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. 

If not now, when?


That’s the question we’re left with when someone tragically takes their own life. 

Last week, I read a heartbreaking story about a University of Pennsylvania track athlete who seemingly had it all, yet chose to end her life at the young age of 19.      

Today, the same thing happened, although it was much closer to home.  A track star at Corona Del Sol, a high school located less than a mile from my home, took his life on campus. 


This was the first question that came to mind when I read the tragic news.  I’m certain I wasn’t the only one asking it.

It’s normal to search for answers when something like this occurs.  Unfortunately, as part of the searching process, it’s easy to get caught up in a rush to judgment.  Did his parents know that something was wrong?  Did his friends sense imminent danger?  Why wasn’t he taking medication? 

Perhaps we’ll never know the answers to these questions.  However, I believe it’s absolutely necessary that we ask another question – What can we do right now to ensure that young people will never reach a state of complete hopelessness, which may ultimately lead to suicide?

Below are three strategies that I encourage ever parent to use with their child. 

Assure your child that emotions are part of being human.  Anger, sadness, and jealousy are not bad emotions; they are simply energy in motion.  We must empower them to use the energy in a meaningful way.  Whatever is repressed gets expressed. 

Acknowledge any emotion your child may be feeling.  As parents, it’s easy to dismiss what our kids say and perhaps label it as unnecessary whining or complaining.  However, the deepest need of the human heart, regardless of age, is to be understood.  When we acknowledge their emotions, we are seeking to understand.  The ultimate outcome is a foundation of trust. 

Tell your child you love them.  I know it sounds clichéd, but it’s easy to overlook these powerful words.  Don’t just say it once out of obligation; say it all of the time out of commitment. 

My heart aches for the family of the young man who took his life today.  I pray that we use this moment as an opportunity to educate, empower and encourage our youth. 

Let’s not wait for tragedies to occur so that we can address topics like emotions and unconditional love. 

If not now, when?

Dear 5th grader,

photoTeaching is one of the few professions that have a definitive start and stop each year.  The start is typically in August or September and the stop occurs in May or June.  The summer months afford teachers an opportunity to prepare for the next transition, whether it’s teaching the same grade level or maybe even moving into an administrative role.  Nonetheless, the transition from one school year to the next is often full of optimism and hope as teachers return with renewed minds. 

For students, the start and stop nature of school means one thing – summer vacation.  A chance to hang out with friends, sleep in, or go on frequent family trips are just a few of the countless perks of summer.  Unlike teachers, students don’t spend a lot of time during the summer transition preparing their minds for the upcoming school year.  However, as the start of another school year draws near, there’s a certain level of mental preparation taking place and it’s often ripe with emotions like worry or fear. 

While some student transitions can be more stressful than others, I believe that the single most important transition a student will ever make is the move from elementary school to middle school (or junior high).  I often refer to the middle school experience as the formative years; a time when their brains and bodies are experiencing consistent change.  In addition to the awkward physical changes that come with puberty, there are certain parts of the brain (i.e. prefrontal cortex) that are incurring significant growth as well. 

Prior to speaking to a group of fifth grade students today, I had it on my heart to equip them, as best I could, for this monumental transition.  Below are the four things I shared with them, which are written in an open letter format to all fifth graders. 

Dear Spectacular Student,

You are about to embark on a journey that is unlike any other you’ve experienced.  I’m guessing you’ve heard a lot of stories about what to expect: more homework, bigger kids, and difficult teachers.  While there may be some truth to these, each of them is clearly out of your control.  However, the one thing that you’ll always have the power to control is yourself. 

As you leave elementary school and prepare for this new journey, I invite you to consider the following thoughts.  I’m confident that if you allow these thoughts to resonate in your heart, your middle school experience will be much more enjoyable.    

Know who you are.  Identify a set of core values which will help you honor who you are.

I’m not talking about knowing your name.  Of course you know what it is; at least I hope so.  What I’m referring to is your character.  You see, middle school is a time when your peers will try to tell you (directly or indirectly) who you are.  It’s called peer pressure.  For example, if you’re unaware of what you value, then you’ll most likely go with the flow, which as you know always moves in a downward direction.  On the other hand, if you have established who you are with core values such as loyalty and honesty, you’ll remain strong in the face of peer pressure.  When you see other people gossiping or telling lies, you can simply say to yourself, “That’s not who I am.” 

Your ripple matters.

Regardless of what you look like, the number of friends you have, or the grades on your report card, there is one thing that will always remain constant – YOU MATTER.  While some students may place a tremendous value on popularity or fashion, I encourage you to focus on the choices you’re making.  You see, everything you say or do will have an invisible ripple effect on the people around you.  Simply put, you have the potential to influence hundreds of lives without even saying a word.  That’s true power. 

Your mistakes will shape you. 

Guess what?  You’re going to make mistakes.  You’re human.  At times, you may feel like there is a certain amount of pressure to be perfect.  The fact is that no one is perfect.  While I’m not encouraging you to intentionally make mistakes, I want you to recognize the fact that mistakes are part of the learning process.  The key to being a successful student is not about avoiding mistakes, but rather your ability to own them and learn from each mistake you make.  Only when you admit your mistakes can you begin the process of learning from them.  Thomas Edison made over 1,000 mistakes when he invented the light bulb.  Each time he made a mistake, he saw it as a stepping stone toward success. 

Success = IQ (school smarts) + EQ (self smarts)

There will always be other students who will want to show off their report card as a way of professing their intelligence.  While you’re grades (school smarts) are important, I also want you to spend some time working on yourself (self smarts).  Always be aware of your thoughts and emotions, and consistently ask the question…“Is my current way of thinking helping or hurting me?”  You are the driver of your life and are always just one thought away from a new emotion.  You will certainly have moments of anger or sadness; we all do.  However, when you learn to change the way you think, these emotions won’t hijack you and cause you to make choices that you end up regretting.  You are in charge, not your emotions.

I believe in you.


Mike Sissel – Former 5th grader

P.S.  If this letter speaks to you, I invite you to share it with other students.

Dwell in possibility

untitledEach week, I post a video on my Facebook page as part of what I refer to as A Quote With a Call.  My goal is to share a simple quote, yet provide a tangible call to action that will transform the words from head to heart.

This week’s quote was from Emily Dickinson, who said, “Dwell in possibility.”  Click here to watch it.

On a cerebral level, it’s easy to comprehend the nature of these words.  It makes sense to focus our thoughts on what’s possible.  Unfortunately, what prevents these words from resonating in our hearts is all of the messages we’ve received (direct or indirect) regarding what isn’t possible.  These messages eventually become beliefs, and it’s these beliefs that have us dwell in impossibility.

I’d like to share a blog I wrote in 2013, which speaks directly to the idea of possibility thinking.  You see, in order for us to see what’s possible, we have to unlearn some of the things we’ve learned.  Read for yourself.


What if I told you that a fundamental component of our success is the ability to “unlearn” many of the things that we’ve already learned?  I know.  I know.  You’d probably say I was crazy, right?  Let me explain.

Most of you are probably familiar with the work of Michaelangelo, considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of all time.  Each year millions of tourists flock to the Italian city of Florence to see Michaelangelo’s greatest masterpiece, the Statue of David.  Upon its completion in 1504, this 17 ft. tall statue, with its incredible precision and overall beauty, generated an immediate buzz amongst the townspeople.  Many were left wondering how Michaelangelo was able to create a sculpture of this magnitude, and with so much detail, out of what was once a huge slab of marble.  When asked this question, Michaelangelo would smile and humbly reply by saying, “Actually, it was quite simple.  I didn’t create David, you see.  David already existed concealed within the stone.  All I had to do was chip away at what wasn’t David.”  His response serves as a perfect metaphor for the process of “unlearning” that I mentioned earlier.

When I look into the eyes of my seventeen-month old daughter, I see a world of infinite possibility and an unbridled curiosity for the world around her.  You see, there is no such thing as doubt, suffering, guilt, or any other limiting beliefs that exist in her mind.  This is certainly evident in the countless attempts she has made to climb over our protective gate, still exhibiting that “I can do this” smile that is a fixture of her being.  The fact of the matter is that she hasn’t “learned” the concept of doubt yet and therefore can’t even comprehend “not” being able to do something.

Let’s fast forward 10-15 years to the age of most of the students I work with as a leadership coach.  Why is it that many of these students exhibit behaviors that are consistent with low self-esteem?  Why don’t they possess that same resiliency and absolute belief that my daughter now has?  The answer is simple.  Throughout their childhood, they were educated about their limitations.  Whether it’s a television show that sends a message of inferiority or a friend telling them that they won’t amount to anything, these messages serve as “learning” experiences that generate limiting beliefs such as “I can’t do anything right.”  While there is clearly no truth in this statement for any human being, we begin to accept it as the truth and it ultimately shapes our choices.

Now let’s apply the metaphor in the story of Michaelangelo’s response to the creation of David.  It’s clear that the finished product was a thing of absolute beauty and brilliance.  However, let me remind you that Michaelangelo referred to this magnificent sculpture as something that already existed concealed in the stone.  His job was to chip away at everything that wasn’t David.  Just as Michaelangelo was able to chip away at the various layers of marble that represented who David wasn’t, we too can chip away, or unlearn, the various layers that prevent us from achieving our true potential.  We are NOT doubt, fear, guilt, discouragement, or suffering.  These all originated in the mind as a response to outside stimulus; we learned them.  The “unlearning” process begins with a commitment to self-discovery and willingness to change a set of beliefs that quite honestly have been running on auto-pilot for years.