about what you’re thankful for around the dinner table. However you do it, pay close attention to how it transforms your inner world and the world around you for the better.

Let’s make Thanksgiving Day every day.

(For more way gratitude can change your life, check out this article published in Psychology Today.)

 

 

Four Words for Our Time

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At LifeSmart, the topic of communication has been on our mind a lot. With students entering a new grade or environment, and summer vacations replaced with non-stop schedules, it’s easy to see how this can affect our communications—in a negative way. Add to that the news media hype (in their quest for ratings), a supercharged political climate, and promptings from our social media outlets, and we have a recipe for fireworks and communication breakdowns. It’s everywhere.

Effective communication is a two-way street. When we’re the initiator, miscommunication usually happens in the following ways:

  • We say things that were better left unsaid, like the common “self-control failure,” or comments that are simply unkind.
  • We choose the wrong words. Our rhetoric incites rather than shares.
  • We say it the wrong way. Our tone turns off and shuts down the conversation.
  • We use the wrong method (text or email versus verbal or in-person).
  • Or, worse yet, we use a combination of the above!

On the other hand, when we’re the receiver, we don’t always listen to understand. When we don’t see “eye to eye,” we can shut down or shout down instead of respectfully agreeing to disagree and letting it be. It’s next to impossible to compromise and reach solutions this way.

What to do? How can we increase the chances that our communications are productive, constructive, and worthy? One solution is to embed the following four words into our internal communication filter before we initiate or respond:

HOW              IS             THIS           HELPFUL?
 
How might this look on a practical basis? The following table can serve as a guide:

More                                                  Less
Sharing                                             Shouting
Encouragement                              Criticism
Good will                                          Acrimony
Temperance                                     Rashness
Unity                                                  Division
Compassion                                      Judgment
Other-centeredness                        Self-centeredness
Humility                                            Arrogance
Open-mindedness                           Closed-mindedness
Confirming                                       Assuming
Respect                                              Dishonor
Responsibility                                  Blame
Kindness                                           Rudeness
Decency                                             Crudeness
Truth                                                  Manipulation
Integrity                                            Deceit
Solutions                                           Complaints
Positivity                                           Negativity

If we all committed to the above, it would change the world. We’d achieve more understanding, respect, harmony, joy, and kindness, and even make better decisions.

So, let’s try taking these four words to heart and mind, and see how this changes us and how we relate to others. It’s a great goal for a new school year.

 

The Most Important Thing for Teens to Learn This Summer

adult-backlit-bottles-697244.jpgSummertime offers many wonderful opportunities to enjoy, explore, and create. For some of us, it means a family trip to Disneyland or camping in the closest state park. Maybe it means roasting marshmallows in the backyard or going to concerts in the park with your neighbors. We might read books, take a class just for the heck of it, or learn a new skill. We might even shoot our record round of golf (here’s hoping!)! The possibilities are endless.

But, here’s an idea that meets the “enjoy, explore, and create” test, but costs nothing, can be done anywhere, is not weather dependent, is sure to please all involved, and might just be the most valuable summer project EVER for your teenager (and maybe even for you)! Any guesses what it may be?

The answer is…

Develop your very own Personal Balance Sheet. (I’m not talking about the financial kind.) Sure, it might not sound as thrilling as white water rafting or a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, but hear me out. This is important.

The high school years should be a time of self-discovery and building confidence and self-awareness. You know, being able to answer the fundamental questions of: Who am I? What do I uniquely have to offer? And lastly, What are my opportunities for fulfillment? After all, if your teens haven’t already, they’ll soon be taking courses or attending programs on college and career planning to plot their course for the future. All of this planning implies that students are sufficiently self-aware to judge correctly.

But, is this true?

In my visits with high school students, I’m struck by their lack of self-awareness. All too often, I see students who are insecure about their future because they don’t perceive their value. They don’t understand how they can make a difference with their assets and passions (IF they even take the time to consider them).  Too many students are making fundamental life decisions about their future without first having clarity about their identity and dreams. It’s the proverbial cart before the horse.

To address this need, we’ve developed a self-discovery leadership assignment that we call the Personal Balance Sheet. Think of it as a personal adaptation of the balance sheet from the business world, but with different categories and without actual numbers. It inventories our assets and our constraints (which is “liability” in business terms) and creates an overall statement of our value proposition to this world.

The Personal Balance sheet, which you can access here, is a fantastic project for the entire family or for schools to assign over the summer. It begins with the students taking an open-ended self-assessment of what they consider to be their greatest assets and constraints. But, even more important, they conduct interviews with selected adults in their lives (e.g., parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, mentors) who know them well and have their best interests at heart. From them, they receive their perspectives of their greatest strengths and constraints. The initial list developed by the student is enriched by the invaluable viewpoints of others. It’s both inspirational and revealing.

The end result of completing this exercise is a much more complete and accurate understanding of ourselves—who we are, what we have to offer, and how we might direct our future to make a difference! Just in time for all of our next step preparations, but this time, from a position of strength and clarity!

May this be the summer of self discovery for the teen(s) in your life!

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Integrity

Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values
rather than personal gain.

~Chris Karcher

Character is much easier kept than recovered.

~Thomas Paine

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot
to the town gossip.

~Will Rogers

In any list of most desirable workplace qualities, you’d be hard pressed not to find the word “integrity.” In fact, I would argue it’s probably number one. During my three-decade career at Russell Investments, our CEO, George Russell, would often say, “We operate on non-negotiable integrity. And, if you’re wondering whether to say or do something, imagine it being the headline in tomorrow’s newspaper.” Simple as that. Zero tolerance.

So, what is integrity and why is it so important? Dictionary.com defines “integrity” as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” While integrity is essential to strong personal character, it is even more important in a workplace context. That’s because employers must adhere to policies, laws, regulations, and governing authorities. A simple misrepresentation can literally lead to a company going out of business. Or, more commonly, for an employee to be fired. It’s always important to remember that in a workplace context, you’re representing yourself and your employer.

Here are some descriptors of integrity in action: trustworthiness, honesty, authenticity, respectfulness, compliance (to policies, procedures, regulations, etc.), courage (to do what’s right), taking responsibility for mistakes or shortfalls, and accurate representations. In the workplace, values can be challenged, career shortcuts tempting, and ethical standards gray. In these and all situations, integrity should be our guiding force.

Just as important is knowing what integrity does not look like. Here are some common examples in a workplace context: falsifying records, misrepresenting product qualities/performance, abusing power or position, cheating, stealing, spreading falsehoods/rumors/gossip, and blaming others for one’s underperformance. More often than not, self interest is the catalyst.

Of course, integrity is just as relevant in our personal lives too, as the above descriptors clearly show. Healthy relationships demand it. At LifeSmart, we encourage people, organizations, and schools to take the “integrity challenge:” not communicating anything negative about someone else who is not present. Imagine how this could change our culture! And, reduce bullying and social drama!

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, here are some tips to help the young people in our lives practice integrity as a way of life:

  • Model it ourselves every time, every day.
  • Commend them when they model it. (Especially when they own up to mistakes or poor choices.)
  • Apply a zero tolerance approach when they don’t. Children need to know the importance of trust and that repercussions of violating a trust will be stronger as a result. It is very difficult to recover a broken reputation.
  • Review the above evidences of integrity and the opposite. Which areas are easier to model than others? Where is there room for growth?
  • Look for examples in society (including movies and television) where integrity is either modeled or not and have conversations about them. How might they have handled situations differently? There are great opportunities for real life cases to reinforce lessons.

Integrity. It’s one of the most important character qualities of all.

Next week we’ll cover commitment to excellence.

 

 

 

How to Handle Transitions with Confidence

What do entering kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and your first career job have in common? The answer is transitions. BIG transitions. In these cases, they’re based on stages of life, while other biggies include moves, job changes, a new marital/relationship status, and having kids.

As I look back on my life and reflect on my conversations with today’s students and young adults, I’m reminded of how difficult these transitions can be. You would think the adventure and excitement of the “next chapter” would prevail, but often, it doesn’t. We figure our transitions will be smooth, but instead we can find ourselves depressed, lonely, and filled with doubt. If so, we flounder and underachieve, wondering how we’ll get out of our funk. We might even resort to false comforts and make life choices we later regret. Ouch.

Why can transitions be so darned hard? Here are some common reasons:

  1. We’re unprepared. Have you noticed how educators focus primarily on their stage (elementary, middle, high school, college) rather than also preparing students for the next step? One reason is that administrators aren’t held accountable (and therefore don’t feel responsible) for success in the next step. Parents can fall into this trap too, focusing on the immediate term, rather than also on what comes next. Students are often caught off guard.
  2. Out with the old, in with the new. For students who are content with their current stage, they may feel a sense of loss and anxiety as they begin their new chapter. (On the other hand, if the current stage isn’t going so hot, it can be a relief!) Transitions often come with new environments, social settings, teachers/evaluators, and expectations (with increasing performance pressure), and some handle this better than others. Arguably, the greatest transition comes after college where there is a loss of the common denominator of the college environment, often relocation, social disruption, career and financial pressures, and the reality that life will never be the same as an independent adult. That’s a lot to absorb!

What to do? How can we position ourselves to confidently handle the transitions in our lives? Although each stage is unique, here are some tips to help master your transitions and those of your children/students:

  1. Adopt the POP mindset. That means being Patient, Optimistic, and Proactive.  Patience is incredibly important, especially on the social front as you seek new friends. Recognize that your adjustment will take time, just like your previous ones. Self-imposed pressure adds unnecessary stress and can lead to compromising your standards. Optimism is also key. When things don’t go as well as expected, keep the faith and a positive attitude. You’ve done this before and can do it again! Finally, as you progress into the later stages, it becomes increasingly important to be proactive and take the initiative. I know many young adults who are floundering because they don’t fully grasp this. The more independent they are, the more responsible they are for their success and happiness. Instead, too many are waiting in vain for it to come to them.
  2. Meet people in your next step. Go out of your way (parents take note!) to meet people who are a few years into the stage just ahead of you. That means high school students should be meeting with college students and college students with early career adults. Be sure they are positive and empowering influences who can offer fresh perspectives with no sugar coating.
  3. Explore your interests and passions. It helps to identify your greatest interests (intellectual, recreational, community/service, vocational, spiritual) for both personal enjoyment and to meet like-minded people. What are the common denominators of the people and activities you enjoy the most?
  4. Go for it! Once you’ve identified your greatest interests, research the places, programs, and courses that offer what you’re looking for. Check out the Web, library, Chamber of Commerce, YMCA, school counselors, club fairs, tourist information centers etc. to discover the outlets you can plug into. Not only will you enjoy yourself by doing what you like, but also you’ll be more likely to meet people with common interests. Momentum is huge, but you have to create your own.

 

Transitions aren’t always easy, but they’re a necessary part of life. We hope these tips will help you and your students master yours. Good luck!

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!

 

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

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard some conflicting descriptors of Millennials. Some will say how creative, relational, and connected they are. Others will marvel at the emphasis they put on the meaning of their work, and not just the work itself. Millennials ask themselves: Is what I’m doing purposeful? How is it making a difference? What am I passionate about? Great stuff!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, you’ll hear educators, mentors, employers, and other leaders talk about Millennials’ apparent fear of what others think. Many people in this age group do not raise their hand in class, be the first to answer a question, or speak up when they have a differing opinion about something. There seems to be an irrational fear of being ridiculed, getting an answer wrong, or looking dumb. Or, increasingly, saying something that’s not PC!

Related, we hear many stories about how Millennials crave feedback. But, only if it’s positive! Even gently given constructive feedback is difficult for them to take. Generalizations, for sure, but we hear this constantly.

Also, many are struggling to land (and keep) jobs. Fresh out of college, they’re picky and finicky when it comes to finding work. I’ve heard too many stories of young adults choosing to live in their parents’ basements rather than taking a job that’s beneath them or imperfect in other ways.

What it all comes down to is risk aversion. Many young people today are simply unwilling to take risks with uncertain outcomes. Why so? Are they afraid of failing? Afraid of looking silly in front of their friends? Is there such an expectation of perfection in appearance and performance that didn’t used to exist? Is political correctness and hypersensitivity causing them to hesitate?

Elements of risk aversion and fear of failure can be witnessed in all areas of life. Here are some examples:

  • We focus too much on what others might think in our quest for belonging. This doesn’t lead to a good quality of life, as living in other people’s heads will make us anxious, hesitant, hypersensitive, and exhausted.
  • We fear “messing up” our resume. When we’re unemployed, taking a job that may not align with our college major or desired career goals will not look bad on our resume. Having a long gap in employment history WILL. It’s okay to start at the bottom (EVEN WITH A COLLEGE DEGREE) and work your way up. We all did it.
  • We’re insecure. This applies not only to appearance, but also about strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, and more. Those lacking in self confidence often struggle to accept themselves for who they really are. We must learn to love and appreciate ourselves and our uniqueness before we can truly become successful.
  • We let pride get in the way by always needing to be right. People with this mindset generally need high odds of success before they will participate in anything. This is what I call “perfectionist syndrome” and it leads to prideful, resentful, hesitant, and generally unsuccessful outcomes. Not surprisingly, these people tend to struggle in team settings.
  • We may be raised by helicoptering, performance-driven, or abusive parents. These forms of parenting inhibit children from trying new things and thinking for themselves.

 

As young people embark on life as an adult, the risks may seem extraordinarily high. However, so are the stakes. That’s why they need to learn to overcome their fears, hesitation, and insecurity, and simply go for it.

Next week, we’ll offer some ideas on how to overcome our fears and DO THIS!

 

 

3 Tips to Preserve Your (Precious) Reputation

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

The answer is your reputation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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