3 Tips to Preserve Your (Precious) Reputation

 What is a prized possession you can never get back once you lose it?

The answer is your reputation.

At some point in your life, your values will be challenged and possibly even ridiculed by others. It’s crucial to talk about this now, with the beginning of the college school year upon us. Why? It’s especially common in the years after high to face situations that test your values, integrity, and ability to stand up to peer pressure. It can be a difficult time for many young people with all of this newfound independence (and adversity!).

Will you have the moral courage to withstand the pressure and take the high ground, even if it means you may lose an opportunity or a friendship in the process?

 I was fortunate to have worked with George Russell, the Chairman Emeritus of Russell Investments. He always took pride in saying, “Our company operates with non-negotiable integrity.” He meant it. George always said, “If you’re wondering whether or not to do something, ask how you would feel if it became tomorrow’s headline in the New York Times. Enough said.

Sadly, you can see how poor choices have destroyed the reputations and lives of countless people in the sports, entertainment, political, and business world. Since many of them were heroes to impressionable kids, their missteps have even greater consequence. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen how the loss of trust and respect can ruin lives and relationships.  That’s why I came up with this list that we can apply to our own lives and reputations. Here are three tips to help you hold on to your values and keep your reputation upstanding:

  1. Avoid the “gray area.” It can be tempting to take shortcuts. We’ve all been there. But if you are not 100 percent positive that something is right, ethical, or in line with your values…then just don’t do it.
  2. Surround yourself with people that uplift you, understand you, and make you want to be your best self. If you find yourself comparing, striving, and doing things out of the ordinary in order to fit in, then they probably aren’t “your people.”
  3. Always tell the truth—even white lies can be detrimental to your reputation. It may sound cliché, but honesty is ALWAYS the best policy.

No matter what you do, preserve your integrity, values, and reputation with every ounce of strength you can muster. You will absolutely, positively, and totally regret it if you don’t!

How have you handled situations where you were asked or tempted to compromise your integrity?  Have you shared the story with the young people in your life? Your positive example will encourage them in their own struggles, especially as they embark into adulthood and life after high school.

5 Ways to Help Teens Build Self-Awareness

“It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” –Marianne Williamson

Regardless of your family or career role, you probably know some teenagers you’d like to see thrive. And what is one key character trait that generally leads to a happy, healthy, and successful adult life? Unfortunately, one that often takes a back seat as we navigate the busyness of life? Self-awareness.

As consumed as teens are with schoolwork and activities, home responsibilities, jobs, college prep, family, social life, and more, self-reflection is probably the last thing on their minds. However, being self-aware and cultivating healthy self-esteem will help them in life more than they can fully realize. Here a few suggestions to help encourage the teenagers in your life to become more self-aware:

  1. Does your teen journal? If not, encourage them to take a couple moments a day to quietly reflect. Have them write down what they’re passionate about, what they value, who they aspire to be. Suggest they write about their emotions, too. They’ll be surprised at how beneficial it can be!
  2. Set them up with a mentor. We all need mentors! Mentorship relationships provide great learning opportunities for people both young and old. They allow us to model our life after someone we admire and aspire to be like, and learn practical life wisdom from the pros. Your teen’s mentor could be a relative, friend, youth leader,, or someone in their desired career field.
  3. Be open about your own life experiences. A huge part of being self-aware is the ability to identify key people and events that played a role in creating our worldview and life perspective. Talk to your teen about the people who played essential roles in your own life (i.e. your parents, grandparents, a favorite college professor, an author, etc.). One of the greatest gifts we can give the young people in our lives is encouragement and wisdom from our own life experience (the good and the bad!).
  4. Don’t always gloss over mistakes. When your teen messes up in a relationship or in school, it’s easy for us to overlook the shortfall and boost their self-esteem because we want to see them happy again. However, it is important for our teens to know their strengths AS WELL as their weaknesses. Knowing areas of needed improvement will help your teen improve his or her character and mature. Reflective conversations after the fact cement those valuable life lessons.
  5. Have them develop a “Personal Balance Sheet” of their assets (special qualities they have to offer) and their constraints (things holding them back). This exercise is both revealing and inspirational as teens reflect on themselves and receive invaluable input from others. The assignment is found

Self-awareness is a product of careful introspection. It helps us develop more accurate answers to the fundamental questions of who am I, what do I uniquely have to offer this world, and what are my opportunities. When teens focus on their own personal character, including their values, beliefs, heroes, goals, struggles, shortfalls, etc., they soon reap the benefits of being self-aware. People who are self-aware learn to act intentionally and deliberately with hope and vision instead of being reactionary, random, or impulsive. They are able to redirect negative thoughts, be true to who they are, and be a positive light to the people around them.

How would you rate your own level of self-awareness? What have you done to encourage the young people in your life to become self-aware? 

What Christmas Traditions Can Do for Your Teen

cookies“Aaaaw, do we really have to do        __this year?” (eyes roll)

Got teens?  If so, it may be easy for you to fill in the blank. Many times, these are the years parents get the most pushback from their kids when it comes to family traditions.  (Think Audrey in Christmas Vacation, if you’re a fan.)

But while some Christmas traditions may well need to be put on the shelf as children get older (e.g., a 16-year old on Santa’s lap at the mall to get that annual photo may seem a little over the top to some and downright humiliating to others), many traditions can serve to reinforce the bonds we share as a family.

As our (Arlyn’s) five children were growing up, we went out each year on the weekend after Thanksgiving to cut the family tree (more visions of Christmas Vacation, the slightly-edited-for-language version).  Early on, in an attempt to settle the inevitable squabbles that would arise as we searched for the “perfect tree,” we settled on the practice of having a “girls’ year” and a “boys’ year” to pick the tree. Did this eliminate conflict?  Not always, although it certainly minimized it. What it did do was cement a tradition that to this day continues to forge an impression in our kids’ minds of who we are as a family: we do things together. We communicate. We negotiate. We take turns.  These are important aspects of our family brand—all year long.

The “kids” now range from 19 to 30. And we still go out to cut a Christmas tree together each year … adding sons and daughters-in-law and a few grandkids to the mix, and still alternating girls’ years and boys’ years!

The traditions your family establishes and maintains—like going to church together on Christmas Eve, taking cookies to your neighbors, wearing matching jammies on Christmas morning, or whatever—can accomplish far more than just fun memories. They can be a significant part of creating a strong sense of security, identity, and values in your children. These are the kinds of qualities that can ground them and give them the internal strength they need to navigate the world with confidence.

Trust me, there were a lot of eye rolls and even a few spats over the years on our annual Christmas tree expeditions. (I remember an apple fight that turned ugly one year; the boys found rotting apples in a nearby orchard and decided to pelt the girls with them!). But bottom line, the tradition became something that contributed much more to our family brand than we ever anticipated: our traditions helped to cement our relationships.

What traditions does your family practice at Christmas?  Have you ever thought about what qualities they contribute to your family brand? Please share your ideas and memories with us; we’d love to hear!

The Value of Values: Part 3

What do you value most in life? Is it your collector’s hot rod? Your job? Your beach house? Your iPhone? Or, is it something less tangible, like integrity, family togetherness, spirituality, respect, or serving others? Hopefully, it’s one of the latter.

In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been talking a lot about values around here lately, and stressing the importance of instilling strong values in the young people we parent, coach, mentor, and teach. As ethics, morals, manners, and values have become de-emphasized in the public square, political arena, entertainment industry, and corporate boardrooms, we’re witnessing a downward slide in our nation’s character. When character is disregarded or devalued, relativism, “meism,” and chaos fills the vacuum. There’s just no getting around it.

In this last part in our series, I’d like to discuss three more elemental values that are instrumental in creating virtuous and admirable character. Upholding (and believing in) these values not only benefits the upholder, but also his or her family, friends, employer, classmates, coworkers, and beyond. By restoring our societal commitment to character and values, it would truly be a world changer.

  1. Patience. Have you ever lost your patience while waiting in an endless line, or dealing with a finicky customer? Have you ever thrown out some not-so-nice hand gestures in a fit of road rage? Or, how about when you throw a tantrum with your family or friends when things don’t go your way or people disappoint you? The fact is, losing your patience usually does more harm than good in almost every situation. Learning to be patient in all circumstances makes us more pleasant people to be around and allows us to handle stressful situations and conflict in a more level-headed manner. Taking a deep breath and counting to 20 before responding is wise medicine. After all, today’s impatience is often tomorrow’s apology.
  2. Courage. Do you handle tough situations with bravery, or are you more inclined to backing down or withdrawing? Of course, there’s a time and a place for walking away, but sometimes, courage is key. Courage means never letting your fears drive your life, and instead, stepping out of your comfort zone and always doing the right thing and standing up for yourself (respectfully), no matter how un-cool it may seem.
  3. Self-control. This is likely a tough one for many of us. Self-control can be related to our outward behavior (for example, how we impulsively react when we are annoyed or angry), as well as our internal motivations (for example, our relationship with food). When you practice self control, it means that you are able to manage your impulses and respond to temptation in a way that benefits yourself and others. Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, you’re able to reel yourself in and think about your choices before you actually make them. This is a big one, friends. Consider taking a moment to self-check and see if there are any areas where you could use greater self control.

In case you missed the last two parts in this series, you can catch up on them here and here. For our comprehensive positive traits and values list, click here. We encourage you to discuss them with your families and students as a great self-awareness project. Which ones are we modeling well? Where could we up our game? Are any of them outdated? What others might you add to the list?

Thank you for being a part of this series! Have a great school year!

The Value of Values: Part 2

What qualities do you admire most in others? What qualities do you strive to model yourself? Did you know your qualities (in other words, the things about your character that stand out most to others) all come from your values? Values are the sentiments we hold close to our hearts, and usually, they are what cause us to be good, virtuous people.

These fundamental values make up the foundation of our society and allow us to function in harmony and solidarity, despite our differences. These are the values that you’re thankful for when you get a phone call that your lost wallet has been found (with all the cash still inside), or when a stranger helps you change your flat tire on the side of the road.

With moral relativism becoming more prevalent (sadly, even encouraged!), many people (the young especially) are missing out on the development of some crucial values. In our increasingly PC society, many are succumbing to a misplaced view that there are no moral absolutes. (With a deemphasis on character-based education, it’s not surprising.) Because of this, these students aren’t operating with qualities that will allow them to be as successful in life. How, you may ask? When the value of honesty isn’t instilled from a young age, relationships, job performance, and even academic life will suffer later on. When people don’t value respect for others, they will lose control, lash out, and potentially ruin their own reputation. See what I mean?

In this second part of our series on values, I’d like to discuss three more that are crucial to model and develop in our young people.

  1. Empathy. When you empathize with people, you enter into their world and their feelings to provide support and encouragement. Along with compassion, it is one of the most powerful human qualities of generosity. Empathy is an incredibly important value, as it makes us nurturing parents, loving spouses, supportive friends, and service-minded community members. Empathy allows you to help the people around you feel loved, supported, and understood.
  2. Responsibility. I like to think of responsibility as taking ownership of our attitudes, actions, and performance. It’s really an amalgam of accountability, trustworthiness, reliability, capability, and high personal standards. It’s being someone others can count on, no matter what. Responsible adults admit when they’ve made a mistake, prioritize their time wisely, tell the truth, show up on time, and have the courage to say no to risky situations. And, they don’t blame others or make excuses for their shortfalls. We could use more of this, don’t you think?
  3. Resilience. How many of us have been knocked down in life, only to lose all hope and wonder if the situation could get any worse? That, my friends, is the opposite of resilience. Resilient people handle adversity with grace and confidence. Did you notice how this admirable quality was on full display at the Olympics? They get back up, try again, and understand that oftentimes, adversity can create room for further personal growth. You know the old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” It’s true!

No matter where you lie when it comes to your religious and political leanings, I think we can all agree that the above values are, well, valuable! They have the power to create stronger families, safer communities, and happier neighborhoods! Oh, and a happier you!

What values would you add to this list? Can you think of a situation in which you’ve benefitted from someone else’s strong values? How is your school incorporating values training in the classroom?

The Value of Values

“Without ethical culture, there is no salvation for humanity.”

-Albert Einstein

I think that we can all agree there are a lot of things we (society as a whole). . . well. . . disagree on. These days, so many topics feel “unsafe” to talk about because they can be polarizing and controversial (politics and religion, especially). Everyone seems to have a different idea about the right way to vote, the right way to worship, what things should and should not be illegal…the list goes on. Although it can be difficult to work through differences with others, I think diversity is one of the things that makes our country so wonderful.

However, I’d like to talk about something that we can all agree on. Even when politics and religion and other controversial topics are set aside, I believe there are some common values that are (at least should be) at the foundation of our society. These are values that we as parents, educators, mentors, and coaches should be instilling within the hearts and minds of the young people we work with. These are values that make us productive employees, loving spouses, attentive parents, successful students, loyal friends, and contributing members of society.

Although this list is not exhaustive, I’d like to share a bit about some non-negotiable values that we should esteem highly, not only in our own character, but also in the young people we influence.

  • Integrity— When you are a person of integrity, you adhere to ethical character, follow through with your word and always tell the truth, no matter what.. You may not always be liked or loved, but you must always be trusted. To that end, we like to challenge people to only say neutral or positive things about someone who is not present. If everyone adhered to this, it’d literally change the world! Of all the values, I think this one is the most important.
  • Kindness—This is exemplified by the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Who can argue with that? When we operate with kindness, we use words that encourage and uplift and actively seek out ways to help others.
  • Authenticity—Be the real you! With all the peer pressure to fit in, this one can be tough for young people. There is nothing more liberating than living freely as your true, authentic self, without the hindrance of masks or facades. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to change who you are or compromise your values to be accepted by someone or some group, they’re not worth your time. You’ll never become sustainable friends anyway.
  • Respect: This involves showing honor, regard, and consideration toward others. We’ve all been taught (or should have been!) to respect our elders and people in authority, but this applies equally to everyone we’re around. Of all of the values, I think this one is being diminished to the greatest extent, both with adults and with the younger generation. While many pay lip service to tolerance, their behavior is decidedly in
  • Personal motivation/self-discipline—Without personal motivation and self-discipline, we would never be successful at our careers (or school)! By staying committed to performing well, being reliable, and having high standards, your productivity will skyrocket and your reputation will soar. Strive to live up to the motto: on time, every time, with excellence.

How would you rate yourself on these values? Consider using this as a self-check, and take a moment to see how you’re doing in these areas. Are there areas for improvement? Remember, humility and a willingness to change and grow is an important value in and of itself.  Share this post with the young people in your life and encourage them to do the same.

If you’d like to read more about the values we consider to be of utmost importance, check out this values checklist we’ve compiled. Or, stay tuned for next week when we will share more values from our list and talk about how valuable values really are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership for a Lifetime: Passion

The year was 1973 and I was enjoying my first year of independent life as a college freshman. On the other hand, our nation was in a full-blown funk, consumed with Watergate and the Vietnam War. We needed a shot in the arm and bad. Who would have known it would come in the form of a horse?

For a quarter of a century, America had been waiting for another Triple Crown winner. Some had come close, but often the Belmont Stakes proved insurmountable. But, this year would be different. It was Secretariat’s year. The chestnut-colored thoroughbred had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness handily and in record form. But, how would he fare in the stiffest of tests?

In what remains history’s greatest horse race, Secretariat annihilated the field, running with an abandon never seen before or since. Under jockey Ron Turcotte, Secretariat smashed the record by an unthinkable two-plus seconds, winning by an unheard of 31 lengths. To this day, I consider it the greatest feat in sport. Legendary athletes were in tears as they witnessed perfection. [If you haven’t, you must watch this incredible performance (just Google “Secretariat Belmont”) or better yet, the full documentary.]

Did Secretariat have a special secret? He most assuredly was an amazing physical specimen. However, after he was euthanized at 19, the autopsy revealed that Secretariat’s heart was twice as large as normal. No wonder. His engine was like no other.

Secretariat raced with heart and with passion.

I believe passion is the special sauce of life. And, while no one exemplified this better than Secretariat, it’s not a quality only reserved for the supremely gifted. Great leaders live with passion. And, so can you.

Here’s how I describe it to young adults, facing newfound freedom and setting the stage for their lives:

  • Giving everything your best
  • Committing to continuous improvement and an insatiable appetite for learning
  • Viewing each day as an opportunity to make a difference
  • Not just attending all classes (and putting academics first), but sitting in the front row
  • Stretching yourself in new ways and “going for it!”
  • Seeking opportunities to uplift others
  • Prioritizing relationships and meeting new people
  • Viewing your time as a precious asset to be used wisely
  • Being proactive rather than reactive
  • Building your competitive edge through learning, experiences, and leadership opportunities
  • Ensuring that no other candidate in a job interview is more enthusiastic than you!
  • Always demonstrating a positive attitude and a grateful heart

My challenge to you is to unleash your “inner Secretariat” and live with passion. There’s nothing like it!

3 Ground Rules for Playing the Dating Game

Why does “The Bachelor” have such a rabid following? It’s beyond me, but it sure appeals to lots of people! Maybe it’s because people know the drama of trying to find that “special someone,” and watching someone else go through it has a kind of vicarious romantic appeal (without the heartache, of course!). Whatever the reason, it’s a big hit.

 

           

Dating can be the best of worlds and the worst of worlds, particularly for young adults. There are so many new, fun, and interesting people to meet as one’s circles expand, but it’s also a mystery because you never know what will become of the people you meet. I recall feeling like I was on an emotional roller coaster at Six Flags at that stage of life wondering if she was Mrs. Right. Yes, I, Mr. Analytic, even lost his objectivity from time to time. It never worked.

 

           

Do you (or does the teen/young adult in your life) have a random or a strategic mindset when it comes to dating?

 

 

 

Although true love can happen opportunistically (e.g., when my college sweetheart and I were successfully matched at a computer dance!), it pays to lay down some personal ground rules in your dating life.  One way is to become a “3D dater!” Seriously! Here’s what I mean by “3D”:

 

 

Be Discriminating

 

Be highly selective with your choices of dates. Sadly, so many people define their self worth by whether they’re dating someone that they “date for dating sake” and often compromise their values along the way. It always pays to be choosy by focusing on people who share similar interests, values, and goals.

 

 

 

 Be Discerning

 

Be wise when you date. Many approach dating so impulsively and emotionally that they simply don’t think clearly. Understand what you want in a relationship, like your goals and expectations, and have the courage to move on if it’s not a great fit. Also, avoid placing yourself in “high risk” situations with people you don’t completely trust.

 

 

 

Be Deliberate

 

Be patient. This is often the hardest thing to do when the infatuation is intense (or when a computer matches you!). However, if the relationship is truly meant to be, it needn’t be rushed. If you’re feeling pressured, have the strength and self respect to put on the brakes. If they’re not willing to, they’re probably not the best choice for the long term and you’re only delaying the inevitable.

 

 

By being a 3D dater, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success rather than settling for short-term, superficial gratification that’s so common today. You’re much more likely to find Mr. or Mrs. Right with fewer peaks and valleys (and heartaches) along the way!

 

                                                                       

 

As you reflect on any dating you’ve done in the past, how would you rate yourself along the 3D dimensions? If you are a parent or youth mentor, how can you communicate what you’ve learned with the young people in your life?