The Road to Resilience

As much as we all wish that life was an easy, straight shot road to success and happiness, we know that isn’t the case. Even when we practice diligence, discipline, commitment, respect, honesty, and integrity as we work toward our goals, there’s simply no way to avoid pitfalls and obstacles in life.  We’ve talked about handling adversity before, but this week we’d like to specifically address developing the character quality of resilience.

Resilience is defined by Merriam Webster as: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Take a moment to reflect on how you usually respond to difficult situations in life. Do you bounce back quickly, or do you let life’s trials negatively affect your mood, outlook, relationships, motivation, and work/school performance?

Resilience is not a character trait we are born with. Sure, maybe some are naturally “tougher” than others, but it’s important to remember that resilience is a value we must develop within ourselves. Being resilient means making a conscious choice to not let adversity drag you into defeat or despair. It means choosing to look for a deeper meaning and potential life lesson in each bump in the road and forging ahead to the other side of the valley.

It is difficult to generalize on resilience because adversity comes in many forms, such as:

  • Personal underperformance—bombing the exam, being cut by the team, throwing a costly interception, forgetting lines in the play, getting laid off from the job, losing an election, etc.
  • Group underperformance—losing a winnable game, bombing a group project, losing a major contract to a competitor, etc.
  • Consequences of unhealthy/unwise/damaging decisions
  • Social/relationship struggles—challenges with making friends in new environments, maintaining friendships, break ups, family battles, etc.
  • Family dysfunction
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Death or illness of a loved one
  • Financial crises
  • Bad luck—life’s lemons that just happen…to us all.

As you can see, some adversity is from our own doing, but much of it is not. We don’t always have control of our situations, but we DO have control over how we approach our battles and challenges. And, that’s where resilience comes in.

With all that in mind, here are five tips to help you develop resilience in your own life:

  1. Keep a healthy perspective. Remember that everyone faces challenges and adversity, and some of the richest aspects of our life journey come from battling through our toughest times. We grow as a person and, in time, can use these experiences to come alongside others who are facing similar challenges. So keep the faith and work through the problem to the best of your ability, realizing that (in many cases), good can come from it. Today’s valley is NOT your new normal.
  2. Know yourself and your worth. When you have a strong sense of self, you are less likely to let insecurity and uncertainty drag you down. When you are self-assured, you can confidently handle life’s curve balls and know that mistakes or other negative circumstances are not a direct reflection of who you are as a person. And, you will be less likely to blame yourself for situations outside of your control. #Icandothis!
  3. Tap your support system. Whether you rely on your siblings, parents, friends, neighbors, mentors, or faith community (if applicable), it’s important to have a safe network of people who you can talk to and lean on during hard times. Make sure you have people in your life whom you trust to give you helpful, truthful, and constructive advice. It’s nearly impossible to be resilient when you’re going through life on your own. Surround yourself with positive influences through thick and thin. And, don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed.
  4. Take care of your health. We’ve all realized at some point in our lives that our mental and physiological health are very closely connected. High levels of stress and other damaging emotions can lead to a greater increase of sickness, pain, and exhaustion. In order to handle adversity with resilience, make sure you are sleeping well, eating healthy, and getting in some physical activity. It matters much more than you may think!
  5. Forgive. Depending on the source of your adversity, it may involve forgiving yourself or others. It’s not always easy, but it’s difficult to truly recover without it.

 

When life hands you a lemon, your resilience, courage, determination, and positive support system will help you through. Being able to look beyond your current circumstances and knowing that your life is not going to crumble because of them is key. More often than not, our best life lessons and personal growth come from the hard times.  So, when you build resilience, every sphere of your life will benefit. You are a special and unique person—have confidence that you can always find a way to persevere, overcome, and make a comeback. #Yesidid!

Last week, we shared the first five of our top ten parenting goals for the year. Here’s a recap:

  1. Equip and empower for independence
  2. Develop soft skills and professionalism
  3. Invest in your relationship
  4. Build a strong work ethic
  5. Quash any sense of entitlement

We hope you took some quality time to consider how you’re doing and ways to improve. As imperfect parents, we can all do better. So in that spirit, let’s review the remaining five:

  1. Help them build their network: Parenting is a team sport. And, during the teen years, we need all the help we can get! Research shows that every child needs at least five caring adult role models who offer wisdom, love, encouragement, friendship, and connections. In addition, workforce recruiting is changing so much that having an inside advantage is almost a must. The time for your teen to build his/her network is NOW, and parents, you can give them a big head start by introducing them to great people you know. It’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give to your children.

 

  1. Promote effective time management: Today’s teens and young adults are bombarded by attention grabbers and distractions. Whether it’s technology, social media, or video games, their ability to focus, problem solve, and spend time on what really matters is being compromised. It’s vital to teach our children that time is a precious asset that needs to be managed wisely. Among other things, that means: 1) developing daily “to do” lists organized by priority and urgency, 2) understanding that work comes before play, and 3) limiting the time they spend on low value activities like social media. It’s all part of the “adulting” process, and one day they’ll thank you for it.

 

  1. Cultivate self awareness: In our conversations with high school (and even college!) students, we’re struck by how little they really know themselves. And yet, many schools and parents are pressuring them to know exactly what career or major to pursue. That’s one reason why we encourage students to build their self awareness. Among other things, this involves: 1) inventorying their strengths (assets) and challenges (constraints), 2) identifying their interests and passions, and 3) understanding their personality style and personal preferences. Tools such as the DISC personality test and LifeSmart’s Personal Balance Sheet help students to understand who they are, what they have to offer, and what opportunities will help them thrive. Let’s help them make these long-term decisions with some clarity!

 

  1. Avoid overcommitting/respect balance: You’ve all heard about the rise in mental health issues among teens and young adults, including anxiety and depression. We’re stressing out our kids in a major way, and some of this is the result of overscheduling and committing our kids to build their resumes. Their lack of down time to decompress is clearly taking a toll. Parents, we need to be mindful of how much free time our kids have to reflect, chill, enjoy nature, and pray if they’re so inclined. Let’s be more vigilant about the time requirements for activities before they sign up. Proper balance is a key ingredient to good mental health, and you can help make that happen.

 

  1. Have fun: College prep exams. Resume building. College applications. Career planning. Financial aid forms. Yes, the upper high school years are fraught with pressure—all the while our students have to be… students! And, as parents, it’s easy to be so consumed by our children’s success that we get stressed out too. When that happens, we can forget about one of the most important things for a family’s well being—having fun! What do your kids enjoy doing together the most? Camping? Hiking? Playing sports? Watching movies? Playing games? Building things? Cooking a meal? Attending concerts? Enjoying a campfire? Whatever it is, be sure to make room for it. The years really do fly by, and these moments will build relationship capital for a lifetime. #enjoyyourkids

 So, these are our top ten. How about yours? We hope you enjoyed them and that they serve you in the years ahead. We’d love to hear your thoughts and encourage you to share with your friends, too.

With best wishes for stronger families and brighter futures,

The LifeSmart Team

 

Our Top Ten Parenting Goals for the School Year: Part One

Last week, we challenged students to set fresh new goals to jumpstart the school year. Goals that would enrich their lives and build valuable leadership skills. Now, dads and moms, it’s your turn! We can always up our games, too.

As we at LifeSmart evaluate the trends among today’s teens and young adults—the success stories and the struggles—we can often correlate the results to parenting effectiveness. No, we are not in control of our children’s success, but we can foster a supportive and empowering environment to give them the best chances. And, when we do, it’s a “win win” for all.

Based on feedback from students, educators, employers, and mentors, we crafted our top ten goals for parents this year. We’re sure you’re already modeling many very well, and, that’s great! But, as you reflect on this (and next week’s) blog, we hope you’ll find some areas to sharpen that will accrue to the benefit of your children.

In no particular order, here goes:

  1. Equip and empower for independence: Many teens are struggling with their transitions into adulthood. Although well intentioned, parents are often contributing by helicoptering, overprotecting, doing versus guiding, and treating their children as friends. Instead, let’s focus on raising self confident and well prepared future adults who are resilient and independent problem solvers. Let’s move emotionally and practically from the driver seat to the passenger seat by giving them greater responsibility and accountability and treating them like adults. Sure they may underachieve or make mistakes, but those lessons are vital to their personal growth and success.

 

  1. Develop soft skills and professionalism: Book smarts don’t always translate into life smarts. Ask any employer of young people. The lack of work experience and character education, as well as our casual culture and communication, are taking a toll. So, use every opportunity to build these vital skills for the workplace and life: high standards, integrity, dependability, positivity, motivation, teamwork/relationship building, communication, resilience, respect, and professional manners. It’ll help them build a great brand and gain admirers.

 

  1. Invest in your relationship: As teens exert their independence, it can feel like they’re pushing their parents away. But, no matter how discouraging this can be, continue to invest in your relationship—it will pay off. Keep those lines of communication wide open and put your listening skills to good use! Think “share with” more than “talk to.” Affirm their uniqueness and value, and demonstrate how much you believe in them. Find the time and place they open up most and make it happen. And, go tech free during meals.

 

  1. Build a strong work ethic: What happens when we do our children’s work because of their busy schedules or our desire to see them happy? It hampers their motivation and work ethic, and employers are indicating that this is a BIG issue. As teens mature, so should their responsibilities around the home. That means doing chores that will not only help your household, but will also prepare them for life on their own. Part-time jobs and volunteering for the community or neighborhood contribute too.

 

  1. Quash any sense of entitlement: Over the past few decades, our culture has become child centric. So, it’s not surprising that many young people see the world as revolving around them. (Many universities are playing into this too and delaying their students’ maturation.) Consequently, young adults are in for a rude awakening when they enter the competitive workforce. Be on the lookout for signs of an entitlement mentality brewing in your children, and take corrective measures if needed. A volunteer trip to the soup kitchen can do wonders. Teach yours that privileges and success are earned, often the hard way.

 

If these resonate with you, we hope you share this blog with your friends and pick up a copy of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. It’s filled with encouragement and practical tips to help you parent with purpose and let go with confidence!

So, how are you doing on these five? Stay tuned for part two next week.

Growing Signs of College Unreadiness

university-graduatesHave you experienced something like the following? You’re invited to a high school graduation party brimming with pride and promise. In a few short months, he/she will be heading off to college to fulfill his/her dreams, so it’s a festive occasion. Then, after a semester, a year, or maybe two, we hear the disheartening news: in an unexpected turn of events, our friend/relative/son/daughter just dropped out. That upbeat graduation party seemed like only yesterday, didn’t it? Now what?

By all accounts, stories like this are becoming more common. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • The US college completion ranking among 28 nations has fallen from first in 1995 to 19th in 2012, according to OECD. That’s a substantial shift in a mere 17 years.
  • Many colleges are reporting significant increases in student demand for mental health counseling services. Nearly 10 percent of students are receiving such treatment. (Note: some of this increase may be due to efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and seeing a counselor. This is a positive)

Clearly, though, these are worrisome trends. Why are so many students struggling? Are they unready?

Peeling the Onion

According to the 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors Survey1 of 380 colleges, here are the top 10 reasons cited for student visits with counselors over the 2012-2013 period: Anxiety (46%), Depression (39%), Relationship Issues (35%), Psychotropic Medication (25%), Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors (18%), Extensive Treatment History (14%), Alcohol Abuse (11%), Self Injury (10%), ADHD (8%), and Drug Abuse (8%). All of these are concerning, but number five is downright alarming.

That anxiety ranks number one shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the college years are inherently stressful, with students facing new environments, responsibilities, competition, and career decisions. That’s a lot to absorb, as many of us may remember all too well!  Among the most commonly cited student stressors are: relationships and loneliness, competitive academic and social pressure, time management/workload/balance, career/major choice, finances, poor eating/sleeping habits, roommate incompatibility, and handling newfound freedom responsibly. Whew!

Contributors

Obviously, each individual situation is unique, and preparing students for success in this major transition is no easy feat. That said, we believe the following are some of the main causes of college unreadiness and student struggles:

  1. Helicoptering and performance parenting: many of today’s parenting methods, often well intended, are producing students who are ill equipped for adulthood and the performance pressures imposed by their parents.
  2. “College for all” mentality: in recent decades, college has been loudly messaged as the ticket to success. Many students would have been better served choosing a different path.
  3. Inadequate commitment to independent living preparation and soft skill development in high schools: schools vary widely in course offerings involving independent living, college/career preparation, leadership, and soft skills (e.g., resilience). In most cases, these valuable courses, if offered at all, are considered electives. Further, there isn’t formal accountability for success after
  4. Insufficient college onboarding programs: arriving on a college campus can be a “deer in the headlights” experience! First year students could benefit from stronger student transition management programs, including how to handle the most common challenges and “derailers.”
  5. Extended period of adolescence: research is showing that the adolescent stage is lasting longer than before. This suggests that today’s college entrant, on average, may be less mature than in year’s past.
  6. Susceptible age: the years from 18-22 often reveal genetic predispositions to mental health issues. Further, at this time of major decisions and transitioning, the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development. This is a massive amount of change to endure in a short period.

 

We all have a stake in improving this situation. Next week, I’ll share some parenting strategies to help prepare your teens for a successful college experience.

1”Top Reasons Students Seek College Counseling Centers,” Matters of the Mind, http://www.themillennialminds.com

Let’s Make 2017 the Year of Listening

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

~ Epictetus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Dreamer to Achiever: Making Your 2017 Vision a Reality

So, what grade would you give yourself regarding your 2016 resolutions? If you’re like most of us, you succeeded with a few, but fell short on more. Sometimes our goals get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t turn our goals into specific plans and actions (i.e., we stayed in dream land). And, sometimes we weren’t that serious about them in the first place.

In last week’s blog, we encouraged you to develop an aspirational vision for 2017, and we hope you’re off to a great start. Your next and greatest challenge is turning your vision into a reality. Depending on how you’re wired, this may come naturally or not. Regardless, one surefire method is to adopt the Plan, Do, and Review approach that is common in the business world. Yes, it works just as well for us as individuals and families and hopefully for you, too!

Planning

Your first step is to prioritize your vision and aspirations. If your list of desires is a mile long, you’ll become disillusioned and lose interest within months. A better approach is to limit your focus areas to no more than three to five (depending on how involved they are). With such busy lives, there’s only so much we can realistically accomplish. If you achieve yours ahead of schedule, by all means go back to your list and add some more!

How should you narrow your list to a manageable number? First, prioritize them in order of potential value and impact. Some will be a bigger deal than others. Also consider the time required for each goal to the best of your ability, and build in the necessary margin. Finally, pay attention to urgency. Some goals may need to be addressed immediately while others can wait. Be especially mindful of goals with set deadlines (e.g., college applications) and plan with a buffer, in case you fall behind.

Once you’ve settled on your top vision areas, develop specific plans and goals to achieve them. Your goals should include target completion dates and specific, measurable outcomes to help assess your progress. And, be sure they’re realistic and achievable. If they’re not, you will lose interest. Been there, done that!

Doing

Now, it’s do time. You’ve set your course, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each of your diverse goals will require different action steps and time frames for completion. Daily and weekly to do lists will help keep you on track and build momentum as you progress. These are especially important for larger goals that require lots of steps. If you’re like me, you love crossing off to do list items! Oh, and remember that whatever you do, do it with excellence and, ideally, on time.

Reviewing

Your final step is reviewing your performance. Ideally, you will have shared your goals with the appropriate party (e.g., your supervisor, parents, spouse/partner, friend, or mentor) and set dates to review your progress. Trust me, accountability works just as effectively in our personal lives as it does in a job review! It adds incentive and motivation and helps keep us on track. If you’re falling behind on any of your goals, these conversations can help you make any mid-course corrections. If you’ve achieved them, be sure to celebrate! You deserve it.

Application for Families and Educators

Goal setting and implementation are essential leadership skills to build in our children, and it’s never too soon to begin. Spend time early in the year as a family to set both individual and family goals (e.g., more harmony, less technology distractions, a community service project). Have each family member select a character quality he/she would like to improve, with other members providing encouragement and accountability. Then, perhaps quarterly, enjoy a family night to review your progress and celebrate with your favorite game or activity.

Educators can also have students develop and record their goals at the beginning of the semester, draft a mid-term progress report, and write a concluding paper at the end of the semester summarizing their performance. It’s a great exercise to build vision and intentionality in our young leaders. Based on my many conversations with young adults, there’s a lot of dreaming out there, but nowhere near enough planning and doing. Together, we can turn this around.

 

 

3 R’s for the New Year: Reflections, Resolutions, and (No) Regrets

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Looking back on 2015, do you have any regrets? Are there things you did and wish you hadn’t—or things you didn’t do and wish you had? Any relationships that are strained? Opportunities missed?

We all have regrets from time to time. However, you can minimize big ones (or avoid them altogether) if you periodically ask yourself the regret question and then actually do something about it. The new year is a great time to start, but reflecting on our regrets and resolutions is a great practice to adopt all year long.

For many people (myself included), personal reflection time is the area we sacrifice when our lives get busier. Unfortunately, when this happens, we can get out of balance, grow impatient, and often burn out. We’re not at our best. That’s why it’s so important—at New Year’s and all the year through—to take time to unwind and reflect. Frankly, it’s the only way we can go deep with ourselves—to explore how we’re doing and consider where we’d like to go. Find a place that inspires you and quiets your soul, and let your mind ponder some new growth possibilities. (If you are a person of faith, it’s a great opportunity to include prayer for discernment and wisdom.) You’ll be surprised by your renewed spirit and by the new ideas and insights that can surface during quiet times like this.

I also find there is wisdom to be gained from older people who are in a naturally more reflective stage of life. When I’ve asked some of them about their life regrets, I’ve heard things like:

  1. I didn’t spend enough time with my loved ones.
  2. I didn’t tell my family and friends that I loved them often enough.
  3. I was too stubborn or proud to admit my mistakes and apologize.
  4. I chose bitterness over reconciliation.
  5. I allowed my life to be consumed by work.
  6. I was too hesitant to take risks, try new things, and believe in myself.
  7. I wasted too much time.
  8. I didn’t appreciate the little things in life.
  9. I valued things over relationships.
  10. I worried too much.

Do any of these apply to you? Be honest! Although regrets run the gamut, did you notice that most involve relationships and priorities? This is why it’s so important that our life be balanced and our priorities right. When we see something is out of order, let’s resolve to make a mid-course correction.

After some time for reflection, ask yourself what resolutions you’d like to make for the upcoming year, especially those that might minimize regrets next New Year’s Eve. The Oxford English Dictionary describes resolutions as “(decisions) to do or to refrain from doing a specified thing from that time onwards, or to attempt to achieve a particular goal, usually during the coming year.” What have you been doing that you’d like to stop doing? What have you not been doing that you want to begin? Are there new growth opportunities or experiences on your bucket list? Then don’t stop there. Turn your resolutions into goals and your goals into executable actions. That’s living with intentionality!

This discipline of regrets, reflection, and resolution is a good one for all ages. Consider sharing it with the young people in your life. It will help you—and them—make needed changes and “relationship repairs” along the way. Wouldn’t it be great, though, to reach the end of 2016—and even to the end of life—and be able to say, “NO (or few) REGRETS?”

Image credit: Brianna Showalter
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Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

Leadership for a Lifetime: Vision

If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.

~Lawrence J. Peter

For those of us who grew up in the Sixties, July 20, 1969 will go down as the most inspirational day of our lives. We gathered around our TV sets in wonder as Neil Armstrong spoke these immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Our nation was brimming with pride.

A mere eight years earlier, America’s new and charismatic president had a vision. As far-fetched as it seemed at the time, JFK challenged Congress to support an initiative to put a man on the moon (safely returned) by the end of the decade. Amid a pool of skeptics, the vision was cast and NASA would successfully achieve this unimaginable mission with months to spare. It was one of the greatest moments in world history.

Question: would this have played out as it did if JFK hadn’t offered his bold vision? Not a chance. It illustrates so well why history’s greatest achievements and admired people are guided by an inspiring vision or purpose.

We might not be in the same league as JFK, Lincoln, Jobs, Disney, Edison, Franklin, Columbus, Mandela, MLK, Gates, Graham, or Mother Teresa, but in our own ways, we can all live with vision, too.  And when it comes to training our younger generation, it’s one of the most important leadership lessons of all.

During the high school and college years, a young person’s focus is clearly on the next step and specifically, on their eventual careers. While this is understandable, it can be argued that a more holistic approach to vision casting is essential. After all, a career is only one aspect of our lives and many if not most people change careers several times.

Is vision just one of those things that you either have it or you don’t? Not necessarily. Environment, training, and role modeling can have a huge impact on a young person’s inclination or ability to live with vision. Here are some suggested topics for parents, educators, and mentors to cultivate vision-mindedness in the young people we’re influencing:

The Big Picture:

  • What difference would you like to make in this world? Describe your dreams.
  • How would you like to be remembered? (The eulogy/tombstone ideas might be a little morbid!)
  • What does “success” mean to you?
  • Whose lives inspire you the most?
  • How can your passions and interests intersect to have the greatest impact?

College:

  • How will you define “success” in your college years?
  • What will you like to have accomplished in terms of academics, career, credentials, experiences, skills, relationships, and personal growth?

Career:

  • Knowing that the career decision needs to be one of the most well-researched in life, describe your 1) interests and passions, 2) natural skills and strengths, 3) personal preferences (on the job and in the working environment), and 4) ability and willingness to fulfill training requirements.
  • What perspectives can help determine that the careers you’re considering would be a great match for your skills and interests?

Service:

  • Reflecting on your passions and talents, what are some ways you can serve humanity?
  • What problems, community needs, and people groups do you feel most drawn toward?
  • When have you felt most fulfilled when helping others?

Family:

  • What are your hopes and dreams when it comes to family?
  • What do you consider the most important elements of a strong, healthy, and purposeful marriage and family?
  • What qualities will you be seeking in a lifelong partner?

Personal Growth:

  • Knowing that great leaders play to their strengths, what are your greatest assets and areas for improvement/growth? (A recommended resource for discovering your assets is this personal balance sheet assignment.)
  • Who do you admire most and why?
  • What are the traits of the person you wish to become?

As the young people in your life develop answers (and some guesses!) to these questions, it’s important to emphasize that our vision evolves over time…few are cast in stone. The key is cultivating a visionary mindset that reflects their entire life and recognizing that each vision is uniquely valuable. No one’s vision is their vision and no one can impact this world like they can.

Great leaders live with vision.

Take the “Sticky Note” Approach to Goal Setting!

Sometimes I wonder how we all survived before sticky notes. They come in handy, don’t they, for jotting down all those things we want to remember to do? The discipline of writing down our tasks, and the sense of accomplishment received from completing them, are tell-tale signs of a productive person. I begin each day with a to-do list and I know with certainty it has made me more focused and effective.

Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that we should also take a “sticky pad” approach to planning our lives? After all, the most successful people begin with dreams and then establish goals and plans to make them come true. Poor or random planning puts your dreams in jeopardy and, at best, makes it take that much longer to realize them.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve?

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some shorter-term goals that will help you achieve them. You can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture.

At the same time, don’t forget your daily to-do lists.  You’ll be amazed how much more you accomplish. It doesn’t have to be a fancy leather-bound day-timer to keep you on track.  Many times all you need is a vibrant-colored sticky note placed somewhere visible to remind you what you hope to accomplish that day. Oh, and once all your items are checked off the list, be sure to take some time to enjoy yourself for a job well done!

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”
 Lawrence J. Peter
 

 

What kinds of goals have you established for the short-, intermediate-, and long-term?
What strategies have you learned to help accomplish them? 
We’d love to hear your ideas!