How to Conquer Career Anxiety (Part Two)

adult-black-and-white-black-and-white-440581In part one of this series, we shared the challenges many young adults are experiencing with their career selection decisions and some general tips. In this week’s blog, we offer some additional specific advice to high schoolers, college/vocational students, and graduates already in the early stages of their careers or who are seeking employment.

High Schoolers

In our visits with these students, we regularly hear concerns over the pressure to know what career/major to pursue, insecurity when peers seem further along, and the college for all messaging so common these days. Because teens are still discovering who they are, we believe these pressures are unfortunate and concerning. Parents and educators should be encouraging career curiosity and exploration without direct or indirect pressure “to know.”

Here are some specific suggestions for high school students:

  1. Focus on the process more than the outcome. This is a time to be “career curious” rather than placing undue pressure on making a formal decision. You are still developing a sense of self and haven’t even scratched the surface on the variety of careers that could be a good fit. You also haven’t taken advanced courses, which play a significant role in confirming or rejecting your initial leanings. And, remember, just because some of your friends have decided shouldn’t even be a consideration.So, use this time to take career surveys/assessments, visit job fairs, and talk with people who have jobs in the fields that may be of interest. Research companies and industries. Build your knowledge base ahead of time.
  2. Remember, a four-year college isn’t your only choice. There are many available careers that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree; these are often overlooked. Vocational school, the trades, and the military might be attractive options that fit who you are—and that are financially accessible.
  3. No, you don’t need an Ivy League university to succeed. So many students completely stress themselves out by thinking that being accepted into an elite school is their only ticket to success. Not true! Not by a long shot. There are many pathways you can take and schools that will punch your ticket. It’s much more important who you are than what undergraduate university you attended. Please take this to heart.
  4. Build your professional network. In today’s job market, candidates who know someone who works for the employer have a considerable advantage. Even if you are planning to attend a four-year college or pursue graduate school, the time to begin developing your network is now. Have your parents, relatives, friends, teachers, and mentors introduce you to people who are in interesting fields that may become your advocates. Your initiative will pay huge dividends in the future.

College/Vocational Students

The first few years of study involve taking a variety of courses to build your foundation and give you a flavor of some potential career options. However, this is but a small subset of course offerings and potential majors from which you can choose. Regardless, in order to finish in four years (assuming this is your plan), you’ll need to finalize your choice of major as you begin your junior year. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this decision in your first year. In many, if not most cases, you’ve not taken a sufficient variety of courses to make a truly informed decision. Here are some other tips:

  1. Be extremely intentional about the courses you take. Many students look for the “easy A courses” to pad their GPAs rather than selecting those with strategic, career benefits. Don’t squander your opportunities. The more relevant the courses, the greater your conviction will be when you declare your major.
  2. Be strategic about selecting your minor. Think of your major and minor as a strategic package. In many cases, your minor will be the field you go into!
  3. Don’t choose your major before talking with practitioners. Far too many students declare their major without the slightest idea of what the jobs are actually like. You simply cannot rely on your educators having intimate knowledge of the various jobs since most have primarily worked in academia. Actual practitioners can give you a much better perspective.
  4. Don’t compromise. It’s entirely common for collegians to change majors; that’s certainly a better option than settling on something you’re not interested in and excited about. If, after your courses and research, you conclude your major isn’t a fit, look for greener pastures.

 Graduates/Early Career Individuals

The level of disillusion we see in young adults within the first few years of graduation is significant. Most were not prepared for the difficulty with this transition, often because their educational institutions didn’t offer the assistance they needed. It is striking and disheartening to visit with graduates who thought their degree would somehow magically punch their ticket. We see this too much.

For the most part, their challenges relate to finding an interesting job in their major or liking the job they landed (and by default, the major they chose). Life in the real world can be a rude awakening. Here are some tips that can help:

For Job Seekers:

  1. Forget about perfection. Many young adults seeking employment are looking for the perfect job: always stimulating, well paying, great flexibility, convenient location, and with a meaningful impact on the world. And, when they don’t find it, they prefer to wait it out until one materializes. More often than not, it doesn’t. You may not find perfection, but you can still find something that will be satisfying if you loosen the reins a little.
  2. Get in the game. Related to the previous point, many companies don’t offer the exact position you’re looking for today, but something close. Figuratively speaking, if you can’t hit the bull’s eye in the dartboard, expand your search to the first ring or two around it. If you land it and do well, you’ll be well-positioned as an insider to compete for your dream job when the it becomes available. Remember, it often takes several steps before we hit the bull’s eye.
  3. Go where the jobs are. Depending on one’s career choice, there may or may not be positions available in your desired location. The bottom line is you need to go to where the jobs are rather than assume they will come to you.
  4. Evaluate your marketing and job searching. If you’re struggling to win job offers, consider having an independent professional review your resume, discuss your qualifications, and conduct a mock interview. A few tweaks to your marketing can be just the thing you need. Also, be sure you’re doing all you can to identify available positions. Many young adults aren’t taking full advantage of recruiting services/sites, and others are beating them to the punch. Finally, be sure to check whether you know any insiders of companies with interesting openings to see if they can advocate for you.

For Dissatisfied Workers

  1. Don’t expect your first position to be a dream job. Young people are idealistic and often struggle with motivation when it’s not always stimulating. Remember, your initial position may not be indicative of your dream job, but it’s still the right fit, and you need to prove yourself on each position. Have patience and do your best. . . the rest will take care of itself.
  2. But, it might not be a fit after all. No matter how much you enjoyed your courses, it doesn’t always mean that you’ll love it as a career. If, after a period of time you are highly dissatisfied, explore other options. You never want to get stuck in a career rut, and sometimes, it’s only after we experience a career that we determine whether it was truly a fit after all.

We hope you found this series helpful and invite you to share it with young people who may be experiencing these situations.

How to Conquer Career Anxiety (Part One)

adult-alone-anxiety-1161268Through the years, we have had numerous opportunities to mentor teens and young adults in the 16-24-age range regarding their careers. We see firsthand the stages of: 1) high schoolers getting a sense of their future career and plotting their education/training course, 2) college/vocational students who are finalizing their career decisions and are closer to entering the workforce, and 3) graduates who are experiencing the first few years of their careers (or job searches), now with a “taste” of the choices they made.

Although many are content and confident in their respective stages, others are anxious, concerned, or disillusioned. Here is a synopsis of the concerns we hear:

  • High School Students: “spooked” by peers who have already decided on their careers/majors (and, not realizing how many will eventually change their minds!), they feel insecure and stressed out when still undecided. Also, the “college for all” messaging is causing considerable anxiety and insecurity with students who are weighing other, better-fitting options.
  • College/Vocational Students: many are confused and unsettled about their final career/major selections, after taking courses and changing their minds. It is common for college students to switch majors multiple times, but each change produces anxiety. With each passing semester, pressure mounts to “bite the bullet” to avoid lengthening their studies.
  • Graduates/Early Career Individuals: many experience difficulty: 1) finding a job in their major (or at all), 2) knowing how to search for positions, and 3) being fulfilled in their job. Each has its unique challenges and frustrations, especially when job offers don’t materialize as expected.

If this sounds like you, or someone you know, please don’t lose hope. You’re in the early stage of a long journey, and with the right mindset and methods, you can enjoy tremendous career success. With that, we’d like to offer some encouragement and advice for each of these situations.

General Tips  

  1. Take charge of your career selection. Many young people are allowing others too much influence on their decisions. In the educator realm, this includes high school teachers, professors, and counselors who often lack direct knowledge of the private sector and the day-to-day aspects of different fields. Teens and young adults are highly impressionable at this stage and often defer too much to others who do not know them (or all the realistic career fits) sufficiently well to command such influence. Additionally, they are often swayed by friends who rarely possess sufficient knowledge to be very helpful; their advice is often counterproductive. Choosing a career/major needs to be among the best-researched decisions in life, and we, individually must take the lead role.
  2. Focus on selfawareness. No one knows you like you. Accordingly, your career selection requires a thorough understanding of self: your interests, skills and assets, personality, stressors, work environment preferences, income desires, and passions. Questions such as, “Who am I?” and “What do I have to offer?” are vitally important inputs to making a well-fitting career decision.
  3. Consider a variety of options. Although many young adults know with conviction what career they want to pursue, most don’t. Even if they think they know in high school, they often change their mind with the benefit of courses and more knowledge of other options. Sadly, some 40 percent of college graduates with Bachelor’s degrees regret their major (based on a recent Gallup survey)! All of this suggests that people aren’t researching their options thoroughly enough before committing. This is an unfortunate, and very expensive, regret.The solution is to research and evaluate several options with the aid of career assessments/surveys, job shadowing, internships, and conversations with those in your professional network. There is no substitute for talking with people in the fields you are considering. They are invaluable in providing they day-to-day perspectives of the job and the career path/qualifications required.
  4. Don’t forget to research industries and companies. Often, young adults select careers based primarily on their skills and courses and deemphasize the various industry options. For example, a graduate in accounting could work for a public accounting firm, a private or public company in any number of industries (e.g., banking, health care, technology), or a non-profit organization. Individuals are more fulfilled when their skills are used in specific fields and companies they’re excited about. So, in addition to skills assessments, be sure to explore different industries and employers via Career Clusters, libraries, Chambers of Commerce, suggestions from your network, internet searches, and career placement firms like Indeed. This research will help to select a better long-term fit.
  5. Evaluate employment prospects of different majors/careers. Far too many students are selecting their majors without thoroughly researching the corresponding job market. Post-secondary education is simply too expensive to select majors that don’t offer realistic employment prospects! Before committing to a specific field/major, obtain statistics from your educational establishment regarding the percent of graduates who landed full-time jobs in their field. Many many majors today have no realistic jobs at the end of the rainbow or are so general that it is extremely difficult for graduates to actually work in the fields they are pursuing! Understandably, this is a tremendous source of frustration and disillusionment for graduates who didn’t know any better. Educators need to step up their game in this regard! Big time.

In part two, we will provide specific recommendations to high schoolers, college/vocational students, and graduates employed or pursuing employment. We encourage you to share this series with the students, children, and mentees under your guidance.

13 Ways to Become More Likable

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Although Valentine’s Day is all about love, this week we’re taking it down a notch to celebrate like—specifically, likeability! Of course, love makes the world go round, but it’s true that likeability is a true hallmark of a successful person! It’s an especially valuable social skill to nurture in our teens, mentees, and students. In fact, when it comes to landing a job, the likeability factor is often the deal breaker in who receives the offer (and even who wins the Presidential election!).

For some, likeability comes naturally; for others, not so much—especially when they enter new environments like college and career settings and social gatherings. Whether it’s from inexperience, nervousness, low self-confidence, or inadequate training, many struggle with social awkwardness (e.g., withdrawing, coming on too strong, demonstrating poor manners, and being blind to the social cues of others). Unfortunately, these tendencies can overshadow the otherwise great qualities of a person.

We’ve all been in challenging social settings where we feel insecure, overshadowed, or underprepared, and it’s never fun. But, the good news is that likeability skills can be learned with proper training and experience (or life application). To that end, I came across an excellent article written by Travis Bradberry at Forbes.com, “13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People,” which you can access here.

Here’s a list of his 13 habits, which I think are spot on:

  1. They ask questions
  2. They put away their phones
  3. They are genuine
  4. They don’t pass judgment
  5. They don’t seek attention
  6. They are consistent
  7. They use positive body language
  8. They leave a strong first impression
  9. They greet people by name
  10. They smile
  11. They know when to open up
  12. They know who to touch (and they touch them)
  13. They balance passion and fun

I encourage you to read the entire article as Travis elaborates on these important behaviors. If you are an educator, parent, or mentor, these make for fabulous small group discussions and (especially) role plays. Practice situations where students act out each of these 13 habits—both positively and negatively. Also, have your students make a list of unlikeable qualities to highlight the differences. These will not only train them how to model likeability (while avoiding unlikable behaviors!), but it will also build awareness of important social cues like body language, eye contact, facial expressions, language choice, and more.

After reviewing this list, did you notice some important underlying themes? Here are some we found: 1) focusing more on others than yourself, 2) being authentic rather than trying to impress the other person, 3) demonstrating positivity, and 4) being respectful. All are great themes to remember.

Likeability is a huge factor in successful relationship building. Often, likeability is the key that will land someone their first date, win the job offer, or help them make a new friend in homeroom. Although it shouldn’t be our life goal to make everyone like us (or to ever worry about what they’re thinking about us), likeability focuses on being warm, friendly, and mastering social skills.

What additions would you make to the list?

Our Top Ten Mentoring Themes

american-best-friends-blond-hair-1574650.jpgIn the cold of winter, few things warm our hearts more than celebrating National Mentoring Month. For those of you who are working or volunteering in this vital role, we salute you. One of the most powerful factors influencing the health, well-being, and hope of young people is having a caring mentor in their lives. Thank you for being that person to love and coach them toward a brighter future.

At LifeSmart, we are often asked by mentors what are the most important life lessons to impart to their mentees. Since our book, What I Wish I Knew at 18, has 109 life success pointers, this isn’t an easy question for us to answer! Nonetheless, after giving it some careful thought, we came up with our top ten list. Whether you’re a mentor or parent, teacher, or coach, we hope these ideas will make an impact as you guide and influence young people.

  1. You’re in the driver’s seat. There is a saying that life is what you make of it, and it’s so true. No matter our backgrounds or circumstances, our hard work and initiative will make all the difference. So, make it happen, don’t wait for it to happen. #lifeisuptoyou

  2. Character and attitude matter more than you’d think. Young people often think success is all about smarts, wealth, or circumstances. Don’t buy it. In the long-term, their values and soft skills will matter more. So, help them build a strong personal brand with qualities like integrity, high standards, dependability, resilience, relational skill, work ethic, positivity, kindness, respectfulness, gratitude, and humility. #morethansmarts

  3. Surround yourself with positivity. Every influence, whether friends, music, books, or media has a positive, neutral, or negative impact on our lives. It pays to emphasize the positive and minimize the negative and to be aware of which is what. When it comes to friend selection, emphasize quality over quantity by focusing on people who share their interests and values. #bechoosy

  4. Get to really know yourself. The teen years are consumed with busyness, change, pressures, and key decisions. Unfortunately, they often sail through life without truly understanding themselves—like ships without a rudder. By building self-awareness in areas such as their assets, values, personality, interests, and passions, you can help them build self-confidence and a positive vision for their life. #selfdiscoveryiskey

  5. Success requires vision and There are dreamers and there are achievers. Buoyed by “you can be anything” messages, young people often assume their dreams will naturally, somehow, come true. Disillusion naturally follows when reality hits. Help them turn their dreams into goals, their goals into plans, and their plans into actions and you will make a huge difference. #lifetakeswork
  6. Time is precious, so use it wisely. The older we get, the more valuable is our time. Successful people carefully manage their time, focus on their priorities, and avoid distractions to the extent possible. Today, technology and screen time are presenting innumerable challenges to effective time management. Help them control technology, rather than allowing it to control them. #guardyourtime

  7. Give everything your best. Whether it’s our biggest project or smallest task, having high standards and putting forth our best effort are signs of a true leader. This is especially true when we’re part of a team and others are depending on us. We may not always win, but we can always hold our head high when we give it our best. #allintowin

  8. Develop a growth mindset. Although we can never guarantee a positive outcome, we can work to get a little better every day. This includes our knowledge, wisdom, skills, character, health, and relationships. A key ingredient is committing to be a lifelong learner. Growth is a sure momentum builder. #onwardandupward

  9. Deal constructively with adversity and disappointments. Life is filled with bumps and potholes, often outside of our control. Unfortunately, many mentees face challenging life circumstances and often, family dysfunction. Help them understand that adversity happens to all of us, that it grows our character and our value, to take one day at a time and work the problem, to keep the faith and a maintain a positive attitude, to tap into their support system, and to pursue healthy stress relievers. #youcandoit

  10. Life is about love. No doubt about it. The key ingredient to a happy and fulfilling life of positive impact is love. How well do we demonstrate love to others? Do we love and take care of ourselves? Do we love what we do? Do we love the journey and not just our wins? Do we love and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us? And, if we’re a person of faith, do we love God, too? What if success was measured in units of love? It would change the world! #livetolove

Well, there you have it. . . our ten best list. We hope these stimulate great conversations with the young people under your guidance and that they are inspired to take them to heart.

Keep up the great work! We’d love to hear your ideas, too.

 

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

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Welcome back to part two of this series, “What I Wish I Knew Before College.” I hope you’re enjoying this opportunity to focus on your goals during this time in your life, and to consider how to make the most out of your college experience. Hopefully this is a great resource for teens, college freshmen or seniors, and also for those who are the parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches guiding them. In case you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

This week, I’d like to focus on some other aspects of post-high school education that aren’t usually talked about beforehand, but will give you a broader understanding of what’s to come.

If you’re religious, you might come to question aspects of your faith.
 My spiritual beliefs were a big part of my life when I started university. I went to a Christian liberal arts college, and I half-expected some of my classes to feel a bit like Sunday school. Boy, was I wrong! College completely rocked my entire faith system and forced me to question WHY I believe what I believe. One of the greatest takeaways from my college experience was that I built a strong foundation for my personal spiritual values, and learned to not just believe in them because my parents told me they were true. (You’ll soon learn—“because my parents said”—is not necessarily a sufficient reason to believe anything! Sorry, parents! We still love you!)

Even if you aren’t religious, you’ll learn that asking WHY in regards to your long-held suppositions will benefit you greatly in life. By digging deeper into your beliefs and worldview (as well as sharing with fellow students of different views), you will build a stronger  foundation of knowledge, confidence, and truth to sustain you in life.

This is the only time in your life that you’ll live footsteps away from a gym and your membership will be free. The “freshman 15” is not a myth, and no one is immune! When you don’t have class or studying to do, make physical health a priority and utilize the resource of your school’s free student athletic center. Or, look into joining an intramural sports team (what a great way to make new friends!). When you’re 30, you’ll thank your younger self for staying active.

Don’t carve your major and minor choices in stone before you start school. If you told me in high school that I wouldn’t end up majoring in what I was convinced I was going to major in, I never would have believed you. Guess what? I changed my major twice, and that’s the norm!  It may sound cliché, but keep an open mind. If you’re in college already as a freshman, hopefully you are taking a wide variety of classes to really nail down what piques your interest (and your talent). Also, don’t be surprised if your anticipated major loses its appeal when you begin taking upper level courses and, especially, speak with people who are in the field you’re considering. It happens all the time.
I hope these insights help you, or the teens under your influence, navigate this special time in life. Stay tuned for next week when I will share the final installment in this three-part series.


What do you wish you knew before you started college or career? If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Four Words for Our Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our Best Tips for Avoiding Miscommunication (and its aftermath!)

can-chat-chatting-362.jpgIn today’s technology-based world, much of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook and Instagram (and all the other apps and platforms out there), we are less likely than ever to have a conversation in person! Not only does this apply to our personal relationships, but professional connections, too. Now, people have the ability to work remotely, which means much of their interaction with coworkers, bosses, and clients is carried out technologically (through e-mail, text, phone calls, and FaceTime/Skype calls). Needless to say, we can all use a brush-up on our in-person communication skills—because, sometimes a text message or DM just won’t cut it.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. How many times have you accidentally offended someone or taken offense to something because of a simple miscommunication? When it happens, it can be a disaster. That’s why crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers and co-workers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three things in mind:
 
1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (politics, anyone?). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative or aggressive language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.  

2. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

Judging by the harsh rhetoric we are witnessing today, many are under the delusion that shouting down others will persuade them to change their views. But, when people resort to this, it is often a reflection of emotions, rather than objective thinking. By their actions, they’re not interested in having a conversation.

3. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you simply can’t control it.

In short, here are six ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and prevent needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize down the road):

  1. Be sure your expressions (body language, countenance) are in sync with what you’re saying. 
  2. Think before you speak (remember the goal is accurate understanding).
  3.  Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position.
  4. Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  5. Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings.
  6. Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Note to parents and teachers: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

How do your in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

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.

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.