Stop Comparing; Change the World

I often hear from young people that they feel dissatisfied with their lives. They report feeling lost, unnoticed, and hard-done-by, and that everyone else seems to have it better than them. And exactly where are they perceiving these messages from, you might ask? Social media.

With social media (sadly) being the chief influencer of millennials, many teens and young adults find themselves comparing themselves to “Instagram celebrities,” and therefore feeling inadequate for not measuring up. Of course, we all know that “social media isn’t real,” but it can in fact be very hard for some people to separate what they see on Facebook or Instagram from reality. They are constantly bombarded with images of success, wealth, unattainable body ideals, and other unrealistic expectations. They’re left feeling lost, unworthy, and searching for a meaning that nothing on social media will ever give them.

If you have a teen or college student in your life (or if you are one yourself), I encourage you to share this message with them.

The times in my life when I have experienced pure joy and fulfillment have been when I did things that had a lasting impact on other people. Not when I lost a certain amount of weight, not when I bought a new car, not when I bought a whole new wardrobe, not when one of my posts was liked by hundreds of people, and not when I had a certain number of friends (online or in real life).

It’s crucial for young people to understand that true joy comes from doing good for others and using their gifts and talents to impact the world for the better. It most certainly won’t come by comparing yourself to social media stars or to the most popular students in your class. .

To the young people, I urge you: your time is now. Now is the time to serve others and impact the world. If you want to experience meaning and ultimate joy, turn off your smart phone and aim to make your life a living legacy by using the best that you, uniquely, have to offer. In this way, you’ll see your impact firsthand while inspiring others in the process. And, you’ll be changed for the better, too!

If you are finding comparison hanging over your life like a dark cloud, find a cause you’re passionate about or an issue you believe needs addressing, and chase after it. In this blog post, you will find some tips for discovering what inspires you and how to make your impact..

What opportunities will you pursue today to invest in others and help make life a little (or a lot) better for someone else? Strike while the iron is hot, and start building your legacy.

Remember, what you see on social media will ebb and flow. Trends and celebrities will change, but your legacy is what will last forever. Don’t wait to change the world!

How to Start Treating Your Teen Like a (Real) Grown-Up

Parents: how many times have you heard your teen say, You treat me like a kid!” How many times have you responded, “Well, it’s because you act like one!”?

Teens are constantly and increasingly tugging at the reins, wanting more and more slack. When teens ask to be treated like adults, what they’re really wanting are the privileges of adulthood. A car. Money in their pockets. Decision-making authority. Autonomy. Unfortunately, because of the nature of childhood (immaturity) and the tendency of some parents to rescue, pamper, and enable— that day never comes (or doesn’t come soon enough).

Have you ever wondered, when I am SUPPOSED to start giving them more leash?

The reality is most teens are ready for more responsibility than we give them and need opportunities to exercise it. Adults have extra rights and privileges that kids look forward to enjoying and usually want now. But remember that for adults, those privileges are usually attached to responsibility. For example:

  1. I have a car (privilege). I must earn money to fill the tank and pay the insurance and maintenance (responsibility).
  2. I can stay up (or out) as late as I want to, every night (privilege). However, I have children who need to be off to school early in the mornings, and a busy daily schedule that requires me to have enough sleep to be in top form (responsibility).
  3. I can make any decision I want to (privilege). However, I have a spouse and children (and neighbors, employers, coworkers, friends) whose lives and happiness are influenced by my decisions. Sometimes, what I want to do is outweighed by what honors and benefits others (responsibility).

What children need to understand is that privileges, in the real world, are attached to responsibilities. If we give them the privileges, but don’t require responsibility, we set them up for an entitlement mentality—and for struggles in the real world. Folks, this is a pervasive issue.

So, the next time your teen tells you he or she wants to be treated like an adult, do it! Treat him or her like a real adult—not just with privileges, though. Make sure there are responsibilities to go with them and explain the connection. You don’t need to give up full control all at once. But, you can start by requiring them to do things like:

  • Contribute to their own income by getting a job (or babysitting, etc.)
  • Buy their own car (or make a significant contribution to it) and pay for all or most of their gas
  • Make their own appointments (dentist, doctor, hair, etc.). Encourage them, as much as is appropriate and realistic, to go to the appointment themselves, fill out the paperwork, etc.
  • Do their own laundry and make their lunch
  • Clean up the house before and after they entertain friends.

If you are a parent who draws a great deal of identity and personal fulfillment from doing things for your children, it can be difficult to change your habits. You may feel like you’re being mean. But, if you want to set them up well for the launch and equip them to be happy, healthy, functioning, and successful adults, it must happen. It will pay huge dividends in the long run to start moving now to the passenger seat and becoming more of a cheerleader/coach as your teen learns to operate in the driver’s seat of his or her life.

 

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Four

Millennials—you’ve probably heard some pretty strong statements about them. “No work ethic, too dependent on their parents, irresponsible, addicted to technology…” But in this four-part series, I’ve been addressing what steps we can take as parents, secondary educators, and college educators, to better equip them for a long line of success. And today, I’d like to talk to those on the fourth leg of the relay race—our employers. (If you missed the first three parts in this series, you can find the links to them below.)

Employers, I take it you’ve already received a few new, younger workers from parents, high schools, colleges/vocational schools, etc. Some of your new hires have arrived well prepared with the skills and attitudes you value, while others are lacking. It’s with these latter cases that many of today’s unflattering stereotypes about Millennials are being formed.

I know some of you have even resorted to specialized management training to deal with interfering parents of young employees. Many of you are also experimenting with ways to help your more experienced staff members relate to incoming “needy” Millennial co-workers. Some workplace consultants are even advising companies to adapt in all kinds of (often unorthodox) ways order to accommodate/pacify Millennials—as if they arrived from some other planet. Yes, it’s come this far. How sad.

What to do? Here are some recommendations that can serve all employees, including Millennials, in your workplace:

  1. Build a contagious culture of excellence with high expectations and standards for all. Develop an inspiring mission, vision, and values statement with the input of employees. Then, through relational management, set each employee up for success by defining excellence on the job and coaching employees to achieve it. Management should be invested in the success of each employee, providing feedback and guidance along the way. While less experienced employees have a longer learning curve ahead, workplace standards should not be compromised for them. Nor should invaluable constructive feedback be withheld because of a coddling view that they can’t take it. Let them rise to the occasion. Most will.
  2. Incorporate mentoring as a part of new employee training. One of the quickest ways to workplace success is tapping into the wisdom of experienced and highly valued employees through personal relationships. A mentor program, where younger employees are paired with seasoned personnel, is an invaluable asset for onboarding, professional growth, and network building. It will also help reduce the generation gap among older and younger employees.
  3. Partner with schools and colleges in your community to offer real world perspectives from the workplace. Since many students lack the work experience our generation enjoyed decades ago, insights from the professional community can be especially beneficial in filling the gap. Also, your company and area students will benefit tremendously from an internship program.

 

This article was intended to call out some of the issues we are facing regarding the training of our young people for life success. Because so many parties are involved—parents, primary and secondary educators, colleges, and employers to name a few—it’s a complicated subject. Evidence indicates that we’re missing some key training components, in part because of a mistaken notion that someone else is covering the territory. Our young adults are bearing the brunt.

Excessive coddling is also taking its toll. The pendulum has swung from the “sink or swim” parenting mentality in my generation to one of overprotection and control today. We need to restore a healthy balance.

Our younger generation has so much to offer. With holistic, relevant, and sustainable training methods that cover all the bases, guided by an attitude of empowerment, they will soar. Let’s all do our best in making this happen.

If you missed the first three parts in this series, you can access the article in its entirety here, in our resource center.

 

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Three

Our nation’s colleges and universities have a powerful, two-fold influence on preparing young adults for life success. On one hand, they play a role as receiver of our high school graduates. On the other hand, after four plus years of educational effort, they serve as senders of their graduates to employers, communities, and independent life. They’re rather like the third leg of the relay race from parents to schools to colleges to employers.

The implications of this positioning are profound. College educators, via their admissions criteria, have an enormous influence on the high school agenda, especially in the area of course requirements. They are the proverbial tail wagging the dog when it comes to high school academic programs. Frankly, I believe this is an undue, and not always beneficial, influence.  Academicians, who often lack work experience outside of the classroom, are setting the agenda. Based on their actions, they seem to undervalue practical leadership/life skills training (e.g., personal finance) that is so relevant to students. Otherwise you’d see these courses reflected in their admission requirements! Not surprisingly, high schools design their course menus to satisfy the demands of colleges. That’s an issue. I would argue, a big issue.

Secondly, college course offerings and their own graduation requirements are often lacking in practical life training. Rather, their first few years emphasize traditional academic subjects that are often redundant from high school, and irrelevant to life after college for many students. In other words, college course requirements appear disconnected from their role in preparing students for independent living. This is also a big issue.

Thirdly, colleges are often shortchanging students in the area of employability and job acquisition. Despite their massive investment, students are not always required to take career readiness and job search courses to help them achieve a positive return on their college experience. Today’s graduates are increasingly ill prepared to navigate today’s recruitment process. If colleges aren’t accountable for this training, who is?

Several of my recommendations to colleges echo what I shared in my thoughts for high schools. However, because of the unique positioning of our colleges in preparing young adults for real life, others are specifically directed toward them.

 

  1. Apply my points 1-3 and 5-7 from the secondary school educators’ recommendation list to your college/university institution. Unlike the high school setting, the next step for most college graduates is a well-suited career. Accordingly, this should have significant ramifications on college programs, rather than predominantly focusing on academics for academics’ sake. However, based on employer feedback, this is not generally the case. I encourage colleges to allow employers to command a voice on this topic to do a better job of representing the end users receiving your graduates. Invite them to share in your classrooms—to offer valuable perspectives outside of the academic bubble. Most importantly, solicit their views on what constitutes a well prepared graduate for life and reflect their perspectives in your program. Just as your views are influencing the secondary school agenda, so should employers be influencing yours.
  1. Focus more on leadership and life-relevant training and (comparatively) less on redundant core requirements that are often found in high school. While a broad-based educational foundation is important, far too much of the college experience (and dollar!) is devoted to courses that are simply not as relevant or practically beneficial to students. The opportunity cost is too great.
  2. Completely revisit the academic admissions requirements imposed on our high schools. Aside from a base of core academics, it would better serve all students to incorporate leadership and practical life training to a greater degree. (Does anyone really believe that a two-to-three-year foreign language requirement for high school students is more important to life than financial literacy?!? Yet, the former is usually required, and we’re silent on the latter.)
  3. Assume greater accountability for student career success. All colleges and universities should be required provide success measures of their graduates in landing a job (both within and outside of their major). This would not only be beneficial to families in the college search process, but it would also help students in selecting their major. (Wouldn’t it be helpful to know the percent of students who landed a job in each major?) Also, students should be required to take a comprehensive career-readiness course involving career exploration, qualification, marketing, and excelling. With the lack of jobs for youth and young adults, many are entering the workforce extremely green. All colleges should seek partnerships with area businesses to offer students real-world perspectives, internships, and recruitment for future jobs. The bottom line: colleges need to take more ownership in providing graduates with a significant return on their sizable investment.
  4. Dispense with the political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, segregated dorms, and disrespectful guest speaker treatment/disinvitations. These efforts merely delay students’ ability to relate/communicate with others, resolve conflict, problem solve, handle adversity, and respectfully consider differing views and perspectives. Unfortunately, this heightened form of coddling has become routine on campuses, and it will only inhibit your students’ ability to navigate life. (Thank you Dr. John Edison, Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, for your example.)

I truly believe that if we all made a conscious and concerted effort to make some changes, we would see the next generation thrive. Isn’t that something we all want to see?

You can access parts one and two of this series here and here, or, you can read the full article in our resource center.

 

 

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Two

It’s not uncommon to hear negative generalizations about today’s young adults (AKA millennials). There’s a lot of blaming going around, but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what our role might be? Or, what improvements we can make to their training? Today’s post is part two in our four-part series about equipping and fostering success in young people, with a special message to secondary school educators. If you missed our post for parents earlier in the week, you can find it here. Or, you can access the entire article at the bottom of this post.

Today’s secondary schools face enormous challenges in covering all the bases and setting students up for life success. In addition to their core education efforts, our teachers also deal with tremendous regulatory demands and increasingly fragmented families. As a former school board chair and educator, I honor their tireless investment in our younger generation.

Importantly, our secondary educators play a vital role in preparing their graduates for college, career, and life. So, it’s appropriate to consider their influence on the general state of our young adults. In doing so, I’ll approach it as an advocate for two key constituencies: the students themselves and the institutions receiving their graduates (most notably, colleges and employers).

Importantly, secondary students are not in a position to advocate for themselves, and they assume they are receiving the education and training they need for life. And, why not? Meanwhile, our colleges and employers assume their students will arrive prepared for college, career, and life. Again, why not?

However, it is clear from our weak college graduation statistics and the feedback from universities and employers, that these assumptions are often erroneous. Far too many students are dropping out and/or lacking the basic skills that employers are seeking. So, while many students are book smart, signs are they’re not always life smart. This is a predictable outcome when leadership development and practical training occupy a secondary role in our schools.  In too many cases, student training is neither holistic nor sustainable.

With all that in mind, I respectfully offer the following recommendations to secondary school educators who are serving our today’s students today and tomorrow’s collegians and employees:

  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive vision for a well-prepared graduate for life. My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Begin with the end in mind.” Importantly, it applies just as much to organizations (like schools) as it does to people. However, in my years of speaking at schools and conferences, I have never witnessed more than 10% of the audience state that their school has defined a well-prepared graduate. Never. This is an urgent priority because it frames everything. What skills, character attributes, and knowledge do our graduates need to succeed in life? That our employers and universities desire? We must know this.
  2. Create the necessary pathways and programs to implement this vision for all This will likely involve new courses, reprioritization, and integration of concepts (e.g., leadership).
  3. Require leadership and life skills courses for all students. These courses, often under the purview of FCS and CTE (Family/Consumer Science and Career and Technical Education) are simply too important to be considered electives. In addition to leadership and character skill building, all students should receive practical education in post-secondary preparation, career readiness, communication and relationship building, financial management, citizenship, manners, and self awareness. We can no longer assume that our students are learning these vital skills at home. (In too many cases they are not!) This will likely involve some reprioritization of other courses to make room for these essential topics. The keywords are “holistic,” “relevant,” and “sustainable.”
  4. Dispense with the “college or bust” mentality. The significant first-year college dropout rate reveals the unintended consequence of an overemphasis on college as the immediate next step. For many high school students, other options such as employment, vocational schools, community college, trade schools, a gap year, and military or service are better fitting options. These are not “second rate” choices.
  5. Prepare all students for a professional environment. Among the biggest complaints about today’s younger workers involve their casual written and oral communications and manners. Clearly, this is an adverse consequence of today’s tech-laden world. Communication is such a success driver in life, and, it deserves to be a greater priority in our schools. Also, courses in entrepreneurship, that would expose students to all aspects of managing an organization, would be beneficial. While the latest rage is STEM (or is it STEAM…?), it’s important to recognize that most jobs, even in those types of organizations, do NOT require advanced math and technical degrees. Let’s remember that as we develop our course menus and requirements.
  6. Promote leadership and character, and reward students accordingly. So often, academics and athletics command the greatest award attention in our schools. Ask most employers and they’ll gladly prefer a 3.5 GPA with great character to a 3.9 with little else. How many leadership and character awards are offered in your school?
  7. Cease with the grade inflation. This form of coddling proves to be a short-lived source of self esteem when students face the reality of competitive environments like college and the workplace. Let’s be honest, we’re doing them no favors.

 

Teachers, we are so grateful for you and your tireless efforts. Keep up the good work as we all work together and learn from each other, mastering our roles as “next generation equippers.”

 

Next week we will address this topic with college/university educators, as well as employers. If you’re interested in gaining access to all four parts of the article, you can find it here.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part One

Like most of you, I hate stereotypes and generalizations. They’re unfair and usually do more harm than good. It’s why I’m not a fan of “bucketizing” people into this/that gender/age/ethnicity/economic/religious/political category. To me, the main “fruit” of these efforts is disunity.

But, at the risk of not taking my own advice, I’d like to weigh in on the conversation about a group that is perhaps more stereotyped than any these days. . . Millennials. Having raised two of our own and as an author/publisher/mentor/educator devoted to training up our next generation, I feel a special bond toward them. But, judging by what I read and hear, it’s as though their foreheads are etched with a “scarlet M.”

You’ve likely heard their negative labels: entitled, lazy, fragile, impatient, narcissistic, distractible, relationally challenged, needful, and the like. Hopefully, you’ve also heard the positive: passionate, creative, connected, entrepreneurial, idealistic, and globally minded. (As a product of the Sixties and Seventies, it makes me wonder what was said about us!)

But, here’s the deal: IF some of the negative stereotypes of Millennials have some merit, I don’t believe it’s only (or even primarily) because of them. Much of that responsibility lies with us—the generation that has parented and trained them. By all accounts, we are not equipping them as fully as we should—not parents, not schools, and in some cases, not employers. We’re also struggling to let go. Big time!

Too often, instead of releasing eagles to soar with confidence, we’re releasing young adults that we continue to control, coddle, or inadequately equip. Generally speaking, we’re not providing the practical, relevant, holistic training they need to succeed in adult life, and it’s showing. I believe this is attributable to several factors: 1) parents and educators assuming the other is covering the training (e.g., finance, soft skills) so it falls through the cracks, 2) consequences of the breakdown of the American family, and 3) educators focusing more on training the mind than the whole person for adulthood. It’s no wonder that the stage of adolescence continues to grow. And grow.

That’s on us. And, we need to do better. For them.

So, for the rest of this blog series, I’ll be offering my recommendations—to parents, secondary school educators, colleges, and employers—to help set our younger generation up for real world success. Due to space limitations, it’s an incomplete view, so I’ll focus on my best ideas.

In this first post, I’ll address my thoughts to parents. After that, I’ll concentrate on secondary school and college educators, and finally, employers. We all have a stake in this game. I’m sure you can add to my ideas, and you might even disagree with some of my views. I welcome your contributions. That’s what makes it a conversation!

 

To Parents:

We all want our children to be happy and successful, but sometimes we get in their own way. In fact, discussions with those receiving our high school graduates (e.g., universities and employers) reveal the downside of helicoptering, performance parenting, excessive coddling, and absentee parenting: students struggling with self confidence and coping with the demands of adulthood. Consequently, parents are calling professors to complain about grades. Parents are calling employers to complain about their “kids” being overworked and underpaid. Parents are even coming to job interviews! Many parents are so invested in their children’s success that they won’t let go. Is it any wonder so many young adults are having difficulty growing up?

With that, here are some suggestions for raising our parenting bar and releasing a new generation of well-prepared and confident leaders:

  1. Adopt an empowering parenting vision and mindset: what if we replaced “raising children” with “raising future adults?” This mindshift can make a world of difference. In our book on this topic, Parenting for the Launch, we call it, “giving them wings, not strings” and “moving from driver seat to passenger seat.”
  2. Emphasize character and “soft skills” over performance. Success in career and life requires a solid leadership foundation made up of qualities like integrity, reliability, high standards, kindness, respect, other-centeredness, work ethic, humility, positivity, and manners. It also requires attributes like self control, resilience, interpersonal skill, decision-making, time management, and communication. These are sustainable leadership qualities. Where are we placing our emphasis?
  3. Invest in your relationship. It takes both quality and quantity time to build a relationship that endures. “I didn’t spend enough time with my children” is an all-too-common regret you never want to experience! Stay fully engaged.
  4. Surround them with positive influences and adult role models and mentors. Use every opportunity to introduce them to great people! These invaluable third party voices offer friendship, wisdom, and connections to help grow their network. It also builds communication skills and respect for adults.
  5. Help them build self awareness. In the teen and young adult years, it’s critical to understand one’s assets, nature, and passions. Parents can contribute valuable insights that instill vision, belief, hope, and a sense of value.
  6. Encourage them to stretch themselves and take risks, even if they may not succeed. Help them embrace new experiences and challenges. Regardless of the outcome, winning is in the journey. Build a “Go for it!” attitude..
  7. Limit their use of technology and impose tech-free zones during family times. Be highly attentive to the addictive tendencies of technology, especially if it starts to affect their relationships, communication, and productivity.  And, don’t let devices and TV serve as a “babysitter.”
  8. Be strategic about preventing some of the common stereotypes. That means promoting a strong work ethic (chores help!), instilling other centeredness (volunteering for the less fortunate), learning to accept constructive feedback, being able to build authentic relationships, developing their ability to problem solve and handle disappointments and conflict, and teaching them how to communicate professionally with adults.
  9. Resist the temptation to solve their problems and manage their performance. These are self confidence destroyers that hamper decision-making and can create co-dependence.

 

If you are the parent of a millennial—what steps have you taken to help make them more “real world ready?” Are there any tips or pointers you would add to this list?

Later this week, I will be addressing my recommendations to secondary educators (with two more parts in the series coming next week!). I’m excited to share this blog series with you and hope you’ll continue to read on and engage as we discuss our roles in equipping the next generation for success!

If you’re interested in accessing the entire article (how we as parents, high school teachers, college professors, and employers can help equip millennials for success) in one place, you can find it in our resource center here.

Finding That Job!

One of the greatest unknowns for college students is predicting what the job market will be like when they graduate. After all, it’s four years down the road and lots can change in the meantime. The answer will be based on the state of the economy and the supply and demand picture for their career choice. Unfortunately, these factors are simply outside of our control.

Even if a young person’s path doesn’t include college, they’ll still be facing this kind of uncertainty. If the unemployment rate is low, chances are they’ll have little difficulty landing a good job. If it’s high, who knows how long it could take? Plus, they’ll have to work that much harder just to get their foot in the door.

So, how can all of us help? What are ways parents, educators, mentors and friends can help young people find the jobs they’re looking for—and progress once they find them?
Young adults need to be savvier and more competitive than ever to find, land, and advance in the jobs of today’s work place. Here are some suggestions you can share to help position them for a thriving career:

1. Use your existing networks. No matter how talented we are, we all need people who will go to bat for us, both personally and professionally. Their invaluable assistance can take the form of introductions and connections, references and advocacy, decision-making in our favor, an information source, or general help. They help us gain access to strategically important people. It’s like having our very own sales force!

The employment recruitment process has changed night and day since I was younger. Nowadays, it’s all about online applications that seem to disappear into the proverbial black hole—it’s SO impersonal and frustrating. Somehow, some way, our application needs to stand out. No doubt about it, the best way is to have an insider advocating on our behalf. It adds a measure of dependability and reassurance to the hiring manager, and that’s huge. It may not land us the job, but it helps get us into the game.

2. Broaden your base of employment prospects. Spread your net wide. Talk to others in your field. Read trade journals and industry bulletins, blogs, and newsletters. What’s going on in your industry of choice and where are the jobs? There are likely companies for which you could work that you haven’t even considered. My editor’s son is a land use planner who works for a county government. He recently discovered that a large aircraft manufacturer in our state regularly hires land use planners. He was surprised; he’d never even considered the thought of working for a company like that. Now that he knows, it’s an avenue he plans to pursue in his next steps.

3. Be flexible with respect to location. This point is short but important. Many times you’ll have to go to the job; it won’t come to you. The more flexible you can be about this, the more marketable you are.

4. Develop your competitive edge. Our world is much more competitive than ever before. Our economy has become service-oriented and knowledge-based, which has changed everything. Now, you have to demonstrate something special (i.e, skills, experiences, and achievements) in order to land the job and advance in your career. Together, these make up your competitive edge. Consider what would stand out about you to future employers during your eventual job search. Go the extra mile to become better qualified through experiences and continuing education. If you’re lacking a skill or a professional qualification, attack it with full force! Demonstrate an attitude of continuous improvement and a commitment to excellence. Show results and impact. Create great personal stories that will inspire employers. If you don’t, remember that someone else will—and they’ll wind up with your job or promotion!

This is only part of the picture! Join us next week for part two of this blog: How to Market Yourself and Move Ahead in Your Career Field.

How have you found and moved ahead in your job(s)? Do you think things are easier, harder, or the same for young adults in today’s job market? How can we help encourage students in finding and landing the right jobs? We’d love to hear your thoughts?