Direct Your Life Toward Others

Follow your passion. March to the beat of your own drummer. Pursue your dreams. Find yourself.

Sound familiar?  It should. The message is everywhere these days.  And it sounds great, doesn’t it, to encourage young people to discover themselves and follow their dreams? We do it all the time (me included).

But isn’t it also paradoxical that, at the very time young people are heading off into the world to become part of a college community, part of a business or organization, part of a marriage someday … they are hearing it’s all about them? No wonder colleges and employers are complaining about the entitlement mentality in today’s incoming students and employees!

Are our teens getting the wrong message from our “it’s all about me” culture?

Maybe it’s time we pay attention to combining that message with a healthy dose of other-centeredness.

In reality, the most successful individuals are those who have realized that a successful life is not all about them.  In fact, most people who have achieved a full measure of success (i.e., in their personal life as well as their professional life) will tell you the best things are found not in what they have gained for themselves, but in what they have given to others.

 Wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn this sooner rather than later?

The first half of one’s adult life can be aptly called the “accumulation stage” and the second half is the “distribution stage.” During the accumulation stage, you are in “gathering mode,” filling your  bushel basket with life’s needs and wants. In some ways, it might feel like it’s all about YOU. You build a career, buy and furnish a house, start a family, save for retirement, and buy lots of things along the way.

Then, one day, usually around 50 when the kids have left the nest and you have all the toys you need, you become more motivated to give back. You discover that the joy of giving is greater than the joy of receiving, and your perspective changes dramatically. You realize it never was about YOU. I’m a typical case—it happened to me around 49! My life is so much more focused now on others than it was when I was a young person, and I doubt I’m an exception.

When I left my dream 28-year career in investment management to teach finance and life skills to young people, I had no idea it would lead to a total career change to that of author, publisher, mentor, and speaker. But, oh, the fulfillment of being able to direct my life toward others on a regular basis.

 

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 outweighs the fun of accumulating that I regret not starting this process earlier.

 

Where are you directing your life right now—toward self or toward others?  Give it some thought. By shifting your focus toward others, you’ll receive far more in return than you give. Your life will have more balance, your spirit will soar, you’ll make new friends, and you’ll maximize the impact of your life. Oh, and you’ll also make the world a better place in the meantime! What’s not to love about that?

How differently do you feel when you give versus when you receive? Which will have more lasting impact? How have you impressed this principle on the young people in your life? Share your ideas and stories with us by commenting below; we’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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!
 
 
 

Don’t Define Success by Riches

What does success mean to you?
 
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about purpose and significance. So, let’s say you do discover your “life purpose.” How will you know you’ve achieved it—by how much money you make? By the status symbols you’ve acquired or a particular title you’ve earned?
 
Really, how will you know when you’ve achieved “success” in your lifetime?
 
Our culture tends to define success in terms of wealth, possessions, and power. We’re bombarded by “get rich quick” schemes and star glamour. Forget the fact that some of history’s most miserable people have amassed great fortunes; WEALTH is easily the most common barometer of success.
 

Don’t believe it. Money does not buy happiness.

 
Consider the following quote first penned in the Lincoln Sentinel on November 30, 1905 by Bessie Stanley:
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”
 
Rather than basing your definition of success on monetary wealth, consider a more comprehensive definition, including how you applied your gifts to the betterment of others, the quality of your relationships with others, and the strength of your character. If you focus on these elements, rather than on wealth, power, and possessions, you’ll be much more likely to fulfill your life purpose and feel a genuine sense of satisfaction and success.
 
Whom do you consider to be the most successful people and why? Looking ahead, how will you define success in your life? Share this blog with the young adults in your life and ask them these questions; they make for great conversations! Then comment below and share your experiences and ideas with our online community; we’d love to hear from you!

Know Your Purpose, Live Your Passion

“Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.”

Washington Irving

 

Your life purpose is an incredibly powerful force that will direct your life and determine your legacy. Find a successful person who is content and fulfilled, and you’ll likely find a life guided by an inspired purpose or mission, and a person who has applied his or her God-given talents to a worthy cause.

 

In fact, without a strong sense of life purpose, even the most successful accomplishments can seem empty.

 
Knowing your life purpose–what makes you tick, what motivates you, what you are alive on earth to do–is what ignites passion. Passion inspires initiative and creativity. It builds momentum and creates enthusiasm. It also sustains hope and perseverance in difficult times, and provides a reason (and enthusiasm!) for getting out of bed every morning.
 
Life purposes can be cause-driven (e.g., curing a disease, educating disadvantaged youth, sheltering the homeless, cleaning the planet, protecting our country) or skill-driven (e.g., athletes, artists, mathematicians, designers). They also can evolve throughout your lifetime.
 
How can you discover your life purpose? Here are some questions to consider:

  • What causes (e.g., global or community needs, people, situations, organizations) am I most passionate about? What problems would I most like to solve? What needs or people tug at my heart?
  • What inspires me the most?
  • What brings me the greatest joy and fulfillment?
  • Whose lives would I most like to emulate and why?
  • What are my special gifts and talents?
  • Where can my skills have the greatest potential impact?

 
Once you ponder these questions, see if a picture emerges. Then, as that picture solidifies into an identifiable sense of purpose, calling, and passion, start thinking about how you can live it out.
 
Whatever you do, don’t set your life purpose on a shelf and forget about it. You are a unique individual with gifts, talents, and perspective only YOU can give to the world.  No amount of money, fame, or accomplishment can ever compete with that.
 
Someday, you’ll want to be able to look back on your life and say, “Mission accomplished!” What’s your mission? Are you living it out with purpose and passion?
 
 If you’re a parent or teacher, find out what the young adults in your life think about their life purpose. Share your comments below; we’d love to hear from you!