What Can I Learn?

What Can I Learn?

School is about to start! Some of you are jumping for joy, and others are trying to figure out how to delay that inevitable day a little longer.
As the year starts, I hope that you are able to find a sense of why school is worth your time and effort. Don’t worry, I remember not wanting to go back too. Since then, I have learned a lot about the importance of prioritizing learning and have even begun the habit of reading multiple books at the same time. (Currently: The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork by John Maxwell, The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom).

For years I didn’t read anything because I felt I didn’t have time. Thankfully I began listening to things that helped me realize I didn’t have time NOT to read. The necessity of learning by reading and listening to podcasts and audiobooks has been made clear, and it has led me to one question that stands out in any situation I am faced with. This can be personal, business, relational or anything. If you embrace this one question and release the desire for control of the situation, the payoff is worth every ounce of effort you put into this change in perspective.

Here is the question: “What can I learn?” This applies to a positive situation, a negative situation, or a neutral situation. You can ask this anytime, anywhere, about anything. So how do we narrow the focus and apply this as the school year starts to get the most out of this year?

First of all, I assume that this blog is mostly read by adults, not teenagers. So if you are a teen, be sure to read below understanding that it is intended for someone helping you understand the concept. This may mean some things feel they don’t apply. I would ask that you talk with an adult about the information. Not because you can’t understand it, but because their life experience may help them read this differently than you. In the end, hopefully you will both be better off from simply having a conversation about it.

Use these steps as a guide to get the most out of this school year.

Don’t assume adversity is bad. The tendency more and more is to assume that when we meet resistance or conflict, we must turn the other way, fight, or reject the interaction. This is becoming more and more the case with teenagers who lack empathy and who have at their disposal a constant connection to be able to find the type of interaction they crave. There is no need to push through an uncomfortable exchange with a peer or teacher because it is easy to find a more pleasant one somewhere else

The problem here is that there may be a significant lesson to be learned. That may be patience or some self awareness or something new about that person that gives us insight we didn’t have before. If the immediate reaction is to remove the tension, we miss this opportunity. If we instead ask, “What can I learn?”, there is the distinct possibility we will get something signifiant from the interaction. It may be that we do not want to engage that person again. But we don’t really know that if we are retreating. We can know that if our brain is working to understand what we can get out of the situation.

You won’t waste a class ever again. Since becoming a more active learner, one of the things that stands out when listening to others is the comment that something is a waste of time. This is a very empty comment. Most often what they are meaning is that they would rather be doing something else. Not necessarily something more worth while, just something else. The truth is whether something is a waste of time is up to each of us. If we give that power to the person teaching the class, giving the lecture, or coaching us on fundamentals, we have willingly relinquished our ability to gain anything and better ourselves. The idea that you can learn in any situation reclaims that power and brings ownership back to me as the person choosing to spend my time a certain way. You may try to argue that someone else set your schedule, you had to take that class, or the company paid for conference you didn’t want to go to. Think about it, that is really beside the point. In any of those situations, you are still looking for reason not to engage and to blame someone else for why you are getting nothing out of the experience. Instead, look at it as a chance to either decide to seek out more learning from that person, or organization, or to eliminate them from your resources. You can’t know this though until you try to learn something from them first.

Have a plan to share something after a learning experience. The idea that you are always learning can be overwhelming. It can seem like you will never be able to recall what you need to know, and therefore, what’s the point. Truth be told, this is what kept me from reading much for about 10 years. I am a bit of a slow reader and thought if I can’t remember what I read, it’s pointless. What I have since realized is that the act of reading is part of the exercise. It helps keep my brain working and growing. I have also realized that sharing something I have learned helps me hold onto the most important parts. The Principles. After listenting and reading long enough, I now understand that there are some basic principles that drive most of what we do. In order for those principles to be reinforced though, we need to hear them often and in many different ways so that we can execute them in our particular situation so the people we are helping with our work can benefit.

Think of it this way. You may go to a three day conference but come home and apply one of the principles you learned in hours of training to work or family and it changes not just you, but the people around you. Maybe you listen to an audiobook for 12 hours, in increments of 30 minute commute trips to and from work. In those 12 hours, you can’t recall anything but you do know as you listened, you began to feel differently about your life, increase your confidence and become more self aware, allowing you to work harder be a better spouse or parent and see down the road possibilities that you never knew existed. It wasn’t about the content, it was about choosing to ask, “What can I learn?”

So how do you take this and begin helping your teenagers (elementary kids in my instance) have an attitude of learning? Where their default is not that things are boring, and they wish they were somewhere else, but that they are always looking to learn something no mattter how small? The sooner this can begin, the more they will learn, and the better off they will be.

Try this first: simply ask them daily “What did you learn today?” Then sit back and be okay with the answer. If they say, “Nothing,” keep asking until they get to the point that they realize the possibility to learn something from any situation they find themselves in. This foundational lesson will be invaluable and lead to a lot less wasted time (because they won’t see it that way). Don’t do what I did and miss out on a decade of potential learning simply because of a choice. Instead choose now to learn something from everything.

“What can you learn today?” Share with us what you learned just from this post. We love hearing from you.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
Give In To The Resistance – Repost

Give In To The Resistance – Repost

This week's post is another repost chosen by me, Maddi, also known as the intern. I chose this post because instead of urging parents to limit the amount of technology their children are getting, which I agree with, Ricky simply does the opposite. It's important to understand how most teens are communicating with their peers in order to understand how to communicate with them yourselves. All our lives would be much easier if we simply made an effort to understand one another, including this. Technology is something that isn't going to go away any time soon, and it's only getting easier to access for younger generations. Take a look at Ricky's tips on how to become more comfortable with the technological world growing around us.

I just watched a Today Show piece on limiting your technology intake, but it seemed extreme even to me. The person featured was taking a completely disconnected approach. She deleted her social media (Jenna Hoda deleted her social media too, but they had another lady on that took it further) from her phone and left her phone at home when she went out. In other words she reverted to the days when she had only a home phone.

Here is the problem. That isn’t going to last. I am guilty too. I have talked in the past about staying away from new forms of connecting, but the problem is they aren’t going away.

 
I have even heard that people didn’t want to believe cars would be something that lasted either. In the 80’s, people wrote about the dangers of the home telephone. Each step made in technology has been met with initial resistance, sometimes even resulting in people reverting back to something old.

 
So what should we do instead? The reality is the people doing the tech piece on Today Show were mostly over 40. I believe that says something about the legitimacy of the perspective.

 
I’m offering a new point of view, let’s embrace the change. Carefully, thoughtfully, but embracing and engaging it. Using social media will get us to a much more effective end than resisting and missing opportunities to learn new ways of engaging the world around us.
 

There are so many good things that technology and social media can allow us to do, and if we don’t embrace that change, we will never discover what those things are. Someone might, but you may be forfeiting an opportunity.
 

Let’s embrace change.

 
I am all for safety and digital awareness that factors in time spent online and filtering that is literally healthy for our mind and soul. However, we are far past the point of return where we can believe that deleting social media apps or not having online access is a possibility in the future (baring an apocalyptic loss of electricity or the whole internet).

 
So here are 5 tips to embrace the change and still keep our sanity. On the positive high side, it could even mean doing something good for yourself or others.

 
1 Be in charge. Technology is a tool, not a toy or a distraction. It can be, but you need do drastic things to use it for what you intend it for. For example, I decided over a year ago that I would delete all but kids games (which I’m not tempted to play) off of my phone. So if I am sitting at the oil change station, I’m not tempted to waste time playing. I can either work or leave my phone in my pocket.

2 Use the settings to your benefit. Automate as much as possible. If you find that during the day you’re particularly distracted at a certain time, set a “Do not disturbed” to activate during that time. Or better yet, just turn on Do Not Disturb at key times like when driving, for an hour of reading in the morning, while dedicating 50 minutes to a task. Trust me, people can wait that long for a response. Why? Because they’re too busy being distracted to remember they called you anyway!

3 Find the apps that are most useful and put them on your home screen. The first screen you see each time you open should prompt your mind to think of what you should focus on. Ideally this would have no folders. If you do, you probably have too many things fighting for your attention. Rearrange your apps to create a virtual focal point on the apps that lead to your most productive tasks.

4 Share, share, share! Since I got my first iPhone in 2011, I have not stopped learning new things. From podcast to TED talks, from YouTube DIY channels to online blogs, audio books (you totally need the Libby public library app) to Airdrop, all of it makes sharing things that make my life better and easier. You can choose to focus on the negative things available to all of us but this has been a choice since the beginning of time. So stop spreading the fear and start sharing the things that make your life and mine better.

5 Breaks have always been good. Taking a break has always been a way for people to recharge. This has little to do with technology and a lot to do with the way we as humans are wired. Choose the way that is right for you and then stick to it. Use that time to refocus and come back better than ever to engage the world (quite literally) again, bringing your most promising contribution to anyone ready to listen.

 
So now what? What do you do with a blog that promotes more technology use in a world that is saying to slow down and back off. Well, that’s up to you. But I would suggest you evaluate and move forward. If you get stuck not knowing what to do or are paralyzed by fear that something bad is going to happen, you will miss an amazing opportunity that literally never existed before.

What about you? What ways have you found to embrace the change and give in to the resistance?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
A Few Words For Helpers

A Few Words For Helpers

I had an encounter with a situation recently that got me thinking about how we as adults can best help teenagers. A little context:

Upon arriving at my office, I had a friend of our organization waiting on me with a teenager sitting next to them. It was obvious there was something going on, so I sat down with them to talk through the issue.

It turns out the teenager wasn’t related to the adult, but the adult had a mentoring relationship with this teenager and knew their mom. In recent weeks the family situation had disintegrated and essentially this teenager was dumped on our friend and threats were made that the teenager was going to be kicked out of the house. So sitting in front of me was a well meaning adult, and an unrelated teenager who had nowhere else to go.

Tough doesn’t even start to describe this situation.

In fact I would argue these kinds of situations are the reason many adults don’t want to work with teenagers much outside of their own family situation.

It’s messy.

But the truth is, we need more. Teen Life has opportunities daily to interact with teenagers from all walks of life, cultural and religious background, and social status. Some have incredible families and support structures, while others have literally nothing. Some have advantage while others seem to have the world actively battling against them.

But the one thing they all have in common is this – they need support and presence from adults. No matter how well off they might seem, someone has to be there for them who have lived longer and has more life experience. This cannot be replaced.

Thinking back on our friend who came into our office, I think about how much they were trying to be supportive and available to a teenager who was losing everything. But, she was there. She showed up. What we talked about that morning would seem to help others as they help teenagers, so here it goes:

  1. Know your boundaries

Our friend was well meaning, but needed some help (and permission) to set boundaries not only with the teenager, but with their parents. Both were misbehaving badly and wanted someone to be a part of it. In the counseling world it is called “triangulation”. Simply, when people are in pain or at a loss they find someone else to project the stress they are feeling onto so it won’t hurt so bad or they won’t have to deal with the problem.

Boundaries are crucial when working with anyone, especially teenagers. They teach and protect. Knowing what you are wiling to do and where you need to stop can allow for a clear path through a difficult situation.

  1. De-escalate the situation

When you come upon a situation where there is stress, do everything you can to calm the stress. Find a way to create space for everyone to cool off. Go on a walk. Play with playdoh. Build something with legos. Write or draw. Listen to some music. As a helper, find a way to create safe space for clear thought. When teens and families are in a state of stress, clear communication and resolution is relatively impossible. Find a way to de-escalate and reduce the stress.

  1. Know your resources. 

Most communities have some support system in place with professionals and lay people equipped to serve vulnerable populations. Whether it be a local non-profit, faith community, or school, there is help to be found. Often for the helper of teenagers, their issues and demands can be daunting. But if you know there is help available, it helps you to stick around.

Typically these resources can be found either via web, call in services (like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 211), or by making a few phone calls to community leaders. Our experience has told us we are only a few phone calls from getting the resource we need. Don’t be afraid to make a few calls.

  1. Refer, refer, refer. 

I’m sure you are a smart person if you are willing to help a teenager but, you don’t know it all. Don’t be afraid, especially after having a working knowledge of the resources in your community, to refer to trusted sources. Bring the community in to help. Let them shoulder some of this load.

So in summary –

Know your boundaries,

De-escalate the situation,

Know your resources,

Refer, refer, refer.

What do you think about this? How have these ideas helped you in the past?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Mean What You Say

Mean What You Say

Don’t worry this isn’t a post about lying or “stretching the truth”. My thoughts are more in line with the intentionality we should use with our words. The core idea is that we should, generally speaking, talk less and listen more.

While that would be nice it is often hard to do. Especially if you are leading people or if you are parenting. There is a time for listening but there is also a responsibility to share your knowledge and wisdom with the people that are looking to you to direct them. Once you have listened, choose your words carefully so that they can intentionally help increase communication. If what you say prompts people to ask questions about what you are saying that is a good thing. If the questions are centered around gaining clarification about the task you are asking them to do that’s even better.

 
The hope here is that there are some ways you can bring some intentionality to the way you word things that helps to increase communication and invite conversation. With teenagers this is a key to getting the information you need from them to help them or to realize that they don’t need your help. There are plenty of communication lessons you can learn out there but today I want to focus on how the way we word things can make a lot of the difference.

 
When you say something you should mean it. I hear adults often threaten the youth they work with but everyone, including the youth, know they would never follow through on what is being threatened. This is a tough thing at times but it is definitely not impossible. The truth is it is much better to take a step back and use less harsh language that you are able to follow through on than threatening something huge that there is no way you will follow through on or worse that if you did you would regret it.

 
Think about how certain phrases can either teach or hinder learning. The students you work with need to learn from you. And to complicate things they will likely have different learning styles than you. So thinking clearly about how to phrase things is very helpful. Working out in your mind how to put things simply and then wait for their clarifying questions is a job that is tough but worth the effort. If, as adults, we think through the possible ways a conversation can play out (based on how well we know the teenager) we will help move things forward much more effectively by using the least amount of explanation possible. The truth is with teenagers it is not necessary to explain all the details. They are learning from a lot of different places so it may be true that they have gained information we didn’t give them and can apply it to the situation that is unfolding before you. Allowing this to happen can save a lot of frustration and time for both you and the teen.

 
Sometimes leaving out words or whole sentences benefits the conversation. We often think that we can just give all the information to a person and they will grasp it and will be able to tackle the task at hand and accomplish what we want them to. The truth is sometimes leaving out little details can actually help the person by allowing them to figure out certain pieces of the task themselves. It may also requested them to ask for help and the process of them knowing what they need actually helps them understand problem solving better than if you just gave them the answer from the beginning. This must be used very deliberately and not as a test (although there is a place for that) but instead as a way to challenge someone who is needing to learn and possibly even experience some failure. 

 
These 3 approaches to working inside of relationships will help you to reduce stress that often comes from the give and take of conversations. Implementing them takes knowing the people you are interacting with. They will not work the same with everyone but instead will need to be carefully evaluated and used with discretion in order to gain the most beneficial outcome. 

 
What are some ways you have found that you can mean what you say in order to gain the most benefit out of your interactions with students?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
My Post That Made Everyone Mad

My Post That Made Everyone Mad

Recently I posted something online that had a little bit of “edge” to it (in reality, I was just frustrated about something and was venting), and someone close to me sent me a message about how it hurt their feelings. I remember feeling strange about the whole interaction to be honest. We cleared things up, but it made me think about how we interact, and what is considered normal these days. 

There has been a lot written about the potential effects of social media consumption, how it impacts our thinking and interactions, as well as what could be coming as a result of our conduct. Some say it doesn’t really matter, while others are waving red flags.

The truth is, we don’t really know a lot yet. Social media has only been a real player for the last 15 years or so. We can’t predict a lot of what will come of this age of social media connection, but we can make some observations based upon our experiences.

The aforementioned interaction left me wondering how we are supposed to interact, because what happened didn’t feel natural or right. First of all, I chose to vent a frustration on a digital platform to my followers (which aren’t many). Why did I do this? What was I hoping to accomplish with something like that? Upon examination, it was a cathartic exercise that didn’t really accomplish anything positive. I had some people who supported it, some people who disagreed, and then had people who didn’t know each other arguing about something I said.

Read that again: I had people who didn’t know each other arguing about something I said.

Isn’t that a strange outcome?

All of this happened without seeing, hearing, or being in the presence of the people who agreed, disagreed, or were hurt by what I said. Something that substituted for human interaction (social media) became the vehicle for picking up and dropping off feelings and thoughts, totally out of context and without a clear direction.

I haven’t posted anything since on social media. While my interactions weren’t particularly hostile, they gave me cause to think about how I want to relate to the people in my life. While I’m not against social media, I AM for being honest about our experiences.

My experience tells me:

  • People tend to think the worst of each other when they disagree on social media
  • Tone and context are completely lost on posts 
  • We post our frustrations to get a response (which is what I did)
  • We post our good stuff to curate a positive image about our lives
  • Because we read about what is going on with other people, we often do not pursue face-to-face interactions
  • Do you disagree with this? Or, does this resonate with you on some level?

 

To be sure, ask yourself these questions next time you are on social media for any period of time: 

  • What do I feel about the people I just interacted with online?
  • Do I feel any closer with these people?
  • How do I feel about myself?
  • How would this be different if I saw them face-to-face? 

As adults, we need to be thinking about these things. Teenagers are neck deep in this world and many we talk to are looking for something more real, authentic. We have the chance to use social media for the things that are useful, but leave the relationship stuff up to real and personal conversations. 

What are your thoughts on this? Has your experience been any different?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
4 Lessons for Surviving Life

4 Lessons for Surviving Life

Last week I went to a camp, we call it a “Leadership School”, for 8th through 12th graders. You will understand by the end of this post why we call it Leadership School.

During this one week in the summer I help coordinate teachers who focus on helping teenagers learn lessons that enable them to grow and have an impact in their world. Their world being the people immediately around them most of the time. In this context that leads to a broader impact but it gives teenagers a much more tangible group of people to focus on.

I grew up going to this Leadership School, called Summer Excitement, and 30+ years later it is still doing an amazing job of training young people to lead, care and be aware of the world around them in an intentional way. It is a “church camp” but depending on your exposure to what that looks like (I have seen that done really well and really poorly) don’t dismiss the rest of this post because of a bias you may have. The lessons these students received last week have far reaching impacts and have planted seeds that years from now will effect countless numbers of people.

During the course of the week we covered several “topics”. I became aware of the fact that the topics that we were exploring have a lot of impact in everyday life. This made me begin thinking about how to share this. I have chosen 4 of the focus areas and hope that you find this helpful and that it prompts you to evaluate how you are living. I also hope it helps you seek out conversations with teenagers around you to explore how these could apply to their life and guide the things they are pursuing.

Each of the below ideas are centered around Community*. This idea comes up all the time in the support groups Teen Life provides. The idea that connection matters. We are all looking for the best way to connect with the world around us but more importantly on a meaningful, deep level with people close to us. Being alone is not a good thing. My hope is you find a community around you to implement the below lessons with.

Generous

The idea here is that we all have what we need around us. It’s an attitude of abundance as Michael Hyatt has put it in several of his blogs. It is a mindset that the things I have can be shared and that by sharing them I am actually enabling others to give some of what they have and as this extends out we all actual end up with more, not less. I didn’t know until I heard this in the class last week that in order to make more than 99% of the world annually you only have to make $32,400. $32,400 a year puts you in the top 1% of people making money in the world! I couldn’t believe it. But that is not all. We all have other resources. Sometimes it is simply other things that we have and don’t need any more. Have you ever taken some things to a thrift store or homeless shelter? Those donations make a huge difference. You could also be generous with your time. I know we all want to believe we are too busy but I think that being busy is a mind set. We all have the same amount of time each day. It’s what we are doing with that time that matters. If we choose we can have time to share. There will definitely be seasons that are busier than others but if you are living your whole life too busy to help others you’re doing it wrong, or you could just have the wrong perspective. Which leads us to the next lesson.

Service

This is a popular idea but I believe has gotten a little bit skewed in the world today. You see there is too often a sense that serving others is really about gaining something myself. Between Honor Society requirements for service hours, well intended school service projects, how it looks on a college app or even required community services, these all lead to a mindset that we serve to gain something for ourselves. The truth is one of the keys to service being the most effective is that it has nothing to do with me getting anything out of it. It must be void of selfishness. This is the best way for the “server” and the “served” to get the most out of the service opportunity. Notice, I did not say the “only” way. But it is the “best” way. There is an emotional level of serving that we have little to no control over and that only reaps the most benefit to both sides when we approach these serving opportunities in the best way.

Encouragement

Don’t we all want this?! Of course we do, but yet it is so hard to give or to get. Our world has become so shallow and void of vulnerability that our suspicion of everyone around us is raised almost all of the time. “Why are they being so nice?” goes through our minds much of the time when someone does something nice. Do they have a hidden agenda or are they trying to get something? It is hard to believe that people could just genuinely be encouraging and kind and not be trying to get something in return but instead are being kind and encouraging simply because someone has been that way to them first. This is what makes this so important. When we experience encouragement, true unsolicited selfless encouragement, we feel what it is like and usually fall in love with it so much that we want to do it for others. Here is where the intentionality of this comes into play though. I believe that encouragement is something that should be given freely but at the same time should not be wasted. So, you decide, who are the people around you that you should encourage? This is not a question of who deserves it because, be honest, none of us really do. It is a question of “Who do I see around me that needs encouragement?” This is an approach that sees encouragement as a gift we have to give and we are actively paying attention in a way that means it could change someone’s life just to offer a little encouragement. It may be a little encouragement but it could be a BIG deal to that person.

Peculiar

Weird, odd, not normal. Peculiar. The idea here is that we don’t give in to the status quo or the cultural standard. That instead we rise above and step back to see the bigger picture of what is happening and be willing to do things that aren’t considered normal because they make more sense then what the majority of people believe. This takes asking good questions and being skeptical. Not suspicious but skeptical in a way that means we are looking for the motive behind things and how we can influence and support what is really going to matter for people. This is peculiar. The tendency is to simply listen to the loudest voice and join in but being peculiar means evaluating what is in the best interest of all people and how my actions and the way I connect, encourage and serve can bring hope to a situation that otherwise feels hopeless. Just to give you a personal example of this. My wife and I recently adopted 3 kids to grow our family to a total of 9, yes we are outnumbered. We had plenty of people supporting us and also plenty of people making sure we had considered all the reasons this wouldn’t work. I so appreciate both. But at the end of the day, we chose what didn’t make any sense at all and adopted 3 kids and are in the process of deciding how that is going to be the best thing that has ever happened to our family. It is very hard but in the end we are choosing to be peculiar and believe that it is the right decision for everyone including my wife and I who are learning things about life we could have never learned any other way. That is peculiar.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list but I do believe that these 4 lessons can not only help you survive at life but even thrive. Once we feel empowered to thrive it propels us to pass that on and helps us truly be able to make a difference in the world.

 

What would you add? What things have you found to be vital to your growth and survival in your own life?

*The above thoughts on Community and four “lessons” I outlined are influenced by the book Good and Beautiful Community

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