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. 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.
There are three things that terrify many people: 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 position you with those who know your teenage histories. Many people invest entire lifetimes running from their pasts – or running towards new futures severed from their pasts.
I recently 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.