Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at my son’s school to 5th graders about their future career. Something I am sure they were excited about. Really though, they were! They expressed interest and asked good questions.

My goal was to share with them what all I had done and then leave them with some ideas for how they can continue on a path that will help them choose a meaningful career (or careers). The reality is that any job you do can have meaning, and I chose to focus on that. I listed my first 10 jobs for them. These jobs included: roofing, small engine repair, a sporting goods store, Pep Boys and more. I learned things at each of these jobs. Maybe not as much at the time, but looking back, I can see that I learned important lessons.

The small engine shop was my first job. At age 12, I started learning how to fix small engines and enjoyed riding the go-karts around to “test” them. The lesson I learned though is that not everyone knows how to run a business. That guy still owes me money. I have moved on, but the lesson still remains. I want to work with people who will prioritize taking care of those they are partnered with.

The summer I spent roofing, I learned that is not something I wanted to do the rest of my life. It was hot and hard, and I knew I wanted to get a degree and work in the A/C as much as possible.

At Pep Boys, I worked the parts counter. Looking back I realize that what I was doing was helping people get to work and take their kids to school because the parts they bought helped fix their car or keep it running. These are important things when you rely on that car to get you where you need to go.

Each of these lessons were meaningful but mostly in the way that I am looking back on them. Maybe you reminisce the same way and can still learn from things that happened years ago. But what about your teenager? Likely they are going to go through a similar process of learning years later about what they went through. So what can we help them learn now? I shared some ideas with the 5th graders, but these ideas also translate well to the teens you work with.

Keep school a priority. I remember not liking English, especially in high school. I felt I had enough of those classes and didn’t need to keep taking an English class every semester. I was tired of English, especially writing. I felt it was a waste of time because I had no intention of being a writer. I’ll give you a second for the irony of typing that to sink in. Besides this post, I am also writing donors, partner organizations and school administrators. I write those people using a persuasive style to help them understand why we should work together and how our program makes an impact for teenagers. I would tell teenagers today that you never know what skills may become important later in life.

Try different things. In addition to what I listed above, I also worked as a painter, at a gas station changing the oil on cars, and as a waiter (for 4 days). Each of my job experiences helped me learn something about how to handle what I am doing today or how I do not want to handle what I am doing today. We should all encourage teens to try different things. These years are formative and a great opportunity to try things that can teach basic skills to help them build on what they are learning.

Keep Reading. This is possibly the most important one. I spent too many years not reading, and these last few years, I have spent as much time reading as I can. Encourage your teen to pick up books, listen to them, sit at the library and read. Fiction, nonfiction, historical, biographies. All of these can be beneficial. I think the important thing is to stay focused on 2 areas. Reading things we both agree with and disagree with are important. Both of these help us grow and because we are reading, we don’t have to worry about emotions getting in the way. We get to simply learn, grow, and better understand how to engage the world around us.

Find unique solutions to old problems. Lastly, I shared that many problems the world is facing are not new. They have been around since humanity began. They are similar because most of them are grounded in relationships. The difference is teenagers today have a unique opportunity to address problems in a new way. I believe, and I hope you do too, that each of us is different and unique enough that we can bring a new perspective to these old problems. I believe that youth today will find solutions no one has ever thought of, and as the adults around them, we need to encourage those ideas and help them carry them out.


I hope this not only helps your teenager, but also you as you have conversations about the future. If we can have a perspective that is future focused, it helps us engage in ways that encourage rather than squash the creativity and uniqueness inside each student.

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.