About 20 years ago, a group of teachers, youth ministers, coaches, and I wanted to empower teens with collaborative leadership skills. There were plenty of models that provided teens with leadership training, but we lacked a model that equipped organizations with sustainable tools that allowed teens to use their leadership skills.
I was on a mission to figure out how to empower adults with tools they needed to encourage youth to be leaders without controlling or blocking their efforts.
Our leadership team hosted an annual Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) camp for teens. We invited youth throughout the Midwest to learn leadership tools and practice the skills in small group settings. Throughout the course of the week, teens learned how to:
Though I presented a session on communication during the week-long training, my primary role was to be a mentor to a small group of teens. The CLI youth teams used collaborative skills of planning and consensus to make decisions to complete leadership projects.
The roles of CLI mentors were less well-defined. We were instructed not to interfere with youth team planning. We were to be encouraging chaperones. Whenever I chimed in to ask a question during the teens’ discussions, they snapped, “It’s our role to do the planning.”
If adults do not have clearly defined roles when working with youth leadership teams, they will define the roles for themselves. Some adults become dictators; forcing their own agenda throughout the youth planning process. Some adults act like juvenile delinquents; often causing more disruptive discipline problems than the kids. It is not the fault of the adults when they act out like tyrants or class clowns – it’s a program issue that lacks clear role definition for participating adults.
One day, I figured out my role with the youth leadership team while they argued about a project decision. Three of the teens shouted at one another as they defended their opinions about the direction of the project. The others shut down and refused to participate in the discussion.
“Let’s go back to our group norms,” I said. “What can we do to think win-win?”
“No disrespect intended, Julie, but you’re not supposed to tell us what to do,” interrupted Elizabeth. “It’s our job to plan.”
“They told us you’re not supposed to talk because you’re not a member of our group,” Andy added.
I decided it was time to add a rule of my own to the small group planning process.
“All of us in this room have very important roles on this leadership team,” I answered. “Your role is to plan.”
“Yes!” they agreed. “Our role is to plan.”
“I am a member of our leadership team, too, but my role is different,” I continued. “Your role is to plan. My role is to ensure we use the tools of consensus and I will call you on it every time.”
The room got very quiet. Then it exploded with new energy.
Their roles were clear. My role was clear. I wasn’t the dictator. There was no need for me to withdraw from the planning. I didn’t try to be their friend. I was their adult mentor. In this role, the teens felt comfortable to focus on planning. They became more committed to their norms and agreements to use their communication tools. They knew I would draw them back to the consensus planning process – not by interrupting their planning, but by asking questions that were firmly rooted in Sean Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens:
What can we do to be proactive?How do we take responsibility for our actions? How do we make choices based on principles and values? How do we create an inside-out approach to change something and make it better?
How can we begin with the end in mind?What is our vision? What is our mission? How are our goals aligned with our vision and mission? Do we have a clear purpose? How are we physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to begin with the end in mind?
What must we do to put first things first? Stephen Covey believed, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” What are our most important priorities? What must we do to organize and execute our plans? What tasks must we complete to reach our goals?
In what ways can we think win-win?How can we change our thoughts and behaviors in ways that reflect mutual respect for one another? How can we resolve conflict in ways that allow everyone to feel heard and part of the solution? How will we come to consensus?
How do we seek first to understand, then to be understood? How can we be better listeners? What must we do to focus on what is being said (rather than planning our next response)? What questions should we ask to understand one another more fully? How can we respond with kindness when we don’t agree with someone else’s opinion?
How can we synergize? When we work to come to consensus, we try to find a solution that benefits everyone. How can we recognize each other’s individual strengths? What can we do to strengthen cooperation and teamwork? How can we find creative solutions as a team?
What must we do to sharpen our saws? Do we remember to take care of ourselves? Do we care for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health? Do we celebrate our successes as a team? Do we make time to have fun?
Most of the teens on our senior high planning team were not the most popular teens at their schools. Unlike many high school councils and honors, the teens did not vote on members to represent them on our planning team. I selected the members of our first youth team because each one of them possessed different leadership skills. They were grateful I recognized their leadership potential.
Elizabeth understood how to rally a team into action. Terrill was a wonderful listener. James had an innate ability to sum up important highlights of a conversation. Katie kept us on task. Andy was a tremendous small group facilitator. Our leadership team needed the gifts of every member to be a strong collective whole.
In the years that followed, the teens acknowledged and celebrated leadership gifts in one another. They created projects and committees that invited all teens in our community to share their individual leadership gifts. They became members of the youth leadership training team. Our leadership training processes became a model many schools, churches, and community organizations wanted to emulate.
It is exciting when teens empowered with leadership skills are invited to represent their peers on church, school, and community leadership teams with adults. However, young leaders often ask me, “How come we have to follow the rules of consensus and collaboration and the adults don’t have to?”
“Because you have leadership skills and training,” I answered. “Now, go and be role models.”
Every teen needs someone to see their leadership potential. Sean Covey said, “Ask any successful person and most will tell you that they had a person who believed in them.”
When we demonstrate respect for our youth through our words, actions, and invitation into full involvement in the life of our communities, they will come – and they will stay. And they will bring their friends. Their friends will bring their parents and curious adults. That’s how organizations grow.
That’s how youth leaders become community leaders, national heroes, and role models.
P.S. Elizabeth is now Director of Youth & Adult Formation at a church. Andy is a special education teacher. Now they’re preparing the next generation of youth leaders.
Teens are starving for attention from an adult who believes in them.
A teen who doesn’t have a healthy relationship with an adult often lacks confidence. They are less likely to develop communication and social skills needed to establish strong personal boundaries because no one is available to be a role model. They have no one to turn to for guidance when they’re suffering and need to talk.
Teens who lack the presence of a significant adult in their lives are targeted for bullying more often than peers who have strong adult support. Many teens find support they crave through participation in gangs. They are 80 percent more likely to struggle with depression and six times more likely to attempt suicide (NCBI, 2013).
The good news is this: Our kids don’t have to drown in silent desperation. Youth motivational speaker, Josh Shipp, believes, “Every kid is ONE caring adult away from being a success story.” A mentor is a torch who helps kids see into their futures. Mentoring offers emotional support, guidance, and encouragement for lonely youth.
Youth mentoring is a process of matching young people with a caring adult. Adult mentors are usually unrelated to the child or teen and work as volunteers through community-, school-, or church-based programs.
Training is essential to the mentor preparation process. Not every volunteer possesses the qualities, emotional stability, or skills to be a mentor. The most successful mentoring programs interview potential mentors and offer mentor training. They consistently check in with mentors and mentees to monitor progress and track feedback.
Buildrelationships grounded in trust. Many teens without mature role models are suspicious of adults. Do not try to become your mentee’s best friend or substitute parent. Mentors are positive role models who invite open communication and mutual respect.
Create realistic goals and expectations. Do not expect your mentee to confide in you right away. Ask questions; get to know your mentee. As your relationship grows, your mentee will feel more comfortable sharing his or her life with you.
Have fun together. Find out what kind of activities your mentee enjoys. Go bowling or watch a good movie. Shoot some hoops. Play miniature golf. Walk through a mall or grab a snack at a food bar. You need not spend a lot of money to build a strong mentor/mentee relationship; what’s most valuable is your investment of time. Need more ideas? Try one of these suggestions from 100 Ideas to Use When Mentoring Youth.
Discuss decisions about activities with your mentee. Some teens may be shy to suggest ideas because they don’t want to appear rude or needy. Others are content to let you make the decisions, especially in the beginning stages of your relationship. When you ask your mentee for input, this shows you value his or her ideas.
Allow your mentee to reveal personal information when they are ready. Give your mentee permission to reveal how much (or how little) information they wish to share with you. Remind them that they can share with you without fear of judgement.
Listen. When you ask questions and listen, you give mentees permission to share their stories and personal experiences without criticism. Ask one of these questions if you are not sure how to launch a conversation with your mentee.
If a mentee asks for advice, focus on solutions. Allow your mentee time to release uncomfortable emotions if they need to vent, but encourage him or her to consider their options. When they focus less on what they can’t control and shift their attention to those areas within their control: including their own thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions, they reclaim their personal power. Don’t get stuck in the problem; consider solutions.
Be positive. Briefly share your own experiences to demonstrate empathy, but your time together is not about you – it’s about your mentee. Do not bog down your time or monopolize conversations with stories about your struggles when you were growing up. If your mentee feels “stuck,” remind him or her they can change their perspective by changing their thoughts.
Your primary relationship is with your mentee, not their parents or family members. Do not try to act as an intermediary between your mentee and family. Resist efforts as a mentor to be drawn into parental or familial issues. Discuss matters of concern with your program director.
It is your responsibility to set a good example as a mentor. Your mentee will lose trust in you if you can’t be depended upon to honor your commitments. Decide upon consistent times to talk or meet with your mentee. Show up on time. Your lack of commitment can be devastating for the young person you offered to support. If you are unsure about the time or emotional commitment you have to share with a child or teen, do not volunteer to be a mentor until you are confident you can fulfill the responsibilities.
“Whoever it may be, you have the power to make a positive and significant difference in their lives,” insists Josh Shipp. “Do for ONE kid what you wish you could do for ALL kids.”
These are Josh’s suggestions for effective mentoring.
Step 1: Find out what they’re into.
Step 2: Spend time doing what matters to them because they matter to you.
Step 3: Your investment of time will lead to influential conversations
The following organizations offer outstanding mentoring resources:
The presence or absence of a consistent, caring adult in a young person’s life often determines whether they thrive or drop out of school; whether they dream and believe in their unlimited potential or feel hopeless without a future. As a mentor, you will have many opportunities to close this gap and ensure someone has the support needed to be optimistic and excited about his or her own life. One young person at a time.
How has an adult positively impacted your life? In what ways can you pay it forward?
Amanda Springob is a vivacious college student and motivational speaker. Throughout high school, she lived a double life. Although she was a successful and popular student, it wasn’t until she conquered internal conflicts of depression and anxiety that she found the secret to living in this awkward, confusing, beautiful world.
Now, she offers powerful insight to teens and teachers. Amanda shows youth how to lead empowering lives and gives educators a glimpse into the mind of a millennial. She speaks to thousands of junior high, high school, and college students at educational conferences and school assemblies.
I met Amanda through a social media group for professional youth speakers called YSU.BSP (Youth Speaker University – Back Stage Pass). The Facebook group was created by Josh Shipp, founder of Youth Speaker University. I was impressed by Amanda’s honesty, integrity, as well as her passion for speaking, commitment to inspiring youth and adult audiences, seasoned communication skills, and mental health issues knowledge.
What led to your decision to become a public speaker?
I kind of fell into this path accidentally! I was the president of a leadership group in high school and we decided to do an anti-bullying campaign. We were looking for a speaker to talk about their experiences with bullying as a kickoff event. I loved TED talks and performing – and I had plenty of experiences with bullying as a victim and a perpetrator. I allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of my whole high school by telling my story. People really loved it and my school asked me to repeat it for our junior high. Later, I spoke at a conference for school counselors and made connections with other schools. I’ve pursued this career because I can use my voice to help those who are afraid to speak. This has become bigger than I could’ve imagined and I hope to continue on this path. I hope to reach as many people as possible to spread the word about causes that I’m passionate about.
What unique message do you have to share with the world?
For youth, I tell them it’s okay to be imperfect, messy, and vulnerable. I want to let them know that their issues matter, even if people tell them they’re just being “hormonal” or “melodramatic.” I want them to know that flaws are not something to hide, and that they don’t divide us – they bring us together and give us strength in numbers. Instead of trying to be perfect, we should learn the benefits of being boldly and proudly weak.
I want adults to know that teens are smarter than we think. It can be hard for us to remember what it’s like to be fifteen and falling in love for the first time or seventeen and taking the ACT. I think sometimes adults get so caught up in their own stressors that they invalidate teenage experiences. All struggles matter – age doesn’t define how deeply we hurt. When I speak, I deliver a message for students, but I want to provide teachers with insight and let them see inside a millennial mind. In this way, educators learn to more deeply connect with their students.
What message do you believe young people need to hear? What tools can you provide?
I think young people need to know that imperfection is perfect. A big part of this comes with learning how to be patient, trust the process of life, and have faith that everything will work out as long as we constantly strive for growth. There will always be bumps in the road, but if we persevere and learn from our experiences, they can become opportunities instead of setbacks.
I started a blog and YouTube channel called A+ Life. This toolkit informs teens and teachers about mental health, adolescence, and resilience. Every month, we focus on a specific theme (past topics include relationships and imperfection), and use videos, blog posts, and other resources to view different perspectives on that topic. This content is designed to help teens understand their present, help teachers understand their past, and move everyone toward a more constructive future. You can find out more at the A+ Life website.
What childhood and teenage experiences had the most impact on your decision to be a speaker and mental health advocate?
I have been a perfectionist my entire life. While this attribute empowered me with determination and fantastic work ethic, it also made me incredibly insecure and a victim of crippling anxiety. In school, people called me “Miss Perfect.” I was a leader in multiple clubs, starred in plays, and sang solos in choir. I took AP classes and dance classes – but, inwardly, I was a mess. I spread myself way too thin and I couldn’t afford to make errors. When I made minor mistakes, it haunted me for days. I overcompensated by taking on more work for myself. I buried my imperfections with a spotless reputation.
My preoccupation with perfection stemmed from the fact that I was incredibly insecure. I hated the way I looked and I assumed no one would ever find me attractive. Much to my surprise, a boy I liked for years asked me out when I was fifteen. He was stunningly handsome and I deemed him to be the most perfect person I’d ever met. Over the course of two years, we had an on-again, off-again relationship in which I experienced sexual assault, toxicity, and became even more insecure about myself. By the time the relationship ended for good, I felt worthless.
Eventually, I discovered cognitive behavioral therapy and was forced to confront my emotions and insecurities. I had closed myself off from being honest with people for so long that this seemed impossible for me, but the more I began to speak up and share my story with others, the more I realized that people loved the real me more than I ever considered they would. This experience is what made me want to talk about mental health – because learning to share my story was what saved me in the first place.
What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am extremely grateful for, humbled by, and proud of the things I’ve done. Not many 20 year-olds can say they’ve given a TED talk or started a profitable business. As a die-hard perfectionist, I’m never satisfied. Some might perceive that as greed, but I see it as a reminder to never stop growing. To put a cap on my work and say “this is my biggest accomplishment” assumes that my peak has already passed. I’m only 20 and I don’t want to peak for a long time! I am always proud of something when it happens – like my TED Talk or getting good press – but, I don’t rest on my laurels. I use past accomplishments to motivate me to do the next big thing.
What is your biggest career dream?
I have dozens, but my biggest career dream would be to appear on Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions. I cry just watching people speak on this show. I think if I got the chance, I’d have to have doctors on hand to catch me if I fainted.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d tell her to stop searching for perfection and instead search for self-acceptance. I’d tell her to be proudly weak: humble enough to admit flaws, but bold enough to stand tall, anyway. I’d teach her to find beauty in being unencumbered, unapologetic, and unafraid to be herself; to realize that people aren’t broken, but beautifully imperfect.
How would your friends describe you in three words?
Accomplished, professional, and stylish.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Anxious, sensitive, and creative.
What do you wish people knew about you that they may not know?
I am a duck – no matter how clean and precise I look on the surface, I am frantically paddling underwater. It’s funny – I talk about dropping the guise of perfection because many people still tell me I’m “perfect.” They look at my accomplishments or hear my speeches and assume I’ve had my happy ending. To that, I say “Um, NO.” There is no happy ending because life keeps going. Yes, I can stand on a stage and tell a story about a boy who did me wrong and how I still came out on top, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t times where I fall back to the bottom. I wish people knew that mental illness will never stop being a part of me – I still deal with it all the time and have even returned to counseling multiple times. What has changed is that it’s still a part of me, but not the part I define myself by. I’ve learned to stop chasing happy endings and find joy in the process of life. I wish people knew that I’m still learning and I always will be.
What is your favorite quote?
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. – Neale Donald Walsch.
Do you have a role model? Who is it and why?
I have a lot of role models! I really love passionate people: Lin Manuel-Miranda, Emma Stone, Beyonce, and Michelle Obama come to mind. I think the people I look up to are unapologetically themselves. They’re not “too cool” to get excited about things. You can see it in their eyes when they talk about what they love – that spark empowers me to continue to do what I love.
Glennon Doyle Melton also inspires me. She is a self-help author and all-around brilliant human being. Her TED talk got me through a lot and was a big motivator for me to apply to give a talk. I met her in September on her speaking tour and it was the most magical and tearful (I was blubbering) experience of my life.
Do you believe you are a role model?
I hope I am! The anxious, insecure side of myself wants to say “no,” but the empowered, self-love-y side of me knows to say “yes.” I don’t think I’m spotless, but I hope young people look at what I’ve tried to do and feel empowered to make a difference in their lives or in someone else’s life. I’m not always sure of myself, but I know I can create beautiful things and I hope that’s empowering to others.
What impact do you hope to have on the world?
No matter what I end up doing professionally, I want to teach people to be kind. I think so many problems are rooted in low-self esteem that we project onto others who then project that onto others. If we learn to love ourselves and radiate positivity, it can change people for good. Sometimes our hearts are hardened, but I truly believe genuine kindness can change the world. We can break the cycle of toxicity by spreading love above all else.
Are you optimistic about the future?
I believe we have to be optimistic. When I expect the worst, I get the worst. But when I have a good attitude and persevere even when I’m frustrated, things tend to be okay. I believe positivity brings positive experiences even when things aren’t perfect. Complaining and dread make us feel unnecessarily bad. Why not feel good instead?
Many young people feel discouraged about pursuing their passions. Why do you think that is? What is your advice to teens with a dream?
I think people get discouraged because failure is a very scary thing! When you pursue a goal, you’re aiming at something you love knowing that it could end up falling flat on its face. If we live in fear of failure, we stay comfortable in our little comfort zones where life is boring and we never learn anything. I urge teens to make themselves uncomfortable. Do scary things. Ask people for help. Invest your time in the things you want to pursue. Take risks and make leaps. Don’t let the threat of loss stop you from getting a win. Everything is going to be twisty, turny, and it will never stop being that way, but you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t start the journey.
Amanda shared her coming of age story in a TEDxUWMilwaukee presentation called Saying the Hard Things: The Power of Speaking Up. She detailed the highs and lows of her teenage life in her relationships with men, depression, and small-town fame.
By sharing her personal experiences with depression, toxic romantic relationships, and insecurities, Amanda teaches teens that anything is possible through honesty, self-acceptance, and kindness. Amanda is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she studies Communication. Visit Amanda Springob’s website for more information.
What unique gifts do you want to share with the world?
The word “feminism” stirs up a war of emotion based on one’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of the word. Kathy Frankovic, a public opinion polling expert, conducted a large-scale survey to examine how men and women define “feminism.” Many of the participants in her poll called feminism “liberal,” “stupid,” “radical,” and “extreme.”
Few of the participants claimed to support feminism beliefs – before they heard a dictionary definition of the word. Frankovic said, “Most people don’t want to call themselves feminists – but many people change their minds when feminism is associated with equality.”
In an Economist/YouGov.com poll, Frankovic asked participants, “Do you consider yourself a feminist or not?” Seventy-five percent of the poll participants said they were not feminists. She shared with the participants a definition of feminism as “someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Given that definition, she repeated the question. Upon hearing a definition of feminism, 60% of the poll participants agree they were feminists, 40% said they were not.
“Today, gender bias continues to create huge barriers for many women,” contends the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Ongoing struggles include ensuring equal economic opportunities, educational equity, and an end to gender-based violence.” Though there has been remarkable progress in gender equality throughout the last 150 years, women continue to face discrimination, violence, and institutional obstacles that block educational, employment, and leadership opportunities.
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights,” says political activist Gloria Steinem. She adds, “The art of acting morally is behaving as if everything we do matters.” Equality strengthens the relationships between all of us.
Contributions of women across professions – including engineering, mathematics, literature, science, and government – inspire men, women, and most importantly, our children. These words of inspiration from strong men and women offer universal encouragement and support full equality of our entire citizenry:
The earth is the mother of all people and all people should have equal rights upon it. – Chief Joseph
You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
Gender equality is not a woman’s issue. It is a human issue. It affects all of us. – Elizabeth Nyamayaro
I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side. – Maya Angelou
It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are. –Emma Watson
No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens. – Michelle Obama
The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all. – Aung San Suu Kyi
No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. – Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. – Bryant H. McGill
Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it. – Francis Wright
We are not created equal. We are are not carbon copies of one another. Each one of us possesses a unique set of gifts and talents. We also have individual challenges and personal hardships.
Every new day provides us with opportunities to share our strengths and face challenges – together. When we support and encourage each other, we have opportunities to celebrate greater equality and mutual respect.
What can you do to think and act in ways that reflect a vision of equality?
“The only place ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary,” insisted Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers. “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”
Lombardi passionately rallied team spirit and established a collaborative commitment to excellence among his players. He believed “the achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” Lombardi insisted, “People who work together will win.”
What is Teamwork? Teamwork and collaboration are popular buzzwords in many competitive environments. Although sports team analogies are often used in groups to encourage collaborative efforts, they are difficult to achieve without adopting the practices used by successful coaches.
Many group leaders try to generate team spirit without teaching and modeling successful collaboration to its members. Every successful sports team shares a commitment to the following habits of mind:
Coaches successfully establish a vision for the team.
All members of the team have a clearly-defined mission.
Every player understands how their individual efforts contribute to the team’s success.
Every player knows their teammates depend upon them.
Successful collaborative leaders rally teamwork among its group members to the extent that they:
Communicate well-defined vision, mission, and goals.
Identify the unique skills and talents of every member on the team.
Support individual growth of each team member.
Identify ways through which individuals successfully pursue their own goals in ways that reflect the vision, mission, and goals of the organization.
Do you have a vision? A vision statement articulates the big idea of what you are working towards as a goal. It is a mental image of what you believe is possible. Your vision expresses how you want to be perceived in the world and the legacy you want to share with others.
Jennell Evans, CEO of Strategic Interactions, explains that a vision is an “optimal desired future state – the mental picture – of what an [individual or] organization wants to achieve over time.” It is an expression of your core values. It should be concise and easy to remember.
Where do envision you or your group will be in one, two, five, or ten years? If you can’t clearly describe where you are headed, how can you expect your team to get there?
What is Your Mission? A mission statementis an action statement that reflects your vision. It clarifies (1) what you want to do, (2) who you do it for, and (3) how you do what you do. It expresses how your purpose distinguishes you from others.
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explained that vision and mission statements are “more powerful more significant, more influential, than the baggage of the past, or even the accumulated noise of the present.” Strong vision and mission statements provide you with clear direction.
Does your mission align with your vision? Are members of your team aware of your mission? Do they see its value? Do they know how their individual efforts contribute to the mission?
Align Your Goals with Your Vision and Mission. Many teams waste tremendous amounts of time because they over-focus on the completion of daily tasks without ensuring their contributions are aligned with their vision and mission. Goals without a vision and mission are like arrows without a target.
Use your vision and mission to prioritize and decide which tasks to complete and the order with which you will complete them. Look at your planner, schedule, or calendar. Are you preparing to complete tasks on your agenda this week because they meet your goals – or because they are written on your calendar?
Set objective performance goals. Use action verbs that can be observed and measured.
Be precise. Include dates, times, and measurable information so you can track your progress.
Prioritize your goals. Prioritizing tasks helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many goals and draw your attention to your most important tasks.
Commit to Excellence as a Team. “Don’t succumb to excuses,” insisted Vince Lombardi. He encouraged players to “go back to the job of making corrections and forming the habits that will make your goal possible.”
Commitment to a shared vision, mission, and goals are the foundation for strategic decision-making processes that unite members of a team. This commitment will not eliminate conflict, but it will establish a collaborative focus that rallies team spirit.
Collaboration Includes Consensus. Building a collaborative vision and mission is more than an all-in-favor-raise-your-hands voting practice. The collaborative process of consensus creates a framework that invites full participation from group members. The more invested members of a group are to the vision of the group, the thornier a consensus process can be.
Michael Roberto, author of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer, states that consensus “does not mean unanimity, widespread agreement on all facets of a decision, or complete approval by a majority of organization members.” Group members may not completely agree upon all decisions; however, they concur to components they can live with. Roberto explained, “Consensus has two critical components: a high level of commitment to a chosen course of action and a strong shared understanding of the rationale for the decision.”
It is not uncommon for group members to show resistance when using consensus to make decisions (especially if they are unfamiliar with the process). They sometimes complain consensus is too time-consuming or stirs up unnecessary tension. Bruce Tuckman referred to this as the “storming” process. Tuckman explained there are stages of group development (or forming-norming-storming-performing theory) that are necessary for a group to grow, face challenges, and find solutions.
I have facilitated many groups as they struggled to use consensus. They quarreled about opposing viewpoints, argued about agreed-upon norms – and eventually agreed upon decisions that included the input from all group members. I firmly believe that consensus is at the heart of successful collaboration and teamwork.
Successful Teams Commit to the Process. Of course, not all decisions within an organization are determined by consensus. However, nothing will undermine consensus faster than leaders who insist upon forcing their own agenda upon a group. Or group members who refuse to participate in the process.
When others are silent, it does not mean they are listening. It simply means they are not speaking. Visionary leadership and a cooperative environment supports the success of all of its members as well as the success of the group.
The collaborative process starts with dialogue. Invite your team to brainstorm and discuss ways you can more effectively collaborate as a united front. Ask questions. Listen.
Let the games begin.
How can your group build collaboration and teamwork?
You need air to breathe. Do you worry there might not be enough air for you to survive? Do you save air because someone may take it away from you?
When you believe you have an abundant supply of resources (like air), you don’t worry whether or not it will run out – unless your supply is threatened. What if air was so heavily polluted that you needed an oxygen tank to survive? And what if there were only a limited number of oxygen tanks available? Air suddenly becomes valuable. Its scarcity generates fear because there might not be enough for everyone.
Your perceptions shape your beliefs, attitude, words, and behavior. If you have an abundance mentality,you expect to find whatever you need whenever you need it. However, if you have a scarcity mentality – if you believe there are limited resources, money, opportunities, etc. – you feel threatened and nervous about your lack of options.
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, believed most people possess a scarcity mentality. He explained, “They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, that would mean less for everybody.”
John C. Maxwell, motivational speaker and leadership expert, adds that those with a scarcity mentality fear losing what little they have and believe they must protect it. They find it difficult to share with others. They are often jealous or resentful when others experience success.
An abundance mentality flows from a deep sense of personal self-worth and security. Those with an abundance vision believe there is plenty of room at the universal table and more than enough to share with everyone. Where scarcity beliefs only manifest limitations and lack, abundance mentality welcomes possibilities and new opportunities.
Covey argued that those crippled with a scarcity mentality believe they must compete for everything – even when everything is readily available to them. They don’t see beyond their lack because their perceptions are distorted. On a social level, scarcity thinking leads to fear and suspicion. You feel threatened. You feel unsafe. You believe you must be on guard and protect yourself at all times because others will hurt you or take what rightfully belongs to you.
Maxwell asserts, “Leaders who allow a scarcity mindset to work its way into their culture pay a high price.” The author of How Successful People Think explains, “When resources (money, opportunity, recognition, etc.) are perceived to be limited, paranoia, fear and politics thrive.”
When a scarcity mentality permeates a community, people become anxious and lose faith in one another. They no longer see possibilities because they’re focused on dangers around them. They want to protect what little they have. Statements such as “We can’t welcome outsiders because they take away opportunities that belong to us” are an example of scarcity mentality.
Strong leaders possess an abundance mentality. Their vision of prosperity and opportunities for all encourage confidence among others.
The most effective way you and I can build an abundant mentality in our communities is by individually committing to abundant thinking and building a positive, abundant mindset. Maxwell offers these suggestions to nurture abundant mentality:
Express gratitude to others. Let others know how much you value them. Your happiness will increase in direct proportion to the appreciation you show others. Maxwell believes an attitude of gratitude is the most effective way to create a more abundant life.
Look for opportunities. Challenges are matters of perception. You can view challenges as obstacles that block you from experiencing joy and success – or directional arrows that point you to new opportunities. You quickly find opportunities when you believe they are available to you.
Remind yourself that there is more than enough. As Covey said, there is enough pie to go around. We live on a richly abundant planet. Create a personal mantra: Say “There is plenty for everyone. There is plenty for me. There is plenty for me to share.” Mike Dooley, author of Infinite Possibilities: The Art of Living Your Dreams, says, “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.”
Surround yourself with positive people. I once saw these words on a poster: “You are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time.” Maxwell insists, “Mindsets are contagious.” Find a tribe with individuals who share your interests and optimistic attitude – or the optimistic mindset you want to adopt. Find a mentor. Build a support system.
Spend time in quiet reflection. Remind yourself every day of the positive blessings that fill your life. Give thanks for all of those to whom you feel grateful. Imagine all of the wonderful opportunities that are available to you. As you pray or meditate, be open to divine guidance. Repeat positive affirmations that build your confidence.
Give more of what you want. Maxwell encourages others to “be a river, not a reservoir.” Look for opportunities to volunteer and be of service to others. Scarcity thinking leads to selfishness. Service reflects a sense of abundance.
The most powerful words that reflect an abundance mentality are found on the Statue of Liberty. In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote:
Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
These words welcomed immigrants looking for refuge as they passed through Ellis Island to a new home in the United States. If we possess abundant thinking, we believe there is plenty available and plenty to be shared.
It is easy to criticize leaders. However, all of us are leaders. Maxwell concludes,
“Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less. We influence the people around us wherever we are.”
An attitude of abundance does more than lift your spirits – it transforms you. You become a role model. Like the Statue of Liberty, you carry a torch that inspires others.
Change opens an emotional can of uncertainty. Change can shake you to your core. Feelings like anxiety and confusion that result from big life transitions can paralyze your efforts to move forward.
“What you are is what you have been,” said Gautama Buddha. “What you will be is what you do now.”
Transitions push you from comfort to discomfort and dare you to adapt to change in new ways. Fortunately, wisdom from past experiences serve as your internal compass. Through change, you learn how to do new things with new tools. Change opens new doors to new opportunities.
Easier said than done.
It takes time for your emotional center to adapt to changes. Internal changes do not occur at the speed of external changes. When life transitions rattle your cage and force you to make changes in your life, you must adapt to the changing circumstances.
William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, explains that successful change takes place when you have “a clear purpose, a plan for, and a part to play” in the circumstances affecting your life. He describes three phases to successfully move through change:
Release old ways of doing things. Old habits may feel comfortable, even when those habits lose their effectiveness. Recognize there is a difference between what feels comfortable and what feels familiar. Time is needed to grieve the loss of familiar ways of doing things when they may no longer serve you.
Move through the in-between time to prepare for change. Bridges calls this a “neutral time.” Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go, adds, “We may feel all alone, wondering what is wrong with us for letting go of the proverbial bird-in-hand, when there is nothing in the bush.” When you face uncertainty, trust there will be opportunities to discover new ideas, spark new interests, and experiment with new tools.
Adjust to new beginnings. When new ways of doing things replace old habits and common rituals, you find a new identity. You feel like you are standing on solid ground again. You gain confidence when you learn new skills and new ways of adapting to the changes around you. You become more optimistic and hopeful.
When you consciously accept the change around you and focus on the positive opportunities that lay ahead of you, you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Circumstances that once seemed like roadblocks become important arrows that lead you in new directions to new experiences.
Mike Dooley, author of Leveraging the Universe: 7 Steps to Engaging Life’s Magic , insists, “Our positive thoughts are at least 10,000 times more powerful than our negative thoughts.” Positive thoughts motivate you to focus on positive outcomes and repositions you to explore new experiences you might not have previously considered.
Be deliberate about what you choose to think about. Worrying is praying for what you don’t want. Escape a scarcity mentality by focusing your thoughts on what you want to experience.
If you want to experience greater happiness, consider these proactive transition tips when you experience change:
I began a gratitude journal when I experienced a tumultuous job change. I wanted to experience something new – even though I did not yet know what the next career move would be. I committed to a daily writing practice of writing 10 statements about positive blessings in my life. Ann Voskamp’s book,One Thousand Gifts, provides wonderful gratitude journal guidance.
Write positive affirmations. Put the positive in your affirmation by focusing deliberate intention on desired outcomes you want to experience in your life. Affirmations are always stated in present tense; they are personal and specific.
A constructive affirmation such as “Lucrative opportunities always come my way” invites prosperity. When I say “Spectacular ideas flow to me in a river of abundance,” I acknowledge creative opportunities are at my disposal whenever I am open to inspiration.
Do something you love to do every day. It may feel more comforting to withdraw from others or postpone the work of adapting to changes in your life, especially if you are experiencing multiple transitions. It is important to engage in activities that connect you to people and areas of your life where you feel confident, positive, and in control.
Transitions often make additional demands on your available time and financial resources. Set aside as little as 15 minutes a day to do something you enjoy. Focus on the time you have; not the time you do not have within your day.
Find support. Find a group with members who are experiencing similar changes. Many groups have directories that promote meetings, sponsor special events, and attract new members. Local libraries, community centers, churches, and online networking groups provide information and resources that connect like-minded individuals in ways they can inspire and motivate one another.
In the end, the work of personal change – and how you choose to move through it – is up to you. President Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other thing” to do the work for you. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Change is not easy, but it is necessary. Dr. Chris Michaels adds, “What happens to you isn’t as important as what you become from what happened.” You may not have chosen a particular situation or circumstances, but you choose how you respond to it and move forward.
As you look back and examine the fabric of your life and recall how you adapted to change over time, you discover you actually evolved in ways you never expected. You find that you are stronger and more resilient. That is what growth is all about.
My friend, Pam, asked, “What do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and a partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?”
The origins of the twelve days of Christmas are rooted in European Catholic traditions. The first of the twelve days is Christmas Day and ends on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 5th).
The Catholic liturgical calendar was adjusted so that the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is celebrated on the first Sunday of the year. The Feast of the Epiphany now falls on the second Sunday of the year.
No one ever said Catholic traditions and calendaring is simple. The changes, however, do not prevent anyone – or any religious affiliation – from singing The Twelve Days of Christmas every year.
Pam is a writer (among other things) and a champion inspirer who posts regularly on her blog, Destress with Joy. She recently discovered an old email written by her mother. In it, her mother answered her questions about The 12 Days of Christmas:
Many years ago, Roman Catholics were not permitted to openly practice their faith in England. Someone composed this carol for young Catholics. There was a literal interpretation of the song; but there were also hidden meanings intended to be shared by members of the church. Every element in the carol represents religious teachings and Biblical verses children could remember.
“So, there is your history lesson for today!” adds Pam. “This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening.”
Pam’s mother is no longer with her, but this email is a reminder that traditions tell a story about our faith and love is something that last forever. Our stories are a torch that connect the past with the present.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and philosopher, said, “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
As we prepare to celebrate a New Year, we can become bogged down by the weight of darkness or embrace optimism and hope. I choose to see light. I choose to see light in others. I choose to be light for those who are afraid of the dark.
When we choose to be light – as individuals and as a global community – we have the power to change the world.
How are you a light to the world?
Are you (or someone you love) struggling to get into the holiday mood? Where Are You, Christmas? may be just the lift you need.
There are people who inspire us in unexpected places. Read about Guardian Angel in this urban school.
Once upon a time, a dangerous criminal was captured by a king. He was tried for his crimes and sentenced to death. The king offered the criminal two choices: death by hanging or passage through a large iron door with no information about what’s on the other side. The criminal pointed at the rope.
As a noose was slipped around his neck, the criminal asked, “What’s behind that door?”
“I don’t understand why everyone selects the rope,” said the king, shaking his head.
“But what’s behind the door?” the criminal repeated. “Obviously, I won’t tell anyone.”
“Freedom,” replied the king, “but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope.”
You don’t expect to hear “And they all lived happily ever after” at the end of this story. You do expect the story to have significance.
As an effective storyteller, a story must lead to a deeper, more meaningful message for your listeners or the point is lost. To capture and hold the interest of your audience, remember these fundamental storytelling tips:
The story must connect to the purpose of your presentation.
The story must connect to your listeners’ experiences.
The story must invite listeners to connect and find value in their own stories.
My first presentation as a professional speaker was about core values.
“We know you can talk about the topic, but I was in the audience during one of your presentations about 10 years ago,” said the conference planner. “Speak from your heart. Tell your story.”
I smiled. And I was terrified. Have you ever felt two strong emotions at the same time? Have you ever hoped your facial expressions and body language didn’t reflect your apprehensions? I was prepared to deliver an academic presentation about values and choices. I was not prepared to reveal personal information about myself.
I found the courage to pass through the door of unfamiliar territory shared my experiences with depression. I revealed how ashamed and afraid I felt when I first asked for help. Although the thought of talking about my personal experiences was terrifying because I did not want to appear weak or broken in front of my listeners, it also provided an opportunity to connect the story with the purpose of the presentation: aligning one’s life purpose with one’s core values.
Courage is one of my core values. Asking for help took courage. Sharing my experiences with others demanded a lot more courage.
I felt as if a noose was around my neck when I stepped to the podium to share my story. Had I not connected my experience to the purpose of the presentation, the audience would ask themselves, “Why is she telling us about this?” (or “Why does she think we care?”).
When you share your story, you sometimes straddle a very thin line between personal connection with your audience and providing too much information. The purpose of telling your story is not to focus attention upon yourself. The purpose of your story is to invite your audience to discover their own story in your experience.
“Stories always have to land on the point that you’re teaching,” insists popular motivational speaker Lisa Nichols. “Weave the message inside of the story. A good story will drive listeners to action.”
Secondly, the story must connect to your listeners’ experiences. You can inspire personal transformation within your story. You cannot Google-download transformation; it must come from deep within your authentic self.
Rick Segel is a sales expert and author of Retail Business Kit For Dummies. At a conference in England, Rick heard a speaker give a powerful presentation packed with incredible stories. The speech he heard was the same speech, word for word, delivered by the winner of the International Toastmasters contest that same year. The award-winning speech was posted on YouTube and seen by more than 10,000 viewers.
Walk your talk … not someone else’s talk. Tell your own stories.
We live in a technological age. It’s easy to take credit for someone else’s story – and easier than you think to get caught in a tangled net of plagiarism. Telling someone else’s stories and claiming them as your own will tarnish your reputation as a storyteller. Avoid legal battles of copyright violations. Believe in the strength and power of your own experiences.
Finally, your story must invite listeners to connect and find value in their own stories. Your audience must be able to relate to your experiences – or relate to the feelings you share as you describe your experiences.I can gauge if my questions or stories connect listeners with their own stories by watching their body language. If they’re nodding or laughing, they’re usually connecting.
For example, I shared the following experience when I was asked to speak at a corporate conference about marketing strategies, hidden agenda, and authenticity:
During a session break, I asked a young man about his iPad. I explained I wanted to purchase one.
He asked what kind of car I drove.
“A Toyota Scion,” I replied, confused but eager to learn more about iPads.
“Would you recommend a Scion to me?” he asked.
“Of course,” I answered, “but …”
“But you don’t know what my automobile needs are,” he replied.
He scolded me for not asking specific questions about his needs first before making a recommendation. He handed me his business card and offered to be my marketing coach. For a price.
I felt angry and told him if I needed his services, I’d ask for them.
As I turned away, a woman behind me handed me her business card.
“Hi, my name is Lauren,” she said. “I’m a business coach.”
“Thank you very much,” I curtly replied, “but I don’t need a business coach.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she quickly replied. “I heard you speak a couple of weeks ago about core values and depression. I just wanted to let you know your words changed my life.”
I apologized and thanked her for lessons she taught me about patience, jumping to conclusions, and living in alignment with my core values. As I retold the story at the conference, I could tell by the facial expressions of my audience that they shared my pain. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel embarrassed.
Lauren taught me a a valuable lesson about living – and speaking – in alignment with the values I embraced.
Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The art of storytelling provides listeners with meaningful opportunities to join you on your journey. The story invites us into that magical, pivotal place where we experience intimacy – and it is within those precious moments of the story where you and I are transformed.
What experiences from your life can become great stories?
Kids are talking. They’re discussing politics. God. Race. Sex. And other things they shouldn’t be talking about at school.
Teachers may discourage discussions about controversial subjects unrelated to school subject matter, but that won’t keep kids from talking about them. Neither will amendments separating Church and state nor laws that forbid debate about science issues (like evolution).
When schools silence conversations about sensitive issues, that doesn’t mean students aren’t talking about them. It means their conversations have gone underground. And that’s a tragedy.
We are bombarded with information about many emotionally-charged issues that may (or may not) be grounded in fact. Many reality television shows teach children how to pit friends against one another, gossip, lie, yell, and fight when faced with conflict. Young people need role models who will guide them through communication landmines that potentially explode when two or more are gathered with differences of opinion.
Conversations about race, culture, religion, and gender usually surface in schools after a child, their families, their beliefs, or their culture have been ridiculed. When we refuse to give students opportunities to explore controversial issues through dialogue, we unintentionally invite them to bully one another.
Adults Fear Politically-Incorrectness. Most adults, particularly those who work with youth, want to be culturally inclusive. At times, we tip-toe around culturally-sensitive time bombs by denying the obvious. Most teachers and youth volunteers, for example, generally agree they treat all teens the same and they do not see color or other differences among youth. (More about this in It’s Not About Race.)
When we ignore skin color, we discount a part of our own unique human identities. When we refuse to discuss issues about inequality or differences among race, culture, gender, or religious practices, we miss priceless opportunities to learn about the experiences of others. Authentic conversations are not possible until we honestly, fearlessly talk and listen to one another about our similarities and differences – including beliefs and biases.
Welcome Opportunities for Dialogue. Every subject in the curriculum provides rich opportunities to engage students in discussion. Current events, laws, and political discontent invite youth to debate, listen, and voice their opinions in ways that promote dialogue:
Establish Discussion Norms. Ground rules for discussion create healthy boundaries for lively debate. I created a discussion contract that students signed (I signed it, too) and posted the norms in the classroom. My role as was to moderate the discussion and remind youth about our agreed norms.
Rules for communication in the classroom include:
One person speaks at a time.
Listen to every speaker with respect.
Respond with respect.
Ask questions when you do not understand.
Use “I” statements (“I think …” not “You are …”).
Provide support for your point of view.
State your point of view once; you need not repeat your point of view.
Acknowledge points of view that hurt your feelings or find offensive.
Speak from your own experience instead of generalizing.
Use respectful body language and nonverbal messages.
Practice “Safe Topic” Discussions. To help students abide by rules for discussion, allow them to practice communication skills about topics that generate less heat. Should secondary students have recess? Should we replace snacks and soft drinks in school vending machines with fruit and bottled water? Discussion about less controversial subjects provide youth with opportunities to practice healthy communication skills.
Ask Students to Clarify Their Questions. A popular story about a small child who created a sketch of a woman who appeared to be pole-dancing splashed across the internet. The artist of the picture wrote “When I grow up, I want to be like Mommy.” When asked “Tell me about your drawing” by her teacher, the child explained her mother sold shovels at Home Depot.
Although the picture was actually drawn by a 17 year-old as a joke, it continues to be a wonderful springboard for a discussion about the value of asking questions before drawing erroneous conclusions.
Asking questions often clarifies the direction of a conversation. For example, one day a third grade student asked, “What’s a tampon?”
I asked, “What do you want to know about tampons?”
“Some women get sick when they use tampons,” she answered.
I explained some women got infections from bacteria when they used tampons. The infections made them sick.
“Oh,” she replied. Satisfied, she returned to her desk.
She did not want to know how to use a tampon. The discussion ended because her question was answered.
Be a good listener when young people ask questions. Do not assume you know what information they want when they ask a question. Ask them questions during discussion. Invite students to question one another when they hear something they don’t understand. Encourage them to explain their points of view. Good questions deepen conversation, provide students with opportunities to share more information, and avoid unnecessary communication pot holes.
There Are No Right or Wrong Opinions. Discussions often become heated because individuals involved in a debate want others to accept their opinions as their own. Encourage children and teens to support their points of view with reliable sources of information. Remind them that the goal of discussion is not necessarily to agree or share the same points of view. The goal is to discuss openly and to listen with respect. The goal is to gain greater understanding of different points of view.
Question the Validity of Internet Content. NPR shared results from a Stanford’s Graduate School of Education study about “fake news.” Eighty percent of the survey student participants did not question internet content sources and accepted most of what they read as fact. Encourage youth to check sources of content on the internet. Do online posts have attribution? Does documentation support the content? Is the content from a reliable source? [There is a difference between content from Abcnews.com (reliable source) and Abcnews.com.co (fake news).] CBS News identified a few of many “fake news” websites.
Identify Reliable Sources of Information. Yale, Oxford, and 4000+ universities throughout the world recommend Encyclopedia Britannica as a trusted reference source. Unlike Wikipedia, updates to Britannica entries are added by informed experts across fields. Scholarpedia also offers reliable sources of information that is fact-checked by professionals. Scholarly journals typically contain information that is research-based and peer-reviewed for accuracy. Explain to young people that information on Wikipedia can be altered by anyone and, as a result, is not a reliable source of information. Internet sites such as Snopes.com, Pulitzer-prize winning Politifact.com, and Fact Checker by The Washington Post help discerning readers determine fact from fiction.
Learn to Distinguish Fact-Based Terminology. If a printed source or movie begins with the words “based on facts,” “based on actual events,” or “based on a true story,” assume large parts of the content are fictitious. Many facts are omitted or changed when movie versions are created from books. However, discussions about events recorded in multiple sources provide students with outstanding opportunities to use higher level thinking skills to compare and contrast information.
Practice What You Preach. Adults must be good role models. If we encourage youth to demonstrate respect to one another, we must follow our own rules and show respect to our peers and children. Young people are very disappointed when they see inconsistencies in our words and behavior. They model behaviors we demonstrate as leaders and mentors. You may be a child’s only adult example of an inclusive and compassionate role model.
Courageous Conversations Are Cornerstones of Relationships. Glenn Singleton, author of Courageous Conversations About Race, explains that courageous conversations “engage those who won’t talk, sustains the conversation when it gets uncomfortable or diverted, and deepens the conversation to the point where authentic understanding and meaningful actions occur.”
Conversations about controversial issues often lead to discussions about other important social concerns such as poverty, immigration, and judicial systems. Courageous dialogue invites us to reject negative bias and evolve as beacons of hope for the future.
Many youth are interested in world events and hungry for opportunities to discuss their concerns. Malala Yousafzai, 17 year-old recipient of the Nobel peace prize, said, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
If we, as adults, don’t engage in conversations about sensitive topics with kids in schools and at home, they will discuss these issues among themselves and use the internet, social media, and reality TV as their sources of information. They’ll keep talking – with or without you.
Every discussion about politics, God, race, sex, and controversial issues create opportunities to build bridges. When we invite young people into meaningful dialogue, they learn to find their own voice.
How can you promote positive communication with young people?
It’s Not About Race reveals how conversations about race and culture open channels to explore perceptions and attitudes.
When Allied troops entered Auschwitz, a concentration camp in southern Poland in 1945, they found a handful of starved, sick prisoners who survived to see the end of World War II. A soldier found a three-line poem scratched by a Holocaust survivor in the wall of the barracks:
I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even though I don’t feel it. I believe in God, even when he is silent.
More than one million captives died at Auschwitz. However, the anonymous verse serves as a reminder of the power of hope and human need for inspiration at the most desperate times.
Anne Frank, a 16 year-old girl and author of the famous diary, hid in an attic with her family for two years before they were betrayed and discovered by Nazi soldiers. She died shortly before the end of the World War II at Bergen-Belson. She clung to her positive belief that there was good in the world and much to be thankful for.
In Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, released by her father and published after her death, she wrote, “Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Anne’s words continue to inspire generations of individuals who have lost hope and yearn for reassurance.
There is an indomitable spirit that burns within us and yearns to be reignited – especially during difficult times. The brightest inspirational words are often composed by individuals experiencing failure, desperation, or hardship.
Senator Edward Kennedy delivered his most powerful speech when he lost his party’s support for the presidential nomination in 1980. As he rallied support for the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter, he said, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dreams shall never die.”
Allow these inspirational quotations to rekindle your spirit when you most need to experience hope:
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. – Helen Keller
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.– Melody Beattie
Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. – Denis Waitley
In order to carry a positive action, we must develop here a positive vision.– Dalai Lama
Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. – Gen. Colin Powell
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. – Marcus Aurelius
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. – Mother Teresa
Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there. – Vine Deloria, Jr.
What we think we become. – Buddha
Choosing optimism over pessimism does not mean that the steps ahead will be easy, but sources of inspiration lighten a burden. When I need direction, I remember words from A Course In Miracles:
Where would You have me go? What would You have me do? What would You have me say and to whom?
The words of St. Francis of Assisi can guide your steps when you face difficult decisions:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Anne Frank joyfully wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” The light we often seek, especially during difficult times, is within.
It is my prayer for you that these words lifts your spirits and fill you with hope.
In what positive ways can you rekindle your spirit of hope (especially when you need it)?
Although technology creates swift channels of communication and connections throughout the world, many people struggle alone as they face life challenges.
“We want people who understand us and can be depended upon during tough times,” explains Cathy Williams, MSW, LCSW, CEAP. “We need people who listen and give us honest feedback.”
A support system equips you with tools to cope with stress and increases your life expectancy. Support reduces depression and anxiety. Williams adds, “Giving and receiving support from others is a basic human need.”
Leanne Fredrich, life coach and blogger at AmazingMondays.com, insists, “When you are with your tribe [or your support system], you feel inspired to create, take chances and most of all you feel at home. Even if your passion requires a certain amount of solitude, you still need a tribe.” Although circumstances may force you to spend large amounts of time by yourself or with people you would not typically choose as friends, your support system is a central network with whom you find trust, mutual support, and strength.
It is particularly difficult to build a new support system after you’ve experienced a jolting life change such as a move, school or job change, or relationship changes. Unlike family, Ken Robinson, author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, explains, “Tribe members can be collaborators or contributors.” He adds, “What connects a tribe is a common commitment to the thing they feel born to do. This can be extraordinarily liberating, especially if you’ve been pursuing your passion alone.”
In my book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide, I explain how to build your support system. Surround yourself with people who eagerly encourage you and celebrate your success. Build supportive relationships. Networking events, Mastermind groups, neighborhood clubs, and school and church activities offer opportunities for like-minded individuals to share similar goals, acknowledge progress, and hold one another accountable for completing individual and group projects and commitments.
You may have more than one support system. Consider these questions as you think about finding or adding new members to your circle of support:
Do I have one or more close friends?
Do I take part in social activities?
How am I (or how can I become) involved in active service to others?
Health and Wellness Support
What changes in my diet would I like to make?
Do I want to develop an exercise routine?
What lifestyle changes can I make to improve my health?
Do I have hobbies?
Do I take part in social activities?
Who can I talk to when I need emotional support?
How do I define my family?
How can I be more supportive and engaged with my family?
In what ways can I let my family know what support I need?
Mental and Intellectual Support
What new skills or information would I like to learn?
Do I want to learn or pursue a new hobby or interest?
Where would I like to learn it?
Career and Educational Support
What is my ideal job?
What skills and knowledge do I use or need to maintain or pursue my career and educational goals?
How can I learn new skills and knowledge?
What resources are available to finance other goals?
How much would I like save and invest my resources?
How would I like my share my wealth with others?
Do I have a regular practice of prayer or meditation?
Do I belong to a spiritual community?
How would I like to become more actively involved in spiritual community activities?
Seth Godin, author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, explains, “For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” Trust your instincts to guide you to the right people. And trust your instincts enough to know when it is time to part ways with member of your tribe. Not all relationships are permanent – nor are they meant to be.
When someone enters your life for a reason, you typically share a common purpose, desire, or interest. Like an ad hoc committee, you move on after you meet or fulfill your common purpose. Relationships that evolve over the course of a season provide you with support, encouragement, and opportunities to learn and grow. Seasonal relationships may change when you move, change jobs, or change relationships. Lifetime relationships stand the test of time and are grounded in strong emotional commitments to one another. Even in death, the relationship can change, but the love endures.
19th century philosopher, William James, wrote, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind. If you can change your mind, you can change your life.”
So, how do you start to build a support system? Creating a strong network takes time. You don’t have to know how to move forward; you only have to be brave enough to take the next step.
Trust your judgement. Listen to your instincts. A circle of support is waiting for you.
Who is in your support system? Who would you like to include in your circle of support?
A photo circulating across social media shows a group of teenagers preoccupied with their cell phones as they sit on a bench in front of Rembrandt’s The Night Watchat the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
An adult posted this image on Facebook with the words, “We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom.” Many comments included:
“Can’t those kids disconnect from their phones for two seconds? How disrespectful!”
“This explains why kids can’t carry on a decent conversation.”
“That’s what’s wrong with teenagers: They are completely tuned out and turned off from things going on around them.”
Are they? Or is this a modern version of “judging a book by its cover?”
Things aren’t always as they appear. I added a response to the Facebook stream:
Why are the teens focused on their cell phones? Are they taking selfies? Or are they interested in learning more about the artist, Rembrandt? If the artist is Dutch, is he from Holland or the Netherlands (or both?)? Are they inviting friends to the museum? Letting other friends know what part of the museum they’re in? Wondering if they can purchase a poster of “The Night Watch” at the museum gift store? Unlike the painting, the image of the teens offers very little information because we can’t see their cell phone screens. Much of the story is left untold.
Twenty-first century teens grew up with technology – it’s part of how they communicate with one another. The cell phone does not mean that they’re not tuned in; it just means they’re tuned in differently. If we, as adults, are curious – it’s up to us to ask.
As a college instructor, I established very clear rules about cell phone use during class. I seethed when students tried to secretly use their Smartphones during class. I called them out – by name – and asked them to put their cell phones away. Some of them deliberately ignored my instructions …
… until I observed their use of mobile devices while they worked on small group projects. Some students looked up definitions of unfamiliar words on their cell phones. Others searched for information related to their projects. Some watched YouTube videos and online PowerPoint presentations with tutorials about how to deliver an engaging presentation. They shared website links with one another via text messaging. They used their phone cameras to video record their deliveries as they practiced their presentations.
I was embarrassed.
What I thought was going on and what was actually going on as students used their mobile devices were two very different things. I am sure a few students used their cell phones to check email or text their friends. However, the number of students who used iPhones and iPads to advance their own learning far outweighed technology abuses.
“I completely misunderstood how you used the technology tools available to you to learn during instruction,” I explained. “Please continue to use these tools if they are helpful as you complete future assignments.”
“Really?” asked one of the students. “I thought you hated cell phones, Dr. Connor.”
“I hate cell phone abuse that interferes with learning and our connections to one another,” I answered. “I have a new perspective as I watched you use technology from the back of the classroom today. I apologize. And thank you.”
We established one more classroom technology rule that was simple: Keep your cell phones away unless you need it.
In the classes that followed, students respectfully muted their cell phones; the screens faced the desks. When one of them picked up their Smartphone, I was excited because I knew they were looking for information that would take learning experiences to a deeper level. Rather than prohibit cell phone and technology use in the classroom, I incorporated its use during instruction and it elevated our academic and relational experiences.
In an episode of Wall Street Journal Live’s Lunch Break, Tanya Rivero interviews educators and uncovers how some schools throughout the country spark creativity and learning in classrooms as students use cell phones to complete homework.
Common Sense Media conducted a study and found that 50% of the surveyed teens admitted they were addicted to their mobile devices. Furthermore, 27% of the parents surveyed admitted their own mobile device addictions – and teens agreed. To be honest, I experienced many more cell phone abuses and mobile device disengagement when I taught adult students over 30 than teens and millennials. I believe this is due to the fact that teens and millennials are much more familiar with all of the technological advantages that cell phone use offers to them.
Although mobile devices offer detours and provide users with a means of escape, adults often assume teens are more interested in connections with their cell phones than in personal face-to-face conversations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teens are starving for opportunities to build relationships – with adults and with one another. It’s up to adults to invite communication.
Positive communication starts with a dialogue.
In what positive ways are you connecting with the young people in your life?
Guest blogger, Amy Oestreicher, is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, Huffington Post writer, TEDx and RAINN speaker, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright. She shares lessons from trauma through her writing, art, performance, and inspirational speaking.
I’ve spent a lot of time “waiting” in my life. As a kid I grew antsy with impatience, waiting until I was “older” to start dating, to go to the mall unsupervised, to learn how to drive. I was counting the days until I turned 18, giddy at the idea of college and independence at last. Two weeks after I turned 18, I was pulled into another realm where “waiting” took on an entirely new meaning.
When an unforeseen blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock, my life changed forever. Now, it was my devoted family who waited patiently and lovingly while I recovered from a three-month coma. When I awoke, I waited many more months before I could take a breath of outside air once again. I became extremely well-versed in patience — little did I know that I’ve have to wait eight more months before I was discharged from the ICU, six years before I could drink a sip of water or eat a morsel of food again and 27 surgeries before doctors could create a makeshift digestive system for me.
As a born go-getter, I’ve never been great with “patience.” So I became extremely frustrated as doctors explained to me how “it would be a long road to recovery, but I’ll get there.” But healing physically and recovering my “self” emotionally, feeling my aliveness as well as being alive… I learned that this is a daily process, a life-long one. Life will not always be perfect, and there’s no reason to wait until things are.
I had this fantasy that the day I was finally discharged from the hospital, everything would be “back to normal.” I’d have my old body back — devoid of any medical scars, tubes, bags or IVs. I’d be eating and drinking again. I’d be able to run, jump and leap like I had in dance class just the week before my coma. These surgeries would just be a “blip” in my life, and now it could proceed as it was meant to.
But I learned something far better. I learned my life as I knew it had shattered, but I could reassemble the pieces differently, but still beautifully — like a mosaic. These “imperfect” shards of a life I longed to reclaim could create a work of art even greater, using the grout of experience and newfound wisdom.
Over a decade has passed since my life took an unexpected detour. It was a messy detour that put most of my anticipated life plans on hold, if not changing them completely. But this detour turned into the richest time in my life. To this day, I am still healing physically and emotionally. Every morning I make a new attempt to find who I am and to discover who I am becoming. If I had waited for life to be “perfect,” or at least for life to go back to “how it was,” I would have missed out on so many things. I would have never mounted my first solo art show after learning to paint in the hospital. I would have never written a one-woman musical about my life that I’ve performed for five years or given a TEDx Talk… If I hadn’t had the audacity to set up an online dating profile for myself while still in my hospital gown, on IVs and recovering from a disastrous surgery, I would never have married the first love of my life. And when I was suddenly hit with a divorce less than a year later, I learned that there is never a reason to wait to fully love yourself.
Not “waiting” for life to happen can mean simply showing up and staying open to where the path may lead. Even with wounds that still haven’t healed – and that’s not a metaphor – I’m on the road. If I’m willing to feel, I’ll always have my heart to guide me. Apparently you don’t need a stomach to survive, but, a heart is indispensable!
They say that all good things come to those who wait. But what for? Every day is an opportunity to learn, to grow and better myself. I love the imperfect twists and turns my life has taken, simply because they have made me who I am. It has been a mess, having life as I knew it shattered to pieces. But bit by bit it’s reassembling — different, imperfect, but beautiful all the same.
As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, Amy’s one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses. More information at www.amyoes.com
Jennifer Lawrence, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Robert Patterson, Miley Cyrus, Marshall Mathers (Eminem), and Lady Gaga share more than celebrity status. They know what it’s like to be bullied.
“Girls can be mean,” said Jennifer Lawrence. “A popular girl once gave me invitations to hand out to her birthday party – a party I wasn’t invited to.”
“I grew up in Tennessee,” explained Justin Timberlake. “If you didn’t play football, you were a sissy. I got slurs all the time because I was in music and art.”
“Some of the girls in my school were big and tough. I was scrawny and short,” admitted Miley Cyrus. “They shoved me in the school bathroom where I was trapped. I banged on the door until my fists hurt. Nobody came. I waited for someone to rescue me. I wondered how my life got so messed up.”
Rather than giving the past the power to control them, each one of them carved out a new course. As artists and anti-bullying activists, they encourage others, particularly young people, to speak out against bullying.
Memories of bullying are often internalized and become part of the tape many victims play in their own heads. Without a means of defense to protect themselves, those who have been bullied often experience depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and fear. Many children who are bullied carry those unresolved issues with them into adulthood.
Like Jennifer and Miley, I did not have skills to protect myself from bullying. I attended Catholic schools when I was growing up. “Turn the other cheek” and “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” were ingrained into my character. When I was insulted and bullied by others – particularly by those I most admired – I sank into a world of silence. I withdrew from the world.
I wanted to run away to a place where I could reinvent myself after I graduated from high school. I saved money and enrolled at a college far from home. However, I carried the voices of insults and bullying inside me – and I became my own worst enemy. Although I was president of the student government association and nominated for many campus leadership awards, I was drowning in depression. I did not find my own voice until many years later as a teacher in an urban school district. I had to choose whether I was going to allow others to intimidate me – or learn how to chart my own course.
Dr. Dan Owleus, founder of the Owleus Bullying Prevention Program and author of Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, explains, “Bullying poisons the educational environment and affects the learning of every child.” Approximately one out of every four students reports being bullied at school (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015). Sixty-four percent of the children who were bullied in schools did not report it (National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance, 2010).
Fortunately, schools with anti-bullying prevention programs often report a 20-25 percent decrease in bullying behaviors. Moreover, more than half of bullying situations involving young people stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the child being bullied.
Although programs designed to address bullying often promote positive character values, we must do more than enforce consequences after bullying has already occurred. We need to teach kids how to take good care of themselves before they feel threatened by a bully.
Try these suggestions if you (or someone you care about) is intimidated or harassed by a bully:
Act with Confidence. You are much less likely to be picked on if you behave with self-assurance. Make a list of all of your positive qualities and keep it in a place where you can reread it if you feel like your confidence is shaky. Act as if you already possess strong self-confidence. Be proud of who you are. Walk with your head up.
Be Positiveand Strong. If a bully says something unkind to you, ignore it. Or say something like “I hope your day gets better” and walk away. Show in your behavior that the bully has no power over you. Refuse to allow a bully to control your response or decide what you believe about yourself.
Set Appropriate Boundaries. Sometimes if you ignore repeated bullying, it escalates. Bullies are cowards. Silent victims are their favorite targets. Say in a strong, assertive voice, “Stop!” and leave the situation. Take charge of your space.
Stay Calm. Bullies often want you to argue or fight with them. Take a breath. Refuse to react with anger; a bully hopes you’ll respond in a way that gives him or her an invitation to engage in combat.
Remember What’s True. If a bully calls you hurtful names, be direct and say, “No, I’m not” or “I don’t know where you get your information, but it’s wrong.” Remind yourself: If it sounds or feels unkind, it’s not true. It’s not important what a bully thinks about you – what matters is what YOU think about you.
Stay with the Crowd. Don’t be caught in situations where you are by yourself, especially if you are being bullied by someone. Follow others into the restroom if you need to use it. Walk with others in the halls between classes.
Ask for Help. Do not believe only a coward would tell an adult. It takes great courage to inform an adult if you’re being bullied. Ask to be moved to a different class. Contact the principal. Write your teacher a note and explain the situation. Tell the bus driver and sit at the front of the bus.
Talk to Someone. Make an appointment with your school counselor. Explore ways you can strengthen your confidence and communication skills. Join a support group. Build a support system. Create a plan with a caring adult about how to work through a situation involving a bully.
Many years after I experienced bullying in high school, I shared my feelings with a counselor. I asked him, “Why me? Why did the bullies single me out?” The counselor answered, “Because you took it.”
He was right.
I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I believed what the bullies said was true. I believed everyone hated me. I believed I was no good. It was up to me to change my thoughts and my beliefs.
When you get sick of tired of being sick and tired, you change your behavior. When I changed my behavior and refused to be threatened and controlled by bullies (both real and voices from the past), the harassment stopped.
I once heard a wise seventh grader say, “Ignore the people who talk behind your back. That’s where they belong: Behind you.” When children (and adults) set strong personal boundaries and refuse to allow others to define who they are, they discover confidence. Remember that your future is always ahead of you; never behind you.
What can you do if someone bullies you? What can you do if you see someone bully another person?
Michael George Smith, Jr.‘s body was discovered hanging from a tree in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. It was not a public lynching as many people feared. It was a suicide.
He was young. He was gay. Michael believed the only way he could end his emotional pain and inability to make peace with his identity was to end his life.
I was a youth minister at a church when I received a call about Becca. Karli and Becca’s classmates were wracked with guilt. They blamed themselves.
“Becca was my best friend,” Karli cried. “I knew she was sad, but I didn’t know she wanted to kill herself. Why didn’t she tell me?”
Becca was 17 years old when she decided she no longer could bear the dark, consuming hole of depression. Her mother found her lifeless body in the attic. Becca swallowed a handful of sleeping pills, wrapped herself in a blanket, clung to a teddy bear, and never woke up.
The death of a child or teenager confuses and devastates everyone who loves them.
Barbara Hailey was a friend in high school. She had the most lovely singing voice I’ve ever heard. I moved away from our hometown in St. Louis when I left for college and I never looked back. Barb got married and had children.
Her son, Jake, was killed in an automobile accident in 2010. The pain of his loss are as real and deep as they were when she first received news about his death. In a blog post called A Beautiful Difference, Barb wrote:
What a beautiful difference a single life can make. Those words were on a sympathy card I received almost five years ago when I lost my 18 year old son in a car accident. Jake had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to leave for college when he was killed one night on a dark country road. I thought his life was just beginning, but I was wrong. I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe that this is how his story ended. He had so much more to do.
Over the years, people have asked if I am or suggested I should be “over it” or that I should be “moving on.” The truth is, I will never be “over it” and don’t want to be: “it” is my only son. As for moving on, my life is going forward, but it will never be the same. I am as happy as I can be under the circumstances. I have a beautiful and talented daughter, a great man in my life (who has the same dry wit as Jake), and I am blessed with family and friends. However, no matter what happens in the future, there will always be a empty chair at my table and an empty place in my heart. Hallmark got it right this time: What a beautiful difference a single life can make.
What do you say to a parent, sibling, or friend when a young person dies?When my younger sister, Kellie, died, many people offered words of comfort that were painful to hear. I did not want to listen to quotes from Scripture. I didn’t want to pray about it. What felt enormously healing at the time of her death was listening to people tell wonderful stories about her life and the positive impact she had on others.
“I went to talk to a counselor, but she wouldn’t let me talk,” cried Karli. “She told me all about her friends who died young. I felt like it was my job to counsel her.”
Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, lost his son, Aaron, when he was 14 years old. Kushner explained, “At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me — some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability and that was more than they could handle. But real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me. If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence (much better than saying, “You’ll get over it” or “It’s not so bad; others have it worse”) and I loved them for it.”
So, what don’t you say to someone grieving the loss of a child or teenager? Laurie Burrows Grad offers this list of the worst platitudes and insensitive clichés to those in mourning:
He’s in a better place. (A better place would be beside me now.) Everything happens for a reason. (There is no rhyme or reason for this kind of loss.) Time heals all wounds. (Time doesn’t heal all wounds, although healing takes time.) Try not to cry. He wouldn’t want you to cry. (He’d be bawling his eyes out.) It is time to put this behind you. (There is no timetable for grief.) If you think this is bad, let me tell you about the time … (No comparisons, please.) I know how you feel. (Do we ever really know how someone feels?) Let me tell you about my own loss, which is similar to yours. (Please just listen and acknowledge my loss.) You’ll get through it. Be strong. (This tells people to hold on to their grief and not let it out.)
Grad suggests these kind words to comfort someone in times of grief:
I am sorry for your loss. I love you. I wish I had the right words to comfort you. Just know that I care. I don’t know how you feel, but I am available to help in any way I can. How can I help or support you? My favorite memory of your loved one is … How are you doing? Say nothing. Just be with the person.
How can parents help young people cope with the traumatic loss of friend?
Jeff Yalden, youth motivational speaker, offers these suggestions to parents, youth leaders, teachers, and to anyone who mourns the loss of a young friend or family member:
Here are suggested responses: Be physically present, show warmth and compassion, be patient, allow the teen to talk about it, listen carefully, acknowledge feelings, show an understanding of what happened, give reasonable reassurance and follow through on promises and agreements made. Teens will try to make some sense of what happened and it is important for them to come to a resolution about the event. Carefully challenge any negative conclusions and reinforce the positive ones.
The following behaviors can be harmful: Focus on self instead of the teen, deny the seriousness of the event, shrug off the teen’s feelings, tell the teen not to think or talk about it, make assumptions, overreact with anxiety or anger, withdraw from the teen, or make major changes in the normal household activities and routines.
When a young person dies, acknowledge your own grief. Be sad. Remember their stories. Allow the best part of them to become the best part of you. Share that story with someone who desperately needs to know that the young person’s life mattered.
How do you comfort someone who lost a child? What words and actions comforted you if you experienced the death of a young person?
I recently spoke at a conference for young women in Orlando. I stopped in Atlanta on my way back home. As I turned a corner in downtown Atlanta looking for a good place to eat, a large crowd of young demonstrators filled the streets.
They held signs with powerful messages such as “Pro-Black does not mean Anti-White” and “White silence equals compliance.” It was a peaceful protest that cried out for social justice.
“No justice. No peace,” shouted hundreds of young people as one voice in the Atlanta streets. “Know justice. Know peace.”
“If you don’t stand up for injustice, you quietly allow it,” insisted Attiyah Ali. “If we all go in our separate corners by religion, race, color, and dig our heels in the ground, we’re never going to come up with a solution.”
“We are standing together as a unit, as a people, regardless of black, white, Chinese, Mexican, Asian,” agreed a young protester. “It doesn’t matter what you are or who you are, at the end of the day, today is the day we need to stand.”
Kasim Reed, mayor of Atlanta, was among those gathered at the demonstration. “I understand this is this generation’s protest,” he said. “Let this be the best version of ourselves.”
Reed’s presence showed the young people that he valued what they had to say. And he wanted to listen.
It may feel uncomfortable to hear negative criticism from the mouths of youth, but we have a responsibility to listen. More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 30. Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, maintains, “That means that more than 3.5 billion young people represent 3.5 billion opportunities for change.”
Young people mature into volunteers, activists, community leaders, and elected officials when they have opportunities to join in the dialogue about critical issues that are important to all of us. We invite them into active involvement in local activities and organizations by listening to them and providing safe opportunities to express their thoughts and opinions:
Openly discuss issues with young people. Don’t be afraid to raise sensitive topics for discussion. They are ready for good debate that challenges them to think, respond, and garner your respect.
Establish norms for discussion. Set ground rules for discussion that do not allow personal attacks. Use “I” statements (good example: “I think …;” bad example: “He’s an idiot.”). Agree to hear each other out without interrupting one another.
Challenge their sources of information. Invite young people to explain the reasoning that supports their opinions. Where do they look for reliable information? Where do you find reliable sources?
Agree upon mutual respect. You may not share the same opinions as others, but do not judge or criticize. Ask questions. Listen. Allow one another to own personal opinions.
Try to find common ground. Young people may have views that are drastically different from your own point of view. What issues are important to all people involved in the discussions? What common core values connect you to one another?
Avoid giving unsolicited advice. There is an appropriate time and place for advice, but it is usually best received when it is asked for – especially during a discussion.
Express gratitude for opportunities to dialogue. Thank them for sharing their opinions and listening to you. Invite them to come back to continue discussion. Dialogue strengthens relationships.
Expect dialogue to get messy – and it’s okay. When you allow others to share personal opinions, you may not reach a mutual agreement. Though you may not share the same beliefs; it’s important that you’re willing to listen to one another.
Many adults claim that young people are our future – but they are more than our future; they have something critically important to add to social discussions today. In the present. Now.
Our youth are tuned in to current events and aware of social concerns. They are hungry to join the discussion. And they are starving for opportunities to dialogue with adults who will listen to them.
Civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr., believed, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The only way to build relationships with our youth is through dialogue. The only way to ignite their interest in political and social activism is to let them know that their participation matters. That they matter.
Young adults are far less likely to vote than older citizens. When we do not value what they have to say about political issues, the power of elected government is weakened.
In his most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln rallied the importance of our entire citizenry; claiming “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I stood, with my hand over my heart, and watched young men and women march down the streets of downtown Atlanta. I admired their courage to speak out against injustice and to stand together in solidarity. I could not have been more proud of them. I felt proud to be an American.
At a recent community event, the keynote speaker addressed our responsibility to reach out to young people and make them feel welcome.
“Our youth are important. We need you,” she insisted. “You are our future.”
Unfortunately, no young people were in the audience to hear her message.
We must do more than tell young people they are welcome in our communities. We must invite them. We must involve them. We must ask for their input. We must listen. We must give them a reason to stay.
Several years ago, the president of the church council walked into my office. I was director of youth ministry. He explained the council wanted to more fully involve the youth in the life of the church. And he had a plan about how to do it.
“Our annual church picnic is coming up,” he explained. “We want to invite our youth to be part of the event.”
The council wanted me to implement their plan and the youth to execute it.
“Ask the youth to set up chairs for the service,” he continued. “They can plan the service and fill all of the ministry roles.”
“Like preach the message?” I asked. “Or lead the singing?”
“Of course, not. They can pass out programs and be ushers,” he said. “They can stack chairs after the service, set up picnic tables, serve food to everybody in attendance, and clean up after everyone goes home.”
“That’s a great idea!” I replied. “But you know who I’m worried about? Our elderly parishioners.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Why don’t we ask the elderly people who belong to our church to set up the chairs and tables, prepare the meal for everyone, serve the food, and clean up after everyone goes home?”
“They don’t want to do that!” he exclaimed.
“Then, why would the young people want to do it?” I asked.
There is a difference between community service and menial labor.
If you host a party, you don’t ask guests to prepare the meal and clean up when the party’s over. You invite them to sit in the best seats. You initiate conversations with them. You listen. You express how genuinely interested you are in them. You introduce them to other guests. That is good hospitality.
If young people are hooked to their cell phones and disengaged from the flurry of activity at events, there is a reason. It’s not because they’re uninterested in being part of the group. In fact, many young people are starving for opportunities to connect and build relationships with adults. They want to belong to groups where they feel welcome and their presence is valued. It’s not their fault they’re detached. It’s ours.
If you want to fully invite and involve young people in the life of your community, you need to deliver more than an invitation. You need a plan:
Initiate a dialogue among members of your community who want to reach out to the youth. Brainstorm ways young people can become more involved in your group. Discuss their unique gifts and ways they can be shared with others.
Invite young peoplewithin the community to discusshow they want to be involved. What makes them feel connected? What activities do they enjoy? Invite them to be part of event planning. Encourage them to bring their friends.
Identify youth with leadership gifts. When I build a new leadership team, I personally select team members; it’s not a popularity contest. I look for a variety of different skills and build a collaborative squad of leaders.
Provide training for the leadership team. Guide them through processes that allow them to create their own vision and mission. Show them how to align their goals with their vision and mission.
Provide training for adults to act as mentors and role models. Unfortunately, many adults believe it is their role to dictate development of programs and the role of young people to follow their directions. Equip adults with tools to learn how to be a good role models. Young people learn leadership skills by acting as leaders.
Develop teams of young people to plan activities (including service projects) and form special interest groups.
Actively involve trained young leaders to serve on larger community planning boards, commissions, and collaborative leadership teams with adults.
Provide youth leadership teams with funds to launch and operate their programs. Many church and community organizations provide funding for adult programs, but insist youth must conduct fundraising events to support their own programs. Provide equitable program funding for groups of all ages.
Invite young people to be part of the planning process with adults of community events.
Create opportunities for youth to mentor one another.
It is exciting when teens empowered with leadership skills are invited to represent their peers on church and community leadership teams with adults. However, young leaders often ask me, “How come we have to follow the rules of consensus and collaboration and the adults don’t have to?”
“Because you have leadership skills and training,” I explain. “Now, go and be role models.”
When we demonstrate respect for our youth through our words, actions, and invitation into full involvement in the life of our communities, they will come – and they will stay. And they will bring their friends. Their friends will bring their parents and curious adults. That’s how church and community organizations grow.
One of the most powerful experiences I shared with a youth leader occurred after I delivered a keynote presentation at a youth conference in San Francisco.
During my absence, an architect of the new church announced plans to eliminate classrooms. Elaine was a member of our senior high planning team and a preschool teacher in our Sunday school program. She had vested interest in the plans.
I received a frantic call when I got home about an emergency meeting in the parish hall.
“The architect is changing the plans!” she shouted. “You’ve got to get up here to the meeting and support us.”
I explained there was probably a misunderstanding and everything was going to be fine.
“You always say we’re more than the future Church, Julie,” she barked. “You say we’re the present church and what we have to say is important. You either believe it or you don’t. If you believe it, you better get up here right now.”
I said, “I’ll be there in five minutes.”
That’s what happens when a young person is fully committed, active, and connected to the community. They hold us accountable. They measure our words by our actions. They model – and lead – by our example.
What can you do to more fully involve youth in your community?
“I’m exhausted,” exclaimed a teacher as she exited an eight-hour training session at her school. “Enough of the professional development already. When am I ever going to get permission to teach?”
Most teachers welcome opportunities to learn more about effective instructional strategies and classroom resources. They often reach into their own pockets to purchase tools that engage students and open doors to greater academic success. They attend workshops and classes that equip them with knowledge and tools to become better instructors.
Federal programs such as Title I were created to provide teachers with on-going professional development (PD). Professional development delivers training to empower educators with knowledge and skills to help students meet high academic standards.
However, no amount of professional development or teacher training replaces consistent implementation of building and district policies in schools. When students are permitted to violate policies, when parents and primary caregivers are allowed to verbally attack teachers, when administrators reprimand teachers for supporting policies and procedures they were hired to support, and when superintendents and school board members undermine the authority of school administrators, professional development will not fix problems beyond the teachers’ control.
There are three essential elements necessary for creating a positive school culture that supports sustainable change. Solutions to challenges in schools can be explored when staff members are provided (1) training, (2) resources, and (3) permission to do the jobs they were hired to do.
When teachers lack training, schools and districts provide educational opportunities to staff members. Professional development offers outstanding educational opportunities for teachers to acquire new instructional techniques, discover how to effectively use technological tools, and engage in meaningful dialogue to share ideas and discuss classroom strategies that work.
When teachers lack resources, schools and districts provide appropriate tools that enhance learning in classrooms. When schools lack money to equip schools with adequate resources, many teachers spend hundreds of dollars from their own funds to purchase paper, pencils, and supplies for students. These are purchases teachers willingly make because they love to teach and are eager to provide students with tools they need to experience success.
Teachers must also have permission to teach. This means schools and districts must create consistent policies and procedures that support learning and ensure safe learning environments for all students. Policies and procedures must be clearly defined and communicated to all students, families, and school staff members.
Clear guidelines must unmistakably outline consequences of policy violations. It is imperative for administrators to regularly discuss the importance and value of policies and procedures implemented throughout their buildings with all stakeholders.
Unfortunately, many schools and districts fail to support their own policies and procedures – particularly as they relate to student behavioral and academic expectations. When schools require teachers to attend professional development that focuses solely on academic rhetoric without providing them with permission to teach, professional development is useless – and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
For example, when student behavioral issues interrupt instruction, there must be consistent means through which teachers redirect inappropriate behavior. Of course, teachers must not exclusively rely on dismissing students from classrooms when unacceptable behaviors interrupt instruction. A teacher must employ several interventions to redirect student behavior.
If the seriousness of a student’s inappropriate behavior escalates after multiple intervention strategies consistent with school and district policies have been employed, all students learn the consequences of inappropriate behavior by watching and listening to exchanges between teachers and pupils.
Students also learn the consequences of inappropriate behavior when their peers discuss the results of inappropriate behavior. Are there consequences? Are parents allowed to persuade teachers to change the consequences that follow inappropriate behavior? Are teachers reprimanded for following school or district procedures? Are administrators’ decisions reversed by school board members who pressure district superintendents? Are teachers’ and administrators’ responses to students and primary caregivers consistent with school and district policies? Or not?
If we want to create schools with sustainable change, school staffs and districts must work together to:
Create and support consistent policies aligned with the vision, mission, and goals of the school and district.
Provide clear guidelines that support implementation of policies and procedures.
Communicate school and district policies and procedures with all stakeholders.
Administrators and instructors must be given permission to set appropriate boundaries with students and primary caregivers.
Regularly evaluate and update policies and procedures.
Strong professional development experiences can equip educators with powerful learning and teaching strategies. Fred Hang, senior trainer and consultant at The Great Books Foundation, insists teachers share a common attitude about quality PD: “Don’t bore me, don’t waste my time, and don’t talk down to me.” Professional development must be useful, engaging, and applicable to schools and classrooms.
As school and district administrators consider professional development for their staffs, consider the following suggestions:
Provide meaningful professional development experiences that address specific needs.
Provide meaningful professional development experiences facilitated by highly-qualified, experienced experts in their fields.
Maximize 21st century tools of technology in ways that enhance PD experiences.
Require all staff members, including administrators, to attend professional development experiences.
Engage in dialogue about professional development experiences and evaluate effectiveness of PD strategies in classrooms.
Offer ongoing support to new and struggling teachers to ensure success.
Brad Henry, former governor of Oklahoma, once said, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.” Teachers enter education because a passion burns within them to share their love of lifelong learning with others. Most teachers are highly trained and highly skilled at providing exceptional instruction. It takes a village to educate our children. We must be willing to collaboratively work together to support our schools and trust the teachers who are hired to provide quality instruction.
Many people are terrified by three things: fear of public speaking, fear of a painful death, and fear of high school and college reunions. Fortunately, reunions (though sometimes painful) are not fatal.
Reunions reintroduce you to those who know your teenage history. Many people invest entire lifetimes running from their pasts – or running towards new futures severed from their pasts.
I attended a reunion with my sorority sisters from college. When we were students, it was important to wear the right jeans, the right shoes, and to make the right friends.
Marilyn Monroe once said, “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” I believe when we show young women and men how to stand tall with confidence, any shoes are the right shoes.
When I was in seventh grade, I had one focused dream: I wanted to go away to college. I was awkward, shy, and did not have social skills to defend myself when I was bullied. I desperately wanted to run away from my hometown and reinvent myself.
I worked all kinds of odd jobs through high school and college to fund my education. I joined a sorority to overcome shyness and develop social confidence. I did not believe I was as pretty as the other girls in my sorority, but I was smart. I was elected president of the student government association and received numerous leadership awards.
As a speaker and teacher, I am comfortable delivering inspiring speeches and motivating large audiences. However, I’m still an introvert at heart. And I’m still shy.
I was eager to see my sorority sisters again. We gathered around large tables and shared stories about our lives. As my friends opened up, several of them apologized for what they didn’t have, relationships that ended, weight they’d gained, and dreams they abandoned. Several of these remarkable women apologized for where they didn’t live, what they didn’t do, and what they didn’t accomplish.
One particular sorority sister, Cheryl, had the courage to shatter the success myth.
Cheryl is a lively, extroverted woman who graduated with a degree in education. She has the ribbons-and-glitter of a luxurious package: she had a successful career as a teacher, married a successful man, and lives in a beautiful home. She explained the turbulent relationship she shares with her daughter who has bipolar disorder.
She wasn’t sad or ashamed; Cheryl spoke matter-of-factly about the illness, its symptoms, and the genetic line of bipolar disorder within her family. She explained how they set appropriate boundaries for her daughter as a family and how they struggled to love and support one another.
I wanted to stand up and applaud. As someone who understands the struggle of depression, I am elated when someone discusses mental illness with such frank openness.
Cheryl’s example of authenticity reflect powerful lessons about transparency. Her example invites others to stand your own ground with grace and dignity.
To stand tall with confidence, we must commit to the following life practices:
Stop comparing your insides with other people’s outsides.
It is impossible to realistically compare yourself to others, especially if you are unaware of their personal histories, struggles, or life difficulties. No one escapes this life unscathed. Focus your attention on the gifts and talents you possess and stop punishing yourself for what you don’t have.
Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
Write a list, create a gratitude jar, or begin a journal that contains all of the people, life events, and blessings that make your feel grateful. Ann Voskamp, author of 1000 Gifts, writes, “It’s only in this expressing of gratitude for the life we already have, we discover the life we’ve always wanted.” Gratitude shifts a negative attitude to optimistic appreciation.
Embrace your own story.
Life’s challenges provide us with opportunities to learn new skills, develop wisdom, and find balance. Challenges shift your perspective. You can view challenges as obstacles that prevent you from going where you want to go – or directional arrows that point you in a new direction. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, insists, “When you own your own story, you get to write the ending.”
Rediscover your own passions.
Do you remember what your passions are? What makes you feel enthusiastic and alive? Create a vision board. Start a bucket list. Recall what makes you feel joyful. Do more of what makes you feel happy.
The word, pride, comes from a Latin word, prosum, which means “to be useful, do good.” As you embrace and develop your gifts, you can be of service and an example to others. When you are proud of your story, you give others permission to do the same.
Dr. Seuss, beloved children’s author, wrote, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”
The next page of your story begins today. You choose how to write your next chapter.
What are your greatest gifts? How can you use these gifts to strengthen your confidence?
I recently asked a group of adults to describe important qualities they believed young people look for in a role model. They said a strong role model is fun and has a great sense of humor. Someone who understands what it’s like to be a kid. Someone who wants to be their friend.
Developmental psychologist and researcher, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., surveyed college students to identify common attributes among their role models. They pinpointed qualities like compassion, courage, and listening skills. Price-Mitchell insisted, “The greatest attribute of a role model is an ability to inspire others.”
In her book, Tomorrow’s Change Makers, Dr. Price-Mitchell shared five qualities young people identified as qualities they admired in adult role models:
They Possess Passion and an Ability to Inspire. Role models show passion for their work and have the capacity to infect others with their passion. They love what they do and want to share it with others. Strong role models have an ability to share their light in ways that ignite others to chase their own dreams.
They Have a Clear Set of Values. It’s one thing to talk about your beliefs; but young people expect role models to walk their talk. They admire those who act in ways that support their core values.
They Are Committed to Community. “Role models are other-focused as opposed to self-focused” explained Price-Mitchell. They are active in their communities and share their time and talents with others.
They Are Selfless and Accepting of Others. Young people admire those who demonstrate selflessness and are engaged in service to others. They ignore social barriers and differences. Their words and actions reflect inclusivity.
They Overcome Obstacles. Young people understand that challenges are part of their lived experiences. They want role models to show them how to face obstacles with courage and determination. They want role models to show them how to use what they learn from challenges to gain new knowledge and skills.
Young people are motivated by confident role models who have a clear purpose and accomplish their goals with hard work, courage, and resilience. They look to their role models for inspiration and to show them the way.
So, how can you be a good role model? Consider these tips to be the kind of adult young people admire:
Be proud of who you are.Stand tall in your own shoes. You don’t have to be a celebrity or a superstar to be a role model. Embrace the gifts you share with the world.
Hold high expectations for yourself and others. When you set a high bar for yourself, you inspire others to set a high bar for themselves.
Stand for something. William Ellery Channing once said, “Be true to your own highest convictions.” Don’t be afraid to honor your own beliefs.
Walk your talk. Young people may listen to your words, but they pay more attention to your actions. Make sure your actions are aligned with your values.
Integrity is important. Be honest and trustworthy. Honor your commitments. Young people are unwilling to open up to you unless you are authentic. Be who you are; not who you think others want you to be.
Be respectful. Treat others as you want to be treated. Don’t ignore kindness or good service. Say “thank you.” Pay it forward.
Accept responsibility for your own actions. Admit fault when you make a mistake. Apologize if you’ve hurt someone and take action to correct mistakes.
Young people develop coping and problem-solving skills as a result of their life experiences and relationships. Their role models inspire them to overcome obstacles and face each day with a positive attitude. It does not matter what you do to impact a young person’s life for good – it matters who you are.
“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds,” explained William James. “A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”
The influential philosopher of the late 19th century, often called the “Father of American Psychology,” understood that a sense of humor was as valuable an attribute as common sense.
There is deep wisdom at the heart of humor. It allows you to look at challenges with a lens that frees you from defeat. Laughter lowers stress levels, permits you to comfortably engage with others, and allows you to diffuse difficult situations.
You don’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny to have a sense of humor. All you need, as Eric Idle sang in the musical, Spamalot, is a willingness to “look at the bright side of life.”
Tickle your funny bone. What makes you laugh? Read the comics. Check out the Daily Joke at Comedy Central. Think about the last time when you laughed out loud. What was so funny?
Understand context. What might seem humorous or funny to you could also be interpreted as clueless or tasteless by others. Be sensitive to cultural or gender bias. The point is to laugh without being an idiot.
Learn to laugh at yourself. If you can find the absurdity in your own circumstances, you can keep them from getting you down. Poet Robert Frost said, “If we can’t, we would all go insane.”
Stay above the fray. To develop a sense of humor, be objective. Much that we call humor is victim-related: the guy who slips on a banana peel or the poor dumb blond. You can laugh or make humorous remarks without sacrificing your dignity.
Lighten up. Not everybody’s humor will be the same as yours and what might tickle them to death might make you yawn. Instead, find the humor in the situation.
Watch and learn. Go see a funny movie or watch a YouTube video. Learn something new: be willing to adjust your funny-bone-perspective.
Humor allows you to see the ironic, the satirical, and the whimsical in circumstances around you. It need not be dark, profane, or sarcastic to be funny. Humor is clever because it invites you to consider different points of view.
A sense of humor is the leading attribute people look for when they want to build relationships with others. If you can find the absurdity in your own circumstances, you can keep them from getting you down. Victor Borge was correct when he said, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”
At no other time in history did large audiences gather to watch celebrity housewives be notoriously mean and nasty, bachelors and bachelorettes systematically slash each other up and out of one another’s lives, and listen to Donald Trump shout “You’re fired” at hopeful prospects humbly vying for a position within his firm. Except at the Colosseum. 1900 years ago. What we once called “rudeness” is now considered “entertainment.”
Our planet desperately needs brave souls with a sense of humor. And kind hearts. They make the world a brighter place to be.
Have you ever wished your life was a lot less complicated? And a lot more fun?
Kids get it. They know how to have fun. Children are masters of letting go of what happened yesterday and beginning each new day with a fresh start. They are delighted with small surprises, special treats, and opportunities to play. Those are lessons big kids need to learn.
Several years ago, I left a job feeling hopeless. I didn’t want to work there anymore – but the work was familiar and I was good at it. My identity at the time was completely tied to my job. I had no idea what was going to do next.
A friend asked, “What do you want to do?” I didn’t know. He asked, “What do you like to do?” I had no idea. I completely forgot what made me feel happy. I had to relearn how to play,
How much joy you experience is a mindset – it’s a choice. You get to choose the attitude you want to wear today.
One of the easiest ways to shift your attitude and experience greater happiness is to make small positive changes. Try these simple, practical tips to enjoy your life and experience a lot more fun:
Smile before you get out of bed. You may not feel like it. Do it anyway.
Find and post pictures of things you enjoy. Leaf through pages of magazines. Find words and pictures that inspire you and made you and make you feel happy (You may want to create a vision board). Hang them in places where you will see them.
Draw. Pick up a pencil and doodle. Grab a crayon (Coloring books for adults are very popular!). Expressing your creativity exercises your right brain.
Take a break. Frequent short breaks during the day boost your energy level. Francesco Cirillo, creator of the Pomodoro Technique, insists that frequent breaks improve your mental agility. Your attention span sharpens when you allow a 5-10 minute breaks for every hour of work.
Listen to music. A large body of research proves that music eases stress, lifts depression, and elevates your mood.
Watch a video that makes you feel good. There are many YouTube videos that brighten your day. Search for videos and podcasts that align with words that make you feel happy.
Learn how to do something new. Take a class. Watch a video. If you want to learn a new skill, there are many online webinars that can show you how to do it. Your library card may give you access to quality videos and webinars on Lynda.com at no charge.
Spend time with people who think you’re awesome. Reach out to a friend. Or create the support network you deserve with these tips from How to Find Your Tribe.
Exercise. Stretch. Take the stairs. Exercise releases dopamine, a chemical in your brain that stimulates feelings of happiness. Go outside and walk around your office building. Walk around the block. Walk your dog. Move your body.
Read. When was the last time you read a good book? Need suggestions? Check out Goodreads and find recommendations.
Have you ever wanted to write something that had your name listed as the author – but didn’t know how to begin? Or do you guard what you write in a journal for your own enjoyment? Established authors are often eager to share writing tips to anyone who wants to sharpen their composition muscles.
1. When you do something, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If there’s one thing that separates good writers from great writers, it’s passion,” insists Shanna. “When you care about what you’re saying, your audience can tell. So, write with passion.”
I write passionately about topics that interest me and areas with which I have experience. I love to write about things that inspire me – like goal-setting strategies, collaboration, and inclusion. I love to write about my teaching experiences in the classroom. I am currently working on two novels for teens. I would not attempt to write about carburetors, neurosurgery, or aerodynamics.
2. Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. – Ray Bradbury
Shanna explains, “The more you practice, the better you become.” Produce quality content. Although she suggests “refine as you go,” I write first and edit later. Editing while writing can create a roadblock that can seriously stall the completion process.
3. Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekhov
“Work to reveal information rather than tell it,” Shanna advises. “Let your readers figure things out for themselves.” Provide details that make readers hungry for more.
When I teach creative writing workshops, I share my favorite writing tip: Use strong verbs.
Bad Example: The large and angry manager in the navy blue suit with grey pinstripes and silver hair spoke very loudly to the little man in the corner. Good Example: An angry manager roared at the little man.
4. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. – George Orwell
Avoid clichés. Shanna adds, “Common, overused phrases make your writing feel stale and boring, so look for new ways to describe ideas.” Clichés are void of personal experience. Use your own words because they are original.
I once taught a communication arts lesson about similes and metaphors to my seventh grade students at an urban middle school. Their creative use of language was inspiring:
* He was as angry as an assassin’s bullet.
* Her heart was as empty as an abandoned apartment.
* Poisonous ideas bubbled in their heads like witches’ brew in a caldron.
5. I try to leave out the parts that people skip. – Elmore Leonard
Once upon a time, a writer showed his manuscript to his publisher. The publisher repeatedly shouted, “I don’t know where you’re going with this!” The writer insisted, “Just wait until you get to Chapter 3.” The publisher returned the draft to the writer and said, “I’ll take a look at it after you cut out Chapters 1 and 2.”
I launched the writing process for my personal goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide, with a table of contents. I used the table of contents as a guide to create a dream-it-plan-it-do-it process that showed readers how to transform an idea into an action plan with attainable goals. Although there were big differences between the first draft of the table of contents and the final product, it served as a helpful outline throughout the writing process.
Ask someone you trust and who has knowledge about good writing to critique your work. Invite them to be ruthless. Be willing to receive critical feedback and make changes to your writing. Make the courageous cuts your work needs to strengthen the power of its content.
6. No matter how wonderful a sentence is, if it doesn’t add new and useful information, it should be removed. – Kurt Vonnegut
It’s easy as writers to become attached to our own creative use of words. Shanna explains, “If you want your writing to be powerful, you must eliminate anything — even things you like — if it doesn’t carry its own weight.” Try to write without editing as you compose your first draft. You waste valuable time when you write, then correct, and edit again while you try to write. When you’re ready to edit, be prepared to cut the clutter (see suggestions in #5).
Sometimes it is a good idea to walk away from your draft — particularly if you experience writer’s block. Time and space away from your draft offers opportunities to see unnecessary content and correct mistakes.
7. Don’t be intimidated by the vastness of your audience. Imagine you are writing to a single reader. I have found it helps to pick out one real person I know and write to that person. – John Steinbeck
Consider your target audience as you write. For example, think about one particular person who needs to hear your unique message and write to that person. Shanna states, “Writers can get caught up trying to please the masses.” She adds, “You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try.”
Many people believe they have a powerful story to tell. Remember the purpose of telling your story is not to focus attention upon your experiences. The purpose of your story is to help your audience discover their own story in your experience. Use these tips from Craft a Story People Want to Hear to deliver a strong message with which your readers can identify.
8. I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice and then going away and doing the exact opposite. – G.K. Chesterton
Conway Twitty once sang, “Listen to advice, but follow your heart.” I offered readers opportunities to critique my work and provide feedback on several occasions. Many of them shared positive reviews that are included at the beginning of my book.
At readers’ requests, I am creating a book study leaders’ edition of my book. Someone who thought the goal-setting strategies in the book may be helpful to others suggested that I should add sample pages from Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide as free downloads on my website. I am eternally grateful for the criticism and helpful suggestions I receive from readers.
Although advice may or may not shape what you write and how you write it, your work and your voice is distinctively yours. “Don’t ever let trying to follow someone else’s path stop you from forging your own,” insists Shanna. “You have a unique voice and that’s the best thing you can offer your audience.”
Many authors (and potential authors) may share your areas of interest and appeal to your particular audience, but none of them share your experiences, passions, ideas, inspirations, or gifts. Nor do they possess your unique talents.
It does not matter whether you choose to write poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction – what matters is that you commit to writing. French poet, Charles Baudelaire, wrote, “Always be a poet, even in prose.” Choose words that have meaning and power. Choose words that sound like your authentic voice.
It’s time to put your pen to paper (or your fingertips to your computer).