This V-day, Believe in Your Teens Unconditionally

affection-dad-daytime-960829Have you ever had someone believe in you more than you believed in yourself?  How did that make you feel? It probably made you feel like you could take on the world (or whatever situation you faced at the time). That is how powerful unbridled belief from others can be.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the world is ablaze with talk about romance, kind gestures, and LOVE. At LifeSmart, we believe that believing unconditionally in someone is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate love.

Many successful people also point to their parents’ or guardian’s belief in them as the driving force behind their success. They believe that if their parents hadn’t been confident in them from the get-go, they wouldn’t be in the same place today. I am precisely one of those people, and I will be forever grateful for my parents’ unconditional love and belief in me (even if I may not have always felt deserving). It helped more times than I can count—including when I dropped a full grade point on my GPA during my first year of college versus high school. I remember how this caused me to question whether I was college material. However, I was sustained by their belief in me and turned things around the remainder of my academic career.

Teachers are also in a special position to demonstrate belief and affirmation in their students. I remember being one of the shortest boys in 8th grade, and this sometimes affected my self-confidence. I’ll never forget when my favorite teacher, Mr. Wulgeart, wrote the following in my yearbook, “Denny, there’s a saying that good things come in small packages. I think you prove that saying.” That meant the world to me.

Do your children (or other young people in your life) know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them unconditionally and believe in them unequivocally? Do they know that you see them as talented, worthy, and brimming with potential? Make certain they do rather than assume they do. It is a tremendous asset for teens to be surrounded by adults who believe in them—who can affirm their uniqueness and value. This Valentine’s Day, make sure your belief in them is an inner voice, encouraging them to dream big and persevere through life’s challenges.

Your child, mentee, or student will make his or her share of mistakes along the way (I know I sure did!).  But having the benefit of unconditional acceptance and belief from you will soften those blows and provide a safety net they can always count on.

Not so sure how to let them know you’re their biggest fan? Here are some ideas:

  • Be upfront. Whether it’s at a meal, during a tutoring session, or after a class, be willing to open up. Tell them that you believe in them (and why). Call out some of their greatest assets and character traits. Don’t just compliment them for their achievements; look for opportunities to appreciate their most admirable qualities and when they do something kind.
  • Write them an affirming letter or note. Stick a note in their lunchbox, or if you’re a teacher, consider putting a sticky note on one of their assignments. Knowing you went to the effort to do that will speak volumes to them!
  • Be generous with your time. What says, “I believe in you” more than carving out time in your busy schedule to do things they will enjoy?
  • Let them overhear a compliment you make to another.
  • Speak from experience. Share your own downfalls, mistakes, and past life experiences. A little perspective from a “pro” can boost their confidence and build trust!

We can be the cheering squad that calls out the strengths and affirms the dreams and potential of the young people in our lives. It’ll let them know that if they were a stock, you’d be a buyer! And, the best part of all? Your belief will breed their belief in themselves.

Who could benefit from your gift of affirmation and belief today? What ways do you show you care about the children, students, and mentees in your life?

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.

 

How Gratitude Can Change Your Life

adult-backlit-beach-320007Have you ever noticed how people experiencing the same thing can react so differently? Why is it that some who face a loss or disappointment maintain a surprisingly upbeat spirit, while others wallow in self-pity or anger? Some seemingly shrug it off while others are consumed by it. Some battle through it, sustained by their resilience, hope, and faith, while others suffer from feelings of entitlement or victimhood. Same situations; polar opposite reactions.

For most of us, it’s more natural to struggle when adversity strikes—at least initially. After all, we may feel hurt, disappointed, lonely, scared, or angry. That’s why people who are able to stay positive, even under life’s most difficult trials, really stand out.

Do these people have a special ingredient? I believe they do, and that ingredient is gratefulness. Regardless of their circumstances, grateful people find a way to call on their blessings and appreciate what they have. They choose to see the glass as half full. They are sustained by hope. They view adversity as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. And, despite living in a materialistic world, they don’t allow economic circumstances to dictate their happiness. (In my experience, this is the most common takeaway from students who go on mission trips.)

Those of us who are surrounded by parents, family members, teachers, mentors, and coaches who model this character trait are much more likely to be grateful than those who are not. Gratitude has a way of “rubbing off” on others because it is such an inspirational and admirable virtue. As you self reflect on your “gratitude quotient,” consider the following proven benefits:

  1. Gratitude improves your physical health. Studies have shown that grateful people have fewer aches and pains (yes, you read that right), and are more likely to take care of their physical health. They tend to practice healthy habits such as exercising and getting regular check-ups, which can contribute to increased longevity and life quality.
  2. Grateful people have better sleep. Here’s a tip: spend a few minutes jotting down what you’re thankful before bed every night, and you will likely have a longer and more restful sleep.
  3. Gratitude helps create better relationships. Of course, saying “thank you” is a practice of good manners, but a 2014 study in Emotion shows that it can also win you new friends! Saying “thank you” to an acquaintance makes them more likely to seek out further engagement. So, whether you’re thanking the local barista for your latte or a distant relative for graduation gift, acknowledging their efforts can open the door to new and better relationships.
  4. Gratitude can help improve your self-esteem. For years, research has shown that gratitude can help reduce stress. However, a 2014 study published in Journal of Applied Sport Psychology has shown that practicing thankfulness can actually play a major role in overcoming trauma and cultivating resilience. Recognizing all you’re grateful for—even in the hardest of times—can be life changing.
  5. Gratitude can reduce aggression (and increase empathy). Did you know that grateful people are more likely to act in a pro-social manner, even when the people around them are acting negatively? Grateful people are less resentful and retaliatory and demonstrate greater empathy and understanding (than those who do not engage in gratitude practices).

Of course, this looks different for everyone (some people write in a gratitude journal, some people silently acknowledge all that they are grateful for, others decide to pay it forward), but the point is that being thankful can completely transform your life. Here are some additional ideas to build your “gratitude quotient:”

  1. Actively seek out and surround yourself with grateful people. Ask them to share how they maintain a positive attitude while facing adversity and disappointment. Some of their strategies may work for you.
  2. Volunteer to help those less fortunate. This is especially beneficial to counter an entitlement mentality.
  3. Maintain your sense of hope in all circumstances. Consider when you overcame challenges and draw on them when new situations arise.

Developing gratitude is an especially beneficial life practice for teens and young adults, as they are constantly inundated with messages telling them they need to be better, look different, buy certain things, and generally just “keep up” with the people around them (not to mention the peer pressure they feel on a daily basis!). Gratitude is a powerful antidote to entitlement.

So, whether you’re a teen, college student, parent, or educator, know that we can all use some of these positive side effects in our lives! This holiday season, we encourage you to begin the daily habit of practicing gratitude. Meditate silently on your blessings, jot down a bullet-pointed list every night, or talk about what you’re thankful for around the dinner table. However you do it, pay close attention to how it transforms your inner world and the world around you for the better.

Let’s make Thanksgiving Day every day.

(For more way gratitude can change your life, check out this article published in Psychology Today.)

 

 

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Two)

angry-annoyed-cafe-52608In last week’s newsletter (which you can access here) we shared four preventive parenting strategies to help prevent and reduce teen anxiety. Welcome back for part two, where we will share five more strategies to address this troubling problem. Parents, thank you for your care, diligence, and desire to do better.

  1. Lacking affirmation of worth and value. If there is one generality we observe in today’s teens and young adults, it’s that they feel undervalued for WHO they are. When parents don’t take the time to affirm their children’s uniqueness and value or share their belief in them and their future, kids become dispirited, disillusioned, insecure, and anxious. And, who can blame them? Parents, we need to step up our game in this department. Call out what you appreciate and admire about them on a regular basis… especially their character traits. Tell them how much they matter. It’ll add security and a spring to their step. #valuethewho
  2. Social drama and unhealthy relationships. Although the anxiety-laden social lives of teens probably date back to the days of Fred Flintstone, the advent of social media takes it to an entirely new level. Much has been written on the subject, so we simply want to emphasize a few things. One is for your teen to be self aware of the impact social media has on his/her life in terms of stressors, privacy, and relationships. Two is for them to be highly selective in making friends with people who share their interests and values. Three is for them to avoid social drama and gossip like the plague. Four is for them to only surround themselves with positive influences. Finally, if they’re experiencing pain or anxiety from a breakup or no invitation to/acceptance for prom, reassure them that only 2 percent of marriages originate from being high school sweethearts! Now, that’s perspective! #choosewisely
  3. Too much tech, too little relational engagement. With the addictive nature of our smartphones and screens, teens, parents, and entire families are losing something besides their attention spans: relational intimacy and engagement. Initially, it affected teens most, but increasingly it has become an issue for parents as well. Parents, this is where tough love and good modeling will pay dividends. Value face-to-face time over tech time and be sure your teens don’t take their phones to bed at night! #facetofaceisbest
  4. Family dysfunction and inadequate support systems. From a child’s standpoint, one of the greatest sources of emotional stability and security is being part of a loving, well-functioning family. However, one of the greatest societal changes over the last several decades has been the deterioration in this system. For example, today, just 69% of children are living in two-parent families, due in large part, to births from unmarried parents and to divorce. While every situation is unique, and many, many healthy children are growing up in loving single-parent families, we must be sensitive to the impact our family situations are having on our children, and take steps to ensure that they have other caring men and women actively involved in their lives. We owe it to them. #caringadults
  5. Insufficient preparation for independence. We have a systemic problem in that parents and educators often assume the other is building the leadership and life skills students need to succeed. So, predictably, many important skills are falling through the cracks. In addition to practical skills like cooking and budgeting, important “soft skills” like dependability, work ethic, resilience, decision-making, and integrity are often deemphasized in favor of traditional subjects. This, along with parenting styles like helicoptering, is creating a lack of preparedness in handling the responsibilities and stresses of adulthood. Parents, we must take the leadership role and not assume “they’re learning it in school.” Often, they’re not. #adulting

Parents, there are a couple of other tips we’d like to share that will reduce your child’s anxiety. First, always keep your cool no matter how volatile the topic and to remember that you were a teen once, too. It’s so easy to apply our current wisdom as adults to their age and stage! That’s neither fair nor realistic. Second, be careful not to “over share” the various challenges and situations you are facing. After all, you’re their parent, not their BFF. Finally, always remember the importance of having fun. Sometimes, in our quest to see our children succeed, we can lose sight of that. #enjoytheseyears

Next week, we’ll share some ideas for educators in our quest to reverse the direction in teen anxiety. Catch you then.

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part One)

adult-alone-anxious-568027Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with a Principal from a small town in Wisconsin, not far from where I grew up. During our wide-ranging conversation, he shared about the high levels of anxiety his high school students are exhibiting. You’d have to see their tranquil location to fully appreciate just how out of character this is. But, then again, research is abounding that today’s students, whether in college or high school, are showing unprecedented levels of anxiety. Something, lots of things, must be done and done quickly.

Let’s be honest. This is a direct consequence of how our children are being trained, and it’s up to us as parents, educators, youth leaders, and other caring adults to accept responsibility and reverse this course. Their very futures and socio-emotional health are at stake.

For the next few weeks, we will be weighing in with our thoughts and recommendations, focusing initially on parents and then following with educators. Our hope is that this will not only “add to the conversation,” but more importantly, encourage us to self reflect and take the necessary corrective measures. We owe it to them.

Parents, here are four of nine key trouble spots that are aggravating teen anxiety where we should take ownership:

  1. Parenting style. In our desire to see our children succeed and be happy, we often adopt parenting methods that run counter to our objectives. Among the most common are performance parenting and helicoptering. Performance-driven parents are so focused on their children’s achievements that their kids feel undervalued for WHO they are. These children are under intense pressure to perform, in part because of demanding parents who place their own identity in the hands of their children and who often succumb to their own peer pressure—from other parents! In contrast, helicoptering creates insecurity when parents interfere, control, overprotect, and coddle, stunting their children’s ability to make decisions, cope, and mature. Both styles add to the already-high stress levels during the teen years. Is your parenting style unintentionally creating anxiety? It’s worth a look. #equipnotcontrol
  2. Frenetic pace. Sometimes our lives are so busy that it seems we’re on a treadmill set at warp speed. Parents, we are putting our children on that treadmill, and it’s depriving them of balance and the time they need to enjoy nature, reflect, chill, pray, play, nap, read a book, or just hang out without the overhang of homework and endless activities. For introverts, and kids who operate at a slower pace, this is draining or worse. How is your pace? Are you consciously building margin into their schedules to maintain balance and keep their tanks full? You’d better be. #breathe
  3. Resume building obsession/perfectionist tendencies. Lexus’s tagline is the “relentless pursuit of perfection” and how well this describes many teens today! Whether the pressure is coming from parents or schools or is self-inflicted, teens are stressing out over their assumed need for the perfect resume to succeed and access their dream college. An urgent priority is to disabuse them of this notion. Nowadays, pressure previously felt in the adult years are robbing many teens of a childhood. Whether it’s all AP courses, GPA fixation, or participation (better yet, leadership) in clubs or organizations, resume building now dominates the high school years. Encouraging them to do their best and valuing their person will pay longer-lasting dividends. What “success messages” are you sending? #noperfectionrequired
  4. Deficient self-awareness and self-care. Compared with yesteryear, today’s teens face greater pressures and a more competitive world. For example, with “college for all” messaging and growing pressures to know what careers they should pursue or which college to attend, high schoolers are naturally anxious. At a time when students are still discovering WHO they are, this is placing the cart before the horse. Parents can do their teens a great service by promoting self-awareness of their children’s skills, talents, interests, nature, and passions. This also includes helping their teen understand, prevent, and manage their stressors. Related, parents can support the self care of their children by fostering healthy living (e.g., diet, physical activity, and adequate rest) and demonstrating unconditional love. How well do your children know themselves and their stressors? These are vitally important conversations. #knowthyself

So, parents, how are you doing in the above areas? How would your children respond? Are there areas for you to grow in as a parent? Stay tuned next week for part two., where we will share more of these nine trouble areas and how you can help make a difference. #youcandothis!

 

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

adult-architecture-backpack-1251861High schoolers and new college students:Do you ever feel unsure of what’s to come? Are you anxious about your future, whether it’s over your relationships, choice of major, or career goals? Do you wonder if adulthood is REALLY all that it’s cracked-up to be? 
Parents: Do you worry about the day when your teen will move out and enter the real world? Are you worried they aren’t fully equipped? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, here is some encouragement and insight in this third installment of my “What I Wish I Knew Before College” series.

In case you missed the first two posts on this topic, I’m Heather Sipes, the Communications Director for LifeSmart Publishing. I am a millennial myself, and eager to help you and your student(s) navigate this season of change. You can view the previous weeks’ posts here and here.

Let’s get started. I’d like to close this series with the one final thing I wish I knew the summer after I graduated high school (or even during the first couple months of college!). If I knew then what I know now, I feel that I could have better positioned myself for this big change.

You might have mixed feelings about your parents. I’ll never forget the week I moved into the dorm my freshman year. My mom flew down to help me get moved in, and she was more than helpful. She stayed in the dorms with me the first couple nights, and I could tell she was excited for this new season in my life. She wanted to be engaged and involved with all that she could—probably because deep down, she was experiencing the mixed emotions of “letting go” and wouldn’t see me for a couple months. I, however, had unexpectedly different feelings.

I wanted to meet new friends and flap my newly independent wings. I wanted to hang out late in the dorm rooms with my new hall mates—not my mom! I’d been waiting for my whole life for this stage, yet my mom was lingering around, taking in these final moments before heading home. Looking back, I feel deep remorse about the way I treated her that week, and wish I could have a do-over. (Note: we’re all good!)

This is what I’d like to impart to you, nearly 12 years later. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can imagine how my mom must have felt that week: scared to let go, sad to say goodbye, and nostalgic about memories with her once little (now big!) oldest daughter. It’s totally relatable. I can’t even bear to think about one of my little girls growing up and moving a couple thousand miles away!

Teens, remember this: Please, please, please try not to take your parents for granted. Know that all of their “hovering” and all of their “hanging around,” is because they love you (granted, some parents do go overboard, often out of fear). They’re proud of you and actually enjoy spending time with you. They love being with the adult you’ve become. They don’t want to put a damper on your next chapter, they simply want to soak up every minute with you they can. Cherish and embrace this and don’t hold back from exploring what a new adult-to-adult relationship can look like with them (rather than parent-child). You may not even realize there is a special, unique friendship with your parents just waiting to be kindled.

Parents: Know that things might get a bit awkward during this time when you want to be present, but they’re feeling pulled to practice independence. Let your teen know that you’ll give them space, but also tell them you’re always there to help, guide, or offer support. Remember to be their chief encourager  as you move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat. Being on the sidelines isn’t a bad thing—you’ll get to root for and encourage one of your favorite people in the whole world. Be their biggest fan—they’ll need it in the years to come!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as we are all getting settled into our new routines and roles. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments—I’m happy to provide any help that I can. Thanks for stopping by!

Making the Most of Your Internship

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

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

The Value of Internships

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

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

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

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

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

How to Build a Growth Mindset in Your Students and teens

dirt-gardening-grow-1214405Looking back, our high school days were great, okay, or disappointing (or worse!) depending on the year. So, we should expect that our kids will be starting this new school year with excitement, ambivalence, and maybe even dread, often depending on the previous year. Regardless of where your children/students are attitudinally, here’s one thing they can all benefit from as they make their grand entrance—taking the Growth Challenge.

What’s the Growth Challenge, you might ask? Here’s a quick synopsis: Have your students/children take note of where they are now in key aspects of their life. Then, have them identify some focus areas for growth/improvement. Next, encourage them to develop plans to meet their growth goals. Finally, have them assess their progress quarterly (and make adjustments to their plan as needed). In the business world, we call this the “plan, do, and review” cycle, and it works for people too!

As parents, teachers, and mentors, we play a big role in the success of the next generation. Of course, the responsibility for their choices does not fall on us, but it is our job to equip, encourage, and empower them. One powerful way is to help facilitate the Growth Challenge. Here are a few steps to get you going.

  1. Begin with a holistic self assessment. Have your child/students record how satisfied they are in terms of: 1) academics (grades, specific subjects, study habits, etc.), 2) relationships (friendships,, family, network), 3) physical health and well being (fitness, health, nutrition), 4) emotional and spiritual health (self worth, confidence, contentment, faith, gratitude, temperament), 5) leadership/soft skills (integrity, dependability, work ethic, team mindedness, time management, professionalism), and 6) interests/extracurricular activities. 

Then, based on their self evaluations, have them identify their greatest growth priorities for the coming year for each category. Which could have the biggest impact in the near future? In the long-term? Give them some time to think about this, and encourage them to record their thoughts in a journal or device.

  1. Have them develop their top overall priorities based on their conclusions from each category. Parents, teachers, and mentors, you can help them prioritize by sharing your own knowledge or experience, but don’t make up their minds for them. (For example, if a student is hoping to enter the military after high school, physical training might fall higher on the priority list than a student who plans to intern at an art gallery.)

Encourage them to record their three to five top priorities for growth. Don’t let them go overboard making a laundry list. Next, have them set specific, achievable goals for each of their top priorities. What would constitute success to them? What are some measurable ways that they can track their progress? Then, have them develop action steps to help their goals become a reality.

  1. Finally, suggest a quarterly review (with a mentor, counselor, parent, or teacher) to assess their progress, and make any midcourse suggestions or corrections necessary to achieve their goals.

Not only will this “growth challenge” help them progress this year, but it is a discipline that will serve them for a lifetime.

Let’s start building a growth mindset in our children, teens, and students. The future belongs to them, but it starts with us.

If you want to see a sample “Growth Challenge” mock-up for reference, you can find it here.

The 3 Secrets for Back to School Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.