What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 1

bar-blur-blurred-801863Now that college students are well into the school year and adjusting to their new schedule, managing their course load, and making new friends, we thought it would be a good time to bring back this series that our Communications Director, Heather Sipes, wrote for us several years ago. She shares her first-hand experience of life in college (including assimilating, adjusting, homesickness, tough choices, and other things) in hopes that other new college students and parents of freshmen will be able to apply it to their own journeys. Take it away, Heather!

My first year of college was about 11 years ago. I was bright-eyed and my heart was bursting with idealistic dreams for my future. It was hard to not romanticize this next step in my life, and I was convinced I was about to embark on the most fun, life-changing, and insightful season. I mean, these are the best years of our lives, right?

Indeed, my college experience was pretty amazing, but there are several things I wish someone told me before I started—preferably someone from my generation, who had recently completed their college work. Someone with fresh, practical advice to help prepare me for the next season. That’s what I’ll be doing for you and your students in these next few emails.

As you continue your time in college, whether it’s your first year or last, keep these things in mind:

  • See college as an opportunity to expand your interests and activities.A lot of us were wrapped up in our identity as high schoolers. I was a cheerleader and an honor student. That was pretty much my entire sphere. I’m sure many people can identify with this same notion: you’re either a football player or a jazz band member or a debate champ or yearbook photographer. Your main activity feels like WHO YOU ARE. (Often, our parents can get wrapped up in this identity too, and they put pressure on us to continue our singular pursuits in college because it feels to them like our non-stop ticket to success.) But I want to encourage you to open yourself up to new interests and activities in college. Don’t feel guilty if you decide to ditch your high school sport or activity. You will be amazed at what you have inside that you never knew was there. Seriously! I fell in love with philosophy in college. I never knew I had it in me…and, now I can be philosophical when I blog!

College is also an opportunity for a do-over. Maybe you didn’t like your identity or reputation in high school. Maybe you didn’t study enough or you partied too hard. See college as an opportunity to take a start fresh, explore new opportunities, and find another niche. Even if nothing sticks long-term, your world will become bigger and you will become more well-rounded.

  • Your class attendance is directly correlated to your grades. I’ll never forget how excited I was at the prospect of showing up to class only when I felt like it. There was no mom in the dorms to wake me up for class and no pressure to attend when I could simply do the assigned reading that night. I was told that lectures weren’t really “that important” and that professors never took attendance. BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU TO GO TO CLASS! Get out of bed, show up on time (preferably in the front row), listen to the lecture, take notes, and participate in discussions. I don’t care what anyone says. Your presence in the classroom (or lecture hall or auditorium) will have a direct impact on your grades. Even if you’re able to look up lecture notes online, they will notserve you as well as your physical presence in the classroom. 

 

  • That party won’t be as fun as you think.  Many young people entering university have visions of weekends spent partying with peers. Weekends filled with booze and binges and loud music and bad decisions. It’s crucial for them to know that this avenue is notfulfilling, and it’s not as enjoyable as you imagine. I certainly never experienced a college party and thought to myself, “This is so uplifting. I am making so many life-long friends.” The magnetic allure of the partying lifestyle (including both alcohol and promiscuity) is superficial, dangerous, and a slippery slope that will add little value to your life. For many, it becomes their college de-railer.  

Take it from me, your best friends will likely be made in your dorm hall or a shared class or the intramural flag football team, rather than at a boozy party. Your serious college boyfriend or girlfriend will not be that random hook-up you hardly remember. Your best memories will be your sober ones. Hopefully you’ll learn this lesson early in the game.

I am so happy to be a part of this series and share what insight I have to offer. I hope any college students reading this have entered this year with an open mind and are ready to embrace whatever life throws their way. Please stay tuned for next week, when I will share part two of this series!

Making the Most of Your Internship

american-asian-blond-hair-1323588.jpgYou’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Well, with all due respect to the originator of this exaggeration, it’s actually both! These days, it matters greatly whether you have an inside contact and advocate when you apply for a job. (A person dear to us just landed a phenomenal position that began with an internship!) But, if you don’t bring a good skill set, especially those valuable soft skills, you likely won’t land it… or keep it for very long if you manage to fool the recruiter.

So, what’s the best way to cover both bases and set yourself up for career success while you’re still in high school or college? The answer is to pursue an internship. Yes, even those requesting your services for free! Hear me out…

The Value of Internships

There is tremendous value in obtaining, and excelling in, an internship. When you do, you’ll:

  1. Gain valuable experience. Even if the job isn’t in your dream career zone, you’ll develop skills and perspective on how the “real world” operates. Often, our academics focus more on theory than practice, so this helps fill the gap.
  2. Sharpen your soft skills. In addition to learning the tasks of the position, you’ll build key soft skills like organization, work ethic, dependability, positivity, integrity, and team mindedness.
  3. Build your network. If you take advantage of the opportunity to meet as many people as possible, you’ll expand your personal and professional “sales force!” They may prove invaluable as future references, too.
  4. Pilot test career possibilities. Whether or not the position is exactly what you would be looking for in a future career, it will give you a helpful firsthand assessment of the fit for you. Many discover that an internship will either confirm or reject their initial career leanings. The earlier you learn this the better.
  5. Get a feel for the organization, its culture, and the industry. Hands on experience with the employer will provide you an excellent sense of the culture and industry. This will help you assess whether you’d want to work for them full time.
  6. Gain an inside advantage. IF you do well AND it’s a company you’re interested in, you’ve just gained the inside track for a full-time position. That’s gold!
  7. Enhance your resume and credentials. Employers love to see work experience rather than just academic accomplishments. With your internship, you’ve just improved your competitive edge to land a great position.

Maximizing the Opportunity
 
So, now that you’ve landed an internship, how do you make the most out of it? Here are some strategies to maximize your experience:

  1. Remember, attitude is (almost) everything. It’s important to arrive with the right frame of mind. Take advantage of all the opportunities you can to meet people, contribute to the effort, and acquire as many skills as possible. A positive attitude and strong work ethic are vital. Internships generally involve more basic tasks and responsibilities rather than key decision-making and a corner office. So, keep your expectations under control and deliver excellent work no matter what they have you do.
  2. Exceed their expectations. Be sure you clearly understand the specs of the position and do high quality work that’s on time, every time. Then, seek opportunities to showcase your creativity and initiative by going above and beyond the job description. Think, “How can I add value?”
  3. Remember, you’re each testing the waters. They are observing whether you are full-time material, so rise to the occasion. But, also evaluate whether this is a fit for you. Be sure to consider whether: 1) the organization and culture appeals to you and 2) the position confirms or rejects your career interests. Internships offer a powerful way to sample what it would be like to work in that field and with that employer. They also provide excellent opportunities to meet people in the full-time position(s) you’d likely be seeking. Their insights and perspectives are invaluable. If you find it’s not a fit after all, you’ll still have time to change your plans. 
  4. Meet as many people as possible. Don’t stay planted in your cubicle. Use your internship as an opportunity to meet leaders and people in positions of interest. Have coffee with some of their most respected people and pick their brains. What success secrets and advice can they offer? It’s a great way to build your network and fast track your career by learning from the pros.

If your schedule allows, we strongly encourage you to seek out an internship. And, if it doesn’t, make the necessary adjustments because this a top priority. It’s a foolproof way of learning the ropes and landing your dream career.
 

The 3 Secrets for Back to School Success

back-to-school-conceptual-creativity-207658School season has arrived and most of us have settled (or are settling) comfortably into our classrooms, dorm rooms, or lecture halls. For many students, it’s the first year in the “real world,” experiencing life at college and away from their parents. Some may be experiencing their first year at community college. For others, they’re still in high school, but itching to get the best grades so they can in order to one day land their dream school. It can be an overwhelming feeling, but I have wonderful news for you.

(Spoiler Alert:) You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to get GOOD GRADES!
 
Each of us has a learning style and study methods that work best. Some of us have shorter attention spans, while others can sit and pay attention (well) for extended periods of time. Some of us can function on limited sleep, while others need their solid eight hours, every single night. Some of us can even handle overcommitment through effective multitasking. Knowing yourself and how you’re wired is the very first step in performing at your best.

Take some time to think about yourself, your preferences, learning style, habits, and needs. With these things that make you uniquely “you” in mind, it’s important to practice some universal secrets to academic achievement. These secrets lie within the 3 P’s.

  1. PLAN.  The first success ingredient is good planning. This involves making a study calendar a few days to a week out. It may seem like a drag, but it’s the best way to ensure you always have the time you need to study. You can find a reproducible homework and study planner on our website.
  2. PREPARE.  This means staying committed to your study schedule, becoming a skilled time manager, and finding a study environment that works best for you (Your room? The library? A quiet study room?). You can use the reproducible daily schedule on our website to help with this. Remember, your brain works like a muscle—the more reps you have in reviewing your material, the more likely you will be to retain it. Try to avoid having to read new material the night before—use the last day(s) for review only.
  3. PERFORM. Deliver what your audience (i.e., teacher or professor) is looking for and enter your exams with supreme confidence that you’re prepared to excel. Be rested, alert, and ready to go. Don’t forget to eat right to fuel your body! (Bring a snack or water if it keeps your mind sharp.) If given the option, answer easier questions first (especially with essays). This gives you extra time to contemplate your answers for the more difficult questions. And, remember during essays, the graders are looking for key words and phrases. Finally, allocate your time wisely among the questions to complete your work at a decent pace.

Students, if you can fully appreciate the need for planning, preparing, and performing, you’ll be well on your way to achieving repeatable academic success (yes, I mean all year long, and not just a fluke A+ on your Intro to Philosophy exam!). I am talking about predictable success. How’s that for a GPA boost? In this increasingly competitive world, academic performance is critical! Use these study tips to make sure you give yourself a leg-up (and you’ll be able to apply them in the career world, too!).

Teachers, how have YOU helped the students in your life become organized and disciplined studiers? We’d love to hear your ideas or any other suggestions you’d add to this list! And, of course, welcome back to school! Make it a great year.

Parenting “To-Do List” For Parents of Incoming Freshmen: August

adult-bar-brainstorming-1015568.jpgHow can it be? We’ve arrived at the last month of summer, and for many, the first month of school. Now is the time of the “official” launch—the time we arrive on campus, unpack the car, move them into the dorm, and drive home with a much lighter load. Although it’s bittersweet, give yourself a pat on the back. You did it! You raised an adult!

Now that August is here, we are down to the wire when it comes to our preparation checklist. Free time is a scarcity. Your teen’s mind will be preoccupied by their upcoming transition, so parents, you’ll want to keep the conversations light and positive. And if you ever feel pressed to spend any quality time with them, here’s a tip: shopping to furnish their dorm and prepare for their new digs offers many opportunities for fun and sharing! Suggest putting a date on the calendar to shop for all the last-minute items they need to get settled in their new place (i.e. bedding, mini fridge, fan, closet organizers, toiletries, mattress topper, dishes, etc.)

More than anything, this last month should focus on two topics:

1)      A communication strategy after the launch. It’s important to discuss what your degree of engagement will be once your teen moves out. For some parent/child relationships, it works to establish a weekly communication schedule (not daily!), with a call at a time and day that works best for the student. Interim calls, texts, and e-mails should originate from the son/daughter, except in the case of a periodic, “thinking of you.” Parents, as hard as it may be, this is the most important time to not helicopter your student with frequent communication! It’s crucial that you do not hound your student, let them know you’re worried about them, or burden them with your sadness over missing them. A parent’s ability to let go is most prominently observed by how well he or she handles their communications with their young adult.

During the first week, parents may want to arrange a call after the first three days in order to have a quick check-in and make sure all needs are met. However, after that, a weekly call is recommended (not more than twice per week). Parents, use every opportunity to encourage your sons/daughters to make their own decisions. So, when your student calls with “how to” questions, ask them what they think, first. It reinforces their need to develop independence and to learn to problem solve independently.

2)      Anything else your teen wants to talk about. Your job as parent is making sure that they feel completely confident and equipped. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like to discuss or anything they’d like to do before they go. This is a great opportunity to share from your own experience and open up to them. If they want to discuss the latest sports news or their current romantic relationship, then that’s great, too. What’s important as that they know they always have a loving, trusting, and communicative encourager in their life—YOU.

Parents, this season can be a profoundly emotional experience, so be sure you pamper yourselves afterwards for a job well done. Your eagle is about to soar, and you helped make it happen. There isn’t a feeling like it in the world.

Other Pathways Note: this commentary and series has been focused more on the college-bound teen. We recognize there are other paths like the military, a gap year, the workforce, serving in non-profits, and entering a local community college or trade school. Most of the preceding perspective remains applicable, but there are unique challenges with each option. 


You can find the July “to-do list” here.
You can find the June “to-do list” here.
You can find the May “to-do list” here.
You can find the April “to-do list” here.

Self-Awareness: The Ultimate Goal for Teens this Summer

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“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison,  Invisible Man

I love visiting with high schoolers and college students about their career plans. It takes me back to when I walked in their shoes. I remember feeling excited, confused, and a little bit anxious, but stayed positive for the most part. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path that taught me a lot about life and myself.

Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. (I’m the first to affirm them, but also let them know it’s okay if they change their mind as many often do.) However, most of my conversations go something like this:

Me:      So, what career or major are you considering?

Them: My parents want me to take up ____. My dad (or mom) has had a great career in it. But my friends think I should go into ____.  My school counselor has even different ideas. It’s confusing.

Me:      So, what do you think?

Them:  (Anxious pause) I don’t know yet.

Several things always strike me about these exchanges. One is how often they focus on what others think, rather than themselves. Two is the depth of anxiety, doubt, and pressure they are feeling about their future career. And, three, they are making this critical decision without the benefit of self awareness. They’re shooting in the dark, and it’s a shame. In fact, earlier this year, Gallup released the results of its survey of college graduates and found that an alarming 40% of Bachelor’s Degree recipients now regret their choice of major! 40%!!! Fortunately, there is a better way!

Just as when we build our dream house, good career planning begins with a solid foundation. In this case, it is a foundation built on the understanding of self—knowing who we are, how we are gifted with unique talents, experiences, and attributes, and what we’re interested in and passionate about. The who, what, and why… of us! If we don’t fully understand ourselves first, finding a career that fits is a random exercise, at best.

Career assessment surveys are indeed helpful, but tend to focus on skills and interests rather than the complete picture of self. As such, we encourage educators, mentors, and parents to take a broader view.

At LifeSmart, we take a holistic approach to self assessment that helps students discover the unique value (assets) they have to offer to this world. It considers a wide range of asset categories that builds self confidence, a sense of identity, and inspires a healthy life vision. Here is an abbreviated summary of some of the asset groups we believe are essential for career and life readiness training:

  • Foundational Assets:
    • Physical: strength, speed, agility, endurance, dexterity, vocal, visual, auditory, sport-specific, appearance
    • Mental: intelligence, aptitudes, analytical ability, reasoning, creativity, conceptual thinking, intuition, memory, concentration, subject specific
    • Behavioral: personality (pace and people/task focus), attitude, social attributes, outlook, emotional intelligence, communication, productivity, soft skills
    • Spiritual: faith, values, inspirational experiences, encouragement
  • Aspirational Assets:
    • Experiential: credentials (academic, career, skills, service), life experiences, leadership, perspective
    • Interests: knowledge pursuits, recreation, leisure, industry, activities, entertainment, travel, nature, spiritual life, creative arts, social
    • Passions and Dreams: desires, causes, purpose, personal and professional goals, bucket list items

Knowing that self awareness comes through self discovery and affirmation from others (note parents!), we’ve developed a personal leadership assignment you can access here. It not only helps identify your unique assets/strengths, but it also captures the invaluable perspectives of others who know you well and have your best interests at heart. This is a great personal leadership assignment that can be led by educators or parents. Be sure to explore other self awareness resources, too.

It’s important to remember that some of these assets will be used directly in our careers while others help in different arenas. Regardless, by taking an inventory of our unique assets, personal nature, and desires, we’re much better equipped to select a great career match that fits us like a glove.

Successful people lead from their strengths, but first they have to know what they are. Help the students and children in your life understand their uniqueness and value. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give—for their eventual career and for all of life.

Parenting “To-Do List” For Parents of Incoming College Freshmen: July

accomplishment-adult-bisexual-1152500Parents, you’re in your last full month. They say you have eighteen summers with your child, and, well….you have entered the ninth inning. In about a month or two, your teen (or young adult) will be opening a new chapter, beginning college, and starting their adult life. It’s a season filled with emotion for all parties, because you’ll be starting a new chapter, too. After all, we say “good bye” to their childhood and “hello” to their adulthood. So, take it all in, but be hopeful. You have a new, adult-to-adult relationship to look forward to.

Right now, your son/daughter may be choosing his or her first semester course schedule, and anxiously and increasingly looking ahead. Reality is setting in (for both of you). This is a great time to go over two related topics, in order to build confidence and be fully prepared: academics and career.

It’s important for your student to fully understand the difference between high school and college academics. There is much more expected, classes are fewer and longer, competition is stiffer, and exams and essay requirements are far more complex. Here are a few things to go over when it comes to academics:

  • Have them set goals for the first year. What would they constitute as a “successful” experience (e.g., a certain GPA, etc.)?
  • At this time, they need to think of academics as their JOB and their PRIMARY focus. I hate to say it, but party animals don’t last long in the big leagues. Their college education is the biggest investment they (and/or their parents) will make in their future so it’s crucial they make a good return on their investment. Study first, everything else later.
  • Don’t go overboard in taking too many credits the first semester. My personal recommendation is to keep it at 16 or less. There are simply too many life adjustments that are made during that first semester at school, so I would advise not overloading the class schedule in order to avoid unnecessary pressure.
  • Their daily schedules will be far less structured than they were in high school (other than making sure they’re at lectures and labs on time, their day is entirely their own!), so developing a daily plan is crucial. Make sure they always schedule in study time, eating time, exercise time, and relaxing time. Have them find a good planner they’ll use on a regular basis!
  • Time management is essential. Does your teen struggle with managing his or her time or with procrastination? Let’s nip that in the bud now! Time is a precious asset, so developing a daily to-do list is paramount. I recommend organizing it by urgency, always understanding that work comes before play.
  • Take full advantage of professor’s office hours. (Trust me, they’re there to help, and showing up at their hours shows them you’re eager to learn.)
  • Develop an effective and repeatable study method. Complete required readings four days in advance before exams so there is ample time to review and build in “reps.” I devote an entire chapter in What I Wish I Knew at 18 to studying in post-secondary academics. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Secondly, now is the time to start (if you haven’t already) talking to your teen about their future career. Isn’t that the main reason they’re going to college, after all? Here are a few things regarding their future career that you can start talking about this summer:

  • The monetary investment in a college education is far too significant to see it as anything other than preparation for a successful career (no matter what some academics say!). Practically, career earnings need to produce a reasonable return on college investment, taking into account their time spent and any debt incurred.
  • Career and major selection should consider several factors, such as: interests, skills, current demand, ability to meet the qualifications, personal preferences (work environment, hours, stress level, team vs. solo, etc.), expected/desired income, etc. It should be one of their best-researched decisions, and, yet, colleges don’t always place career/major selection as a top priority for their students. Encourage them to do career exploration surveys and talk to actual practitioners in careers before making a final selection. And, make sure they contact the department heads to see what percent of graduates landed a job in their desired field. Many, many majors do NOT lead naturally to jobs in that area. A recent survey showed that 36 percent of college graduates regret the major they chose. 36 percent! That’s the downside of not putting in the necessary effort when selecting a major/career.
  • Remember, the vast majority of jobs are filled by people who have an “inside advantage.” Thus, students need to be building their professional network NOW. It is never too early to start networking (and it starts with you, mom and dad!).

As you enjoy this summer with your teen, make it one to remember. Cook their favorite meals, watch their favorite movies, experience your favorite sports or activities together, and take lots of pictures. It’s a great time to build memories for a new and exciting adult-adult relationship that’s just around the corner. Although their new adventure awaits, there’s no place like home.

P.S.—Happy Fourth of July to all of our friends, family, and followers! We hope you have a safe and celebratory holiday with your loved ones.

4 Steps to Ensure You Rock Your College Major Choice

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We’ve been talking a lot about preparing for college around here lately. Now that we’ve arrived at glorious summer, it’s only a matter of months (or weeks) before students are moving into dorms and getting settled in the college rhythm. They’ve made one hard decision already—where to attend school. However, another hard decision still awaits them. What should they major in?

Most of us reading this can likely relate to this struggle. It’s a big decision! I remember agonizing over it as a young student myself. But really, it boils down to one main concept: What can you do for the rest of your life that you’ll enjoy and won’t burn you out? What are you passionate about, what are you good at, and how can you tie those things into a career that will sustain you from here on out? Ideally, we all want to end up working for an employer we admire, fully utilizing our natural talents and skills, building friendships, and growing personally and professionally, as opposed to hating our job, spending our waking hours bored or frustrated, and not feeling rewarded.

When it comes down to choosing your major and future career path, here’s how to avoid the latter: Do your homework. Often, people who end up with career misery do so because they made their choice casually or impulsively. However, choosing your major and subsequent career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life! Although intuition is important, don’t base your decision fully off of your emotions.  You’ll regret it.

Here are four steps to get you moving in the right direction:

  • Conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. Be objective and take an honest inventory of your: a) interests and passions, b) lifestyle and work preferences, c) skills, and d) willingness to obtain the necessary qualifications.
  • Develop a list of potential careers that align with what you recorded in the above four areas. Meet with professors and counselors. Attend career fairs offered at your school. Meet with actual practitioners of the careers you’re interested in, in order to get the inside scoop. Nobody can give you a better read on a career than someone who is working in that space.
  • Investigate the current demand for the careers you’re considering. Is there a high need for them right now, or does it appear to be a profession that’s dying off (or being replaced with something else)? For every major you’re evaluating, thoroughly evaluate the employment prospects. Does the outlook look weak (or the pay look less than sustainable)? If so, move in a different direction. Have frank conversations with department heads at your college regarding the employment outcomes of recent graduates. What percent of their graduates land a full-time job in their major within a year? Some majors sound interesting, on paper, but have limited job prospects. College is too costly to go down that path
  • Seek out work-study, internships, and job shadowing opportunities before it’s time to declare your major. This will give you a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your initial conclusions.

Once this process is complete, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   
 
A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site, you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to their education and training requirements. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website: http://www.bls.gov/k12/index.htm. It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests.

Thanks for tuning in, and we hope this summer is a productive one full of fun, personal growth, and self discovery!

Parenting “To-Do’s” for Parents of High School Seniors: June

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In the blink of an eye June has already arrived, which means we are in for four weeks of graduation ceremonies and parties, Father’s Day celebrations, last minute college paperwork, dorm room shopping, and much more. Not surprisingly, June can be a bittersweet month for both parents and teens. It’s exciting and rewarding to be closing the high school chapter, but also daunting to know this is your teen’s last summer before leaving home (and for teens, this is often when they face the brutal reality that their friends will soon be scattering).  It’s why June is a great month to discuss your teen’s upcoming social transition, as it can be the most challenging aspect of “the launch.”

One pitfall young people can encounter during this huge social transition—saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones—is compromising their values in an effort to quickly “fit in” and have a sense of belonging. It’s a very strong pull, as is the temptation to rush the process. To reduce these risks, here are some suggestions for parents to share with their grad about the upcoming social transition:

  • Have them identify the values, qualities, and common interests of their current best friends. In other words, why are they their BFF’s? This list can be an invisible filter to apply in their new environment with the new people they meet.
  • Encourage them to be patient. Friendship and love take time (and the right timing). Remember, it took a while to make and choose their current friends. Having impatience when it comes to social matters can be the biggest source of mistakes and regrets. It takes time to build trust, and it’s worth it.
  • Avoid destructive, toxic, and negative people like the plague.
  • Get involved with organizations and activities where they can be surrounded with like-minded people. Don’t be a hermit.
  • When it comes to dating, take a 3D approach. This means, be deliberate, discriminating, and discerning. If things start to get serious, consider how he or she stacks up on the compatibility meter. How do your values and long term goals align? Remember, forever is a very long time.
  • Stay invested in current friends, but recognize that with this huge life transition, some may fade away, and that’s completely normal.
  • Periodic feelings of loneliness are common, despite being surrounded by thousands of other students. Talk to your teen about taking advantage of their current support system, but also encourage them to take some initiative in forming new relationships.

Lastly, I want to discuss one of the best graduation gifts any parent could ever give. Here at LifeSmart (and in my family), we call it a Blessing Packet. Here’s how it works:

  • Consider the most prominent people in your child’s life. Who has encouraged them, taught them important lessons, or influenced them in a positive way? (Think long-term friends, relatives, coaches, mentors, teachers, etc.) Ask if they would write a personal letter to the proud graduate, including words of affirmation, encouragement, fond memories, perspectives of their uniqueness, inspirational quotes, and well wishes for the future.
  • Have them send you their letters in a private envelope. Once all letters are received, put them in a gift wrapped box and deliver it to your grad at the appropriate time (probably after graduation). Even in a world where material things seem to be of utmost importance, this is a gift that will mean the world to them.
  • Parents, make sure you also write one, too. This is the perfect opportunity to express your feelings (many of which you may have been stuffing or holding on to) and share with your son or daughter what a blessing they are in your life. Speaking from personal experience as one who has written two for his children, it may be one of the most emotional, yet rewarding things you’ve ever done.

Although this month can be full of unknowns, it also can be a really special month of bonding between parents and their teens. Make sure you never take your time with them for granted and try to make the most of their last summer at home (and really, their last summer as a kid).

Happy summer!

Taking Responsibility: A Life Skill We All Need to Master

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Here’s a hypothetical scenario to consider: It’s finals week, and you’ve spent the last few days studying and cramming (and drinking more caffeine than you care to admit). Deep down, you know you should have started studying earlier in the month, but with your intramural flag football games, your Instagram addiction, the spontaneous beach trips, and Netflix binge watching, there just wasn’t enough time! Although you’re doing all the “right things” now by highlighting your reading and going over old quizzes, you’re rushed, anxious, and more stressed than you’ve ever been. It’s no surprise, then, that when all is said and done, you see a disappointing C- at the top of your final. Regrettably, you know you could have done better.

So . . . now what? Do you take issue with the professor or teacher, complaining that the questions were too hard? Do you accuse him or her of biased grading, or being out to get you? Do you compare your test to those of classmates who earned better grades? Worse yet, do you recruit your parents to petition on your behalf?!? You’re concerned it might affect your admission into your dream university.

Or, do you take personal responsibility for your grade and accept the fact that you underprepared? Will you own the outcome (which was likely a product of your own actions)?

We call this topic “Accepting Personal Responsibility for Our Mistakes and Shortfalls,” and it’s a life skill that every single one of us needs to master. Believe me, it’s no easy feat. However, it’s a sign of maturity, integrity, and a hallmark of a true leader. Being able to put complaints, self-pity, and the desire to blame others aside is a sign of self-awareness. Moreover, accepting responsibility causes us to live with an accurate perspective of reality.

Blame shifting and negative behavior justification distorts our reality—causing us to live in a world where we believe we do no wrong or that we deserve good outcomes. It’s rooted in insecurity, and it affects our decision making, job performance, academic achievements, relationships, and more. Everyone else screws up but us, right? Wrong! The real reality is that we all mess up, but have the capacity to accept the consequences and learn from our mistakes.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that may cause us to miss out on great opportunities. That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor or written you a great recommendation for grad school. The coach who you were convinced benched you every game because he “didn’t like you?” He could have been a great personal trainer and helped you improve your game. That classmate who was “jealous of you?” She could have helped you become a better friend. That boss who fired you “unjustly?” He could have helped you widen your professional network and provided you with great connections had you delivered on the job.

The long and short of it is this: as we grow into well-rounded, confident, and contributing members of society, it’s crucial that we accept responsibility for our mistakes and shortfalls. Although it may seem difficult at the time, this practice will make us better friends, employees, players, and students who have an accurate and healthy view of ourselves and the world around us. Here are a few ways to get started mastering this life skill:

  • When you are hit with a negative situation, turn to self-reflection first.
  • After some reflection, if you still believe you’ve been wronged, address the situation calmly and with an open mind.
  • Ask for constructive criticism from teachers, coaches, and bosses.
  • Always be honest with yourself and others.
  • Invite those close to you (parents, close friends, pastors, mentors) to hold you accountable and speak truth and encouragement into your life.

Humility, personal responsibility, and self-awareness are of high value, so start this practice now!

Can you think of a situation where you stood up and took responsibility for your actions? What good came from it?

 

Parenting “To-Do’s” for Parents of High School Seniors: April

daytime-girls-graduation-901964 (1).jpgParents of high school seniors: Now that we are already in the middle of April, it’s a good time to start talking about their looming transition from high school to college or career). Few transitions bring as much joy, tears, and anxiety to parents as when their children leave home and begin life on their own. In many ways, this milestone is a parent’s defining moment. How will they do? Have we prepared them well? How will we adjust? In what ways will our relationships change?  It’s a big deal—almost as big for parents as it is for students!

At this time, it’s important to keep in mind the big picture. Our fundamental goal when raising children is training self-confident future adults with strong character, ready to fulfill their dreams and purpose. Practically and emotionally, we must move from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat… and eventually, to the back seat. Easier said than done for some of us, right?

Since April is the beginning of the crucial months leading up to “launch time,” a strategic parent will make the most of these final months, creating lasting memories and position ALL parties for a successful launch. Here are some practical, ground-level pieces of advice for parents in this season:

  • Remember to keep in mind what your teen needs from you at this very moment: Unconditional love, belief and encouragement, practical wisdom, affirmation of their value, and a healthy relationship built on understanding and trust. Be an open door to them and communicate realistic expectations.
  • Meet your teen where they are. It’s most likely that your teen is pretty reluctant to sit down in the living room with you, sip on a cup of tea, and open up for a deep conversation. For them, a meaningful conversation is more likely to happen at their favorite coffee shop, in the car, in the kitchen cooking, on their favorite hike etc. But remember—don’t force it. Let them be in the mood to talk.
  • Treat them as the adult they soon will be. No Facebook posts that “my baby is leaving!”  Remember your goal of building self-sufficiency and independence. Also, be sure to incorporate any chores they’ll need to be doing on their own, if you haven’t already.
  • Pick up a copy of Parenting for the Launch. It will provide you with an in-depth discussion of what to expect as you transition into the next season of parenting, and also pro tips on how you can equip your teen with the skills he or she needs for success in adulthood.
  • Finally, be on guard for putting all of your identity in your role as mother or father. Too many parents do and have extreme difficulty in letting go… especially, when they face an empty nest. Parents, you’re more than a mom or dad, you’ve done your best, and now it’s up to your child to fulfill his/her dreams as an adult—with you on the sidelines as their chief encourager.

For many universities, April is decision time. This is a HUGE deal, and you and your teen will probably be (or already are) monitoring the mailbox like a hawk. This month may involve follow-up visits or further phone calls to help finalize the decision. Depending on how close of a call it is, you and your student may be over-the-moon excited, or horribly stressed!  For this, we recommend family discussions of the pros and cons of the realistic finalists, but that the teen makes the final selection.

Given the stress involved in this decision, it may be timely for stress management to be the topic of the month. It’s a heavy topic, but a crucial one. Statistics are showing high dropout rates after the first year of college, worsening college completion rates, and skyrocketing incidences of anxiety, depression, and visits to mental health clinics on campus. This is the big picture, and it will help your teen to understand the context behind this important topic.

Throughout the rest of this month, consider initiating conversations and experiences with your teen that will help them learn to better manage stress, avoid being overly anxious, and stay confident in themselves and their decisions. Although it may seem “idealistic,” these skills will help equip your teens to thrive in his/her next step.