The Two Stages of Life and What Really Matters

“What do you want for Christmas?” is probably the most asked question right before the holidays. You’ve probably been asked, and even asked it yourself, more times than you can count over the last couple weeks. Sure there was a time in my life that my list was a mile long, but things change. Now, my Christmas list is filled with hopes for others—especially the young people in our communities.

It’s said that the first half of one’s life is the “accumulation stage” and the second half is the “distribution stage.” During the accumulation stage, you’re in gathering mode, spending your efforts on life’s needs and wants.  You build a career, buy and furnish a house, start a family and buy the things necessary for your children, save for retirement, and buy lots of things along the way. Many of us could probably go in our closets or garages and pull out items we haven’t touched in years, or forgot we had! But is that all there is to life?

But then, one day, around the age of 50, it hits you. You have all the toys you need, your kids’ braces are paid for and they’re in college or beyond. You have a boat and a new deck and a comfortable car. You discover that the joy of giving is greater than the joy of receiving, and your perspective changes dramatically. I’m a typical case—it happened to me around 49! That’s when my life focus really shifted to helping children and young adults lay a solid leadership foundation for life. Pursuing my passion of equipping young people to succeed in the real world has been more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined.

Did you notice how the first half of life tends to be more skewed toward self and family, and the second half is more focused on others? Had I known this earlier, I would have sought more balance in my accumulation stage and started my distribution stage sooner. The joy and satisfaction that comes from giving our time, talent, and treasure so far outweighs the fun of accumulating that I regret not starting this process earlier.

With Christmas just a few days away, opportunities for giving and sharing abound. This is the easiest time of year to find ways to positively impact others and give of our excess. But hopefully, directing our lives toward others will not be a once-a-year event. By starting earlier and making it last the whole year long, we receive far more in return than we will give. So, where is your heart and passion leading you today?

Do you want your life to have more balance, your spirit to soar, your heart to be filled with joy, and your life impact to be maximized—all while making the world a better place? Embrace the gift of giving yourself this holiday season and see where it takes you. Then, make it the gift that keeps on giving, into January, the New Year, and beyond.  Next time you hear “what do you want for Christmas,” do a self-check. Let’s all make the resolution to begin our distribution stage earlier and put an end to accumulating stuff we’ll rarely use and may even forget about!

Take a few seconds to reflect: Where are you centering your life? How are you modeling this principle to the young people in your life? Have you begun the distribution stage? Share your insights and ideas with us; we’d love to hear from you!

Practical Ways Your Family Can Serve Others This Christmas

“I will honor Christmas in my heart,
and try to keep it all the year.”

~Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

One of my annual highlights is watching the film classic, A Christmas Carol. I love watching the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge when the self-centered miser develops a servant’s heart. Granted, it takes a dramatic, catalytic experience late in life to get him there, but he becomes a changed man all the same. Every time I watch this film, I reflect on what more I could have done in the past year to help others. It’s a time of accountability, complete with a promise to do better in the year ahead.

I have special admiration for people who commit their lives to serving others.They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service.

I’m convinced our daughter Lauren was born with a servant’s heart. I first noticed this when she was four during a visit to a McDonald’s playground. She befriended a devastated little girl who had been deliberately abandoned by her big sister (Ronald would not have been happy!). The girl’s tears were soon replaced with joy for those ten brief minutes. While this example may seem ordinary, it is illustrative of the many times that Lauren has nurtured people who were socially excluded. Her empathetic heart has often been a blessing to others. Not surprisingly, she is considering a career in child psychology and counseling. I think she’ll be a natural.

The holiday season is a time when our thoughts often turn to practical ways we can serve those less fortunate. At a time when we are counting our own blessings, what are the ways we can include, encourage, or assist people in need?

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of our family’s ideas:
–       take a shift ringing a bell for the Salvation Army (we just did this last week; it’s a hoot, you meet great people, and it’s such a worthy cause)
–       volunteer at a local food bank
–       gather a group to sing carols at a retirement home
–       go out of your way to compliment those who are in service positions (including the Military)
–       send a note to a teacher expressing your gratitude
–       donate money to a local ministry that pays electric bills for the needy
–       adopt a family for gift giving
–       send a personal note to someone who lost a loved one in the past year

What do you and your family do to serve and bless others during the holiday season? Please share your ideas and stories with us; we’d love to hear your experiences!

What Do YOU Uniquely Have to Offer the World?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’ve been reflecting on how thankful I am—not for what I have for myself, but for what I have to give away. Really, life’s greatest joys come not from the getting, but from the giving. Don’t you agree?

I have special admiration for people who commit their lives to serving others. They’re not motivated by fame or fortune or power or things, but rather by joyful service. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness seem to come naturally to them, and they’re inspiring treasures to us all.

How you impact the world will be driven by what you have to offer and what you choose to offer. Well then, what do you uniquely have to offer the world?

“What do I have to offer the world?” It’s a profound question, and one that will continually evolve throughout your lifetime. At any point, though, your assets will generally fall into three categories: your time, your talent, and your treasure.

There are many different avenues that allow you to allocate these resources to serve others. To decide how best to give what you have to benefit others, there are three main questions to consider:

  • What talents and skills 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 talents to help those I feel most passionately about?

Then, it becomes a matter of deciding which of your assets to offer to have the greatest potential impact in each situation. Your time, talent, and treasure offer you tremendous opportunities to give the gift of yourself.

Living life with the heart of a giver 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 your gifts and talents to improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of Thanksgiving!

Have you experienced the deep thankfulness that “giving yourself away” brings about?  Looking ahead, what new ways do you envision using your time, talent, and treasure to make the world a better place?

Focus on the Things that Matter

There sure is a lot of hustle and bustle this time year, isn’t there? Holiday shopping, holiday plans, holiday travel, holiday parties… It’s all too easy to get caught up in the activity and miss out on the things that really matter.

There will always be times in life when we feel like the rope in a tug of war, and it’s not just at Christmas. Often, when this happens, there are two formidable competitors pulling us in opposite directions. On one end are the key people in our lives with whom we have relationships. They want (and deserve) our time and attention, as well as an opportunity to grow with us. On the other end is one tough opponent—the “big three,” namely status, career, and wealth and everything that flows from that. Like most things, these are fine in moderation, but taken to an extreme (as they often are), they can destroy relationships. They can easily consume our time and energy and divert us from our priorities and core values if we’re not careful.

During the past few decades, we’ve witnessed a cultural shift toward accumulating things, rather than emphasizing in-depth relationships. You see it everywhere, especially with retailers and credit card companies that are out to get our last nickel (especially during calendar-shortened holiday seasons!). It’s found in massive consumer debt when people overspend on status-conscious items and live beyond their means. And, you see it in people consumed by their careers and in those increasingly invasive businesses demanding their employees respond to evening emails.

This holiday season, I hope you’ll remember that truly successful people recognize how important they are to others and how important others are to them. Relationships are enduring—things are not. Let’s strive to always reflect this in our priorities and in how we spend our time. We can never get back the time we didn’t spend with our loved ones. That’s a life regret we never want to bear!

Let today, this week, this holiday season, be a time of special focus and renewed commitment to the things that really matter. Merry Christmas, all!

How are you spending the bulk of your time and energy? Are you focusing enough on areas that build stronger relationships with family and friends? Or, are you allowing other things to dominate your priorities? We invite you to share your thoughts and suggestions with us commenting; we’d love to hear from you!

 

Be Proactively Nice

Looking for a great gift idea this holiday season? I’ve got a terrific one. No, it’s not a sweater—and it won’t cost you a dime. It’s the gift of being proactively nice.

Sadly, our world is becoming more impersonal each day. We’re consumed with busy-ness.  Phones and computers seem to command our undivided attention. We text and email instead of talk to each other. People enjoying meals at local restaurants pay more attention to their phones than to each other. Busy-ness has infiltrated our manners and our demeanor—especially in places like our freeways, restaurants, and airports where patience seems a rare commodity these days.  Compliments are rare—great service is expected, so why bother rewarding service providers when they deliver it? Anything less, and out pours the wrath.  

This holiday season, I suggest we start a little “rebellion” of sorts against the impersonal status quo. Here are some things I’ve adopted, to give a glimpse of what I’m talking about:

  • I say “hi” when I pass people on my running route, regardless of whether I know them or not
  • I let a driver who has waited longer go ahead of me
  • When asked by a restaurant server how my day is, I return the question (I always get great responses to this simple gesture)
  • I go out of my way to express appreciation and gratitude
  • I smile more
  • I call rather than text (okay, not always but I try!)
  • I don’t allow the rudeness of others get to me

Clearly, none of this is profound or particularly creative. I’m sure you can come up with better ideas than I did! Nevertheless, I’m struck by the reactions of others when I do it (especially at restaurants where they’re often startled). It’s amazing how these small acts of random kindness make someone’s day a little better. You can tell it in their faces.

What a wonderful gift to offer during this busy, and hectic holiday season!

What are ways you’ve been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness? How did make you feel?  Do you have any interesting ideas to share with our online community about how we can do this for others?

Live to Give


“I will honor Christmas in my heart,
and try to keep it all the year.”

~Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

 
One of my annual highlights is watching the film classic, A Christmas Carol. I love watching the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge when the self-centered miser develops a servant’s heart. Granted, it takes a dramatic, catalytic experience late in life to get him there, but he becomes a changed man all the same. Every time I watch this film, I reflect on what more I could have done in the past year to help others. It’s a time of accountability, complete with a promise to do better in the year ahead.
 
I have special admiration for people who commit their lives to serving others.They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service.
 
I’m convinced our daughter Lauren was born with a servant’s heart. I first noticed this when she was four during a visit to a McDonald’s playground. She befriended a devastated little girl who had been deliberately abandoned by her big sister (Ronald would not have been happy!). The girl’s tears were soon replaced with joy for those ten brief minutes. While this example may seem ordinary, it is illustrative of the many times that Lauren has nurtured people who were socially excluded. Her empathetic heart has often been a blessing to others. Not surprisingly, she is considering a career in child psychology and counseling. I think she’ll be a natural.
 
The holiday season is a time when our thoughts often turn to practical ways we can serve those less fortunate. At a time when we are counting our own blessings, what are the ways we can include, encourage, or assist people in need?
 
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of our family’s ideas:
–       take a shift ringing a bell for the Salvation Army (we just did this last week; it’s a hoot, you meet great people, and it’s such a worthy cause)
–       volunteer at a local food bank
–       gather a group to sing carols at a retirement home
–       go out of your way to compliment those who are in service positions (including the Military)
–       send a note to a teacher expressing your gratitude
–       donate money to a local ministry that pays electric bills for the needy
–       adopt a family for gift giving
–       send a personal note to someone who lost a loved one in the past year
 
What do you and your family do to serve and bless others during the holiday season? Please share your ideas and stories with us; we’d love to hear your experiences!
 

Unforgettable Conversations

The year 2012 will easily go down as the most amazing of my life. It seems every day is a new adventure of unplanned connections, unexpected emails from appreciative readers, visits with new ambassadors, first-time experiences, and unforgettable conversations with very special people. Life is great at 58!
 
In my new role as author, educator, and speaker, I find myself in new territories and circumstances that touch the lives of young people. It can involve a talk to schools or parent groups, meeting with youth mentors, attending educational conferences, or doing a book launch halfway around the world in Indonesia. I love being “in the trenches,” experiencing firsthand the hopes, dreams, and struggles of today’s youth. These kids have left an indelible mark on me, especially those who have been dealt a weak hand.
 
I think of the students I met while volunteering at an area private and public school. This particular program helps students build stronger bridges with each other and identify some of the personal obstacles getting in their way. It’s a profoundly moving all-day retreat that allows kids to get real and deep with each other. You might think that the students of an elite college prep school have it all…but you would be mistaken. While sharing deeply from the heart, these kids either struggle from a lack of love and value shown to them at home or they face unbearable performance pressure from their parents and can never measure up. As their tears flowed, I kept wondering why their parents, who intentionally brought them into this world, had allowed it to come to this. 
 
My visit to the public school had a somewhat different cast, but the lack of a loving, healthy support structure for these kids was even more intense. Fatherlessness was a huge issue and you could instantly see the walls these kids have built. Initially “chilly” remarks of, “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me” were later replaced with tears of pain. They don’t feel valued. They don’t feel listened to. And, they don’t feel understood. So, is it any wonder why some of them seek false comfort in the wrong places?
 
I left these retreats with a heavy heart and a strong personal desire to serve as their advocate. Ideas are already being formed, and you will be hearing about them in the coming year.  
 
Contrast this with our appearance at the FCCLA national conference  in Orlando. We exhibited our What I Wish I Knew at 18 leadership/life skills curriculum and spoke with countless advisors and students from around the country who were participating in contests and trainings. These students were engaging, confident, professional, and destined for leadership. In case any of you suffer from hopelessness about today’s younger generation, I’d invite you to attend an FCCLA conference! FCCLA is doing an amazing job in preparing young people to be tomorrow’s honorable leaders in their families and communities. Well done!
 
It made me wish that every young person could have this same sense of worth, hope, and confidence in themselves and their future.
 
I’ve often wondered whether America’s youth are indicative of the rest of the world. To my delight, I had many conversations with the young people of Indonesia this summer as I delivered my talk on “Developing the Great Leaders of Tomorrow” at several schools. Perhaps because they’ve struggled more with poverty and have had to start working at a very early age, I found their questions deeper and more mature than from their American peers. They share many of the same interests and passions, but there was a noticeable difference in our conversations.
 
One that stood out was when a 16-year old boy approached me after my talk in Bali. I was alone on stage ready to leave for lunch when I saw him coming up the aisle. After arriving, he looked up and said, “Mr. Dennis, may I ask you a question?” 
 
“Sure,” I said, “What’s on your mind?” 
 
Then, totally heartfelt, he said, “Mr. Dennis, I’m not very smart in academics. But, can I still become a great leader?”

 
I’ll never forget this moment. For the next 15 minutes we talked about academics and leadership and how my book might serve as an encouragement to him. What courage and humility that he demonstrated! “Yes, by your actions, you’ve shown me you have what it takes to become a great leader,” I said. 
 
He looked up, and with a spirit of hope, said “Thank you, Mr. Dennis” and walked away.

 
I’ll never forget these conversations. While some were painful, many were hopeful. They renew my passion for today’s youth and young adults and for our mission to help them see a worthy vision for their lives.

 
So, as we develop our New Year’s resolutions, let’s all commit to the following with the young people in our lives:

  • To appreciate and honor them for their uniqueness and worth
  • To listen to them
  • To seek to understand them, even when we may not always agree

 
It’s a priceless gift that costs us nothing!
 
Merry Christmas from all of us at LifeSmart!
 
 
 

Celebrate the Season!

It’s been a great year for LifeSmart Publishing and What I Wish I Knew at 18! We are filled with gratitude for the many friends we made in 2012—not just around the country, but around the world!
 
 

With the holiday season rolling around again,

we think it’s time to CELEBRATE!

 
 
Our 2nd annual Cyberale is offering our What I Wish I Knew at 18 book and guides at substantial savings, just in time for holiday gift-giving and classroom orders for the New Year: 

 

What I Wish I Knew at 18 BOOK – $10.99

What I Wish I Knew at 18 STANDARD STUDENT GUIDE – $11.99

What I Wish I Knew at 18 CHRISTIAN STUDENT GUIDE – $11.99

Kit containing 1 book and 1 guide – $21.99

 

now through December 31st
 

Order at AtlasBooks.com or 1-800-Booklog

 

and use the coupon code CHEER

 
What I Wish I Knew at 18 serves a wonderful gift or stocking stuffer for:

 

It’s our way of saying “Thanks!” for your support—

and to wish you a joy-filled Thanksgiving, Christmas, and holiday season!

 
Cheers and Blessings!
 
Your LifeSmart Team