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.
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.
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.
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.
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