Back To School Mental Toolkit

untitledThe carpets are cleaned, the desks are meticulously polished, the pencils are sharpened, and the lockers (cubbies) are vacant, waiting to be occupied by a backpack full of contents.

The next few weeks (at least in the state of Arizona) mark the beginning of another school year.  A time when teachers return with a sense of hope and rejuvenation, following a much needed break from the controlled chaos of the previous school year. For students, however, this time of year can often be characterized by feelings of dread, worry, or even anxiety.  As they drag themselves out of bed on that first day, memories of sleeping in or the rotating schedule of sleepovers remain fresh in their minds.   

Near the top of the list, in terms of preparing students for a new school year, is the all-important supply list.  Each school is different, but the bulk of this list has remained constant for years.  Pencils, paper, notebooks, and folders are an absolute necessity for any student.  As parents frantically race through the Back To School aisles of Target or Walmart, looking to check off that final item on the list, there’s another list that lurks in the background.  I refer to it as the mental toolkit.  It’s not something you’ll find at a store, nor will your school provide you with a comprehensive list of mental tools.  This makes it even more difficult to obtain.

You see, as students arrive at school on the first day, armed with backpacks full of supplies, they also bring another backpack with them, which will play a much more important role in their academic and personal success – their mental backpack

Below is a list of three important tools that I encourage you share with your child prior to his first day of school. 

Tool 1 – Your mindset will determine the quality of your school year, NOT your classes, your teachers, or your peers. 

It’s almost certain that you will experience a series of difficult circumstances this school year.  Whether it’s a boring teacher whose monotone delivery lulls you into a nap-like state, or a demanding class that keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning, no student is immune to challenges.  If you’re looking for the easy route, you are more than welcome to complain about the challenge.  You can even blame the teacher for his/her boring delivery or make numerous excuses for your poor grade, but the fact remains that complaining, blaming, and excuses will never change anything.  Simply put, your circumstances don’t determine your levels of happiness.  The way you see your circumstances does.  I invite you to be curious about how these challenges can shape you for the future.  No one ever reached success without a series of struggles.  If you learn to embrace the struggle, the journey will be much more meaningful.

Tool 2 – Always be aware of your internal dialogue.  You can train your mind to be positive.

Here’s a little known fact that most students don’t even consider – you talk to yourself all the time.  Your mind is like a thinking machine, designed to help you make sense of the world.  As is the case with every human being, a portion of these thoughts are going to be negative.  I invite you to practice being aware of your thinking and when you notice a negative thought, simply replace it with a positive one.  Imagine each of your thoughts as either feeding the negative dog or the positive dog.  The more you feed the positive dog, the more positive you’ll be.  By the way, don’t expect your thoughts to change overnight.  Change happens over time. 

Tool 3 – Your success in life will not be based solely on your grade point average (school smarts), so spend some time developing your self-smarts as well.     

Unfortunately, there are often expectations for students to be perfect.  You might feel direct pressure from a teacher to perform well on a test, or indirect pressure from hearing the student announcements, highlighting the academic prowess of a select group of students.  While I certainly encourage you to perform to the best of your abilities, take solace in the fact that when you apply for a job, the employer will unlikely ask you for your eighth grade Algebra score.  While academic content is important, your ability to manage the way you think and the way you feel (self-smarts) is equally important.  Start by waking up each morning and saying to yourself, “Just as I have the power to choose my outfit for school today, I also possess the power to choose my attitude.  I’m going to make it a great day.”

If you commit to practicing these three tools throughout the year, I promise you it will be your best year ever.  

Happy School Year!


Top 5 Surefire Ways to Pursue Unhapiness

happiness-quotes-choice-quotes-Happiness-like-unhappiness-is-a-proactive-choice“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Every morning, as part of our daily classroom routine, my entire fifth grade class would stand up, face the flag, and recite the above passage from the Declaration of Independence.  Unfortunately, by the end of September, the words were barely recognizable and the monotone chorus was enough to put a roomful of roosters to sleep.  

Today, as I look back on this moment, I cringe at the missed opportunity to empower my students with the tools to make these words a reality, not just a formality.  

Thankfully, I spend a lot of time today talking about the pursuit of happiness.  In fact, I’ve written several blogs on this topic.  Click here to read one.    

Often in our pursuit to achieve something, it’s important to understand where NOT to go or what NOT to do.  Just as certain road signs inform us where NOT to go (i.e. no left turn) or what NOT to do (i.e. speed limits), so too do the road signs of life.  Having said this, I’d like to share my TOP 5 Surefire Ways to Pursue Unhappiness.

Complain.  Let’s face it.  If you and I wanted to, we could take part in the world’s largest Complaint-Fest, complete with some of the all-time greatest whiners.  It’s an easy thing to do.  Unfortunately, any time you complain, you’re essentially giving your happiness away to someone or something else. 

Run away from your problems.  When adversity shows up at your front door, the easiest thing to do is close the door and run the other way.  While this might very well be a quick-fix, temporary solution, the fact remains – wherever you go, there you are.  When you run away from adversity, you run away from happiness.

Compare yourself with others.  Comparing is always done in an up or down fashion.  In other words, you’ll never measure up to certain people (compare up), but will always be better than others (compare down).  Unfortunately, neither of these leads to happiness.  Comparing up leads to feelings of inferiority, while comparing down leads to a false sense of pride.  Happiness occurs when you measure yourself with who you were the previous day.  Be better than that person.     

Worry about things that haven’t happened yet.  If you allow it to, your mind will quickly transform worry into anxiety or despair.  As is the case with complaining, each time you worry, you essentially give your happiness to the thing you’re worrying about.  By the way, as you’ve probably heard, the majority of the things you worry about will never happen.  Spend your time in gratitude and be thankful for all of the great things that have already happened. 

Try to change others.  Whether your intentions are good or not, you’ll never be able to change another human being.  When it comes to other people, change is often conditional.  In other words, you want someone else to change so that your happiness levels will increase.  Sadly, this often backfires as the recipient of the change becomes defensive and pushes away.  The best way to change someone else is to change yourself first.  If you want people around you to be happy, then you need to choose happiness for yourself. 

I invite you to complete a personal inventory with regard to the five unhappiness strategies above.  If you recognize that one or more of them is something you do often, I encourage you to own it and move in the direction of authentic happiness.  By the way, authentic happiness will only occur when you make a commitment to do the opposite of what’s listed above.     


Life lessons at the Diamondbacks game

photo (2)Last Friday night, I had the opportunity to take my oldest daughter to her first Major League baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.  Little did I know that in the midst of watching a baseball game, she would learn a valuable lesson about a much more important game – the game of life

Midway through the fifth inning, or six handfuls of popcorn into the team wearing the white jersey’s turn to bat, depending on whose perspective you’re taking, the umpire made a questionable call at second base.  Up until this point, Emerson’s interest in the game was lukewarm at best.  However, when the collective “boos” rang out from the home crowd, it suddenly piqued her interest.  She quickly sat up and asked me, “Daddy, why are they booing?”  

“Well, the umpire decided to call the Diamondback runner out at second base, but the fans don’t think it should be an out.”

Ten minutes later, after a thorough review of the play (via instant replay), the umpire chose to uphold his call.  The boos reached an entirely new level.  A level that caused Emerson to cover her ears, almost immediately.   

Although the fans jeering seemed to subside with each successive inning, there were a handful of people behind us who weren’t about to stop.  Clearly concerned about their well-being, Emerson turned to me and asked a question that served as a beautiful teachable moment – “Dad, why can’t they just let it go?  That guy already called him out.”

Here’s how our conversation ensued.

“Great question!  In fact, I want you to look at the Diamondback players on the field.  Do you think they’re spending any time thinking about the questionable call?”

“Probably not.”

“Exactly, they don’t want to carry a bunch of negative energy into the rest of the game.  It would probably affect how they play, right?”

“Yeah, I just don’t understand why these people behind us can’t just let it go.”

“Well, they’re spending all of their time and energy trying to be right.  Their boos are a sign of letting the umpire know that he was wrong.  How do you think those people are feeling right now?”

“Probably angry.”

“Exactly.  Is anger an emotion you want to hold onto?”

“No, I want to let it go.”

“Emerson, you just learned one of the most valuable lessons about life.  Just as the umpire made a questionable call and it didn’t go the way the players wanted it to, you will always have things in the game of life that don’t go the way you want them to.  You can either give all of your power to what happened (the bad call), or you can focus your energy on choosing the most effective response to what happened (letting it go).  Learning to let it go is an effective response that will allow you to maintain confidence and hope throughout the rest of the game.  Just look at the players.  The reason they’re still hitting the ball and making plays is because they chose not to give their power to the umpire’s call.”

At this point, she gave me one of those – Dad, why do your conversations always have to be so deep - looks, but I think she got the point. 

Some people say that success is about what you know, while others say it’s about who you know.  I say it’s about how quickly you “let go.”

You see, mental toughness is a skill that transcends the game of baseball.  I truly believe that successful people, regardless of their profession, remain committed to staying mentally strong in the face of adversity.

I invite you a read an article I recently found, which outlines 13 things mentally strong people don’t do.  How are you shaping up with regard to these 13 things?  If the answer is “not very well,” it’s time to get back in the game – the game of life, that is.   


motivation-habitThe year was 1994.  I was six months removed from a college degree and somewhat devastated after lasting only three months at my first real-world job.  To say that I was lost would be an understatement.  While there were many things I needed at this stage of my life, perhaps what I needed most was motivation.  So I did what seemed to be the most logical thing to do and started reading motivational books and listening to motivational speakers.  If motivation was what I needed, then I’d surely find it in the pages of a book or the words of a dynamic speaker, right? 

The pinnacle of my motivational journey was the opportunity to attend a conference led by none other than the master motivator himself, Tony Robbins.  The room was abuzz with a certain level of positive energy that would be difficult to replicate in any other circumstance.  His words certainly resonated in my mind and my heart stirred with a newfound sense of motivation.  I was finally ready to put on my big boy pants and conquer the real world once and for all.

Fast forward two weeks and I was once again in a familiar place: the mental pit.  The motivation I once felt had quickly become a distant memory.  The books weren’t changing me.  Tony Robbins hadn’t changed me.  Something had to give. 

One day, it finally hit me.  I realized I’d spent the vast majority of my journey looking for motivation out there.   Despite what I read or who I listened to, the type of motivation I experienced was always short lived.  The one place I’d failed to look was in fact the place where true motivation resides: my own head and heart.  You see, I made the costly mistake of reading each book and listening to each speaker with a mindset of “I hope this motivates me.”  The fact is that Tony Robbins wasn’t responsible for motivating me, nor was any of the countless books I read.  My job was to own the tools and use them to self-motivate.  Unlike outside, extrinsic motivation, self-motivation is the only kind of motivation that is both long-term and sustainable. 

Today, as I strive to teach emotional intelligence to kids throughout the world, I never claim to be a motivational speaker.  In fact, I often cringe when people refer to me as one.  While motivational speakers may very well motivate, motivational teachers are more interested in empowerment.  My message will almost certainly motivate kids, but that’s not enough.  I want them to learn the valuable skill of self-motivation; a skill that took me until my adult years to learn.  Self-motivation can only occur as a result of empowerment, not motivation. 

If you’re a parent, teacher, or coach, it’s likely you’ve felt pressure, directly or indirectly, to motivate the young people you work with.  Guess what?  That’s not your job.  Of course you want to serve as a source of motivation, but it’s absolutely critical that you empower young people to master the skill of self-motivation.  If their only source of motivation is you, what will happen when you’re not around? 

Below are three ways you can empower young people to self-motivate.

Help them understand that boredom is a choice. 

Simply put, everything we do (or don’t do) is influenced by the emotions we feel.  One of the most common complaints I hear from kids is that someone or something is boring.  Whether it’s a teacher who isn’t making learning fun or a coach who isn’t challenging enough, it’s easy for a child to extend a finger of blame as a means of justifying his boredom. 

The fact is that boredom, like any other emotion, is greatly influenced by the way we think.  So, if we use our powerless lens, the resulting thought might be, “This is so boring.”  However, if we use our curious/creative lens, the resulting thought might be, “How can I use my imagination to make this more interesting or challenging?”

Thoughts influence feelings and feelings influence actions.  Therefore, if we want to teach kids to transform boredom, we must begin by addressing the quality of their thinking.    

Praise the process, not just the result.

The more we emphasize the result (win/loss, grade, test score, etc.), the more we fuel extrinsic motivation.  The “dangling carrot” is certainly a great way to motivate, but if the carrot is the sole purpose of your motivation, then it becomes an extrinsic reward.  Conversely, if you place the carrot out there, yet celebrate the process (hard work, dedication, patience, etc.), you are fueling intrinsic motivation.

I invite you to read a blog I wrote, which explains this process in greater detail.  Click here to read it.

Encourage your child to own what they’ve learned.

You can’t just give your child a heavy dose of content and expect it to motivate her.  When I do leadership workshops, I always tell my students that each of us carries an invisible tool belt.  The more tools we have, the better equipped we are to tackle the challenges of life.  However, if the tools are unused, they essentially become useless.

At the end of each chapter in my book, Seriously, Dad?, there’s a Using The Tools section for this very reason.  Whether it’s my book, or any other book, I encourage you to use it as a source of empowerment, not motivation. 

The Golden Girls

photoA little over a year ago I wrote a blog titled Friday With Mimi, which described my profound experience with my grandma at her new senior living center, Brookdale Living in Albany, Oregon.  Last June was the first time I’d visited her at a residence other than the quaint, one bedroom apartment which had been her home for over thirty years.  I quickly realized, however, that it didn’t really matter where she rested her head at night, because a physical dwelling will never define her.  Her beautiful spirit and contagious smile will always transcend the confines of four walls.       

This past week, my entire family traveled to Oregon and I had the opportunity to visit my grandma on several occasions, many of which included my wife and daughters.  While each visit was meaningful, one in particular proved to be a tremendous learning experience for me.  In fact, it served as the inspiration for this blog.  Let’s just say I learned a thing or two from my KaleidoEye Golden Girls (see attached picture). 

I’ve always been fascinated by the elderly and often jump at the chance to glean from their infinite wisdom.  While their bodies may be quite frail and their non-verbal cues may at times convey a lack of interest, I’ve always maintained that we can learn a great deal from them if we’re willing to look beyond the surface and into their hearts.  Although the Golden Girls may not realize it, they taught me two very valuable lessons that we can all benefit from.

Lesson #1 – You can teach an old dog new tricks.

In my experience, it’s much easier to teach personal development (emotional intelligence) to younger kids as the layers of the proverbial onion are often non-existent.  As we age, it’s natural to mask our authentic selves (the core of the onion) with more and more layers in an effort to avoid the dreaded state of vulnerability.  In addition, it’s much easier to adopt a fixed mindset and find comfort in the words, “That’s just the way that I am.”  Therefore, one would think that elderly folks would possess the most layers and be entirely closed off to “new tricks.”  The Golden Girls taught me otherwise.

As I sat at the lunch table and explained the nature of my work, it was very apparent that they were eager to learn more.  So, I treated it much like I would a workshop setting and started with a series of mental fitness challenges (i.e. brain teasers).  Although they didn’t know the answers, their eyes lit up as I explained the thought process of how to arrive at the answer.  It donned on me that the process of learning is much more important than the answer itself.

Lesson #2 – It’s easier to be present in the absence of technology.

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who didn’t have their cell phone within arm’s reach, let alone in the palm of their hand?  While technology clearly has countless benefits in terms of communication, perhaps the greatest cost has been the lack of real, authentic conversation. 

When I shared with the Golden Girls, I felt a deep sense of understanding as they clearly made an effort to listen with their eyes, ears, and hearts.  Unlike the typical family dinner table, there were no distractions to divert their attention.  No cell phones, no iPads, no televisions; just pure authentic listening.  How do I know they were listening, you might ask?  As we left the lunch table, each one of them made a conscious effort to let me know how much they enjoyed my sharing.

The next time you are in the presence of an elderly person, I invite you to ask the question, “What wisdom can I gain from this experience?”  Don’t let the shape of their body or the look on their face stop you from engaging in conversation.  Look into their hearts and you will find a fountain of wisdom. 

P.S.  If you’d like to have lunch with the Golden Girls, I can probably arrange it.  :-)  

It may be time to fine tune your Meaning Making Machine.

untitledJoe received an email from his company, notifying all employees of an impending effort to downsize staff.  Unwilling to let go of his current joy, he carefully filed the email in his “can’t control it” folder and went about his day.

William received the same email and his emotions quickly snowballed into an all-out panic attack.

Have you ever wondered how two people can experience the same life event, yet their responses are entirely different?

Some would argue that each of us is born with a genetic predisposition to either optimism or pessimism and that Joe obviously received the optimism gene.  Others would argue that William’s response was solely based on the type of day he was having and that his response may be much different in the future.

I’m not a big fan of arguing, so I’d like to introduce you to a unique approach to mental fitness.  Conditioning for your mind, if you will.  It’s called fine tuning your Meaning Making Machine.  I can assure you that regardless of your personality type, this process will almost certainly lead to more optimistic thinking.

Think of your mind as a computer, or a machine.  You’re born with a hard drive already installed, which provides the basic functions, but what makes your computer unique are the various programs you’ve downloaded throughout the years.  Some of the programs are designed to help your machine run more effectively (positive thinking), while others clearly act as viruses and begin to corrupt the machine (negative thinking).      

One of the fundamental purposes of your mind is to assist in the process of attaching meaning to each of your life experiences.  Put another way, each time you experience something, your mind’s job is to answer the question, “What does this mean?”  The answer often derives from the millions of programs you’ve downloaded over the years.  After a while, these programs begin to act on autopilot, thus causing the meaning making process to happen automatically, and out of your awareness.  However, there’s no need to worry.  Whatever you’ve downloaded can be changed with a little bit of awareness. 

Here are two ways to fine tune your Meaning Making Machine. 

Turn the mountain back into a molehill. 

Have you ever noticed how a relatively minor event (molehill) can quickly turn into a catastrophe in your mind (mountain)?  I’ve always said that having a creative mind can be both a blessing and a curse.  The curse occurs when you use your imagination to think of all the disastrous things that COULD happen as a result of this event. 

The solution for this mountain (or catastrophic) thinking is to simply recognize it for what it is – your machinery.  It’s likely that you’ve downloaded a virus at some point in your lifetime and it’s simply doing its job.  When you focus on a solution, or various actions you might take, the mountain will quickly become a molehill again and the virus will lose its power. 

You will always feel the way you think.

Many of us have downloaded the virus that feelings are a result of things.  In other words, it’s rather simple to blame your feelings on certain life events (i.e. He/She made me angry).  The fact is that other people or things do NOT have the power to make you feel a certain way.  Rather it’s the meaning you attach to these other people or things that influences your feelings.

I invite you to download a program called feelings are a result of your thinking.  When you do this, you’ll notice that your feelings will carry much less power.  Only when you’re able to recognize the fact that you are actually creating the feeling, can you begin to change it.  When you change your thoughts, you change your feelings. 

If you’re like to learn more about how to fine tune the meaning making machine, I encourage you to order my book, Seriously, Dad? An empowering conversation that will change your lens on life.  In it, I dedicate an entire chapter to helping kids understand this process. 

How do you teach a child to choose his/her attitude?

untitledThis week, I’m facilitating a youth leadership workshop for students between the ages of 8-11.  People often ask me how I’m able to teach emotional intelligence, which happens to be a very cerebral concept, to students who are still in elementary school.  While there are several methods I use, perhaps the most effective is the use of stories.  Rather than inundating them with pages and pages of information or lecturing at them for hours, I like to introduce a topic (in kid language), then use a story to reinforce it.

Below are a few of the stories I use to reinforce the notion that your attitude, NOT your circumstances, dictates your mood.  As a parent (or teacher), it’s easy to direct a child to “change their attitude,” but what we often fail to provide are the tools and strategies to do so.  Stories help stimulate their imagination, ultimately empowering them to realize that their attitude is a choice.

I invite you to read these stories with your child and use them as a foundation to build on this skill.    

The Very Old Lady

A very old lady looked in the mirror one morning.  She had three remaining hairs on her head, and being a positive soul, she said, “I think I’ll braid my hair today.”  So she braided her three hairs, and she had a great day.

Some days later, looking in the mirror one morning, preparing for her day, she saw that she had only two hairs remaining.  ”Hmm, two hairs… I fancy a center parting today.”  So, she parted her two hairs, and as ever, she had a great day.

A week or so later, she saw that she had just one hair left on her head. “One hair huh…,” she mused, “I know, a pony-tail will be perfect.” And again she had a great day.

The next morning she looked in the mirror. She was completely bald. “Finally bald huh,” she said to herself, “How wonderful! I won’t have to waste time doing my hair any more..”

~author unknown 

The Retiring Carpenter

An elderly carpenter was ready to retire.  He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. He would get by.

The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.

When the carpenter finished his work, the employer came to inspect the house. He handed the front door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.” The carpenter was shocked! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.

So it is with us. We build our lives a day at a time, often putting less than our best into the building. Then, with a shock, we realize we have to live in the house we have built. If we could do it over, we’d do it much differently. But we cannot go back. You are the carpenter. Each day you hammer a nail, place a board, put up a wall. “Life is a do-it-yourself project,” someone has said. Your attitude and the choices you make today build the “house” you live in tomorrow.

Build wisely!

~author unknown

Please email me at if you’d like more examples of stories and/or video clips to reinforce the notion that attitude is a choice.


Shame vs. Guilt

untitledA few months ago, I wrote a blog in which I likened parenting to playing a game of Whac-A-Mole.  Just when we think we’ve got one facet of our child’s life under control, up pops another mole (or challenge).  Perhaps the biggest mole throughout our parenting journey is the presence of consistent disrespect and/or irresponsible behavior on the part of our child.  Unlike the game Whac-A-Mole, where we can simply knock the mole back into its original place with one swift blow, responding to a mole as a parent can be extremely difficult. 

I read an article today about a parent who chose to address one of these moles by publicly shaming both of her children.  As I glanced at the follow up comments, I was shocked at the number of parents who expressed their full support of this action.  Click here to read it.

Although I clearly don’t agree with her parenting choice, the intent of this blog is not to condemn or criticize her.  That wouldn’t serve any of us and would only add fuel to the fire.  My goal is to highlight a critical distinction in the world of parenting, which has far reaching implications for our children.  It’s the difference between shame and guilt.

You see, each time we discipline our child it’s easy to overlook the fact that our chosen form of discipline can have a lasting impact on his/her psyche.  As parents, we sometimes resort to quick-fix, punitive measures because they tend to fix a behavior almost immediately.  Unfortunately, this fix is short lived and often serves as a band-aid with regard to future behaviors.  The end result is a child who’s ill-equipped to deal with future challenges because of the shame they carry with them.     

Below are three key differences between shame and guilt. 

Shame implies “I am wrong.”  Guilt implies “I did something wrong.” 

Imagine that I received a note from my daughter’s teacher informing me of her erratic behavior over the past few days.  Upon entering the house, still somewhat embarrassed by receiving this note, I say to my daughter, “You’re a bad girl for the choices you’ve made at school.”  Regardless of my intent, can you see how destructive these words can be?  It’s likely that my daughter would immediately feel shame and perhaps apply this statement to every facet of her life.  In other words, her internal dialogue would constantly repeat the words, “I’m a bad girl.”   

An alternative response to the identical circumstance would be, “You made a mistake at school and I’d like to talk about it.”  This statement clearly implies that she’s done something wrong, yet it leaves room for ownership and learning.     

Shame is internalized and shapes our sense of who we are.  Guilt is often short term and doesn’t define us. 

I’ve had the great fortune of participating in various personal development workshops over the years.  A common practice in each of these workshops is to introspectively look at our past and discern whether or not certain events may have shaped who we are today.  On several occasions, I’ve heard grown men and women describing a specific event in which a parent, teacher, or coach said something in a critical way, which literally shaped the way they saw themselves.  This is a testament to the long lasting nature of shame. 

Shame is synonymous with pain and suffering.  Guilt is associated with accountability.

In the example I mentioned earlier, my first response (You’re a bad girl) is clearly a way for me to divert the pain I may be feeling.  In order for me to avoid feeling the shame of having a daughter who is acting inappropriately, I can simply pass it on to her.  Of course as parents, none of these thoughts occur to us as we’re in the midst of punishing our child.  Remember, a quick-fix approach is designed to eliminate the behavior immediately.  What’s left, however, is the pain and suffering of shame.

My second response (You made a mistake) creates an opportunity for my daughter to be accountable for her choices.  Mistakes are a part of being human and it’s normal to feel a little bit of guilt following each of them.  However, when we teach our children to own and clean up their mistakes, we are empowering them with a sense of accountability.

No one ever said this parenting journey was going to be easy, right?  If we attempt to see beyond the narrow lens of punitive discipline, we may begin to understand that each of the choices we make in response to our child’s behavior is an opportunity to equip them with tools and strategies that will serve them well in the future.

Empowerment > Punishment

An invitation

imagesAs graduation ceremonies begin to take place at high schools throughout the country, I had it on my heart to share this poem with any and all graduates.  This is a critical moment in their life journey, so I wrote this poem with the sole intent of helping them to see beyond just a diploma. 


Congratulations, graduates!  Your special day is here.  A new challenge awaits you.  Your future is near. 

As you prepare to receive that precious diploma, in the company of your family and friends, I invite you to reconsider what this coveted document really represents. 

Sometimes the word graduation implies that you’re finished, or that your education journey has come to an end.  It’s easy to rest on your laurels and fail to recognize the tremendous opportunities that are  just around the bend. 

So, when you finally move the tassel on your cap, to mark the end of your graduation, I want you to think of the document you hold in your hands as an invitation that signifies a beginning, not an end. 

An invitation to share your gifts with the larger world in which you live.  People desperately need the gifts that only you can give. 

An invitation to embark on a new kind of education, which involves learning about self.  Wherever you go, there you are.  So work on you, because the books you’ve gathered over the years will remain on the shelf. 

An invitation to follow your passion, not your bank account.  The world will inundate you with messages of material worth, but if it’s happiness and joy you’re looking for, then fueling your passion is paramount. 

An invitation to be the change you wish to see in the people around you.  Change doesn’t happen as a result of force or manipulation, it happens when you make a commitment to be the change and to live your truth.   

An invitation to honor your parents and embrace the love they’ve poured into your heart.  Leaving home is no easy task, so find comfort in knowing that it’s your parents who’ve been with you from the very start.   

An invitation to be innovative and to develop an entrepreneurial mind.  While some may pressure you into a certain career path, they don’t hold the keys to your future.  It’s yours to explore and find. 

An invitation to communicate authentically in a world dominated by text, apps, and video games, just to name a few.  Put down your phone, look into someone’s eyes, and nurture the skill of true communication.  People don’t want to see your phone.  They want to see you. 

An invitation to shine your light on a world filled with dark and dreary events.  Wherever you go, there will be darkness that surrounds you.  Choose to shine your light and positive change will commence. 

Most of you who are reading this, I will never have a chance to meet.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that I believe in you and your potential accomplishments and great feats.

Hold that diploma tight and cherish it for all the days.  Although it symbolizes your graduation, let it also be an invitation to the world you’re about to enter and the lives you’re about to change in countless ways. 

I believe in you!


Mike Sissel (1990 high school graduate)  



Your value never changes.

10314029_10203621224999265_1298266057471554029_nAs young kids, my brothers and I were avid baseball card collectors.  It was quite common for my parents to take us to the local Dari Mart to buy a coveted pack of Topps cards for the meager price of $0.25.  For my younger brother (Tim) and me, I think the gum that came with each pack was equally important to the cards themselves. 

One day, our neighbor decided to generously donate several boxes of his old cards to the Sissel boys.  Apparently he had outgrown the card collecting phase and was ready to move on.  In an effort to maintain a certain level of fairness, my parents gave Mark, my older brother, the dubious honor of dividing the cards evenly amongst the three of us.

The distribution process was akin to the annual sorting of Halloween candy.  Mark would slowly chip away at the huge stack by methodically placing each subsequent card in one of three separate piles.  I proudly gazed at my pile as it continued to mount with each passing minute.  My mind raced as I thought of all the things I could do with these cards, not the least of which was taping them to the spokes of my bike. 

I can’t speak for Tim, but I’m fairly certain that we both viewed the cards as just that – cards.  Regardless of whose face was on them, they were all of equal value to us.  Mark, on the other hand, knew something we didn’t.  He was armed with the knowledge that each card had a different value, depending on the significance of the player.  So, while our piles consisted of cards with names that even die-hard baseball fans wouldn’t recognize, he discreetly placed the most valuable ones (i.e. Mickey Mantle) in his own pile.  Why?  Because he had a much different understanding of the word value than we did.  While he saw each card for its relative monetary worth, we saw them as just cards, each of which carried their own intrinsic worth, or value. 

Today, as I reflect on this moment, I can’t help but wonder how different our world would be if we made a collective effort to view other people in much the same way my younger brother and I looked at those cards.  Rather than drawing our attention to the name, race, statistics (accomplishments), or physical traits of others, we would value our peers for their inherent, intrinsic beauty.  Unlike a baseball card, which may rise or fall over the years in terms of monetary value, people are born with a value that is unchangeable and incomprehensible.  While numbers will continue to measure the value of material goods, a number will never be able to capture the value of a human.      

My definition of respect is to value each and every person you meet, regardless of their differences.  Unfortunately, this definition can be easily misconstrued as we sometimes place a value on others.  In other words, a certain friend may become worth more than others.  Let’s face it; in a world that is constantly feeding us with messages of material worth, it’s easy to apply the same concept to humans.

Think of the homeless man on the side of the road.  While his monetary worth may not be equivalent to yours, his intrinsic worth is identical.  You see, God created each of us in His likeness and image; therefore we are all inherently valuable.  We all have a heart with feelings and a spirit that longs for love.  He didn’t intend for us to value others according to the stuff they have or the way they look.  That’s all on the surface.  He wants us to love with no judgment, including loving ourselves. 

Simply put, nothing can change your inherent value.  So… 

The next time someone labels you, remember that nothing can change your inherent value.

The next time you make a mistake, remember that nothing can change your inherent value.

The next time you let your emotions get the best of you, remember that nothing can change your inherent value.

The next time you raise your voice with your child, remember that nothing can change your inherent value. 

The next time you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, remember that nothing can change your inherent value.    


P.S.  Tim and I are still negotiating with Mark to earn a fraction of his baseball card sales, should he choose to sell them.  Meanwhile, my cards are probably still attached to the spokes of my dirt bike.   

P.S.S.  I invite you to watch a video I created, which explains the essence of inherent value, using a dollar bill.  Click here to watch it.