When you fuel your passion, your paycheck will grow.

photoWhat is the most common question recent college graduates ask each other, after starting their first real world jobs?

While I don’t have a specific answer, I can’t imagine the questions have changed much since the time I graduated 20 years ago.   

It was the fall of 1994 and I was just a few months removed from the pinnacle of my educational journey; college graduation.  Football season was starting and I was excited to attend my first game as an alumnus, eager to reconnect with several of my classmates.  As the tailgating festivities ensued, I couldn’t help but notice the nature of our conversations.  In years prior, we would talk about various classes we were taking, future Spring Break trips, or cute girls who caught our eye.  On this day, however, the conversation was dominated by two questions.

Where are you working? 

How much are you making?

The first question was almost obligatory as it served as a natural segue way into the all-important money question. 

As a recent hire with a rental car company as a management trainee, I found myself on the low end in comparison to other salaries.  I knew in my heart that I wasn’t defined by a salary, but my head (or should I say my ego) informed me otherwise.  In that moment, I let my ego win and I set out on a journey to fuel my paycheck, not my passion.  I had a tremendous passion for teaching and coaching, but I suppressed it in order to achieve salary rank amongst my classmates.  After all, those who were making the most money, seemed to be the most happy. 

Fast forward 20 years and after spending the early part of my professional journey chasing a paycheck, I’m grateful that I finally listened to the wisdom of my heart and eventually followed my passion. 

Below are three of the most important messages I would share with any recent (or soon to be) college graduate regarding their future.

More money does not equal more happiness. 

Despite all of the images you see in the media (fancy cars, luxurious homes, lavish vacations), none of these guarantee happiness.  Your ego will tell you that you need to find the highest paying job in order to be happy.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  As one Princeton study points out, beyond a certain salary (approximately $75,000), which gives you the financial means to meet your basic needs, there is no correlation between money and happiness.  The fact is, happiness has more to do with the quality of your relationships than it does the size of your paycheck.  Sure the fancy cars and luxurious homes will provide you with temporary happiness, which can only be replaced with the next best thing, but is that the kind of happiness you want?

Fuel your passion.

Your passions are gifts from God, so fuel them.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to move away from your gifts and follow whatever is trendy or hip.  Instead of doing what everyone else is doing, identify a problem in the world that is near to your heart and decide how you can use your passion to create a solution.  You may need to start this journey with a position that pays a very meager salary, but take solace in knowing that when you fuel your passion, your paycheck will grow.    

Invest in yourself. 

While I’m certain you gained a tremendous amount of knowledge over the past several years, which contributed greatly to your academic development, I encourage you to invest in self-development.  I’m guessing that you didn’t spend a whole lot of time in your college classes learning about emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication, or empathic listening.  These are just a few of the “soft skills” that will give you an edge in any work environment.  You can have all of the knowledge in the world, but what employers really want is someone who can manage themselves.

At the end of your life, it won’t be a balance sheet that will consume your thoughts.  You will likely reflect on the relationships you developed, the value you added to others, and the contribution you made to the world. 

I believe in you. 

Good vs. Great

untitledHave you ever considered how much you use the word good in your daily conversations?  What does it really mean, anyway? 

Think about the last time someone asked you how your day was.  What was your response?  Did you happen to use the word good, by chance?

Think about the last time you dropped off your kids at school.  What were the last words you said to them as they left the car?  Did you happen to say, “Have a good day.”

When I work with any group of students, the very first question I ask is, “How is everyone doing?”  As you can probably guess, their answer is almost always one word – good.  Even more, it’s often said in a very monotone voice.    

It’s safe to say that you’ve frequently used the word good, perhaps without even knowing it. 

I want to make it very clear that my intention with this blog is not to be the word police.  I’m not interested in telling you what words must be a part of your vocabulary.  That is ultimately your choice.  I do, however, want to heighten your awareness with regard to the tremendous power of our words.

Do me a favor and say the word good out loud several times.  As you do this, I want you to recognize the energy you feel as you say it.  On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most energetic and 1 being almost apathetic, how would you rate your energy?

Now I want you to say the word great out loud several times.  Again notice the energy you feel as you say the word.  How did you rate your energy this time?

I’m guessing that your second number was higher.  Am I right? 

Let’s examine why this is the case.  Every emotion word in the English language, of which there are close to 3,000, carries with it a certain amount of energy.  Some words such as hate, anger, or frustration evoke negative energy.  Other words such as loving, joyful, and optimistic evoke positive energy.  Then there are words like content or relaxed which can be neutral in nature.  Depending on the tone of our voice when we say the words, the level of energy can be amplified. 

What kind of energy does the word good invoke?  I would say that it’s neutral.  

A central theme in my teachings is that the lens through which we view the world will greatly affect the quality of our lives.  These lenses are made up of words, which ultimately shape our thoughts.  Our thoughts influence our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions.  Simply put, everything begins with the words we choose. 

Let’s apply this to a practical setting.  Every day, millions of parents drop their kids off at school.  Whether they walk them to the gate or say their goodbyes from the car, the standard parting words are “Have a good day.”   

Considering the word good contains neutral energy, I’d like to share some other alternatives that will leave your child feeling much more empowered and full of positive energy.

Shine your light today.

I overheard my wife saying this to our 7 year-old as she left the house a few weeks ago, which actually prompted this blog. 

Not only does this statement use the words like shine and light, which both evoke positive energy, it also empowers the child to play an active role in their day.  It reaffirms to them that who they are (their light) greatly influences others.

Make it a fabulous day.

Aside from the word fabulous, which is much more meaningful than good, this statement implies that it’s ultimately the child’s choice as to whether or not the day will be fabulous or not.  It puts them in the driver’s seat of their day.  Regardless of whether or not the circumstances of the day turn out the way they’d like them to, the way they see the day (their lens) is entirely within their control. 

Choose happiness today.    

Similar to the first statement, these words imply that happiness is a choice, not a destination.  Let’s face it, every parent wants their child to be happy.  However, we often support the notion of happiness as a destination by giving them frequent rewards for things like grades or behavior.  These rewards can serve as a destination in a child’s mind, which leaves happiness as something they have to get, rather than create.

By my calculations, every parent will send their child(ren) off to school approximately 180 times a year.  That’s 180 opportunities for you to plant seeds of positivity and optimism in their minds as they begin their day.  I challenge you to reconsider the words you use. 

Have a good day. 

Oh wait, I mean, MAKE it a FABULOUS day and remember to SHINE your LIGHT, all the while recognizing that HAPPINESS really is a CHOICE.      

Deflated footballs or inflated egos?

photoAre deflated footballs in the NFL really the problem? 

While the mass media’s answer is an obvious yes, I’d like to share a much different perspective; one that has nothing to do with footballs and everything to do with egos.   

Regardless of whether or not you’re a football fan, it’s hard to escape the incredible hype that surrounds the Super Bowl.  As an Arizona resident, Super Bowl hysteria was recently at an all-time high, given the fact that this year’s game was played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.  Aside from non-stop coverage of the numerous events leading up to the game, perhaps the biggest story was whether or not the New England Patriots had violated league rules by deflating several game balls used in the AFC Championship game, thus giving them an unfair advantage.  Every major network dedicated a considerable amount of air time to what they collectively referred to as Deflategate. 

As I watched some of the coverage, which quite frankly was comical at times, I thought to myself, “Perhaps the NFL should be more concerned with deflating players’ egos than they are with deflated footballs.” 

As is often the case, it’s easy for organizations like the NFL to address behaviors (i.e. cheating) by attempting to fix them with various measures of punishment.  Unfortunately, the results of this symptoms-based approach are often short term.  It’s similar to chopping off a weed in your yard, only to see the weed grow again in just a few short weeks.  In the case of cheating, or any other unacceptable behavior for that matter, the weed is the behavior.  What then is the root of this behavior?  I would argue that one of the biggest culprits is the over inflated egos of the players. 

If we’re going to address the problem of overinflated egos in the NFL, the first question to ask is, “What (or who) is contributing to it?”  While some would say it’s the exorbitant amount of money these players receive, I think it goes much deeper than that.  In fact, I think it goes all the way back to when these players were in high school.  That’s where the real ego inflation begins to ramp up. 

Below are three cause-based approaches, each of which are a part of my Lenses of Leadership program, that every young athlete deserves to know and understand.

We need to teach high school football players what commitment really means. 

Each year, thousands of high school players throughout the country declare what’s called a “verbal commitment” to play for a particular college.  Ironically, it’s not really a commitment in the true sense of the word, because in many cases players change their minds when it comes to the day they officially commit.  This is referred to as a flip.          

When I teach students what it really means to commit, I always use the following definition -Commitment is doing what you said you would do, long after the feeling you had when you said it is gone.  In other words, a true commitment is honoring your word.  Sadly, college recruiters take full advantage of the soft nature of a verbal commitment and continue to lure players into believing that they should play for them.

How can we teach commitment, you might ask?  Well, if emotions have a tendency to distract athletes from honoring a commitment, then we teach them emotional management.    

We need to teach high school football players that they aren’t just taking their talents to college.  They are also taking their character. 

National Signing Day, which is the day that the players officially commit, is more like a dog and pony show than it is a signing day.  With cameras in their faces and college football fans waiting on the edge of their seats to hear an announcement, players sit near a podium and stare down a handful of hats, which represent the schools that are still alive in the recruiting process.  After selecting a hat, family and friends in the audience let out a collective roar and what comes next is proof of an inflated ego – “I’ve decided to take my talents to…”

You see, throughout their entire high school football career, the spotlight is not on their character, but rather on their talents.  Just as a classroom teacher would assign a grade for a student, which measures academic ability, recruiting experts assign a grade for every player, which measures talent.  Those players with the highest grades have their faces (and highlight tapes) plastered on numerous recruiting sites and their talents are front and center in the media.

For each of these young men, football will eventually come to an end.  When this time comes, it will be their character, not their athletic ability, that will serve them well in a future beyond football.

How can we teach character, you might ask?  Well, if character is ultimately rooted in our thoughts, then we teach them thought management.      

We need to teach high school football players about the power of humility. 

I’ve written in the past about Russell Wilson and the beautiful example he sets for younger players.  True to form, following perhaps the most painful moment of his NFL career, an interception to seal his team’s fate in the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson jogged off the field with his head held high.  He owned his mistake and praised God for another opportunity to return to the Super Bowl.  The previous year he had won with dignity, this year he lost with humility.

I’m not sure what Russell Wilson’s high school signing looked like, but I can imagine that it would look something like this.  No hats, no cameras, no entourage, just an announcement – “It is an honor and a privilege to receive my education and play college football for (fill in the blank).” 

How can we teach humility, you might ask?  Well, if humility is defined as maintaining a modest view of one’s own importance, then we teach them the value of team.    

Deflated footballs in the NFL are nothing more than a symptom.  If we continue to mask the symptoms, they will always rear their ugly head.  If we begin to address the cause, however, the symptoms will eventually disappear.   

I’d love to know your thoughts.  What measures are you taking as a parent, teacher, or coach to ensure that character development is a critical component of one’s athletic journey? 

Measuring stick vs. Mirror

untitledLast week I wrote about the dangers of comparison and the relative ease of falling into the comparison trap.  The result is a wild ride on the emotional roller coaster.     

In this week’s blog, I want to empower you with several strategies, which are designed to combat the destructive nature of comparison.  

Instead of using a measuring stick to compare up or down, I invite you to use a mirror and focus your energies on what you can control.     

Strategy #1 – Celebrate who you are or what you already have! 

The next time you find yourself belaboring the fact that you don’t have this or you don’t have that, use your self-awareness to stop this negativity and find something to celebrate.  For example, if I find myself wallowing in self-pity over the fact that other authors may be selling more books than me, I can choose to celebrate the fact that I fulfilled a life-long dream of actually publishing a book.  Each moment I spend comparing my success with others, I lose an opportunity to celebrate my own success. 

Remember, gratitude (not stuff) leads to authentic happiness.   

Strategy #2 – Live your mission. 

Part of my Lenses of Leadership program requires that each student write a personal mission statement, which serves as the answer to the what I believe is the most important question in life – Who are you?  Notice the question doesn’t ask who do others want you to be, or who you are compared to your peers.  It’s simply a declaration of your life’s mission.   

Your mission statement can be a very powerful tool when it comes to avoiding dangerous comparisons.  Let me give you an example. 

Amy’s mission statement is to be a light in the world and to make a difference for others.  Unfortunately, Amy has spent a lot of time wondering what she needed to do or have in order to be more like her friend Rachel.  If she’s practicing self-awareness and thinking about these strategies, she can implement strategy #2 right away.  This can be done by asking the question…Do my thoughts and actions align with my mission?  In this case, the answer would be no as her thoughts are about becoming more like someone else.  Armed with a new awareness, Amy can begin to focus her energy on living her mission. 

Strategy #3 – Realize that perfect is an illusion. 

I think we can all benefit from hearing this statement from time to time.  Unfortunately, much of what we see on television or in magazines is an attempt to paint a picture of absolute perfection.  As viewers, we sometimes forget that what we are seeing on the screen (or in print) is not an image based on reality.  In fact, in this digital age, it’s quite common for companies to spend thousands of dollars just to have the images in their magazine “photoshopped” to perfection.  This pursuit of perfection especially affects young girls as they strive to achieve a certain look at any and all costs.   

Strategy #4 – Compare yourself to your own goals. 

If you’re going to compare yourself to anything, then compare yourself to your own goals.  See the goal as a future version of you and use it as a gauge throughout your journey.  Comparing yourself to your own goals will almost certainly fuel a desire to become a better you.  After all, that’s the only thing we can really control. 

Please put down the measuring stick and begin using a mirror.  The mirror will reveal your true, beautiful self.   

I believe in you. 

The dangers of comparison.

untitled

If Dr. Seuss’ statement is truer than true, which I believe it is, then why do we spend so much time comparing ourselves to other people?  

While it may seem quite natural to compare, the potential impact it can have on our self-esteem is quite damaging in nature.  Below are several of the inherent dangers of comparing.

Danger #1:  We often compare things that have absolutely nothing to do with happiness or fulfillment.   

It’s pretty easy to come up with a list of things we commonly compare.  It would most likely include money, physical beauty, size of house, talents, and perceived success.  

I wrote last week about cultivating happiness and attempted to destroy the myth that you must have certain things in order to be happy.  Unfortunately, if we believe that happiness can only be achieved by obtaining more money, better looks, or an above average sized house, then we are building a foundation on very shaky ground.

The extreme popularity of social media has contributed greatly to our comparison culture.  It’s easy to compare your game film to another person’s highlight reel, which typically includes pictures or posts which, directly or indirectly, illuminate money, physical beauty, or success.  The fact remains, however, that trying to assess another person’s happiness based solely on their social media profile is akin to judging the proverbial book by its cover.   

Danger #2:  We either compare UP or we compare DOWN.

If you think about it, all comparisons are an attempt to gauge how we measure up with regard to others.   When we compare UP, we look to others and think about what they have that we don’t.  Conversely, when we compare DOWN, we celebrate the fact that we have something that others don’t.  Both of these are sure signs of insecurity as they infer that we need these comparisons to validate our self-worth.  Let’s take a look at a few examples, which are based loosely on real circumstances I’ve witnessed with students.    

Sherry spent her entire eighth grade year wishing she could look exactly like her friend Kate.  In fact, Kate happened to be very popular among all of the middle school girls.  She was always wearing the latest fashions in clothing and had a certain look that seemed almost angelic.  What Sherry failed to realize is that Kate was suffering from an eating disorder that was a direct result of her desire to look perfect.  When the news finally surfaced that Kate was struggling with this disease, Sherry suddenly realized that comparing herself UP to Kate was simply based on looks and had nothing to do with happiness.   

Kent was the starting quarterback on the middle school football team.  At the end of the school year, his friend Ryan received an award for having been the Most Valuable Player on the team for that year.  While Kent was somewhat disappointed, he found great solace in knowing that he was much better than most of the guys on his team.  In fact, he began listing off all of the names on the roster and comparing his accomplishments to each of theirs.  Even though Ryan had received the MVP award, Kent was determined to be better than everyone else.  Clearly, he was comparing DOWN to his teammates.  By the time the next season had started, Kent realized he had spent most of his time on energy on others and failed to work on improving his skills.  As a result, he lost his job as the starting quarterback.   

Danger #3:  We dwell on who we aren’t, rather than celebrating who we are. 

Ironically, many of the things we tend to compare are things we have very little control over.  I remember spending a lot of my younger years wishing that I could be as tall as my younger brother.  I would often say things like – Why did he get the tall genes?  or Why can’t I just be a few inches taller? What I failed to realize was that my height wasn’t going to change as a result of my pity.  In fact, each moment I spent dwelling on my relatively small height was a wasted opportunity to celebrate the many wonderful qualities I possessed.   

In next week’s blog, I will outline several strategies which are designed to combat the destructive nature of comparison. 

Until then, I invite you to simply be aware of your comparison tendencies.  As I’ve shared in the past, proper awareness is always the first step toward sustainable change.

Cultivating Happiness

imagesWG4G2NKYIf I just had more ________, I’d be able to do more ________, which would finally allow me to be ________.   

Before you continue reading, I invite you to fill in the blanks.  Don’t worry, you won’t be graded.  Any answer is acceptable. 

Below is an example, which may be applicable for many of you. 

If I just had more money, I’d be able to do more of the things I want to do, which would allow me to be happy. 

If it were a math equation, the above sentence would look like this: HAVE + DO = BE 

Sounds logical, right?    

Unfortunately, this is the way many people operate their lives.  They look for something out there that will ultimately create happiness.  What ensues is a never-ending search for a new source of happiness.  It’s kind of like a cat chasing its own tail.   

It turns out that this equation is actually backwards.  According to positive psychologist Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, our being actually belongs at the beginning of the equation, not the end.  In other words, instead of focusing on what we must have (success, money, health), we should instead shift our focus to who we need to be (happy, confident, peaceful).    

Having said this, I invite you make this shift inward and begin the process of cultivating, not searching for, more happiness in your life.  Here are three simple strategies for being happy.   

Take a gratitude walk.  Most people think of exercise as strictly physical in nature.  Therefore, it’s quite common to listen to music or read a magazine as a means of distracting the mind.  A few years ago, I stopped using my headphones during runs or walks and made a conscious effort to be present to my surroundings.  Several times a week, I take walks with my oldest daughter and intentionally choose to be grateful for everything and everyone I pass.  Whether it’s a tree, the green grass (or brown, depending on the time of year), or a fellow walker, I’ve tried to condition my mind to observe the beauty in everything.  In the past, I would only feel happy following my workout, but now I notice heightened levels of happiness throughout. 

Wake up each morning this week and send a note of thanks, via email, to a friend, family member, or co-worker.  For most people, the first time they open their email in the morning can be a daunting task.  Just when you think you have your inbox at a reasonable number prior to calling it a night, you might wake up to an onslaught of messages the next morning, many of which require your immediate attention.  Before you even begin to open your messages, take 2-3 minutes to craft a meaningful note to someone, expressing your gratitude for them.  Try to be as specific as possible. 

Carve out 15 minutes a day to tap into your natural gifts.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to bury our natural gifts in order to keep up with the time demands of our jobs or other obligations.  The truth is that many people trade the majority of their time at work, in return for a paycheck, yet sadly they aren’t fulfilled by the work they do.  The end result is burnout and stress.  The antidote to these feelings is the ability to express our God-given gifts.  You will find that the more you tap into your natural gifts, the more happiness you will feel.    

If you’d like to learn more about how to share this principle with your pre-teen or teenager, I dedicated an entire chapter of my book, Seriously, Dad?, to empowering young people to play a more proactive role in cultivating their own happiness.    

Let the happiness begin, NOW!  BE + DO = HAVE 

I believe in you.

Quote With A Call

1381539_570474613006702_188837385_nGreetings, everyone!

As you know, I normally post new blogs each Tuesday, which I will continue to do. 

Considering the fact that you are receiving this on a Monday, it must be a bonus blog.    

Every week, on my KaleidoEye Facebook page, I tape a two-minute video segment titled Quote With A Call.  My intention is to provide the viewer with a powerful quote, followed by a call to action in hopes of bringing the words to life.  It’s easy to read a quote and be moved by the content, but in the absence of action steps, quotes eventually lose their power.

I invite you to watch this week’s video (click here), which contains a quote from yours truly.  If my message speaks to you in any way, I would be grateful if you would share it with your Facebook friends. 

All my best,

Mike

Why are we racing?

photoWhen I began my business journey in 2008, my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) was to transform the system of education by making emotional intelligence a part of every child’s education.  Having just left the classroom and armed with a firm understanding of the system of education, I set out to create massive change.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for my delusions of grandeur to come crashing down.  After reaching out to countless schools to share my program, I realized that there were two enormous barriers in my way; time and money. 

Like any good business owner would do, I re-calibrated my goal and sought to reach a broader audience of youth; an audience that wasn’t confined to the four walls of a classroom.  Recently, I’ve focused my efforts on working with young athletes on The Game Within The Game, helping them to master the mental side of sport.  While there are many exciting opportunities in store, it dawned on me the other day that there is a striking similarity between the current state of education and sports. 

They are both in the midst of a Race To The Top, which in many cases is hindering the development of our youth. 

In the education world, a certain level of competition has always existed, but the proverbial race was heightened in 2009, when President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a $4.35 billion dollar contest to spur innovation and reforms in state and local district K-12 education.  Essentially, states are awarded points for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance based standards for teachers and principals, and complying with Common Core standards.  In the end, those who achieve the highest score receive a greater allotment of the funds. 

In the sports world, a similar race is taking place.  It’s a race that is often fueled by parents and coaches of young athletes.  Just as states are racing to achieve points, many parents, coaches, and athletes are in their own race to achieve wins.  Winning that isn’t just confined to a team’s record.  It also includes winning things like college scholarships, Most Valuable Player trophies, or even winning the admiration of followers on social media.  In an era when club sports have taken over the landscape of youth athletics, the emphasis on winning is greater than ever. 

While there are obvious supporters of these races, there are also critics who are vehemently opposed to the notion of racing for achievement, including myself.  Two of the most notable are Vicki Abeles, whose award-winning documentary Race to Nowhere chronicles the nationwide problem of America’s pressure-cooker culture, and John O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing The Game project, who wrote a groundbreaking article on The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports.  Both maintain that the respective races in sports and academics are actually hurting our youth more than they are helping. 

I couldn’t agree more. 

I’ve always believed that the greatest teachers and coaches aren’t those who possess all of the answers, but rather those who are able to pose the most meaningful, thought provoking questions.  While I certainly don’t claim to have all of the answers to our current educational and sports challenges, I invite you to consider the following three questions.

Why are we racing? 

We’ve all heard the phrase – Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  It seems to me that when you introduce a race of any kind, it’s implied that you must sprint to the finish.  Unfortunately, in the process of sprinting, we overlook the most critical component of education and sports, which is student or player development.  With an eyes on the prize focus, it’s easy to look past the means (development) and focus entirely on the end (winning).  While the adults (legislators, coaches, parents) may win as a result of the race, the kids are obviously losing.

What are the costs of reaching the top?

A critical 21st Century Skill is collaboration, yet our emphasis on the top is clearly promoting the opposite of collaboration, which is competition.  You don’t have to look very far to see the costs of competition in sports and education.  In sports, it’s not uncommon for players on the same team to compete against each other in an effort to fill up the stat sheet or to gain more exposure to potential college recruiters.  In education, this race to the top often entices schools to cut corners in an effort to achieve points.  There have been several documented cases of cheating in schools and districts in order to increase test scores.  Would this cheating take place if we took the emphasis off of the top and focused solely on student development, not just achievement?   

Are the kids themselves benefitting from the race?

I would argue that the answer is a resounding no.  As I previously mentioned, in our effort to create the path for our youth, we are failing to allow them to explore their own path.  There is no room for failure in a race to the top, yet countless articles have been written about the enormous benefits of allowing kids to fail (click here to read one).  The culture we are creating portrays failure as weakness, not strength.

If you were an employer interviewing young candidates for a job, which of the following questions would have a greater influence on your hiring decision?

What were your grades in school and how many times did you win in your sports career?

What were your failures and how did you respond to them?  Are you coachable?

In the end, it comes down to one vital question that every parent, teacher and coach should frequently ask – Am I doing what’s best for the young people I work with?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this article.  What do you think about the race culture we live in? 

Dear 21 year-old Mike,

untitledMarty McFly:  Mom.  That you?

Lorrain Baines:  There, there, now.  Just relax.

[pats a damp cloth on Marty’s forehead]

Lorraine Baines:  You’ve been asleep for almost nine hours now.

Marty McFly:  I had a horrible nightmare.  I dreamed that I went… back in time.  It was terrible.

Lorraine Baines:  Well, you’re safe and sound now, back in good old 1955.

Marty McFly:  [opens his eyes wide] 1955?

Who can forget the classic film, Back To The Future?  Marty McFly, a typical American teenager of the 80’s, is accidentally sent back in time in a plutonium-powered Delorean time machine invented by the slightly mad scientist, Dr. Emmett Brown.  Marty’s often hysterical, always eventful trip back in time is one for the ages.   

In the spirit of Marty McFly, I’d like to embark on my own journey back in time.  My year of choice is 1994, the year I graduated from college.  Unlike Marty McFly, whose primary mission was to make certain his teenage parents-to-be meet and fall in love, my mission is to impart some wisdom into a younger, more confused version of myself. 

So, let’s power up the Delorean and go back in time. 

Dear 21 year-old Mike, 

Congratulations on your recent graduation.  I’m so proud of your accomplishment.   

As you’ve heard countless times, the “real world” is about to begin.  The knowledge you’ve gained during your four years of college is certainly valuable, but in no way has it prepared you for life.  You see, regardless of the profession you choose, there are going to be peaks and valleys on the proverbial road of life.   

As you embark on this journey, unsure of what you really want to do, I want you to consider three important pieces of wisdom, which will ultimately shape who you become.   

Every minute you spend worrying is 60 seconds of potential happiness lost.  

I know that you are a self-described worry wart, so this may seem quite confronting to you.  Please know that worrying is like paying interest on a debt that hasn’t come true.  In other words, all of your worries are about things that haven’t happened yet.  These worrisome thoughts take up a tremendous amount of space in your mind, which leaves much less room for positivity and optimism.   

I know you are worried about the next steps in your life.  Where am I going to live?  What is my profession going to be?  How much money will I make?  While these thoughts are very real, they can also be a source of great hope.  Have faith that God will ultimately answer these questions.  Trust in the process and embrace every moment.      

Rejoice in your failures and use them as a source of emotional resilience. 

I know what you are thinking, “How am I supposed to celebrate my failures?”  

Unfortunately, you just spent four years in a system of higher education where failure was simply not an option.  You were conditioned to believe that the most successful students are those who achieve the highest grades.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  You see, there is no such thing as failure.  There are only results.  Whether you finished with straight A’s or straight C’s, it’s your emotional intelligence that will serve as a key ingredient to your success.   

Take, for example, your math class that you struggled mightily with.  While some may show pity and feel sorry for your challenges, I want you to embrace it.  Although you didn’t get an A in the class, you did get life skills such as grit and emotional resilience.  You won’t receive a grade for grit on your report card, but let me assure you that it will prove to be more important than any of the letter grades that show up on your college transcript.     

Stay true to your passion, not your paycheck. 

I know that the pressures of landing the perfect job as a college graduate are immense.  I also know that your heart says you should follow your passion, which is empowering kids, yet your head says you should find the highest paying job possible.  Believe me, this is a very common battle for college graduates.   

Unfortunately, it’s easy to follow the herd and race into the corporate world, eager to buy your first house and drive a fancy car, both of which are status symbols that supposedly convey to others that you have “made it.”  I implore you to look beyond the instant gratification of cars and houses, and ask yourself this question, “What can I do to fuel my passion?”  I promise you that when you choose to fuel your passion, the extrinsic status symbols won’t matter.  Why?  Because you will be intrinsically rewarded beyond measure.  Feelings like happiness, joy, fulfillment, and contribution will replace the material things and the quality of your life will drastically improve.     

I believe in you, 

42 year-old Mike 

P.S.  With regard to your worries about a future spouse.  God has the perfect person for you.  Make sure you buy lots of sunscreen, because you’ll have to move to Arizona to meet her.      

Top 8 Blogs of 2014

photoWith the New Year almost upon us, I figured it was only appropriate that I add my version of a Top 5 (or 10, 15, 20, etc…) list to the millions of others that seem to occupy space on the internet just prior to January 1. 

For me, the New Year is more about deep reflection than it is making resolutions.  In fact, I recently challenged my Facebook friends to create what I call a New Year’s Declaration.  If you’re interested in accepting this challenge, click here to watch my video.

I am filled with a tremendous amount of gratitude when I think about the opportunity this blog affords me to share my thoughts in a public forum.  My sincere hope is that each piece I write serves as a spark for positive, sustainable change. 

Without further ado, I present to you my Top 8 blogs for 2014.  If you have read them before, I encourage you to read them again.  As I often tell my students, “Each time you read something again, you often gain a fresh, new perspective that will serve you well.”

Blog #1 – Dear Girls

If you’re interested in empowering your child to stay true to who they are, click here to read an open letter I wrote to my girls about the importance of authenticity. 

Blog #2 – Two Wolves

If you’d like to know why your child should perhaps be watching less television, click here to read about how the media often feeds the bad wolf.

Blog #3 – Free Fish

If you (or your child) struggle with a bully, click here to learn how to be a free fish and to maintain your power.

Blog #4 – Five truths that EVERY child needs to hear EVERY day

If you find that your child is often overwhelmed with an influx of Common Core content, click here to learn about 5 Truths that address the core of the child. 

Blog #5 – The Burning Match

If you struggle with letting go of emotions like anger or worry, click here to read about how one man was able to let go despite a torturous experience at the hands of another individual. 

Blog #6 – You’re closer than you think

If you find yourself losing hope about whether or not you will be able to accomplish something, click here for a reminder that you really are closer than you think.

Blog #7 – Praise the process

Click here to read about why you should never tell your child that he/she is smart. 

Blog #8 – Do we really need the trophies?

If you have a child involved in youth sports and struggle with the extrinsic nature of motivation, click here to read about how to nurture the intrinsic motivators. 

If you feel so moved, I would be grateful if you would share these blogs with friends or loved ones.  I am on a mission to be a spark of positive change for ALL individuals, so your help is greatly appreciated. 

Here’s to a prosperous 2015 for each and every one of you.

All my best,

Mike