Reduce Stress and Calm Anxiety Right Now

A high school teen I had not seen before came to our youth group discussion about mental health. 

Jacki admitted, “Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. Sometimes it feels like the loudest voice in the room. The only one I can hear.”

“That’s surprising to hear you say that,” replied Ellie.  “You’re cool.  You have cool friends.  You wear cool clothes.  You drive a cool car.  What do you have to worry about?”

“Everything,” Jacki sighed.  “Just like you.”

We often make the mistake of judging others emotional well-being based on what we see.  People who need help often look like people who don’t need help.

When you feel overwhelmed by unexpected circumstances, it sometimes feels comforting to focus on what went wrong and to blame whoever is responsible for the wrongness.  One of the most important things to do when you feel stressed and anxious is to quiet the chattering voice filled with negative self-talk.  For example, relaxation techniques and grounding exercises don’t make problems go away, but they can quiet the mind-chatter that feels so overwhelming and relax us so we can make calm decisions.

“The 54321 grounding technique is simple, yet powerful,” suggests Isabelle Pikorn, Insight Timer Chief Editor.  “Like gradually attaching anchors to the boat, this method slowly pulls you back to earth.” 

Begin this grounding technique by taking a few deep breaths.  Become aware of your surroundings:

  • Look For 5 Things You Can See: Notice the wood grain on the desk in front of you. Or the shape of your fingernails. Become aware of the glossy green of the plant in the corner. Take your time to really look and acknowledge what you see.
  • Become Aware Of 4 Things You Can Touch:  Feel the rough texture of the car seat. Touch your cotton shirt.  Notice the sensation of gravity itself or the floor beneath you.
  • Acknowledge 3 Things You Can Hear:  Don’t judge, just hear. The distant traffic. Voices in the next room. Pay attention to the space between sounds.
  • Notice 2 Things You Can Smell:  Coffee?  Someone’s perfume?  The smell of smoke from a fireplace or meal being prepared?  Or become aware of the subtle fragrance of the air around you.
  • Become Aware Of 1 Thing You Can Taste:  The lingering suggestion of coffee or hot cocoa on your tongue.  The taste of salt on your skin.  

Mark LoMurray, founder of Sources of Strength, created a youth suicide prevention project designed to encourage help-seeking behaviors and build connections between peers and caring adults.  The upstream approach of Sources of Strength aims to build protective factors around youth (and adults) that we can use when we face life’s challenges.

“Our mission is help students and adults turn to their strengths and their supports,” explains LoMurray.  “We try to ensure that during the rough times no one gets so overwhelmed or hopeless that they want to give up.”

If you are feeling what LoMurray calls The Big 3 Emotions (sadness, anxiety, or anger), consider tapping into one of these protective factors on the Sources of Strength Wheel:

  • PositiveFriends – Who can you call if you are feeling stressed or anxious?  Who will listen to you if you need to talk?  Which friends have a positive influence in your life?
  • Family Support–  Which family members do you turn to if you need support?  What family of origin members and extended family can you turn to?  Who is your family of choice?
  • Mentors– Who is someone with more experience that offers guidance and wisdom when you need it?
  • HealthyActivities – What activities do you enjoy?  Sports (or watching sports)?  Reading or writing?  Running or walking?  Are you getting enough sleep?  Have you tried practicing yoga or a grounding activitiy (see above)?
  • Generosity– How can you show kindness to someone else?  Generosity often lifts us up when we’re feeling down.  In what ways can you volunteer to help someone today?
  • Spirituality– “Spirit,” comes from the Greek word, “pneuma,” which means “breath.”  What breathes life into you when you feel anxious or stressed?  Meditation?  Prayer?  Walking in nature?  What makes you feel grateful?
  • PhysicalHealth – Are you taking good care of your body?  Are you drinking enough water?  Dehydrations mimics symptoms of anxiety.  Are you getting enough exercise?  Taking good care of your physical health is good for your mental health.
  • MentalHealth – What activities help restore a sense of calm when you feel anxiety or stress?  To whom can you turn when you feel anxious or overwhelmed?  What mental health resources are available to you if stress or anxiety are interfering with your day-to-day activities?  

Alex Lickerman, author of The Undefeated Mind, maintains, “Find a way to transform your perspective so that obstacles feel like opportunities.” He offers these insightful tips to feel more calm even when life’s challenges make you feel stressed out and anxious:

  1. Visualize yourself succeeding.  Like a professional skier who envisions the act of conquering every obstacle on a course before a race, imagine yourself experiencing the joy of success and positive outcomes.  He adds that visualization “can be empowering if it’s a belief in yourself.”
  2. Imagine the good stuff.  Daydreaming about future success lifts your spirits by transferring your mind out of present difficulties into future opportunities.
  3. Focus on one problem at a time.  Reduce the total number of challenges confronting you. Tackle them one at a time. You will feel enormous relief when you are pro-active and start to take action by resolving one specific issue.
  4. Wait.  Remember in all situations: “This, too, shall pass.”  You may believe you can predict how future events will turn out, but outcomes you anticipate — especially negative outcomes — often do not turn out the way you thought they would unfold (unless you expect them to).
  5. Access your creativity to solve problems.  Listen to soothing music, meditate, sit in the quiet, take a walk – or doing something different (sing, draw, write a letter, read something enjoyable, etc.).  Solutions often bubble up from your unconscious mind when you give it permission to wander and discover answers on its own.
  6. Ask for help. You don’t have to suffer through life’s challenges all by yourself.  Build a support system with people who care about you.  Asking for help is courageous.  
  7. Accept responsibility for finding solutions.  Mark Twain used a frog as a metaphor for the things you least want to do. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning,” he suggested.  Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog, explains that your most important tasks and priorities are those that can have the most serious consequences, positive or negative, on your life or work.
  8. Whatever you’re going through represents an opportunity for growth.  You cannot predict the future or determine its impact on your life.  You can only move forward if you change your perspective and look for the opportunity.

One of the most positive attitude shifting tools you can add to your stress-release toolbox is a grateful heart.  When you feel angry or upset by unexpected change, create a gratitude list of all of the blessings in your life that make you feel grateful.  An attitude of gratitude positively transforms your outlook (even when you don’t feel particularly grateful).  

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more,” explained Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go“It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

Present circumstances are not permanent.  Difficulties and struggle often become the stepping stones needed to get from the uncomfortableness of where you are to where you want to go.  Put one foot in front of the other.

Trust your inner voice and your seasoned experiences to show you how to get there.

What will you do the next time YOU feel anxious or stressed?


Create your own positive affirmations with these tips from Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

Having trouble creating positive self-talk? Learn to Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.

Shift your thinking from lack to abundance with these tips from Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle.

Do need help getting from where you’re at to where you want to go? Check out the my personal goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide.  Find free downloads of helpful worksheets in the book.



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You Be You: Be Proud of Your Authentic Self

“I don’t need a role model or mentor,” protested a proud seventh-grader. “I am my own role model.”

Many children believe having a role model or mentor is a sign of weakness. They hide behind invisible screens of confidence to mask fear; suspicious they will be judged if others find out who they really are.

“You be you” is a popular phrase that encourages everyone to accept and embrace their own uniqueness.  However, being authentic in this screen-obsessed world often involves risk – and considerable courage.  

The dictionary defines authentic (particularly as it refers to things) as “worthy of acceptance or belief based on fact.”  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone believed their authentic selves were worthy of acceptance?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone believed they were enough?

People who are authentic know what they like and don’t like; what they value and what they abhor.  They know what they believe and why they believe it. They may have regrets or second-guessed the intuitive voice that warns them about upcoming dangers, but they learned how to transform challenges into life lessons.  They grew into their authentic selves because, somewhere along the line, they got sick and tired of trying to be someone who they are not.

Most of us were taught conflicting messages as children:  Be yourself.  Be quiet.  Don’t be ridiculous.  Be proud of who you are.  Can’t you try to fit in? Author and well-being expert, Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., explains, “We developed beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us acting in the ways we were taught to act — not in the ways that make us feel like our authentic selves.”

Davis continues, “To reclaim your authenticity, you need to discover your Authentic Self; the self that prioritizes living according to your values, pursuing your purpose, and fighting for the causes you care about.  For most of us, our Authentic Selves are buried deep in our unconsciousness, were it remains hard to identify and let out.”

If you want to claim – or reclaim – your authentic self, try these suggestions: 

  1. Examine your family belief systems.  Think back to episodes when you were growing up that led you to stop feeling comfortable in your own skin.  When did you stop doing things that you enjoy?  When did you stop sharing your opinions with others?  What were your first experiences of shame?  When did you talk yourself out of feeling sad, angry, or anxious?  Davis explains, “By examining where our behaviors come from, you learn a lot about your authentic self.”
  2. Identify discrepancies between your actions and beliefs.  Identify thoughts and language that may be racist, sexist, or judgmental.  Ask yourself whether you really believe the words you speak or thoughts you think.  Self-awareness and accepting responsibility for your actions (including your thoughts) are the first steps that allow you to change and reclaim your authentic self.
  3. Face your fears.  People tend to be comfortable with what is familiar. Painful memories often trigger fear.  Fears are “loud,” repetitive thoughts with negative consequences.  It is important to remember most fears are false evidence appearing real.  Examine your core beliefs.  Identify, experience, and accept who you are now.  Let go of beliefs or fears that no longer serve you.
  4. Explore your values. What virtues are important to you?  What character traits – such as integrity or honor – reflect your values?  Use your values to guide how you make decisions.
  5. Practice habits of self-love. Author and speaker, Wayne Dyer, said, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.”  Find ways to fill your own confidence tank.  Monitor your own self-talk.  Do you focus on negative or positive thoughts?  Try creating positive affirmations to acknowledge your belief in yourself.
  6. Have compassion for others. Before casting judgment on others, remind yourself that you may not be informed of all of the facts of any given situation.  Refrain from criticism and focus your energies on your own thoughts, actions, decisions.  As Jesus Christ once said to an angry mob who were ready to stone a woman to death, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the first stone” (John 8:7).
  7. Tell the truth.  Be honest.  Lies distort our perceptions – especially lies we tell to our ourselves.  Lying chips away at our self-esteem because it distorts how we see ourselves and others.  Over time, lying strips us of the ability to distinguish fact from fiction.  It strips you of integrity.  It is impossible to stay grounded in your own truth if you are dishonest.  Lying destroys relationships because others will find it impossible to trust you.
  8. Make conscious statements and decisions.  Slow down.  Don’t let anyone push you into making decisions you feel unprepared to make.  Use your moral values as a litmus test for decision-making.   
  9. Listen to your intuition. Learn to listen to your inner voice as you make decisions.  Oprah Winfrey advises, “Learning to trust your instincts, using your intuitive sense of what’s best for you, is paramount for any lasting success.  I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t listen.”  Trust in your intuitive voice strengthens your confidence.
  10. Allow your intuition to reveal your life’s purpose. When you can clearly articulate your beliefs and values, you become more sure about who you are.  Your passions will begin to reveal themselves to you. Use your inner voice to help you set goals.  Your intuitive voice can help you more clearly define who you are and what you want to do with your life.

When you silence your inner voice and allow others to dictate who you are and what you believe, your self-esteem diminishes.  You lose trust in your ability to make sound decisions.  Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, said, “If you trade in your authenticity for being liked, you may experience the following:  anxiety, depression, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”

Amy Purdy, two-time world Paralympic snowboard champion and author of On My Own Two Feet, adds, “When we embrace the things that make us unique, our true and remarkable capabilities are revealed.”  The things that often trigger regret or shame within us often reveal our life’s purpose.

Long before I spoke to audiences about mental health awareness, I facilitated teen and adult leadership workshops.  My career path changed when I received an invitation to speak at a mental health youth leadership event.  I knew if I was honest and shared a chapter of the story I swore I would never publicly address – my own struggle with depression, anxiety, and addiction – that my life would never be the same.  The risks I took to reveal my journey as part of a much larger and important message – how to be authentic and proud of your story – became my mission.

When you own your story – including your mistakes, decisions (good and not-so-good), gifts, and unique self – you get to write the ending.

How can you be more authentic and proud to be who you are?


Use these tips to Write a Personal Purpose Statement.

Recognize common patterns that cross your awareness with suggestions from7 Ways to Recognize Your Calling.

Get moving!  Use these tips from How to Write SMART Personal Goals and pursue your passions.

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Help! I’m Having a Panic Attack!

Help! I'm Having a Panic Attack

My first panic attack happened as I walked into an eighth-grade classroom to begin instruction at 10 a.m.  It felt like a giant boulder crushed my chest.  I couldn’t breathe.

A heart attack killed my father when he was 46 years old.  I thought I was having a heart attack. 

The second attack happened the next day at the same time.  I was terrified.  I thought I was going to die.  

I made an appointment with my doctor. He said I was a hypochondriac and told me to go home.

The frequency of panic attacks escalated in the weeks that followed. I thought I was having a nervous breakdown.  Embarrassment and fear shamed me into silence.

I was constantly on guard, anticipating the next wave of panic.  Anxiety exploded into full-blown agoraphobia.  I was afraid to leave my home. 

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) defines a panic attack as “the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes” and includes at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Chills or sweating
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
  • Fear of losing self-control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

It is reasonable to experience fear when faced with a dangerous situation such as blinding weather conditions while driving on an icy road.  These fears typically disappear when the challenging situation passes. 

A panic-inducing situation often causes individuals to feel as if they are in immediate danger and with no means of escape. Situations such as crossing a bridge or speaking in public may trigger a panic attack – especially if that situation resulted in a panic attack on previous occasions (Smith, Robinson, & Segal, 2019). This can lead to a fight-or-flight response, a reaction typically caused by life-threatening conditions.  

“Anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as a racing heart or knots in your stomach,” explains Dr. Reid Wilson, author of Facing Panic. What differentiates a panic attack from other anxiety symptoms is the intensity and duration of the symptoms.” 

Wilson explains many people who struggle with panic attacks make repeated visits to the emergency room or doctors’ offices because they are convinced they have a life-threatening issue. They often feel guilt and frustration if they leave without a diagnosis.

Panic attacks can appear without warning or explainable trigger – even if an individual is asleep.  A panic attack may happen only once. Some people experience recurring episodes of panic – and await the next attack with terror and dread. 

Panic attacks often occur with other forms of mental illness such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Regardless of the cause, there is good news:  Panic attacks are 100% treatable.  There are strategies you can use to reduce – and often eliminate – symptoms of panic and take control of your life again.

Panic attacks are 100% treatable and curable.


Smith, Robinson, and Segal (2019) describe a panic disorder as “repeated panic attacks combined with major changes in behavior or persistent anxiety over having further attacks.”  Fear of recurrent panic can crush one’s self-confidence and cause severe disruption to everyday life. 

If you are struggling with panic attacks, you are not alone.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, 2017) explains:

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder. Approximately 7% of children aged 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year. Most people develop symptoms before age 21.

Panic attacks and disorders tend to run in families. There also appears to be a connection with major life transitions such as getting married or having a baby. Severe stress such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss can trigger panic attacks.

The cycle of panic disorder symptoms includes:  

Anticipatory anxiety – Anxiety that stems from a fear of having future panic attacks. A perpetual state of “fear of fear” can be disabling.

Panic Attack – Sudden episode of overwhelming fear or anxiety based on a perceived threat rather than imminent danger.

Escape and Relief – Fear becomes so intense that relief only comes through removing one’s self from the circumstances or place where the panic attack occurred.  

Self-Doubt and Criticism – Feelings of shame and fear lead to self-doubt and self-criticism.  These feelings lead to anticipatory anxiety and restart the cycle.

Help!  I'm Having a Panic Attack


The Cycle of Panic (Wilson, 2019, p. 13)



I experienced a severe panic attack in an automobile while driving in an unfamiliar highway. The weather was cold, but the conditions were not hazardous. After the attack, I was afraid to drive and afraid of unfamiliar areas.

Two weeks later, I had a panic attack at a large department store. I avoided malls. I had a panic attack at church. I stopped going to church. I had a panic attack while watching television. I was afraid to sit down or relax. I frantically paced when I felt anxious. Panic attacks robbed me of the freedom to leave my house.

Agoraphobia is an “irrational or disproportionate fear of a range of situations in which a person believes escape or access to help may be impossible, very difficult, or very embarrassing if he or she develops panic-like symptoms or some other incapacitating loss of control” (Bienvenue, Wuyek, & Stein, 2010).

Someone who is agoraphobic avoids situations that may induce panic, especially places that may be crowded such as malls or stadiums. They avoid social gatherings because they fear being embarrassed by an attack in public. Sometimes they refuse to go anywhere alone. 

Unfortunately, agoraphobes often withdraw from the company of others and activities they enjoy. Their fears of oncoming panic attacks strip them of freedom. They become locked in prisons of fear.


It is essential to make an appointment with your doctor to rule out medical factors that may be causing discomfort. Results from a medical exam can put your mind at ease if you are worried about physical causes for the attacks.

The most effective form of professional treatment for confronting and healing panic attacks, panic disorder, and agoraphobia is therapy.  Contact your local mental health services in your area if you want to make an appointment with a mental health professional.

Psychology Today provides a Find a Therapist online directory on their website. Pastors and friends may also recommend quality therapists they trust.

Medication can be temporarily prescribed by your doctor or health professional to control or reduce symptoms of panic. It is most effective when combined with quality therapy and lifestyle changes. 


“Before you can learn to gain control over panic, you must first believe that you have the ability to take control,” insists Wilson. Symptoms of panic attacks can be managed, decreased, and eliminated.

These techniques will help you regain control and restore peace to your mind and body:

Learn about panic and anxiety.  Knowledge is power. Understanding anxiety and panic attacks empower you with tools to relieve distress. The following books are outstanding resources:

Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks (McDonagh, 2015)

Declutter Your Mind (Scott & Davenport, 2016)

Facing Panic: Self-Help for People With Panic Attacks (Wilson, 2019)

The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (Bourne, 2015)

NAMI and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer free information about anxiety and panic attacks.  They also provide helpful resources for families and those who care about someone struggling with panic attacks.

Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine.  These stimulants can trigger anxiety and symptoms that mimic panic attacks.  Non-drowsy medications can also make you feel agitated and uncomfortable.

Breathe.   When I experienced panic attacks, I held my breath and prepared for the next assault on my body.  I did not know it was physically impossible to inhale and exhale in slow, deep breaths and experience a panic attack at the same time. Deep breathing relieves the symptoms of panic.

It is impossible to inhale and exhale in slow, deep breaths and experience a panic attack at the same time.

Practice relaxation techniques.  I found an old cassette tape of guided meditations that helped me relax my body, mind, and breathing.  I listened to the tape until it fell apart.  By the time I threw it away, the voice on the tape had become part of my inner self-talk.

Activities such as yoga and meditation help the body to relax.  Excellent resources for guided meditations include:

Guided Meditation to Help with Anxiety and Pain by Belleruth Naparstek

Guided Meditation for Relaxation and Wellness by Belleruth Naparstek

There are exceptional online apps that offer guided meditations and tools for relieving anxiety including Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer. Stop, Breath, & Think is an online app that offers guided meditations and activities that will help you to identify your emotions.

Connect with a support network.  Reach out to family and friends to support you on your recovery journey.  If they lack tools or do not understand your experiences with panic attacks, connect with a support group.  Contact your local mental health directory to find support groups in your area.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offers a support group directory. NAMI also offers information about support groups as well as programs for youth and families.

Exercise regularly.   Physical exercise offers natural anxiety relief. Rhythmic aerobic exercise such as walking, running, swimming, or dancing is good for your heart, lungs, and help regulate your breathing.  Yoga is particularly good for helping you slow your breathing and develop mindfulness habits.  Exercise keeps your body busy and shifts your focus away from the anticipation of the next panic attack.    

Get enough restful sleep.  Insufficient or poor-quality sleep intensifies anxiety.  Try to create a sleeping schedule that allows you to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Health and wellness expert, Micah Kidd, offers these tips to get the rest your mind and body need.


Seeing a friend or loved one suffering a panic attack can be frightening. Statements such as “Calm down” or “Stop being so dramatic” are not helpful and will not minimize their fears.

Try these suggestions if someone you care about is experiencing a panic attack:

Stay calm yourself.   Try to over-react. Non-judgmental words and calm physical reactions will help their panic attack more quickly subside.

Focus your loved one on their breathing.  Find a quiet place for your friend to sit in a quiet place. Encourage them to take slow, deep breaths for a few minutes.

Do something physical.  Encourage your loved one to raise and lower their arms or march in place. Move with them.  This deflects their attention from the attack to the physical movement.  

Help them shift their thinking.  Say, “Describe 10 things you see.”  Invite them to repeat a positive affirmation such as “I am in control of my body.” Positive affirmations help shift negative thinking to positive thoughts. Provide positive feedback. 

The last severe panic attack I ever experienced lasted four hours, but the words of a friend changed my thinking forever:

“I know I look crazy,” I admitted to her, feeling despondent.  

“No, you don’t look crazy. You look worried,” she calmly said. “You look tired. You look scared.”

Her feedback shifted my perspective. My self-perception changed immediately. I stopped trembling. My friend confirmed I did not look crazy. I looked worried, tired, and scared. Those were conditions I can do something about. I was relieved.

Reassure them that help is available.  Once a panic attack is over, your loved one may feel embarrassed. Reassure them that there is a difference between “frightened” and “crazy.” Offer to help them explore support and therapy options if they are open to it.


I shared my fears of “losing my mind” when I experienced panic attacks with a psychologist. I told him I heard voices.

 “What are the voices saying to you?” he asked.

“The voices say I’m broken. And damaged. And sick,” I answered.

“Those are scary voices,” he replied. “Those voices are coming from inside of you. Negative thoughts are like an old hat: If you don’t like it, don’t wear it. You have the power to change your own thoughts.”

Negative self-talk is like an old hat: if you don’t like it, don’t wear it. 

“Your life just doesn’t happen,” insisted Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.   “You choose happiness.  You choose sadness.  You choose courage.  You choose fear,” Covey added.  “Remember that every moment, every situation provides a new choice.”

Every day offers an invitation to celebrate your life journey, regardless of the circumstances that may storm around you.

You decide where to go – and how you go – from here.  

What habits of self-care can you begin today?


If you or a loved one are experiencing a crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.  Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained counselors are available 24/7.  Visit for more information.


You can also send a text to the Crisis Text Line. Enter 741741 and type “HOME” to speak with a trained counselor. More information is available at


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Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Many people feel pressured to perform faster, better, stronger, and longer in the workplace.

Are you one of them?

One in every three U.S. citizens suffers from moderate to severe sleep debt (Center for Disease Control, 2016).

“Sleep loss alters normal functioning of attention and disrupts the ability to focus on environmental sensory input,” explains Karen Davis, FNP. “When you fail to get your required amount of sufficient sleep, you start to accumulate a sleep debt.”

Even those who work at home and create their own schedules face sleep debt.  When customers and clients live overseas, online independent contractors must rearrange their lives (and sleep) to adapt to different time zones.  Parents of babies and young children understand sleep debt, too. Those who are juggling two or more jobs really understand debt.

Micah Kidd , a certified strength and conditioning specialist and nutritionist, is a VIPKID teacher and moderator of VIPKID Health and Wellness, a Facebook group for teachers who teach English to children in China via a virtual classroom.  Micah – and thousands of teachers like him – often teach late at night or in the wee hours of the early morning.  VIPKID teachers are engaged in English dialogue with children while most North Americans are asleep.

Micah’s tips about sleep deprivation apply to anyone who is struggling with sleep debt.

He explains sleep debt and offers tips to ensure restful sleep on his website:

Why It Matters

Sleep might be low on your priority list.  The internet has provided tools for virtual employees, business owners, and online teachers to check their apps for new bookings and feedback at any time of day.  It is easy to treat sleep as something that is at the bottom of your priority list – not something that needs to be scheduled as a priority.  But the reality is simple:  sleep has a massive impact on your performance.

Why We Struggle With Sleep

Most U.S. citizens have schedules that no longer fit a traditional Monday through Friday 9-5 work day.  These schedule interruptions take its toll on the body.   As we try to meet the many demands facing us, we struggle to get adequate sleep because the circadian rhythm or internal clock pushes individuals to stay drowsy at night and alert during the day.

Working from a virtual office blurs the boundaries between work life and home life, which in some ways can be good — it reduces your travel time to work.  Unfortunately, it can also make it harder to get to sleep. Instead of feeling the relief of coming home at the end of the day, your home will double as the office, and the stress from your day of work might linger well into the night.

Too much caffeine interferes with sleep.  Most offices have complimentary coffee in the break room, which is perfect for perking up in the morning or pushing through that afternoon slump.  But while working from home, you’ll have access to coffee, soda, tea, or energy drinks whenever you want them.  It’s easy for your morning and afternoon habit to turn into an evening habit, too.  According to the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep, caffeine consumption can seriously disrupt your sleep.

Late-night online screen time also interferes with your body’s natural sleep rhythm. When working from home, you’ll have a full office setup at your disposal anytime you want to use it. That means if you’re browsing social media or working on a big project, you’ll be tempted to work late into the night. Unfortunately, all that late-night screen time can interfere with your circadian rhythms and make it harder for you to consistently get a good night’s sleep.

Lack of a regular schedule also interferes with a good night’s (or day’s) rest.  When working from home, you have freedom to handle your work just about any way you want — which means if you want to nap during the day, between work sessions, you can do it.   According to the American Psychological Association, naps can be beneficial in refreshing for your mind and body — but if you nap too much or too close to bedtime, it can keep you from maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.


Lack of sleep is the battle that all of us fight. This guide is meant to be a quick guide for sleeping:

  • Sleep and wake at a consistent time.  Irregular sleep patterns disrupt our circadian rhythm – even on the weekends.
  • Manage your nutrition.  Eat minimally processed foods. Don’t eat late at night.  Many sleep experts encourage patients to stop eating after 8:00 p.m.  Restricting food to daylight hours has been shown to help sleep quality.   If you can’t avoid evening snacks, stay away from the carbs.
  • Sleep in a cool room.  Set your thermostat at 70 degrees or lower before you go to bed.
  • Optimize your bedroom for sleep.  It is not an office or a living room. Make it peaceful and relaxing, ditch the TV, iPhones, and tablets. Dim the alarm lights, install black-out curtains over your windows, and purchase a comfortable bed.
  • Don’t drink caffeine late in the day.  You may feel you need it, but what you really need is a good night’s sleep. 
  • Take breaks.  Taking a break now and again away while you at work can really recharge the batteries.  Scheduled breaks throughout the day increase productivity.
  • Reduce blue light at night.  Blue light tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime.  This is a circadian disruption and is NOT a good thing.
  • Go outside!   Get some sun. Blue light exposure during the day is very healthy.  Blue light is a very powerful circadian cue.
  • Reduce stress.  Try meditating for at least two minutes a day.  Identify the key stressors in your life so you can eliminate or mitigate them.
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol.  Excessive alcohol consumption alters hormone patterns and also worsens sleep apnea.
  • Consider melatonin.  This sleep hormone is safe and effective.
  • Exercise daily.  Preferably in the morning or in daylight hours, but any time is better than none at all.
  • Don’t drink a lot of liquid before bed.  Some people have greater sensitivities to food and water intake before bedtime than others. Limiting your water intake naturally eliminates the need to wake up, get up, and use the bathroom.
  • Develop a sleeptime ritual.  A calm routine that includes de-stressing activities (breathing exercises, meditation, reading, taking a hot bath/shower, removing electronic equipment, etc.) transforms routines into habits.
  • Study your sleep.  Learn your sleep patterns by tracking them with a fitness tracker. Get tested by a physician to determine if you have a sleep disorder.

Micah offers more tips about sleep debt in this video:


Micah Kidd has a MS in Kinesiology from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and holds a Group Fitness Instructor certification through ACE. He is also a certified nutritionist. Micah teaches at UNLV.  He is a U.S. Army veteran and served as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

What can you do to catch up on the rest your body needs?


Do you Remember How to Play and Have Fun?  Try these suggestions to rediscover your happy place.

Write your own positive affirmations with these tips from Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

Feeling sad or bored at work? Check out these suggestions to lift your spirits from 6 Motivating Tips When You Feel Depressed at Work.

Check out these 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.





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How to Talk to Someone About Mental Illness

How to Talk to Someone About Mental IllnessThe only thing worse than struggling with mental illness is the shame that often accompanies it.

“Most families are not prepared to cope with learning their loved one has a mental illness,” explains Mental Health America. “It can make us feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others.”

The stigma that shrouds mental illness often prevents people from talking about it.  Fewer still want to hear anyone talk about it.

I began to experience dark periods of sadness and anxiety when I was in third grade.

As I got older, the periods of depression and loneliness lengthened.  I felt despondent and isolated.  I felt guilt and shame because I couldn’t find my way out of the darkness.  I had no vocabulary to describe what I was feeling.  I had no communication skills and no personal boundaries.  I was a target for bullying.

In my teens and twenties, depression was complicated with severe panic attacks.  Anxiety exploded into full-blown agoraphobia.  I was afraid to leave my home.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear,” wrote poet, C.S. Lewis.  “The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden.  It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say “My heart is broken.'”

How to Talk to Someone About Mental IllnessConversations about mental illness may feel uncomfortable, but they are necessary.  Honest conversations reduce the stigma that often manipulates people into silence.

  • Approximately 18.5% (1 in 5 youth and adults) of the U.S. population experienced a mental illness.
  • 11% of the population experienced depression.
  • 18.1% of the population experienced an anxiety disorder.
  • 50.5% of those with a substance abuse disorder also have a co-occurring mental illness.
  • 50% of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; 75% by the age of 24.
  • 26% of the homeless population in the U.S. live with serious mental illness.
  • Nearly 60% of those struggling with mental illness were unable to receive mental health treatment.

It can be excruciatingly difficult for someone wrestling with mental illness to admit when they are struggling – to themselves or to anyone else.  You may not want to approach the subject because you may fear upsetting the person you care about.  Saying something with kindness and respect is much better than not saying anything at all.

If you suspect someone you care about is struggling with a mental health issue, try these following suggestions:

Do your mental health homework.  Contact NAMI, Mental Health USA, or mental health organizations in your area for information about support, services, and resources.

Arrange time to talk when you and your loved one feel calm.  If necessary, set appropriate boundaries by agreeing to listen to one another with respect.

Start the conversation by sharing your feelings, such as “I really care about you.”

Identify the issue that concerns you.  Rather than confronting him or her with a diagnosis, be gentle.  Share behaviors you see and hear.  Say, “This is what I saw (or heard).  Is everything okay?” or “Would you like to talk about it?”

For example say, “I am concerned because you spend so much time alone in your room,” not “I think you have bipolar disorder and you need to get help.”

Practice reflective listening.  Reflective listening involves respectful attention to another person’s feelings.  Listen with empathy.  Do not offer your perspective or solutions until you’ve heard input from them.

Say, “It sounds like you feel sad about ….  Is that what your saying?

Summarize and rephrase key points back to them.  Make eye contact and ask clarifying questions such as “It must feel really lonely to believe no one cares about you.”

Ask questions and explore options.  Reflective listening can help the person you care about clarify his or her thoughts and decide on a course of action.  In this way, he or she feels empowered about which steps to take next.

Say, for example, “It must feel overwhelming when …  What are your choices?” ” or “What do you need?”

Refrain from offering suggestions unless the person you care about asks for advice.  Invite deeper discussion by asking, “How can I help?”  If the person you care about is open to suggestions, be prepared to offer options such as making an appointment with your family doctor or contacting a mental health professional in your area.

Record your concerns and questions.  Be specific; list behaviors  (not assumptions) that you believe may be helpful for health care professionals.  Track progress and celebrate successes.

Remember those struggling with mental illness have privacy rights.  Healthcare professionals are are bound by law not to share medical record information without a patient’s written consent.  However, if someone wants you to be included in their recovery process and provides a doctor or therapist with consent, written documentation will be very helpful to monitoring their progress.

Create a family or office plan that offers support for the person you care about.  Set appropriate boundaries. Never allow mental illness to be an excuse for inexcusable behavior.  D0 not tolerate verbal or physical abuse.

Here is a list of what NOT to say if someone you care about is struggling with a mental health issue:

  • You look depressed.
  • I think you need help.
  • Snap out of it.
  • It can’t be that bad.
  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
  • It’s all in your head.
  • It could be worse.
  • You should get out more.
  • If you think you’ve got it bad, I …
  • Nothing

You and your loved one need not suffer in silence.  Talk to someone.  Call a counselor, doctor, minister, a trusted friend or family member.  There is help.  There is hope.  There are resources available in your community.

If you are worried someone you care about may hurt themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  Their phone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8225).  Trained counselors are available to answer calls 24 hours every day.

Suicide feels like an option if someone believes there are no options left.   Consider these risk factors and warning signs from NAMI.

There is also a Crisis Text Linea global not-for-profit organization that provides free crisis intervention via SMS messages.  Enter 741741 and type “HOME” to send a text to a trained crisis counselor

If you believe someone you care about may be thinking about harming themselves, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline suggests these five steps:

#BeThe1To Ask.  Ask the tough questions.  Be direct.  Ask, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”  

#BeThe1To Keep Them Safe.  Ask, “Do you have a plan?”  A plan often indicates reveals how much time they’ve invested into thought about ending their lives.

If you can not physically intervene in someone’s attempt to hurt themselves, get help.  Call a family member.  Call 911.  Or use Emergency SOS on your iPhone or Android device to request assistance.

#BeThe1To Be There.  Listen with compassion without dismissing or judging their words.

#BeThe1To Help Them Connect.  Work together with someone you love to build a network that includes family, friends, doctor, therapist, and support group.

#BeThe1To Follow Up.  Continue to check in with them and ask how they are doing.  Call.  Text.  Show support.

Caring for someone who is struggling with mental illness can be exhausting.  NAMI reminds you to take good care of yourself.   By modeling good habits of self-care, you show others how to take good care of themselves.

If you are thinking about having a discussion about mental health with someone you care about, they may be waiting for someone with the courage to approach the subject.  It is just as difficult for someone struggling with mental illness to acknowledge their fears and apprehensions as it is for you to begin the conversation.  Perhaps more so.

Be brave.

Ask someone you care about, “How are you doing?”

Their lives may depend upon it.

Are you ready to share your concerns with someone you care about?


This SlideShare presentation offers specific links to information and resources if someone you care about is struggling with mental illness.

Use these suggestions from Mental Illness at Work: Tips for Employers and Employees if you have concerns about someone at work.

The death of a child is devastating.  How to Respond When a Young Person Dies offers tips and words of comfort.

I speak to youth and adult throughout the country about mental illness.   Contact me or  visit if you would like me to speak to your audience.

In this keynote presentation I delivered on behalf of Pathway to Hope, a mental health organization, I share how I found help and hope.



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Winning Habits of Professional Athletes

Patrick MahomesWinning Habits of Professional Athletes, quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, was asked by the press to describes his feelings about the announcement of a fellow player who was traded to another team.

“I was watching my brother play basketball,” replied Mahomes.  “He’s in the last few games of districts, so I was watching that.  They’re undefeated so I was excited about it.”

I want Patrick Mahomes to be my brother, too.

Unfortunately, professional athletes have been stamped with negative labels because of reports citing abusive, violent behavior.  A much larger number of professional athletes are role models. 

Many professional athletes possess life skills that reflect a strong work ethic.  Their habits offer tools for healthy living that can be valuable to everyone:

Athletes commit to daily workouts.  Most professional athletes get up early and begin the day with exercise.  They usually work out at the same time every day.  They push themselves to improve their skills, even if they are at the top of their game.  Even when they are tired.  Even when they don’t want to exercise.

Do you get enough exercise?

Athletes get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.  Most professional athletes go to bed and get up at the same time every day.  Usain Bolt, Olympic sprinter, names sleep as his first priority.  While sleep requirements vary from person to person, most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night (The Sleep Foundation, 2019).  If you’ve been awake for more than 16 hours, lack of sleep decreases your performance as much as if your blood alcohol level were .05% (the legal limit is .08%).  Adequate sleep reduces production of leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone which often causes weight gain (Cleveland Clinic, 2014).  Inadequate sleep increases accidents, memory lapses, and lack of emotional control.

Do you get enough sleep?

Athletes unplug from electronic devices when they sleep.  24-hour access to electronics makes it easier to retrieve information at any time of day, but they also interfere with your sleep.  The short-wavelength, artificial blue light emitted by computers and cell phones interferes with sleep.  Interaction with these devices shortly before or throughout the night stimulates your body and makes it harder to fall or stay asleep.  Over time, these effects can cause chronic sleep deficiency.

Do you unplug from your devices before you sleep?

Professional athletes eat healthy food.  Most professional athletes eat at least three meals.  They don’t try to manage their weight by skipping meals.  When you skip meals, your metabolism slows down.  A slow metabolism makes it harder to lose weight.  Misty May-Treanor, USA volleyball champion, believes breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Athletes consume healthy amounts of fruits, vegetables, fiber, protein, and carbohydrates.  They understand food is fuel their bodies need to perform well.  

What can you do to improve your diet?

Professional athletes hydrate their bodies with water.  Soft drinks, coffee, and sugary substitutes may taste better than water, but your body needs water to function.  Dehydration reduces your cognition and energy level.  Doctors encourage you to drink at least one third of your body weight in ounces.  For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should drink 70 ounces (or 8.75 cups) of water every day.  Use a water bottle marked with ounce measurements as a gauge.

Are you drinking enough water every day?

Professional athletes set goals.  It’s important to dream, but athletes understand dreams without goals are like arrows without targets.  By knowing what you want to achieve, you can plan when, where, and how to concentrate your efforts to successfully reach your goals.  Create a SMART goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.  The act of writing your goals packs your dream with power and sets the dream-to-action process on a course headed towards success.  

What are your goals you hope to reach?

Professional athletes track their progress.  Eliud Kipchoge, marathon runner, has a training book that tracks his workouts.  He uses the information to chart progress, strengthen his confidence, and set new goals.  Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, believed the act of writing goals sets things into motion. He explained, “Your mind accepts the challenge and will consciously and unconsciously work to achieve the goal.”

How do you keep track of your progress?  

Professional athletes visualize success.  In 1984, Mary Lou Retton vaulted into U.S. Olympic history and became the first U.S. gymnast to win the all-around gold medal. 

A reporter asked, “How does it feel to receive the first perfect 10 for the U.S. Olympic team?”

“Like it’s always felt,” she answered.

“But no one has ever done it before!” he exclaimed.

She laughed, “I’ve done it thousands of times in my mind.”

Professional athletes celebrate success long before they are rewarded for their accomplishments.  They use visualization to mentally “see” themselves doing what it takes to perform every movement necessary to reach their goals.  They consistently tell their minds exactly what they want their bodies to achieve.  They use positive affirmations to boost their confidence.  Athletes commit themselves to a practice of articulating goals, visualizing their success, and dedicating themselves to the work of transforming their desires into reality.

How can you use visualization to experience success?

Professional athletes believe they are surrounded with opportunities.  Friends of Katie Ledecky, Olympic swimmer, describe her as the happiest, most positive person they know.  Athletes know a negative attitude will hinder their success.  They possess an abundance mentality.  Their personal beliefs about themselves and opportunities available to them impacts their choices and commitment to their goals.  Life’s challenges are matters of perception; you can choose to see challenges as obstacles that separate you from success – or directional arrows that empower you with new skills, new wisdom, and new opportunities.

Do you have a positive attitude?

Professional athletes are lifelong learners.  Patrick Mahomes believes, “You have to keep learning, keep doing those things every single day so you learn more. So for me, I feel like if I get out there, I can make plays happen, and I’m just going to keep learning, keep getting better every single day.”

Athletes are curious; they look for opportunities to learn.  As lifelong learners, they understand new information keeps them at the top of their game.  Lifelong learning opens doors to replace old skills and habits with new tools that can be immediately applied to their lives.   Lifelong learning can open new doors for you, too.

Winning Habits of Professional AthletesWhat do you want to learn to accomplish your goals?

Researchers believe it takes about 21 – 66 days of regular practice (every day) for a new skill to become a habit.  Habits are shaped by commitment, determination, and perseverance.  Your habits become the tools needed to reach your goals.

Hockey legend, Wayne Gretsky, said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  You are blessed with talents and gifts for a reason.  Use them.  Aim high.  Don’t be afraid to take your shots.

“Your life doesn’t just ‘happen.’  Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you,” insisted Stephen Covey. “You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure.”  He added, “Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice.”

Your thoughts guide your choices.  Your choices shape your future.

What choices will you make today?


Use these tips from How to Write SMART Personal Goals to jump start your progress to success.

Create your own positive affirmations with these tips from Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

Having trouble creating positive self-talk? Learn to Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.

Shift your thinking from lack to abundance with these tips from Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle.

Do need help getting from where you’re at to where you want to go?  Check out the my personal goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide.  Free downloads from the book are available on my website.


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Service is Good for Your Heart


“Volunteering is associated with better physical and mental health,” says Eric S. Kim, research scientist at Harvard University.  Kim found that volunteers were not only more satisfied with their lives and reported greater happiness, but they were often more physically active and experienced fewer illnesses.  

“We know that stress, depression, and anger all have negative effects on the body, especially with regard to the risk of cardiovascular disease,” insists Dr. Kim.  He explained that volunteers often have a strong sense of purpose.  Kim found research correlations between those who found a sense of purpose in their lives and healthier hearts.

A similar report about one’s sense of purpose and the cardiovascular system pooled findings from 10 different studies (Cohen, Bavishi, & Rozanski; 2016).  Results from the meta-analysis revealed that volunteers expressed a high sense of purpose and lower risks of heart attacks or strokes.

Do You Want to Volunteer?

Find organizations in your community that need your help at one of these online websites:

  • VolunteerMatch ( connects organizations with people who want to share specific interests and expertise.  Opportunities include helping in soup kitchens, assisting at crisis centers, offering tutoring services, playing sports and games with children and teens, assisting immigrants and refugees, offering interpretation services, as well as working with computers and technology, and many more ways to share your gifts and talents.
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service ( is a federal agency that invests in nonprofit local community organizations that mentor and tutor at-risk youth, rebuild communities struck by natural disasters, help seniors live independently, and support veterans and military families.
  • Experience Corps ( recruits and trains adults to tutor children from kindergarten through third grade who are struggling to read.  They work in lower-income districts in 22 cities throughout the country.

Check out these organizations in your community if you want to be a volunteers:

  • Animal Rescue Shelters   The National Humane Society, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)  and PetFinder can help you find opportunities to help out at local shelters or foster pets who need temporary homes.
  • National Parks  Explore opportunities to volunteer at sites maintained by the National Park Service.
  • Food Pantries   Check out to find a pantry that needs help preparing and distributing meals to children and adults who are hungry.
  • Habitat for Humanity    Habitat for Humanity offers volunteer opportunities for those who have – or want to learn – experience in home repair and building maintenance.  A Brush With Kindness campaign and the Women Build programs help women learn construction skills. 
  • Local Libraries   Libraries need help organizing shelves, assisting patrons, and preparing for public events, such as author signings and book fairs.  Do you have a specific talent or area of expertise?  Offer a free workshop.  Display your art in a local library gallery.  Contact your local library about volunteer opportunities.
  • Art Museums  Many local galleries and museums welcome volunteers and offer training to be guides.  Volunteers also assist museums with their family programs and children’s activities.
  • YMCA & YWCA   You can help children and adults by coaching a sports team or being a tutor at a local YMCA or YWCA (now called The Y).  Check your local YMCA’s website or visit a club to learn more about many different volunteer opportunities.
  • Retirement Homes   Senior citizens who live at retirement homes are eager to see new faces.  Contact the program director at a retirement center near you to find out how they can use your gifts and talents.  Call the home director to see if you can visit patients on a regular basis.
  • American Red Cross   The American Red Cross offers an extensive list of volunteer opportunities.  Your skills may make you a good fit for grant writing, performing clerical tasks, or assisting at volunteer sites throughout the country.
  • The Salvation Army   More than three million people of all ages volunteered their time, talents, and resources to assist The Salvation Army‘s work.  Volunteers help fulfill their U.S. commitment to “Doing the Most Good” in communities across the country.  Contact your local Salvation Army to see what opportunities are available.

Do you want to volunteer, but can’t leave your house?  Check out these opportunities to help others from your home:

Elizabeth Andrews, Welsh education and health advocate, once said, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.”  Helen Keller added, “The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.”

Volunteer.  It’s good for your heart.

How can you share your gifts and talents with others?


Do you want to experience greater happiness? Try these suggestions from 8 Ways to Feel More Positive or How to Get Through Tough Times.

Life sometimes creates chaos. Discover ways to manage it with these tips from 7 Positive Ways to Reduce Stress.

Replace negative self-talk with words of encouragement. Discover how to Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

These tips from How to Feel Gratitude (Even If You Don’t Want To) will lift your spirits when you want to feel more optimistic.

Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle will help you focus on and attract abundance.


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How to Get Through Tough Times

How to Get Through Tough TimesLife transitions such as moving, change of job, retirement, personal changes in health, or death of a loved one opens an emotional can of uncertainty. 

Change can shake you to your core.  Feelings like anxiety, confusion, and sadness can paralyze your efforts to move forward.

Transitions dare you to adapt to change in new ways.  Fortunately, wisdom from past experiences help serve as your internal compass.  Change offers opportunities to learn new tricks with new tools – which open new doors to new opportunities.

“What you are is what you have been,” said Gautama Buddha. “What you will be is what you do now.”

Easier said than done.

It takes time for your emotional center to adapt to changes and rarely do internal changes occur at the speed of external changes.  When life transitions rattle your cage and force you to make changes, you adapt by making internal and external adjustments to the circumstances.

William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, explains that successful change takes place when you have “a clear purpose, a plan for, and a part to play” in the circumstances affecting your life. He describes three phases that allow you to successfully move through change:

  1. Release old ways of doing things. Old habits often feel comfortable.  When habits no longer serve you, it’s hard to let go of them because they are familiar.  Time is needed to grieve the loss of what was and to adjust to living your life in new ways.  
  2. Prepare for change during the in-between time.  Bridges calls this a “neutral time;” Jeff Bracken says this is a time to “creatively explore and discover new ways of doing things.”  Bracken adds that chaos of uncertainty provides opportunities to spark new interests and experiment with new tools.
  3. Adjust to new beginnings. When new ways of doing things replace old habits and common rituals, you forge a new identity.   You regain confidence when you learn new skills and new ways of adapting to the changes around you.  You begin to feel more optimistic.  This leads to a renewed sense of purpose.

“Sometimes to get from where we are to where we are going, we have to be willing to be in-between,” explains Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go.  “To prepare ourselves for the new, we need to first let go of the old.  This can be frightening.  We may feel empty and lost for a time.  We may feel all alone, wondering what is wrong with us for letting go of the proverbial bird-in-hand, when there is nothing in the bush.”

As you move through change, you will gradually regain your footing and find solid ground.  Circumstances that once seemed like roadblocks become important arrows that lead you in new directions and to new experiences.

Mike Dooley, author of Leveraging the Universe: 7 Steps to Engaging Life’s Magic , insists, “Our positive thoughts are at least 10,000 times more powerful than our negative thoughts.”  Positive thought motivates you to focus on positive outcomes and offers opportunities to explore new experiences you might not have previously considered.

Consider these proactive transition tips when you experience change:

* Begin a gratitude journal.  When you feel uncomfortable thoughts creeping into your consciousness, recall those things for which you feel grateful.  Gratitude shifts your focus from lack to optimism – even when it feels like there’s nothing that deserves your appreciation.

Melody Beattie offers reassurance and explains, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

I began a gratitude journal when I lost my job.  I wanted to experience something new – even though I did not yet know what the next career move would be.  I committed to a daily writing practice of writing at least 3 statements of gratitude about positive blessings in my life.  Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, provided wonderful gratitude journal guidance.

* Write positive affirmations.  Put the positive in your affirmations by focusing deliberate intention on what you believe is possible.  Affirmations are personal and specific.

A constructive affirmation such as “Lucrative opportunities always come my way” invites prosperity and celebrates abundance.  When I say “Spectacular ideas flow to me in a river of abundance,” I acknowledge creative opportunities are at my disposal whenever I am open to inspiration.

* Do something you love to do every day.  It may feel more comforting to withdraw from others or postpone the work of adapting to changes in your life, especially if you are experiencing multiple transitions.  Although it is important to take good care of yourself, especially during transitions.  Do things that make you feel confident, positive, and in control.

Transitions often make additional demands on your available time and financial resources.  Set aside as little as 15 minutes a day to do something you enjoy.  Focus on the time you have; not on the time you do not have available.

* Find support.  Find a group with members who are experiencing similar changes.  Many groups have well-organized and detailed directories that promote meetings, sponsor special events, and attract new members.  Local libraries, community centers, churches, and on-line networking groups provide information and resources that connect like-minded individuals in ways they can inspire and motivate one another.

Bob Marley once said, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”  Even when change leads to wonderful opportunities, it is often excruciatingly difficult to let go of what was.

Change is not easy, but it can inspire you to do new things in new ways.  As you look back and examine the fabric of your life and recall how you adapted to change over time, you discover you actually are stronger and wiser in ways you never expected.

That is what growth is all about.

What new opportunities do you want to explore?


Use these tips and discover How to Feel Gratitude (Even When You Don’t Want To).

Find out How to Manage Change (Without Chaos).

Moving through change is easier when you have a system of support. Use these tips to Build Your Support System.

Need help expressing what you want to say? Check out How to Say What You Want & Need.

Change your direction by changing your thoughts. Read Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle.




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How to Write Powerful Vision & Mission Statements

How to Create Powerful Vision & Mission StatementsThe Dow Chemical Company wants the world to know they are “the largest, most profitable, most respected chemical company in the world.”

Prezi is a “presentation resource on a mission to reinvent how people share knowledge, tell stories, and inspire their audiences to act.”

The San Diego Zoo is “the world leader at connecting people to wildlife and conservation.”

Sony ‘”is a company that inspires and fulfills your curiosity.”

These are powerful vision statements.

Strong vision and mission statements can be the funnel through which you make decisions and select goals.  They make prioritizing tasks easier. 

Vision and mission statements will save you time.

vision statement is the big idea of what you are working towards as a goal.  Gordon D’Angelo, author of Vision: Your Pathway to Victory, describes a vision statement as “the definable intention from which preparation is formed.”  It is a mental image of what you believe is possible. 

Your vision expresses how you want to be perceived in the world and the legacy you want to share with others.  It is deeply connected to your core values.  Your vision is future-oriented.  It should be concise and easy to remember.

mission statement is an action statement that reflects your vision.  It clarifies (1) what you want to do, (2) who you do it for, and (3) how you do what you do.  It is a broad declaration of your purpose that distinguishes you from others.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, insisted that vision and mission statements are “more powerful, more significant, more influential than the baggage of the past or even the accumulated noise of the present.”  Strong vision and mission statements ground you with purpose and provide clear direction.

Tips to Create a Powerful Vision Statement

vision statement focuses your efforts.  It clarifies your identity and priorities.  It raises your standard of excellence, provides meaning to every task you want to accomplish, and strengthens your commitment as you move forward towards your goals.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of Envisioning Your Future: Imagining Ideal Scenarios, encourage you to consider the following questions as you write a vision statement:

  • Does your vision statement provide a powerful picture of what you you want to experience in 3 to 5 years?
  • Does your vision statement include a description of your future?
  • Does it represent a dream about what you think is possible?
  • Does it provide a larger sense of purpose?
  • Does it clarify your focus?
  • Does it create enthusiasm and inspire you?
  • Does it connect to your core values?

What words express your strengths, core values, and beliefs?  How can they be included in your vision statement?

How to Create a Mission Statement

A strong mission statement is directly tied to your vision.  It is action-oriented.  It describes how you plan to execute your vision.

The American Red Cross “prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”

ASPCA strives “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.”

UNICEF “fights for the survival and development of the world’s most vulnerable children and protects their basic human rights.”

These strong mission statements clearly state what they want to do to serve others and specifically defines who they want to serve.

Use these questions as you write your mission statement:

  • What are the needs of those you want to serve?
  • How are you or your organization uniquely qualified to meet those needs?
  • What values and principles are important to you?
  • How are your gifts and core values reflected in service to others?
  • What accomplishments do you want people to remember about you?
  • How would others describe what you do as a community or organization?
  • Is your mission statement rooted in your strengths, unique capabilities, resources, and assets?

How to Write Powerful Vision & Mission StatementsA powerful mission statement clearly defines what you do, how you do it, who you do it for, and the value you bring to those you serve.  Your mission statement will provide you and members of your organization with a framework and purpose for creating future goals.

Vision & Mission Statements: Your Directional Compass

When I meet with groups to create vision and mission statements, it is not uncommon for some individuals to protest, “Is this really necessary?”  They often want to charge into creating goals and posting tasks on the calendar without any clear direction or purpose.

Tasks without purpose often result in pointless discussions and unnecessary arguments.  Goals without a vision and mission are like arrows without a target.  Strong vision and mission statements become the filter through which future goals are created.  They make the planning process easier, reduce conflicts, and save time.

Transformational change expert, Michael Beckwith, insists, “You know it’s a good vision if it’s too big to accomplish on your own.”  When you and members of your organization align your goals and decisions with your vision and mission statements, it becomes clear who you are, the values you embrace, and the ways through which you want to serve others.  Strong vision and mission statements encourage collaboration and unite members of your group.

Your core values serve as your directional compass.  They guide your choices and goals for the future.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts.  Your thoughts become your words.  Your words become your actions.  Your actions become your habits.  Your habits become your values.  Your values become your destiny.”

When you have clear vision and mission statements, you do not need standards or principles dictated by someone else because you are grounded in your own sense of purpose.  As you align and prioritize your goals with your vision and mission statements, you possess a clear lens through which you choose to view – and serve – the world.

How can vision and mission statements be helpful to you or your organization?


Find more suggestions to create strong vision and mission statements in my goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide.

Use these tips and discover How to Write SMART Personal Goals.

Napoleon Hill explains Why You Need a Definite Chief Aim.

Do you struggle with negative thoughts?  Find out how to Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle and Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.


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Why Integrity Matters

Why Integrity MattersHonesty is Always the Best Policy.  At least that’s what the poster says.

But aren’t there exceptions to every rule?

Zig Ziglar, author of Born to Win, doesn’t think so.  He insisted, “The most influential persuasion tool in your entire arsenal is your integrity.”

Your decisions reflect who you are and what you value.  Integrity is a Swiss army knife in your tool box of values.  Others may hear your words, but they believe your actions.

I value honesty.  Integrity was a quality that was shaped in childhood by less-than-comfortable circumstances and saved me from tripping over my own tongue on more than one occasion.

For example …

As a teacher, I loved the sounds of buzzing conversations and students engaged in active learning, but I also valued structure and organization.  The classroom was the only place many of my seventh grade urban students experienced structure and security.

I built time into the schedule to restore order in the room at the end of every class period.  On one particular afternoon, I was tired.  And cranky.  And I had a headache.  My grouchiness increased as I weaved between small groups of students while picking up carelessly-tossed wads of paper on the floor,

“Please use the trash can,” I thoughtlessly shouted.  “I am tired of picking your stuff off of the floor.”  I wish I had said “stuff.”


I was more shocked than my students when I heard – we heard – a profanity fall out of my mouth.

The students leaned towards me.  Words on a black-and-white poster on the wall glared at me:  Honesty is Always the Best Policy.  

I had choices.  I could lie, say they misunderstood what I said, and accuse them of inciting an argument.  I could act like nothing happened.  I had five seconds to make a decision.

I tried lying when I was in third grade.  It didn’t work out very well.  But I remembered the lesson.

When I was in third grade, the athletic club at my parochial elementary school sponsored an annual fundraiser.  Students sold paper stickers with the words “Proud Sponsor of the Corpus Christi Athletic Club” for one dollar.  The boy and girl who sold the most stickers received ten dollars.  I wanted to be the top-selling award-winning girl in the school.

I asked my teacher for ten stickers.  The following day, I asked for ten more stickers.

“Did you sell the ten stickers I gave you yesterday?” she inquired.

Well, I’m going to sell them, so …

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.  “I sold the stickers.”

Two weeks later, I had a collection of 80 stickers hidden under my socks in a drawer.

On the last day of the fundraising drive, I cried and refused to go to school.  I told my mom what happened.  I thought I could sell them, but I couldn’t.  She pulled her checkbook out of her purse and began to write a check for ten dollars.

“What are you doing?” my father asked.

“I’m writing a check,” answered my mother, explaining what I’d done.

I tried to look pitiful and small.

“Absolutely not,” he insisted.

“But, why not?” my mom asked.

And then he spoke the words that changed my perspective about truth and truth-telling for the rest of my life.

“She got herself into this,” he replied.  “She can get herself out of it.”

I wanted to die.  Well, not die.  I wished I lived in another country.  On another planet.

I didn’t know how to explain the truth to my teacher.  I was late for my first class because I trudged very slowly to school.  I didn’t want my teacher to know that I lied.  I think she already knew.

I crept into the classroom and quietly returned the stickers to my teacher.  All 80 of them.

“But didn’t you say you sold all of the stickers?” asked my teacher.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.  “I lied.”

She said nothing.  I was grateful.

My classmates, however, were not as kind as my teacher.

“What happened?” they asked.  “I thought you said you sold all of the stickers?”

“I lied.”

“I lied” was a miserable mantra I repeated throughout the rest of the day.  At the end of the painfully long afternoon, I knew one truth:  My words and actions have consequences.

Fast-forward to this uncomfortable situation with my students.  Their eyes glistened.  I could tell by their trust-filled expressions that they expected a response from me.

“Something just happened, didn’t it?” I asked.

“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessss!” they gleefully answered.

“I’m sure this wasn’t the case,” I continued, trying not to laugh.  “But there’s a chance I might have said something inappropriate.  Is that true?”


“I am so sorry,” I apologized.  “You deserve to be spoken to with respect.”

Why Integrity Matters

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Miss Connor,” Jordan laughed.  “We talk a lot worse than that!”

That was true.

“You could have lied,” said Toya.

“Yes, I could have lied,” I agreed.  “But we both would have known the truth.”

They nodded.  Our honesty with one another led us into a deeper relationship that was grounded in mutual trust and class continued.  Order had been restored.

Every time you honor and speak your truth, you inspire others to honor and speak their truth.

Later that afternoon, the principal advised me to be careful while I was driving home after school.

“It’s raining cats and dogs out there!” he warned.

Now, I knew better than to believe that.  Cats and dogs were not falling out of the sky.

But, did I just hear thunder … or was it barking?

Do you value integrity?

These tips offer ways to Use Your Core Values to Make Moral Decisions.

Use these suggestions to Teach Youth How to Communicate & Resolve Conflict.

Integrity is an important attribute of leaders. 10 Top Tips to Be a Successful Leader describe important leadership attributes.

Norms set boundaries within groups that deepen communication. Find out how to Create Group Norms That Build Trust.

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Called to Be: Finding Your Purpose

Rev. Carla McClellanRev. Carla McClellan, a certified life coach, leadership expert, and speaker, empowers others with skills to develop self-awareness and discover their purpose.  In this article, guest blogger Carla explains how leaders can find balance and cultivate emotional intelligence.

To become is to answer a deep calling from within you.  It is a willingness to be open-minded and open-hearted in the face of all circumstances.

We live in a fast-paced world.  Information bombards us constantly and we often find ourselves drained and overwhelmed by our to-do lists.  There are so many requests for our input in leadership that unless we are clear about our purpose and mission, we find ourselves spinning throughout our days.

We long for peace of mind and a sense of balance.  As leaders, life requires us to master specific skills in order to meet the demands of our organizations, families, and friends.  In order to be effective, we are called to demonstrate what has been termed Emotional Intelligence (EI) by Daniel Goleman, best-selling author of Altered Traits.  These skills determine the success of a leader.

Leaders aren’t born.  They practice learning how to skillfully communicate with others.  Leaders who are emotionally mature have developed deep listening skills.  They are confidant and decisive.  In difficult circumstances, they know what to say and how to say it without offending or upsetting others.  They are caring, considerate, and inspire people with hope and optimism.  We demonstrate emotional intelligence when we help others focus on possibilities.

Hierarchical models of “top-down” leadership won’t work anymore.  We must work collaboratively for the purpose of making a difference in the world.

“People who want to be effective and create impact as leaders need to connect with an inexhaustible source of power,” explains Goleman.  Whether that work involves dismantling systems of racism, undoing the patriarchy or building power in community, the tools they learn to use go far beyond the ‘hard skills.’”  Goleman explains leaders must develop the “harder skills” of emotional intelligence, including mindfulness, self and community care, authenticity, and the capacity to do deep listening.

I recommend throwing away the to-do list and develop your to-be list.  Life flows from the inside out.  Successful people demonstrate certain qualities which inspire greater levels of engagement from people.  With today’s uncertainty and diminishing resources, we are called to be more creative.  I am not talking about doing more but inspiring more engagement in relationships.  Without knowing our “why” to life and to our world, we get lost in all of our responsibilities.  We must be clear about who we are, what our gifts are, what support we would like, and engage with others in new, creative ways.

Life requires us to be more adaptable to change and more open to support.  It is not about saying more, but deeply listening to others.  Saying “yes” to change is uncomfortable for all of us even when the change is pleasurable because it calls us to grow and be even more present and engaged in life.  We no longer can ignore what we don’t want to face.  Change show us we are not really in control.

Through change and collaboration, new possibilities emerge.  We must allow more conversations to take place within the groups we serve.  The wisdom of the group is more important than our particular insight.  We allow this wisdom to emerge by being more present to our principles and each other.  Relationships are our mirror and reflect where we are being called to grow.  Our principles practiced together produce certainty in uncertain times.

Principles are simple. We must learn to integrate our principles into every aspect of our being.  We must demonstrate them so people recognize what we stand for and on.  As successful leaders, our role is to inspire, empower, and serve.  We are called to model how to show our love and compassion in difficult times and act from that compassion.  Principles are statements of truth upon which we base our beliefs and our behavior.

When we answer the call to life, we embody our best selves.  My coaching tip for purposeful living is to ask yourself these questions as you begin each day:

  • Am I willing to be empathetic, aware, present, expansive, resilient, authentic, and empowering today in order to produce an extraordinary result?
  • Am I willing to observe rather than analyze?
  • Am I willing to tell the truth even if it’s uncomfortable?
  • Am I willing to ask for support?
  • Am I willing to let go of having to be in control?
  • Am I willing to learn the lesson right before me?

We have been called to be leaders at this time, so rest assured that what is wanting to emerge is a new way of doing it.  One that calls for cooperation and collaboration.  Let’s have fun!

Let us find the answers together because our truth tells us it is already done in consciousness.  Let’s vibrate our energy harmoniously while we discover what lies ahead.

And remember to ask for support.  We are here for each other.

Rev. Carla McClellan is a PCC certified coach/trainer/speaker. She loves developing leadership skills and supporting people who want to live lives filled with passion, purpose and possibilities. She offers practical ways of using universal principles. She is a featured Life Coach for a local TV show and her alternative ministry, Unity Pause for Renewal, supports ministers taking time for self-care.  Visit to learn more.

Are you a leader?  Use these suggestions from 10 Top Tips to Be a Successful Leader to inspire others.

A successful leader knows How to Inspire Teamwork and Collaboration with these skills.

Show others How to Write SMART Personal Goals.

Build collaboration and trust in your group with tips from Create Group Norms That Build Trust.

Get specific and clear about your direction.  Write a Personal Purpose Statement.

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Mental Illness at Work: Tips for Employers & Employees

When Someone at Work Has a Mood DisorderIt is hard to ignore a co-worker whose eyes fill with tears during a meeting for no apparent reason.  A colleague may angrily explode without provocation.  A responsible colleague who was a model of timeliness arrives increasingly late to work or struggles to meet deadlines.

A mood disorder can alter an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional state and, if left untreated, may interfere with one’s ability to function.  Mood disorders include depression, seasonal affect disorder (SAD), and bipolar disorder.

It is often excruciatingly difficult for someone wrestling with mental illness to admit when they are struggling – to themselves or to anyone else.  Author, Jane Austen, once wrote, “Sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself because I could find no language to describe them.”  When an employee at work struggles with a mood disorder, it can create stress within the work environment.

How do you recognize when someone at work is wrestling with a mood disorder?

One in five U.S. adults struggle with some form of mental illness every year [National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2015].  Mental illness contributes to the leading cause of workplace absenteeism [World Health Organization (WHO), 2017].

People struggle with memory, concentration, organization, and making decisions for a variety of reasons.  It is not uncommon to experience a lack energy and or a desire to withdraw from others from time to time.  However, someone who may have a mood disorder exhibits symptoms that last for an extended period of time.

What can employees do when someone at work has a mood disorder?

WHO (2017) reports, “A person may have the skills to complete tasks, but they may have too few resources to do what is required, or there may be unsupportive managerial or organizational practices.”  To complicate matters, bullying and harassment at work add greater psychological and physical stress to individuals struggling with a mood disorder.  Challenges that arise when someone at work has a mood disorder often leads to reduced productivity and increased staff turnover.

Listed below are ways employees can offer support to someone struggling with a mood disorder at work:

  1. Respect their privacy and avoid discussing their diagnosis (or suspected diagnosis) with others in the workplace.  Internal gossip is not good for anyone.  Gossip destroys trust and damages relationships.
  2. Learn to recognize symptoms of mood disorders.  The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), NAMI, and many local mental health organizations offer free resources.
  3. Report concerns about an individual you suspect has a clinical mood disorder to your employer. Be specific.  Describe behaviors you’ve seen and heard from the individual (not what you suspect), particularly if concerns are work-related issues or if the individual is at risk of injuring themselves or others.
  4. Strategize a plan of action with specific tasks when working together on team projects.
  5. Set appropriate boundaries.  Never make excuses for someone who demonstrates abusive behavior.  A mood disorder may be at the root of inappropriate behavior, but it is never an excuse.

What can employers do when someone at work has a mood disorder?

An employee with a mood disorder may need workplace accommodations to do their jobs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA requires employers to “provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities” unless doing so would present undue hardship.  Adequate accommodations (i.e.: permission to listen to music, adjustments within the workspace, time off for appointments, etc.) create the least restrictive environment and should not interfere with other employees or the work environment.

These suggestions offer ways employers can offer support to someone struggling with a mood disorder at work:

  1. Contact HR or department within your organization to share concerns about someone with a mood disorder and to create a conversation plan.
  2. Discuss your concerns with an individual you suspect has a mood disorder.  Include them in the discussion to create a plan of support.
  3. Create a plan to meet goals to ensure the individual with a mood disorder experiences success.
  4. Offer support and resources to members within your organization.  Many local and national mental health organizations [including many local mental health organizations including the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and NAMI] offer free resources.
  5. Provide behavioral health training and professional development for all employees.  Everyone can benefit from training that enhances the quality of life.  Professional development topics can include communication and conflict resolution skills, stress management, work/life balance, teamwork, and organization/productivity.
  6. Set appropriate boundaries. Never give permission or make excuses for someone who demonstrates abusive behavior.  A mood disorder may be at the root of inappropriate behavior, but it is never an excuse.

Use these suggestion to create workplace boundaries that protect everyone:

  1. Establish workplace norms that reflect mutual respect and hold all employees accountable for their behaviors.
  2. Do not tolerate bullying or inappropriate behaviors in the workplace.  Establish work-related policies, procedures, and boundaries that protect all employees.
  3. Provide communication and conflict resolution skill training for all staff members.
  4. Focus on finding solutions (not problems).
  5. Create a system of documentation and means through which employees may report bullying or behaviors that raise concerns.
  6. Identify a system of reporting information to the appropriate parties.

When Someone at Work Has a Mental IllnessWhat do you do when someone with a mood disorder expresses a desire to share confidential information?

You may choose to listen if a fellow employee with a mood disorder chooses to confide in you, but it is important to establish appropriate boundaries.  Set time limits.  Allow discussion before or after work or during breaks.  Do not take sides or become overly-involved in the individual’s personal life. Remember you are an employee – not a therapist.

“You don’t have to fix me,” said Sarah Jane, a young woman struggling with depression at work.  “Ask me how I’m doing.”  She added, “I am doing the best I can and I know you are, too.  You show your support when you don’t act ashamed of me.  Be kind.  That’s more than enough.”

Mental illness need not prevent employees from quality performance or contributions to a positive work environment.  When employers and employees work together to provide support for an employee with a mood disorder, it is not uncommon for relationships within organizations to strengthen, trust deepens, and their commitment to teamwork increases over time.  Joint efforts to support employees may be especially helpful to those who are struggling and have not yet found the courage to ask for help.

When there are collaborative efforts at work to support one another, everyone wins.

What can you do to support colleagues and contribute to a positive work environment? 
Do you feel alone and isolated?  Build Your Support System and surround yourself with a positive network.

Replace Old Tapes with New Messages if you are struggling with negative self-talk.

A mood disorder may lie beneath the behavior of a bully, but it is never an excuse. These suggestions explain How to Stand Up to Bullies.

Open channels of discussion with a child or teen with these tips from Teach Youth How to Communicate and Resolve Conflict.

Once crippled with depression and agoraphobia (a debilitating anxiety disorder), Julie Connor, Ed.D. empowers businesses, schools, churches, and nonprofit organizations with training and resources to recognize and successfully interact with employees and colleagues with mood disorders. 

Julie specializes in communication, conflict resolution, and empowers others with skills and tools to transform challenges into opportunities.  Dr. Connor is the author of an award-winning personal goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide.


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Transform a Church into a Home:  How to Attract (and Keep) New Members

Transform a Church into a Home:  How to Attract (and Keep) New Members

Churches often scramble to find new ways to attract new members.  Morph into versions of larger churches.  Build new buildings.  Offer more up-to-date technological tools.  Engage in large scale marketing.

Advertising tycoon, David Ogilvy, believed, “Great marketing just makes a bad product fail faster.”

“Most churches are not growing because they’re not connecting with people and effectively fulfilling their mission,” insists Carey Nieuwhof, church leadership expert.

Our words and actions – even our invitations to new members – reflect our beliefs.  Nieuwhof explains many churches wear blinders that limit their focus on their own wants and perceived needs.  When this occurs, it should not surprise anyone when outsiders admit they do not feel welcomed, valued, or included.

If a church believes the purpose of its members is to serve itself, the church will die.  The purpose of the church is to serve others – not the other way around.

Listed below are 12 suggestions that will help you and your church community create a culture that feels like “home:”

  1. Are decisions aligned with the vision and mission of the church?  Are you who you say you are?   Creation of a collaborative vision and mission are great first steps.  Use your vision and mission as a filter through which you make decisions.
  2. Is worship vibrant and meaningful?  What do you hope others will experience when they attend worship services?  Is worship aligned to your vision and mission?  Is worship aligned to a theme?  Do worship services include intergenerational involvement?  Do younger members see others who look like themselves involved in your services?  Was any of the music written in the 21st century?
  3. How well do you welcome guests?  Fearlessly examine your efforts to reach your congregation through the lens of a newcomer.  Is there someone available to talk to newcomers before and after services?   Does someone collect contact information from newcomers?   Do the bulletin and welcome packet material contain accurate information?   
  4. Does anyone follow-up and invite newcomers to come back?  Is there a phone call, letter, or email to newcomers?  Are they invited to return or to take part in other church activities?  How are newcomers initiated into full participation in your community?
  5. Do members of your community know where other groups meet during service times?  Can congregants guide newcomers to the correct rooms for Sunday School classes?  I was recently at a church where congregants regularly told visiting parents that there were no Sunday School classes for teens.  (There were.)
  6. Do you have clear systems of communication?  Many people want something they can attach to a refrigerator.  Do you have a calendar of upcoming events?  Does your bulletin have contact information for your church leaders?  Is your bulletin easy to read?  Is your website easy to navigate?
  7. Do you plan and host intergenerational events that build community? What do you do to make others feel welcome at special events?  Is someone available to greet new members and introduce them to others?  Do you provide childcare?
  8. Do you offer opportunities for others to become involved in service?  Do you provide training?  Service opportunities are not the sole means through which congregants experience community.  Service is an extension of the sense of community members experience.  Service is a reflection of the relationships among members in its community.
  9. Do you know the members of your community?  Personal surveys are a great first step to understanding special interests of congregants.  Does someone reach out and invite others to take part in activities that are aligned with their interests?  It makes no sense to beg a potential volunteer to bake cookies if their interests are in strategic planning.  (This happened to me.)   When people have too many vague choices, they usually choose nothing.  Express a personal interest in getting to know your church members before you ask them to volunteer.
  10. Are there opportunities for members of special interest groups (like Millennials or young families) to meet?  If you do not have programs for special groups, invite them to a planning discussion.  Your presence in the planning process reflects your interest in them.  Support them in their efforts to build a foundation that will serve others.  Guide them to others in and outside of your church who have experience building special interest groups.
  11. In what ways does your church connect with other community organizations?  Members of the early Christian Church did not wait for others to come to them.  The Apostles went out into the community to spread the Good News (Acts 2:1-41).  Do you network with other community organizations?  Do you participate in community events?  Do you build relationships with schools and other churches in your area?  What does the community know about your church?  If you don’t know, ask.
  12. Is the community involved in discussions about the future?  Change is hard.  Sometimes it is difficult for communities to admit they are trying to recreate a future church with building blocks from the past.  Invite congregants into discussions about their church’s future.  Encourage groups to brainstorm and find solutions. Together.

Transform a Church into a Home:  How to Attract (and Keep) New MembersPeople want a place to call “home.” 

Create a positive, warm, and inviting church culture.  The ways through which you welcome visitors, your calls to action on Sunday, your worship, communications, youth and Sunday School programs, ministries, groups you hope others will join, service opportunities, special events, and activities throughout the week – even your budget (Do you have a budget?) – are reflections of your culture.

A church’s mission is more than words.  Your mission is sacred.

Live your mission. 

Be your mission.

You don’t have to know how to move forward.  You only have to be brave enough to take the next step.

What can you do to ensure visitors and members of your church feel welcome?


Roll out the welcome mat for young adults and their families with tips from What Churches Must Do to Attract Millennials.

Do you want to learn more about Millennials?  Paige Stanard, a college student, explains 9 Great Reasons to Love Millennials.

Try these 10 Tips to Mentor Like a Superstar if you want to build a relationship with a young adult who needs you.

These suggestions explain What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay) in your organization.




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Create Group Norms That Build Trust

Create Group Norms That Build TrustEvery group has its own rules that guide how they do business and get things done.  These patterns of behavior may be a conscious set of established guidelines for conducting a meeting – or an unconscious lack of boundaries that allow members of the group to bully, shame, and dominate one another.

When groups create and commit to the use of norms as a means through which they communicate with one another, they are more likely to make collaborative decisions, resolve issues, and come to consensus. They provide opportunities for group members to individually and collectively express their values through their words and actions.  Norms reduce tension, conflicts, and resentments. 

If group norms are abstract, unfamiliar, or do not exist, decisions are rarely achieved through consensus.  Without norms, personal agendas of the most dominant personalities guide the decision-making process.  Some members may feel coerced to agree upon solutions they do not want nor support.  Group norms set boundaries that encourage healthy dialogue.

When composing norms for your group, avoid statements containing the words “not” or “don’t.” Rather than stating behaviors you won’t do, choose statements that express what you will do and result in positive actions.  For example, rather than stating “Don’t interrupt others when they speak,” you may add “One person speaks at a time” and “Listen respectfully to all ideas.”

Sample norms also include:

  • Begin and end meetings on time.
  • Encourage everyone to participate in discussions.
  • Allow the facilitator to moderate discussion.
  • Support your point of view with facts.
  • If you don’t know the facts, find out.
  • Speak respectfully to one another.
  • Speak respectfully about others.
  • Use “I” statements.”
  • Be mindful of nonverbal communication and body language.
  • Conduct group business within the meeting.
  • Conduct personal business outside of the meeting.

Sometimes an administrator or group leader must establish temporary norms for new organizations or organizations in crisis.  Groups may also collaboratively decide to revise norms. Norms are fluid and designed to support dialogue, build trust, and create a safe platform for teamwork.

It is critically important for all group members to hold one another accountable during discussions. Norms allow a means to do that.  For example, if an individual on your team repeatedly interrupts others, it is up to someone in the group to directly repeat aloud one of the norms, “One person speaks at a time.”

Resist tendencies to blame others for challenges or obstacles obstructing group progress.  Examine the facts.  Use data to identify issues and create solutions.  If you don’t know, find out. Talk to the person or persons before you make judgments or criticize them – especially if those individuals are not present during discussions.  Conclusions and opinions based on assumptions destroy trust.

Gossip is divisive and destructive.  Gossip that is tolerated within a group – even under confidential circumstances – is still gossip. 

If your group wants to create its own norms, try these tips:

  • Brainstorm a list of norms you believe would help your group run successful meetings.
  • Allow for questions and discussion about suggested norms. Reword norms if they need clarification.
  • Limit the number of norms and number of words in your norms. Wordy statements are easily forgotten.  (I suggest up to seven norms with no more than seven words in each statement.)
  • Combine norms into single statements and eliminate norms that are not aligned with your vision statement and core values.
  • Create Group Norms That Build TrustMake copies of the norms for all group members and post them in your meeting room.

Collaboration is more than an all-in-favor-raise-your-hands voting practice.  Consensus creates a framework that invites full participation of all group members.  Consensus does not guarantee everyone will arrive at unanimous decisions; the process of consensus allows groups to find solutions with which they generally agree and support.  Norms provide safe boundaries for which discussions can occur.

Norms are only as successful as the group members’ willingness to abide by them and call one another to do the same.  They help a team move forward inspired and motivated to uphold their principles; confident in the security such guidelines provide.

How can norms empower the members of your group?


Do you want to develop leadership skills?  These are the 10 Top Tips to Be a Successful Leader.

A successful leader knows How to Inspire Teamwork and Collaboration with these skills.

Discover 13 Steps to Success and learn how to transform goals into reality.

Get focused.  How to Write Personal SMART Goals will help you move forward with clarity.


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10 Top Tips to Be a Successful Leader

10 Top Tips to Be a Successful Leader“Leadership is not about a title or a designation,” insists leadership expert, Robin Sharma.  “It’s about impact, influence and inspiration.”

Successful leaders are not impressed by titles.  They possess subject matter expertise and tools that produce results – but they also understand the importance of developing relationships.  They build a positive culture that has lasting impact within organizations they serve.

Strategic planning skills, resilience, and confidence strengthen with time and practice.  They flow from a commitment to these attributes of all successful leaders:

1.  Successful leaders have a personal vision and mission.

Visionary leaders know who they are, where they’re headed, and what they want to do to reach their goals.  They have a clear sense of purpose.  They are guided by what Napoleon Hill called a definite chief aim.  Their goals flow from their core values.  They prioritize goals based on their importance, urgency, and alignment with their personal – and organizational – vision and mission.  

A clear vision and mission allows a successful leader to recognize opportunities.  Where others are threatened by fear of limitations and lack; a successful leader with an abundance mentality sees possibilities.  They inspire others to find value in and buy into an organizational vision and mission.  Directional clarity inspires confidence. 

2.  Successful leaders set personal and organizational goals.

Effective leaders set short-term and long-term SMART personal goals.  They create systems of organization and time management that maximize productivity and prevent procrastination.  They prioritize tasks.  They develop strategic plans with deadlines and clearly define expected measurable results.  They use data to track progress and make improvements.

Exceptional leaders manage stress and create balance in their personal and professional lives by establishing strong personal boundaries.  Balance empowers successful leaders with clarity of thought so they can focus on their goals.

3.  Successful leaders have strong communication skills.

Author Doug Larson maintains, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”  Listening is an important leadership skill.  Successful leaders understand that communication relies upon a steady flow of verbal and nonverbal exchanges of idea and information among all members within an organization. 

Successful leaders link job expectations, performance, and tasks to specific goals. They implement effective evaluative processes for evaluation and review and provide clear, consistent feedback to all organizational members.  When employees struggle to meet demands, successful leaders privately meet with them and clarify expectations as soon as possible.

Strong leaders create safe systems of conflict resolution that establish trust. They do not allow small issues to roll into difficult problems because they address concerns as they arise.

4.  Successful leaders are role models.

Effective leaders have high expectations of themselves and others.  They hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for their own mistakes – and they expect others to do the same.  They create consistent policies and procedures and communicate them to all members within their organizations.  Their personal conduct is a reflection of the policies and procedures they implement.

5.  Successful leaders adapt to change.

Leaders have successful tools for coping with personal change and, as a result, are equipped to guide others through times of uncertainty.  Effective leaders can assess a situation’s complexity and choose appropriate courses of action. Strong leaders often sense disruptive change before it occurs and are ready to collaboratively gather key members within the organization to create swift plans of response to challenges.

6.  Successful leaders welcome opportunities for creativity and innovation.

Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  Innovative leaders recognize when change is needed and fearlessly look to the future for new ideas.  They are willing to take risks and connect with those who are willing, knowledgeable, and skilled enough to experiment and encourage creativity within their organizations.  They include others in brainstorming and solution-finding conversations.

7.  Successful leaders encourage teamwork and collaboration.

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual,” said Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers.  “People who work together will win.”

Strong leaders, like strong coaches, inspire teamwork and collaboration.  They successfully rally teamwork within organizations to the extent that they:

  • Communicate well-defined vision, mission, and goals.
  • Identify the unique skills and talents of every member on the team.
  • Support individual growth of each team member.
  • Identify ways through which individuals successfully pursue their own goals in ways that reflect the vision, mission, and goals of the organization.

8.  Successful leaders inspire and motivate others.

Strong leaders understand that relationships with employees, volunteers, and stakeholders are critical components of building successful organizations. 

“Employees who feel valued and appreciated, who feel like what they do makes a difference, will feel invigorated to push harder to achieve success for their company,” states Deep Patel, entrepreneur and contributing writer at Forbes.

Effective leaders empower others with opportunities to share their expertise and skills with others.  Confident leaders feel no need to compete with others.  They want to serve others and the greater good of the organization.  They eagerly embrace opportunities to help organizational members see how their individual contributions benefit the organization as a whole.

9.  Successful leaders are life-long learners.

Strong leaders have an insatiable appetite to learn new information.  They follow thought leaders and experts in their fields.  They read.  They are familiar with best practices and current research. 

Successful leaders create opportunities for others within their organizations to learn and grow through quality training and high content professional development.  They invite subject-level experts – as well as skilled individuals within their organizations – to provide in-house training and presentations.  They provide educational opportunities and encourage individuals within their organizations to continue their own learning.

"10 Top Tips to Be a Successful Leader"10.  Successful leaders have mentors and a support system.

Unfortunately, many individuals do not believe they need mentoring once they are promoted to a leadership position.  Every successful leader I know – as well as professional musicians, speakers, actors, and athletes – recognize the only way they can grow as a professional is through the advice and guidance received from a seasoned mentor and support system.

If you want to be a stronger leader and do not have a mentor, find one.  Ask yourself:

  • Who has leadership knowledge and skills I admire?
  • Who has leadership knowledge and skills I want to learn?
  • Who holds a leadership position I hope to fill one day?

Make an appointment with someone who possesses leadership knowledge and skills you want to emulate and arrange to meet with a mentor on a regular basis. 

Many successful individuals also meet regularly with a network of leaders in similar fields of work or study.  A support system can provide you with effective means through which you can ask questions, address concerns, and receive meaningful feedback from others who understand your leadership experiences.

[clickToTweet tweet=”As a successful leader, your vision is a torch that lights the way for others. – Dr. Julie Connor” quote=”As a successful leader, your vision is a torch that lights the way for others. ” theme=”style2″]

A manager lights a fire under others by focusing on outcomes.  A strong leader understands the value of strong relationships as they contribute to building a positive culture within the organization.  They inspire and motivate others by lighting a fire of passion for their work and applaud their personal contributions.

As a successful leader, your vision is a torch that lights the way for others. 

In what ways can you sharpen your leadership skills?


A successful leader knows How to Inspire Teamwork and Collaboration with these skills.

Show others How to Write SMART Personal Goals.

Create a tribe of colleagues that offer wisdom and support. Use these tips and learn How to Find Your Tribe.

Steer others out of a mentality of lack and consider new possibilities. Try these tips from Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle.

Get specific and clear about your direction.  Write a Personal Purpose Statement.


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What Churches Must Do to Attract Millennials

What Churches Must Do to Attract Millennials“We’ve got to figure out how to get young adults back to church,” insisted a congregant. “If we don’t get them back, we’ll die.”

“Millennials aren’t interested in going to church anymore,” agreed a church elder.

I believe it’s more accurate to say many Millennials are not interested in the traditional model of church.  

Millennials (or Generation Y) are young men and women who matured into adulthood at the beginning of the 21st century.  They are the children of the Baby Boomers or Generation X.  Millennials were born between 1980-2000.

Church attendance is at its lowest in recent history (Barna Group, 2014).  The most drastic attendance reductions are among Millennials (22-35 year olds).  Two in 10 Americans under 30 believe church attendance is important or worthwhile.  Fifty-nine percent of Millennials who attended church with their families when they were growing up no longer participate as adults. 

The Pew Research Center (2015) reported that the percentage of Millennials who consider themselves “religiously unaffiliated” (atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular”) rose from 16.1% (2007) to 22.8%.  However, 80% of the Millennials surveyed said they believed in God.  Many Millennials describe themselves as “spiritual,” but not “religious.”

Caroline Newman, university news associate at the University of Virginia, believes many Millennials are disillusioned by church scandals reported in the news. She adds Millennials are especially turned off by polarized entanglements between religion and politics.

Many churches struggling to find ways to coax young adults and families through their doors are asking the wrong questions.  Millennials are ready to tell us.  We must be willing to listen.

In a brilliant article, Why Millennials are OVER Church, Sam Eaton explains why young adults are not interested in church. Sam is a teacher, youth mentor, and a Millennial. He shares his truth – but he also offers solutions:

Nobody’s Listening to Us.  Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without asking for our input, we get the message loud and clear: nobody cares what we think. Why should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?


  • Create regular forums, surveys, and meetings to discover needs of young adults both in AND outside the church.
  • Invite Millennials to serve on leadership teams or advisory boards where they can make a difference.
  • Hire adults and volunteers who have desire and skills to connect with Millennials.

We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture.  Every older generation blames younger generations for the world’s problems.  Perhaps it’s easier to focus on all of the problems out there than actually address the mess here.


  • Focus on real solutions and real impact in our immediate community.
  • Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture.

Don’t Invite Us – Then Refuse to Talk to Us.  Many Millennials describe church experiences as “exclusive” and “cliquey.”  Until the church finds a way to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, we tell outsiders they’re better off on their own. And the truth is, many times they are.


  • Create authentic communities with shared purpose centered around service.
  • Form and train a team of people whose purpose is to seek out the outliers on Sunday mornings or during other events.  Explicitly teach people these skills as they do not come naturally to most of the population.
  • Stop blaming individuals who struggle to get connected. We have to find ways to bridge that gap.

[clickToTweet tweet=”We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. ” quote=”We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. “]

Distrust & Misallocation of Resources.  We’ve been repeatedly told to give more money to the church, but where does that money go?  Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions because we have witnessed how corrupt and self-serving they can be. We want transparency.

Why should our hard-earned dollars go towards a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community when that money could provide food, clean water, and shelter for someone in need?


  • Make financial records readily accessible. Earn our trust so we can give with confidence.
  • Create an environment of frugality.
  • Consider how church dollars could be used to serve others.

We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At.  Preaching doesn’t reach us like our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of preaching pastors all over the world at our finger tips.

Millennials crave relationships.  We are the generation with the highest percentage of fatherless homes.  We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and future.  We want real people who actually care about us.


  • Create a database of adult mentors and young adults looking for someone to walk with them.
  • Ask the older generation to be intentional about building relationships with Millennials in your church.

We Want to Feel Valued.  Churches tend to rely heavily on their young adults to serve.  In fact, we’re tapped incessantly to help out.  Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up that we aren’t good enough.

We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are.  No conditions or expectations.

We need a church that sees us and believes in us; that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams.


  • Start conversations and listen to us.
  • Go out of your way to thank people who are giving much of their lives to the church.

[clickToTweet tweet=”We need a church that sees and believes in us; that cheers us on to chase our big crazy dreams.” quote=”We need a church that sees and believes in us; that cheers us on to chase our big crazy dreams.”]

We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is).  People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image. We need role models who will speak the truth into every single one of those areas.

A sermon-series on sex is not appropriate for a sanctuary full of families, but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way to live because Millennials are starving to discuss these topics.


  • Create safe spaces for young adults to learn, grow, and be vulnerable.
  • Arrange opportunities for young adults to connect with mentors.
  • Form a young adults program that transitions high school youth through late adulthood rather than abandoning them in their time of greatest need.
  • Train young adults how to live spiritual lives instead of leaving them to fend for themselves.

The Public Perception.  It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of “church” within the community. People near a church should be thankful the congregation is part of their neighborhood. We should be serving them. As church members, we desperately need to call schools and the city, knock on doors, and ask everyone around us how we can be make their world better.


  • Call the local government and schools to ask what their needs are.
  • Find ways to connect with neighbors within the community.
  • Make your presence known and felt at city events. 

Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something).  Words without action are far worse than ignoring us completely. We hear phrases spoken in our general direction. We scrutinize every action that follows what you say (because we’re sick of being ignored and hearing broken promises).


  • Stop speaking in abstract sound bites and make a tangible plan for how to reach us.
  • If you want the respect of our generation, under promise and over-deliver.

It’s Time to Take Action.  We need to accept reality and intentionally move towards developing relationships with a generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.


  • Look at the data and take risks.  We can’t keep doing the same things and hope Millennials will magically wander through the doors.
  • Admit you’re out of your element with this generation and talk to the Millennials in your communities before they ask themselves, “What I am still doing here?”What Churches Must Do to Attract Millennials

Many Millennials are quietly, passionately, eagerly waiting for church members of all denominations to make the next move – to reach out, value them, ask questions, and listen to them. They are desperate for churches to invite them, welcome them, and assure them that their presence is important.

Jimmy Dean once said, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”   Members of 21st century churches must adapt our words, actions, behavior, and decisions to the needs of those we serve.

There are great opportunities to build relationships with Millennials in our communities. This is the right time. We are the right people to rise to the challenge.

How will you reach out and connect with a Millennial?


Do you want to know more about Millennials?  Read 9 Great Things About Millennials.

Amanda Springob is a Millennial who speaks to teens about mental health issues. Learn more about her (and watch her TED talk: Saying the Hard Things: The Power of Speaking Up).

Teens desperately want to connect with adults. Use these tools to Hear the Voices of Our Youth and start a dialogue.

Students are discussing all of the things they shouldn’t be talking about. Join the discussion with tips from Politics, God, Race, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Talk About at School.



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Teach Youth How to Communicate & Resolve Conflict

Teach Kids to Communicate & Resolve ConflictA fight erupted in the school hall and both boys had bloody noses. They had to be pulled apart by four adults. 

Mrs. Walker, the assistant principal, intervened.

“He said my cousin is stupid,” growled Michael. “No one insults my family.”

“Liar!” angrily shouted James. “I don’t even know your cousin!”

“You didn’t have to fight, James,” she scolded. “You should have told a teacher.”

“He tripped me and kicked me when I fell!” argued James. “How was I supposed to tell a teacher?”

“You’re both suspended,” she said. “Now, shake hands and apologize.”

The boys pushed their hands into their pockets and stared at the floor.

“Say ‘I’m sorry,'” she demanded. “Now!”

The boys shook hands and apologized. They were clearly not sorry, but they knew a three-day suspension would lead to a five-day suspension if they refused to follow her directions. 

The kids learned several lessons: (1) rules in school are different from rules outside of school, (2) you can’t defend yourself at school – even when you’re the victim, (3) you must apologize – even if you don’t mean it, and (4) you must shake hands – even when you don’t want to.

If we tell children and teens, “Don’t fight,” we must equip them with conflict resolution skills. If we say, “Don’t be a bully,” we must give them opportunities to practice good communication skills. If we want kids to work together as cooperative teams, we must provide them with collaboration tools.

I do not shy away from heated conversations with youth. I establish clear ground rules for discussion:

Establish Discussion Norms.  After youth brainstorm and select norms for healthy discussion and debate, I create a class contract. They sign the contract (I sign it, too) and post norms where everyone can see them. As facilitator, my role is to ask questions and moderate discussion.

Norms for communication include:

  • One person speaks at a time.
  • Listen and respond to each other with respect.
  • Ask questions when you do not understand.
  • Use “I” statements (“I think …” not “You should …”).
  • Speak from your own experience instead of generalizing.
  • Use respectful body language and nonverbal messages.

First Practice “Safe Topic” Discussions.  Practice communication skills with topics that generate less heat. Should secondary students have recess? Should we replace soft drinks in school vending machines with juice and bottled water? Skills learned during discussions about less controversial subjects prepare them for more emotionally-charged conversations.

Ask Clarifying Questions.  Avoid making assumptions when others share their points of view. Clarifying questions invite deeper discussion and promote greater understanding. For example, say “Tell me more” if you need more information. Clarifying questions let others know you’re listening and interested in what they have to say. 

There Are No Right or Wrong Opinions.  Emotions escalate quickly when individuals involved in a discussion want others to accept their opinions as their own. The goal of discussion is not necessarily to agree or share the same points of view. The goal is to discuss and listen to one another with respect.

[clickToTweet tweet=”You may be a child’s only adult example of a compassionate role model. – Julie Connor, Ed.D.” quote=”You may be a child’s only adult example of a compassionate role model. – Julie Connor, Ed.D.” theme=”style2″]

Practice What You Preach.  Adults must be good role models. If we encourage youth to demonstrate respect to one another, we must follow our own rules and show respect to children, teens, and our peers. Young people are disappointed when they see inconsistencies in our words and behavior. They model behaviors we demonstrate as leaders and mentors. You may be a child’s only adult example of a compassionate role model.

Listen.  Sometimes adults tell children and teens “You’re too young to have an opinion” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Don’t discredit what they have to say. Instead, ask good questions and invite them to explain their point of view.

Teach Youth How to Communicate & Resolve ConflictWhen I was a middle school teacher, I had a cart filled with board games in my classroom. I often replaced dice with numbered subject-related cards. Board games equip youth with many communication and conflict resolution skills. When playing a group game, kids learn and practice how to take turns, follow rules, and resolve disagreements.

As we teach children and teens how to clearly communicate and resolve conflict, we must show them how to set strong personal boundaries.

Create Clear Personal BoundariesPersonal boundaries serve as an invisible wall of protection.. They dictate what you will or won’t do and what you will or will not tolerate from others.

Many people believe “being polite” and tolerating abuse are synonymous. Don’t talk back. Be quiet. Don’t cry. Be a man. Act like a lady. As a result, they lack personal boundaries and give others permission to be verbally, physically, and/or emotionally offensive.

My grandfather was an angry, explosive, verbally abusive man. He shouted obscenities and called me vulgar names when his temper flared. When I tried to get away from him, he followed me and shouted louder. Female relatives formed a parade behind me, pleading, “Try to understand, Julie. He’s upset.” Rather than protecting me, they made excuses for his inexcusable behavior.

I had no personal boundaries as a child and teen. I believed it was my responsibility to understand individuals who were abusive. I was taught to “turn the other cheek” and forgive. I was a target for bullying. Later in life, I learned if I wanted to stop abuse, I had to change my behavior and how I reacted to it.

I no longer tolerate abusive behavior. As an adult, I am an advocate for children and teens, particularly at-risk youth, and show them how to set physical and emotional boundaries.

In an article entitled Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug, (Girl Scouts of America, 2017) the author asks, “Why is it necessary for kids to hug anyone – especially if they don’t want to?”

There are many ways children and teens can express gratitude or greet an adult. If a child doesn’t want to hug Uncle Fred, give them additional tools: a fist bump, a special handshake, a high five, or a side-to-side hug.

The same options apply after two children or teens fight or argue. Why must we insist they shake hands? Touch is intimate. They should not be forced to touch one another until they’re ready.

Here are some simple tips that will help you show children and teens how establish healthy boundaries:

Calm down.  Postpone discussions when tempers flare until you feel comfortable to engage in conversation.

Explain to a child or teen, “If you feel uncomfortable talking to someone who is angry, say, ‘When I hear shouting, I feel ____ (i.e.: scared)  and I will _____ (i.e.: walk away).’” Or “I feel _____. Can we talk about this _____ (i.e.: in an hour? later this afternoon?).”

Invite discussion.  Agree to arrange time to discuss an issueFor example, “_____ happened and I would like to talk about it. I want to hear what you want to say, too.”

The other person may refuse to discuss the matter. We can’t control others. We can only control our own words and behavior.

Clearly describe the situation, how you feel, and what you need or want.  For example, “When _____ happens, I feel _____. I need _____.”  Or ask “When you call me names, I feel attacked and hurt. Saying you were only kidding doesn’t help. I want to talk in ways that doesn’t involve name-calling.”

Focus on present issues. Avoid rehashing issues from the past when discussing present concerns. Past issues unnecessarily create more conflict. Agree to talk about past issues after you resolve the present issue.

Generate solutions.  Consensus does not mean everyone involved will be happy with a solution; consensus means all persons involved agree to a solution they can live with. Collaborative brainstorming moves us out of problems and into solutions.

Express appreciation.  Show gratitude by thanking the other person for listening.

Teach Youth to Communicate & Resolve ConflictYoung people will learn not everyone will treat them with the respect they deserve. We must give children and teens tools to protect themselves from bullying or abusive behavior. 

Adult and youth bullies target individuals who (1) have weak boundaries and (2) suffer in silence. We must teach young people how to stand up to bullies.

It is pointless to worry about ways we can change others. We can only change our own words, thoughts, actions, reactions, and decisions.

When children and teens learn effective communication and conflict resolution skills, they learn to trust their own voice.

How can you discuss communication and resolve conflict skills with children or teens?


Use these tips to Create Group Norms That Build Trust.

These suggestions form How to Be a Good Role Model offer tips to offer the kind of support youth want and need.

10 Tips to Mentor Like a Superstar explain how to build healthy relationships with children and teens.

Use the tips from 8 Tips to Create Strong Personal Boundaries to create an invisible wall of protection between you and others.

Discuss sensitive issues and current events with children and teens with these suggestions from Politics, Race, God, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School.


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How to Help a Child Who is LD (Learns Differently)

How to Help a Child Who is LD (Learns Differently)Schools often assign students to learning groups. It doesn’t take kids long to figure out who belongs to which group. Like them, I understood who belonged to the butterfly group when I was a child (the smart kids) – and those who were caterpillars (kids who weren’t smart – like me).

Children often use these assumptions to define themselves.

I have a condition called amblyopia or “lazy eyes.” When I open a book, the letters on the pages overlap. It’s as if the pages were printed on clear sheets of plastic and placed on top of one another. I can read the words – it just takes me a little longer. 

I didn’t want to be a “stupid” caterpillar when I was a child. I wanted to be a butterfly. I wanted to go to college. I worked at as many jobs I could find so I could attend a university.

I liked hanging out with smart butterflies at college. Until I took a required reading exam in my freshman rhetorical writing class.  My professor pulled me aside after class one day and explained the test results showed I had the reading comprehension skills of a sixth grader. She wanted to know how long it took me to read a test.

“I have a learning disability,” I mumbled. “I’m LD.”

“Do you have any idea how smart you are?” she asked. “‘LD means ‘learns differently.’ Many students with learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence.  Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein learned differently, too. And so do you.”

Words have power.

I was so inspired by her words that I felt a responsibility to pay it forward. I became a teacher. I delivered a TED talk to inspire others who learn differently. 



Approximately five percent of students (and adults) are diagnosed with learning disabilities. Many more people unnecessarily struggle at work and in schools, but never receive a formal diagnosis.

There are many things you can do to encourage a child who learns differently. These tips help all children improve their organizational skills and boost homework success:

  1. Get organized.  Require your child to empty the backpack as soon as they get home from school and put notes from teachers and schools in a designated tray. Store all books, paper, pencils, and school supplies at a desk or special place created for learning and homework.
  2. Involve your child in the creation of a study space.  Add positive posters or decorate the space with your child’s favorite cartoon characters and heroes to make it a fun place to be! Use color to brighten the space and to color-code a system of organization for each subject (i.e.: notebooks, folders, files for homework, etc.). 
  3. Understand everyone learns differently.  Some children need quiet; others need noise (music, etc.) to concentrate. Some children review material by repeating the information out loud; some use flash cards. Many instruments such as the VARK Questionnaire define visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/physical learning styles. Use tools and provide an environment for your child that compliments his or her learning style.
  4. Make a schedule.  Help your child learn how to effectively budget their time. Assign a start time for completing homework. Organize time into manageable chunks. Design a calendar and post due dates for assignments.
  5. Record assignments.  Use an assignment notebook or an online app (such as MyHomework) to record all homework and projects.
  6. Use Online Tools.  ADDitude (Inside the ADHD Mind) suggests eight useful homework and study apps. Free apps such as 30/30 and Stay On Task will help your child organize time. StudyBlue offers tools to create flashcards and many different learning resources.
  7. Check Your Child’s Homework.  Review completed assignments with your child. Check for errors before your child gives his or her homework assignment to their teacher. 
  8. Talk to Your Child’s Teachers.  Discuss your child’s learning style and strengths with his or her teacher. Inquire how you can support learning at home. Request testing if you believe it is necessary. Ask your child’s teacher about helpful learning resources. Students experience greater success when their teachers and parents work together as a team.

You may want to enlist the help of a tutor to help your child experience specific subject-level success. Free tutoring may be available in your child’s school or in local programs. Libraries often offer tutoring services at no charge.

When I was in middle school, I was grouped with students who used the same math book for three years. I never learned how to successfully do algebra until I was an adult. I used free online tools at Khan Academy to learn how to do basic algebra.

You can learn how to do almost anything through online resources and videos available on and Udemy. Libraries often offer free links to these services.

Remember: You are not alone. LD Online offers outstanding information and many different tools for parents and primary caregivers. They offer Home-To-School Connections with effective resources, helpful articles, and a list of recommended books. They provide links to support groups and host a discussion forum.

As a parent, primary caregiver, or mentor, you are your child’s primary teacher.  Show your child how reading can be fun. Visit the library and book stores. Read to your child. Point out words on billboards and traffic signs as you drive. Discuss product labels when you shop. Play word and number games. Children are more likely to enjoy reading and writing when they see their role models reading and writing.How to Help a Child Who is LD (Learns Differently)

Most importantly, we must remind children they possess amazing gifts and talents. Create positive affirmations to boost their self-esteem. Be a role model of a positive attitude. Ask them to share their ideas and listen to their opinions.

All children begin life as caterpillars. Sometimes they forget they have wings and have the capacity to fly.

Your words are often mirrors children use to see themselves. Let’s work together to ensure they see their best selves.

In what ways can you inspire a child to see their own light?


Try some of these Fun Reading Tips Your Child Will Love.

Deepen your relationship with a special child in conversations with questions from A Survey for Adults and Children They Love.

Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to start or deepen your relationship with a child or teen.

Hear the Voices of Our Youth describes tips to invite dialogue with young people.


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A Survey for Adults and Children They Love

A Survey for Adults and Children They LoveMalala Yousafzai, human rights and education activist, said, “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” When Malala was 17 years old, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel peace prize.

Words have power. So do questions.

Steffane Wells is a teacher. One day, she asked her daughter, Lucy, the following questions that have been circulating in various forms on Facebook since 2015.  Her daughter delivered blunt, razor-sharp answers.

How would a child you love respond to these questions?

  1. What is something mom always says to you?  NO!
  2. What makes mom happy?  Childrens leaving you alone
  3. What makes mom sad?   When kids don’t leave you alone, but I just want to play on the computer!
  4. How does your mom make you laugh?  Make funny faces
  5. What was your mom like as a child?  The same as me
  6. How old is your mom?  32
  7. How tall is your mom?  You are super big, you’re big.
  8. What is her favorite thing to do?  Sleeping
  9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?  You go to sleep.
  10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?  Singing, dancing, um – a rockstar!
  11. What is your mom really good at?  You are really good at cartwheels a long time ago. You were really good. You are also really good at exercising. That’s all I know. Please mommy, please mommy, please can I play on the computer?
  12. What is your mom not very good at?  You’re not very good at yelling, working (hahahaha!). You’re not very good at video games.
  13. What does your mom do for a job?  You do for a job you work at Southwood Middle School. Is that right?
  14. What is your mom’s favorite food?  Salad. You love salad!
  15. What makes you proud of your mom?  Mostly what makes you proud of me is being nice to me.
  16. If your mom were a character, who would she be?  You would be Sofia. No, you would be, no, ummm, Ariel. No, you would be Sofia … Sofia … NO! You would be Belle, Momma.
  17. What do you and your mom do together?  Watch movies. We do games. We go outside and play.
  18. How are you and your mom the same?  Because we both have blond hair with pink and purple and a little bit of brown in our hair. We both like purple. Right? I like purple. You like purple.
  19. How are you and your mom different?  Um, you like just purple and I like a lot of colors. You work a lot and I play a lot.
  20. How do you know your mom loves you?  It’s because I was adorable when I was a baby. Can I please play on the computer?
  21. What does your mom like most about your dad?  He’s handsome.
  22. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?  Taco Bell? I don’t know where you like to go. Where do you like to go?
  23. How old was your Mom when you were born?  You were 40 … no, you were, uh … how old are you?  You were 31. You were 31. Were you? How old were you? I think you were … does 50 go after 30?

I asked Steffane, “How old is your daughter?”

“Lucy is 5 1/2. (Don’t forget the half. She is very particular about that 1/2),” proudly laughed Steffane. “She is the most honest child I have ever met. She’ll answer anything. She’ s a lot like me when I was young.”

Jesus once said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” (Mark 10: 14). I believe children and their innocent, refreshingly perceptive view of the world reveals ways we can experience a little slice of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

If you would like to learn more about your child’s unique point of view, start a conversation using some (or all!) of the questions listed above. You can replace the word “mom” with “dad” or your name – or someone else’s name.

These questions are particularly memorable as:

  • a Mother’s or Father’s day gift.
  • a birthday present for a special adult.
  • a keepsake.
  • a reflection about someone who passed away from a child’s point of view.
Questions lead to conversations with your child that open a window into thoughts rolling around in that powerful little mind.
How do you think a child you love will respond to questions about you and the relationship you share?
Reading is an activity that increases your child’s vocabulary and deepens your relationship. Find Fun Reading Tips Your Child Will Love.
Have you ever wondered What Color Is God?  When children discuss spiritual questions, adults should listen to their responses.

Read powerful storytelling experiences from urban junior high students in Voices in the City School.

Kids are talking. Are you listening? Start a conversation with a child or teen with more tips from Hear the Voices of Our Youth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” Remember How to Play and Have Fun with these suggestions.


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9 Great Reasons to Love Millennials

9 Great Reasons to Love Millennials“We’re the generation everyone loves to hate, amirite?” writes Paige Stanard, journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “With our ‘stupid iPhones’ and our apps and our selfies and our social networks and our ‘narcissism,’ we’re labeled as the least patriotic generation, as racists, as the least informed generation and many more stereotypes. However, I believe us to be the most patriotic generation, the least racist, the most accepting, and the most informed generation (because of our stupid social media and apps).”

Take that, anyone who is not a Millennial.

Millennials (or Generation Y or the Net Generation) are the young men and women who matured into adulthood at the beginning of the 21st century. They are the children of the Baby Boomers or Generation X. Millennials were born between 1980-2000.

“We get used to hearing things about our generation such as ‘They act so entitled’ or ‘All they want to do is play on Facebook or Instagram,'” Paige explains.

Millennials were born at a time when parents wanted to provide their children with structure and protection to keep them safe. Their parents embraced family values and devoted more time and attention to rearing their children. 

Academic achievement was a hot topic of debate when Millennials were old enough to attend school. Their parents demanded proof from schools that showed instructional excellence. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) required increased academic testing; educators used assessment results to drive instruction and provide evidence of learning mastery. Politicians showcased their efforts to address issues that impacted the lives of children and teens. 

More Millennials choose to live at home after they graduate from high school or college than previous generations. And, in many circumstances, their parents enjoy having their presence at home.

Although Millennials are often labeled as a generation reared to develop a sense entitlement, a Pew report revealed that 49 percent of Millennials consider themselves to be members of the lower- or lower-middle class. Home mortgage debt was replaced by burdens of large college debts. Although their generation is misunderstood and criticized, they remain brazenly optimistic – even though they are generally less economically successful than their parents’ generation.

Paige Stanard provides a list of some of the many reasons to love Millennials:

  1. We are accepting of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. We’re really just overall more accepting of all kinds of people, no matter what color their skin is, how they dress or what religion they are.
  2. We are an effortlessly tech-savvy generation of “Lord of the Ring” nerds, software engineers and gamers. Being intelligent and geeky is cool.
  3. We care about helping others, whether that is going on mission trips, joining the Peace Corps or taking volunteer vacations. Because we’re so exposed to the hurt in the world through our social media and the Internet, I think our generation more than others has a true heart for doing good.
  4. We love to learn and have intellectual discussions about everything from Syria to Star Wars. We aren’t afraid to chase our dreams, start our own companies, or even quit our tedious day jobs for lesser-paying ones that (gasp!) make us happy.
  5. We’re less concerned with conventional success and monetary restraints and more concerned with finding enjoyment and fulfillment with our careers. Why this is considered a negative trait, I don’t know.
  6. We’re quick learners and highly adaptable when it comes to our careers. Oh, there’s a new social media site? We’re on it.
  7. We’re more conservationally-minded — recycling, eating organic, re-purposing or riding bikes instead of driving cars — the list goes on.
  8. We’ve thrown out old-fashioned, sexist dating norms and gender roles. And in doing so, we’ve freed ourselves from the old-fashioned ideals of marriage and family to create our own love-filled relationships.
  9. Are we cheap? If that means being penny-pinchers by thrift store shopping and DIYing instead of going into debt like our parents by buying fancy new cars and extravagant houses, then yes. We are thrifty.

Margaret Rouse, writer and director of, reports Millennials have the least faith in U.S. institutions. They also show the highest support of political independents and protestor-formed governments. She adds, “Although Millennials have less faith in religious institutions, at the same time the numbers have also risen for those who have absolute faith in the existence of God.”

Rouse explains the words and actions of many church representatives clash with the Millennial ideal of tolerance for religious, racial, gender, sexual orientation differences. They are concerned about social justice and refuse to support institutions with values and messages that conflict with social and economic equality. 

Twenty percent of Millennials have at least one immigrant parent. “As the most ethnically diverse generation, Millennials tend to be tolerant of multicultural and socioeconomic differences.” explains Neil Howe, contributing writer to Forbes. “Millennials grew up in an electronics-filled and increasingly online and socially-networked world.”

Many people look at Millennials and assume, because their busily engaged with technology, that they are tuned-in to their techno-devices and turned-off by everything going on around them. Although mobile devices offer detours and provide users with a means of escape, many older adults often incorrectly assume Millennials are more interested in connections with their cell phones than in personal face-to-face conversations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Millennials are starving for opportunities to build relationships – with older adults and with one another.

Technology will continue to impact the lives of future generations, our communities, and our planet.  The Centre for Research, Innovation and Future Development at St. Paul’s School, Australia, created a powerful video, Did You Know That in 2028?  It statistically illustrates the changing landscape of technology and its impact on our lives as a global community.



Millennials are students of 21st century education; they attended schools at a time when technology became important learning tools in classrooms. Furthermore, when their computers or devices don’t function properly, the techno-savvy Millennials often know how to troubleshoot and solve problems with little assistance.

“So, maybe, Millennials aren’t so bad, after all,” concludes Ms. Stanard. “And perhaps, we are exactly what this country needs right now. I mean, after all, the future of this country rests in our hands.”

The Millennials – and the next generations of young adults – are more than the future. They are our present with gifts, talents, and insights that are collectively valuable to all of us.  We must do more than tell young adults that we value their gifts. We must invite them into full participation within our organizations, churches, and work places. We must involve them. We must honor their leadership gifts. We must ask for their input. We must start conversations with them. We must listen

As we evolve into a global community, our Millennials need previous generations to be strong role models and mentors. Future generations will look to the Millennials to light the way for others.

What can you do to more fully understand and connect with Millennials?


Are young people tuned in or turned off by conversations with folks from older generations? Read Teens & Technology: Tuned In or Turned Off?

Encourage Millennials to explore their passions. Discover 7 Reasons Why You Need a Dream.

Use these suggestions explore What’s Your Dream? and create a strong vision, mission, and goals.

Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to pump up the example you want be to inspire Millennials.


Disclaimer:  This site contains affiliate links to products.  I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.  I only promote products I use and highly recommend.  My full disclosure is here.


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How to Build a Collaborative Youth Leadership Team

"How to Build a Collaborative Youth Leadership Team"“Effective leadership is putting first things first,” insisted Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“What you do has far greater impact than what you say.”

About 30 years ago, a group of teachers, youth ministers, coaches, and I wanted to empower teens in our states with collaborative leadership skills.  There were different models that provided teens with leadership training, but we lacked a model that equipped organizations with sustainable tools that allowed teens to use their leadership skills. 

I was on a mission to figure out how to empower adults with the tools they needed to encourage youth to be leaders without controlling or blocking their efforts.

Our leadership team hosted an annual leadership institute for teens.  We invited youth throughout the Midwest to learn leadership tools and practice the skills in small group settings.  Throughout the course of the week, teens learned how to:

Though I presented sessions on communication skills during the week-long training, my primary role was to be a mentor to a small group of teens.  The youth teams used collaborative skills of planning and consensus to make decisions to complete leadership projects.

The roles of the small group mentors were less well-defined.  We were instructed not to interfere with youth team planning.  We were to be encouraging chaperones.  Whenever I chimed in to ask a question during the teens’ discussions, they snapped, “It’s our role to do the planning.”

And they were right.  Their role was to plan.  My role as an adult mentor?  I wasn’t so sure.

If adults do not have clearly defined roles when working with youth leadership teams, they will define the roles for themselves.  Some adults become dictators; forcing their own agenda throughout the youth planning process.  Some adults are primarily concerned about being their friends; often causing more disruptive discipline problems than the kids.  It is not the fault of the adults when they try to control or entertain teens – it’s a program issue that lacks a clear role definition for participating adults.

One day, I figured out my role with the youth leadership team while they argued about a project decision.  Three of the teens shouted at one another as they defended their opinions about the direction of the project.  The others shut down and refused to participate in the discussion.

“Let’s go back to our group norms,” I said.  “What can we do to think win-win?”

“No disrespect intended, Julie, but you’re not supposed to tell us what to do,” interrupted Elizabeth.  “It’s our job to plan.”

They told us you’re not supposed to talk because you’re not a member of our group,” Andy added.

I decided it was time to add a rule of my own to the small group planning process.

“All of us in this room have very important roles on this leadership team,” I answered.  “Your role is to plan.”

“Yes!” they agreed.  “Our role is to plan.”

“I am a member of our leadership team, too, but my role is different,” I continued. “Your role is to plan. My role is to ensure we use the tools of teamwork and consensus and I will call you on it every time.”

The room got very quiet.  Then it exploded with new energy.

Their roles were clear.  My role was clear.  I wasn’t the dictator.  There was no need for me to withdraw from the planning.  I didn’t try to be their friend.  I was their adult mentor.  In this role, the teens felt comfortable focusing on planning.  They became more committed to their norms and agreements to use their communication tools.  They knew I would draw them back to the consensus planning process – not by interrupting their planning, but by asking questions that were firmly rooted in Sean Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens:

  • What can we do to be proactive?  How do we take responsibility for our actions?  How do we make choices based on principles and values?  How do we create an inside-out approach to change something and make it better?
  • How can we begin with the end in mind?  What is our vision?  What is our mission?  How are our goals aligned with our vision and mission?  Do we have a clear purpose?  How are we physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to begin with the end in mind?
  • What must we do to put first things first?   Stephen Covey believed, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  What are our most important priorities?  What must we do to organize and execute our plans? What tasks must we complete to reach our goals?
  • In what ways can we think win-win?   How can we change our thoughts and behaviors in ways that reflect mutual respect for one another?  How can we resolve conflict in ways that allow everyone to feel heard and part of the solution?  How will we come to consensus? 
  • How do we seek first to understand, then to be understood?   How can we be better listeners?  What must we do to focus on what is being said (rather than planning our next response)?  What questions should we ask to understand one another more fully?  How can we respond with kindness when we don’t agree with someone else’s opinion?
  • How can we synergize?  When we work to come to consensus, we try to find a solution that benefits everyone. How can we recognize each other’s individual strengths?  What can we do to strengthen cooperation and teamwork?  How can we find creative solutions as a team?
  • What must we do to sharpen our saws?   Do we remember to take care of ourselves?  Do we care for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health?  Do we celebrate our successes as a team?  Do we make time to have fun?

Many of the teens on my first peer leadership team did not recognize their leadership potential.  Unlike many high school councils and honors, the teens did not vote on members to represent them on our team.  I identified peer leaders who possessed unique leadership skills and had influence across diverse groups.  They were grateful I recognized their leadership potential.

Elizabeth understood how to rally a team into action.  Terrill was a wonderful listener.  James had an innate ability to sum up important highlights of a conversation.  Katie kept us on task.  Andy was a tremendous small group facilitator.  Tatiana was an excellent recorder and possessed fantastic organizational skills.  Our leadership team needed the gifts of every member to be a strong collective whole.

In the years that followed, the teens acknowledged and celebrated leadership gifts in one another.  They created projects and committees that invited all teens in our community to share their individual leadership gifts.  They became members of the youth leadership training team.  Our leadership training processes became a model many schools, churches, and community organizations wanted to emulate.

It is exciting when teens empowered with leadership skills are invited to represent their peers on church, school, and community leadership teams with adults.  However, young leaders expect adults to lead by example.  The teens serving on adult committees often asked me, “How come we have to follow the rules of consensus and collaboration and the adults don’t have to?”

“Because you have leadership skills and training,” I answered.  “Go and be role models.”

Collaborative leadership, at its best, empowers all participants to use their personal gifts in ways that benefit the entire group.  A collaborative leader asks insightful questions, listens, and invites members of the group to be part of mutual decisions.  A collaborative leader is a torch with a vision who lights the way for others.

“A leader is someone who has insight or unique skills that allow him to guide others to reach a collec"How to Build a Collaborative Teen Leadership Team"tive goal,” explains Samhita Roy, a high school graduate from Princeton, New Jersey. “Leading is not managing, supervising, or an objective.  Rather, it’s the demonstration of qualities that allow leaders to bring clarity and insight, which open new approaches for the group to follow.”

When we demonstrate respect for our youth through our words, actions, and leadership skills; when we provide training and mentoring; when we invite them into full involvement within our communities, they will come – and they will eagerly participate.  And they will bring their friends.  Their friends will bring their parents and curious adults.  That’s how organizations grow. 

That’s how youth leaders become community leaders, national heroes, and role models.

P.S.  Elizabeth is now Director of Youth & Adult Formation at a church.  Andy is a special education teacher.  Terrill is a mental health therapist.  Tatiana is a school district professional development director.  Now they’re preparing the next generation of youth leaders.  

How can you inspire leadership in others?

Try these 10 Tips to Mentor Like a Superstar if you want to build a relationship with a teen who needs you.

These suggestions explain What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay) in your organization.

Learn How to Be a Good Role Model with these tips.

Discover Why We Must Talk to Young People about Their Dreams.

Use these suggestions explore What’s Your Dream? and create a strong vision, mission, and goals.

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10 Tips to Mentor Youth Like a Superstar

10 Tips to Mentor Like a Superstar

Teens are starving for attention from an adult who believes in them.

A  teen who doesn’t have a healthy relationship with an adult often lacks confidence. They are less likely to develop communication and social skills needed to establish strong personal boundaries because no one is available to be a role model. They have no one to turn to for guidance when they’re suffering and need to talk.

Teens who lack the presence of a significant adult in their lives are targeted for bullying more often than peers who have strong adult support. Many teens find support they crave through participation in gangs. They are 80 percent more likely to struggle with depression and six times more likely to attempt suicide (NCBI, 2013). 

The good news is this: Our kids don’t have to drown in silent desperation. Youth motivational speaker, Josh Shipp, believes, “Every kid is ONE caring adult away from being a success story.” A mentor is a torch who helps kids see into their futures. Mentoring offers emotional support, guidance, and encouragement for lonely youth. 

[clickToTweet tweet=”A mentor is a torch who helps kids see into their futures. – Julie Connor, Ed.D.” quote=”A mentor is a torch who helps kids see into their futures. – Julie Connor, Ed.D.”]

Youth mentoring is a process of matching young people with a caring adult. Adult mentors are usually unrelated to the child or teen and work as volunteers through community-, school-, or church-based programs.

Training is essential to the mentor preparation process. Not every volunteer possesses the qualities, emotional stability, or skills to be a mentor. The most successful mentoring programs interview potential mentors and offer mentor training. They consistently check in with mentors and mentees to monitor progress and track feedback.

The Effective Strategies for Providing Quality Youth Mentoring in Schools and Communities series provide mentoring program coordinators and mentors with tools to build quality mentoring programs. They outlined 10 tips for adults who want to be successful youth mentors:

  1. Build relationships grounded in trust. Many teens without mature role models are suspicious of adults. Do not try to become your mentee’s best friend or substitute parent. Mentors are positive role models who invite open communication and mutual respect.
  2. Create realistic goals and expectations. Do not expect your mentee to confide in you right away. Ask questions; get to know your mentee. As your relationship grows, your mentee will feel more comfortable sharing his or her life with you. 
  3. Have fun together. Find out what kind of activities your mentee enjoys. Go bowling or watch a good movie. Shoot some hoops. Play miniature golf. Walk through a mall or grab a snack at a food bar. You need not spend a lot of money to build a strong mentor/mentee relationship; what’s most valuable is your investment of time. Need more ideas? Try one of these suggestions from 100 Ideas to Use When Mentoring Youth.
  4. Discuss decisions about activities with your mentee. Some teens may be shy to suggest ideas because they don’t want to appear rude or needy. Others are content to let you make the decisions, especially in the beginning stages of your relationship. When you ask your mentee for input, this shows you value his or her ideas.
  5. Allow your mentee to reveal personal information when they are ready. Give your mentee permission to reveal how much (or how little) information they wish to share with you. Remind them that they can share with you without fear of judgement.
  6. Listen. When you ask questions and listen, you give mentees permission to share their stories and personal experiences without criticism. Ask one of these questions if you are not sure how to launch a conversation with your mentee.
  7. If a mentee asks for advice, focus on solutions. Allow your mentee time to release uncomfortable emotions if they need to vent, but encourage him or her to consider their options. When they focus less on what they can’t control and shift their attention to those areas within their control: including their own thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions, they reclaim their personal power. Don’t get stuck in the problem; consider solutions. 
  8. Be positive. Briefly share your own experiences to demonstrate empathy, but your time together is not about you – it’s about your mentee. Do not bog down your time or monopolize conversations with stories about your struggles when you were growing up. If your mentee feels “stuck,” remind him or her they can change their perspective by changing their thoughts.
  9. Your primary relationship is with your mentee, not their parents or family members. Do not try to act as an intermediary between your mentee and family. Resist efforts as a mentor to be drawn into parental or familial issues. Discuss matters of concern with your program director.
  10. It is your responsibility to set a good example as a mentor. Your mentee will lose trust in you if you can’t be depended upon to honor your commitments. Decide upon consistent times to talk or meet with your mentee. Show up on time. Your lack of commitment can be devastating for the young person you offered to support. If you are unsure about the time or emotional commitment you have to share with a child or teen, do not volunteer to be a mentor until you are confident you can fulfill the responsibilities.

“Whoever it may be, you have the power to make a positive and significant difference in their lives,” insists Josh Shipp. “Do for ONE kid what you wish you could do for ALL kids.”

These are Josh’s suggestions for effective mentoring.

Step 1:  Find out what they’re into.

Step 2: Spend time doing what matters to them because they matter to you.

Step 3: Your investment of time will lead to influential conversations

"10 Tips to Mentor Youth Like a Superstar"The following organizations offer outstanding mentoring resources:

The presence or absence of a consistent, caring adult in a young person’s life often determines whether they thrive or drop out of school; whether they dream and believe in their unlimited potential or feel hopeless without a future. As a mentor, you will have many opportunities to close this gap and ensure someone has the support needed to be optimistic and excited about his or her own life. One young person at a time.

How has an adult positively impacted your life? In what ways can you pay it forward?


Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to consider ways you can inspire teens.

If you’re wondering how to start a conversation with a teen, consider these tips from Why We Must Talk to Young People About Their Dreams.

Children and teens are talking. Using these tips to encourage dialogue and Hear the Voice of Our Youth.

Teens are talking about all kinds of issues (with or without adult permission). Join the discussion with suggestions from Politics, God, Race, Sex, & Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School.

If you want to involve more young people in your organization, check out these tips from What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay).


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Interview with Amanda Springob: Mental Health Youth Speaker

Amanda SpringobInterview with Amanda Springob: Mental Health Youth Speaker is a vivacious college student and motivational speaker. Throughout high school, she lived a double life. Although she was a successful and popular student, it wasn’t until she conquered internal conflicts of depression and anxiety that she found the secret to living in this awkward, confusing, beautiful world.
Now, she offers powerful insight to teens and teachers. Amanda shows youth how to lead empowering lives and gives educators a glimpse into the mind of a millennial. She speaks to thousands of junior high, high school, and college students at educational conferences and school assemblies.
I met Amanda through a social media group for professional youth speakers called YSU.BSP (Youth Speaker University – Back Stage Pass). The Facebook group was created by Josh Shipp, founder of Youth Speaker University. I was impressed by Amanda’s honesty, integrity, as well as her passion for speaking, commitment to inspiring youth and adult audiences, seasoned communication skills, and mental health issues knowledge.
What led to your decision to become a public speaker?
I kind of fell into this path accidentally! I was the president of a leadership group in high school and we decided to do an anti-bullying campaign. We were looking for a speaker to talk about their experiences with bullying as a kickoff event. I loved TED talks and performing – and I had plenty of experiences with bullying as a victim and a perpetrator. I allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of my whole high school by telling my story. People really loved it and my school asked me to repeat it for our junior high. Later, I spoke at a conference for school counselors and made connections with other schools. I’ve pursued this career because I can use my voice to help those who are afraid to speak. This has become bigger than I could’ve imagined and I hope to continue on this path. I hope to reach as many people as possible to spread the word about causes that I’m passionate about.
What unique message do you have to share with the world?
For youth, I tell them it’s okay to be imperfect, messy, and vulnerable. I want to let them know that their issues matter, even if people tell them they’re just being “hormonal” or “melodramatic.” I want them to know that flaws are not something to hide, and that they don’t divide us – they bring us together and give us strength in numbers. Instead of trying to be perfect, we should learn the benefits of being boldly and proudly weak.
I want adults to know that teens are smarter than we think. It can be hard for us to remember what it’s like to be fifteen and falling in love for the first time or seventeen and taking the ACT. I think sometimes adults get so caught up in their own stressors that they invalidate teenage experiences. All struggles matter – age doesn’t define how deeply we hurt. When I speak, I deliver a message for students, but I want to provide teachers with insight and let them see inside a millennial mind. In this way, educators learn to more deeply connect with their students. 
What message do you believe young people need to hear? What tools can you provide?
I think young people need to know that imperfection is perfect. A big part of this comes with learning how to be patient, trust the process of life, and have faith that everything will work out as long as we constantly strive for growth. There will always be bumps in the road, but if we persevere and learn from our experiences, they can become opportunities instead of setbacks. 
I started a blog and YouTube channel called A+ Life. This toolkit informs teens and teachers about mental health, adolescence, and resilience. Every month, we focus on a specific theme (past topics include relationships and imperfection), and use videos, blog posts, and other resources to view different perspectives on that topic. This content is designed to help teens understand their present, help teachers understand their past, and move everyone toward a more constructive future. You can find out more at the A+ Life website.
What childhood and teenage experiences had the most impact on your decision to be a speaker and mental health advocate?
I have been a perfectionist my entire life. While this attribute empowered me with determination and fantastic work ethic, it also made me incredibly insecure and a victim of crippling anxiety. In school, people called me “Miss Perfect.” I was a leader in multiple clubs, starred in plays, and sang solos in choir. I took AP classes and dance classes – but, inwardly, I was a mess. I spread myself way too thin and I couldn’t afford to make errors. When I made minor mistakes, it haunted me for days. I overcompensated by taking on more work for myself. I buried my imperfections with a spotless reputation.
My preoccupation with perfection stemmed from the fact that I was incredibly insecure. I hated the way I looked and I assumed no one would ever find me attractive. Much to my surprise, a boy I liked for years asked me out when I was fifteen. He was stunningly handsome and I deemed him to be the most perfect person I’d ever met. Over the course of two years, we had an on-again, off-again relationship in which I experienced sexual assault, toxicity, and became even more insecure about myself. By the time the relationship ended for good, I felt worthless. 
Eventually, I discovered cognitive behavioral therapy and was forced to confront my emotions and insecurities. I had closed myself off from being honest with people for so long that this seemed impossible for me, but the more I began to speak up and share my story with others, the more I realized that people loved the real me more than I ever considered they would. This experience is what made me want to talk about mental health – because learning to share my story was what saved me in the first place.
What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am extremely grateful for, humbled by, and proud of the things I’ve done. Not many 20 year-olds can say they’ve given a TED talk or started a profitable business. As a die-hard perfectionist, I’m never satisfied. Some might perceive that as greed, but I see it as a reminder to never stop growing. To put a cap on my work and say “this is my biggest accomplishment” assumes that my peak has already passed. I’m only 20 and I don’t want to peak for a long time! I am always proud of something when it happens – like my TED Talk or getting good press – but, I don’t rest on my laurels. I use past accomplishments to motivate me to do the next big thing. 
What is your biggest career dream? 
I have dozens, but my biggest career dream would be to appear on Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions. I cry just watching people speak on this show. I think if I got the chance, I’d have to have doctors on hand to catch me if I fainted.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d tell her to stop searching for perfection and instead search for self-acceptance. I’d tell her to be proudly weak: humble enough to admit flaws, but bold enough to stand tall, anyway. I’d teach her to find beauty in being unencumbered, unapologetic, and unafraid to be herself; to realize that people aren’t broken, but beautifully imperfect.
How would your friends describe you in three words?
Accomplished, professional, and stylish. 
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Anxious, sensitive, and creative.
What do you wish people knew about you that they may not know?
I am a duck – no matter how clean and precise I look on the surface, I am frantically paddling underwater. It’s funny – I talk about dropping the guise of perfection because many people still tell me I’m “perfect.” They look at my accomplishments or hear my speeches and assume I’ve had my happy ending. To that, I say “Um, NO.” There is no happy ending because life keeps going. Yes, I can stand on a stage and tell a story about a boy who did me wrong and how I still came out on top, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t times where I fall back to the bottom. I wish people knew that mental illness will never stop being a part of me – I still deal with it all the time and have even returned to counseling multiple times. What has changed is that it’s still a part of me, but not the part I define myself by. I’ve learned to stop chasing happy endings and find joy in the process of life. I wish people knew that I’m still learning and I always will be.
What is your favorite quote?
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. – Neale Donald Walsch.
Do you have a role model?  Who is it and why?
I have a lot of role models! I really love passionate people: Lin Manuel-Miranda, Emma Stone, Beyonce, and Michelle Obama come to mind. I think the people I look up to are unapologetically themselves. They’re not “too cool” to get excited about things. You can see it in their eyes when they talk about what they love – that spark empowers me to continue to do what I love.
Glennon Doyle Melton also inspires me. She is a self-help author and all-around brilliant human being. Her TED talk got me through a lot and was a big motivator for me to apply to give a talk. I met her in September on her speaking tour and it was the most magical and tearful (I was blubbering) experience of my life.   
Do you believe you are a role model?
I hope I am! The anxious, insecure side of myself wants to say “no,” but the empowered, self-love-y side of me knows to say “yes.” I don’t think I’m spotless, but I hope young people look at what I’ve tried to do and feel empowered to make a difference in their lives or in someone else’s life. I’m not always sure of myself, but I know I can create beautiful things and I hope that’s empowering to others. 
What impact do you hope to have on the world?
No matter what I end up doing professionally, I want to teach people to be kind. I think so many problems are rooted in low-self esteem that we project onto others who then project that onto others. If we learn to love ourselves and radiate positivity, it can change people for good. Sometimes our hearts are hardened, but I truly believe genuine kindness can change the world. We can break the cycle of toxicity by spreading love above all else.
Are you optimistic about the future?
I believe we have to be optimistic. When I expect the worst, I get the worst. But when I have a good attitude and persevere even when I’m frustrated, things tend to be okay. I believe positivity brings positive experiences even when things aren’t perfect. Complaining and dread make us feel unnecessarily bad. Why not feel good instead? 
Many young people feel discouraged about pursuing their passions. Why do you think that is?  What is your advice to teens with a dream?
I think people get discouraged because failure is a very scary thing! When you pursue a goal, you’re aiming at something you love knowing that it could end up falling flat on its face. If we live in fear of failure, we stay comfortable in our little comfort zones where life is boring and we never learn anything. I urge teens to make themselves uncomfortable. Do scary things. Ask people for help. Invest your time in the things you want to pursue. Take risks and make leaps. Don’t let the threat of loss stop you from getting a win. Everything is going to be twisty, turny, and it will never stop being that way, but you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t start the journey. 
Amanda shared her coming of age story in a TEDxUWMilwaukee presentation called Saying the Hard Things: The Power of Speaking Up. She detailed the highs and lows of her teenage life in her relationships with men, depression, and small-town fame.


By sharing her personal experiences with depression, toxic romantic relationships, and insecurities, Amanda teaches teens that anything is possible through honesty, self-acceptance, and kindness. Amanda is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she studies Communication. Visit Amanda Springob’s website for more information.

What unique gifts do you want to share with the world?


Teens desperately want to connect with adults. Use these tools to Hear the Voices of Our Youth and start a dialogue.

Students are discussing all of the things they shouldn’t be talking about. Join the discussion with tips from Politics, God, Race, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Talk About at School.

A positive attitude is a choice. Choose optimism and read 8 Ways to Feel More Positive.

Your thoughts impact your life. Use these tips from Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle and try on an attitude of a abundance.

If your confidence needs a boost, find inspiring suggestions from Stand Tall With Confidence.



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Word Wars: Redefining “Feminism” and “Equality”

Word Wars: Defining "Feminism" & "Equality"The word “feminism” stirs up a war of emotion based on one’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of the word. , a public opinion polling expert, conducted a large-scale survey to examine how men and women define “feminism.” Many of the participants in her poll called feminism “liberal,” “stupid,” “radical,” and “extreme.”

Few of the participants claimed to support feminism beliefs – before they heard a dictionary definition of the word. Frankovic said, “Most people don’t want to call themselves feminists – but many people change their minds when feminism is associated with equality.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines feminism as “the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.”

In an Economist/ poll, Frankovic asked participants, “Do you consider yourself a feminist or not?” Seventy-five percent of the poll participants said they were not feminists. She shared with the participants a definition of feminism as “someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Given that definition, she repeated the question. Upon hearing a definition of feminism, 60% of the poll participants agree they were feminists, 40% said they were not.

“Today, gender bias continues to create huge barriers for many women,” contends the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Ongoing struggles include ensuring equal economic opportunities, educational equity, and an end to gender-based violence.” Though there has been remarkable progress in gender equality throughout the last 150 years, women continue to face discrimination, violence, and institutional obstacles that block educational, employment, and leadership opportunities. 

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights,” says political activist Gloria Steinem. She adds, “The art of acting morally is behaving as if everything we do matters.” Equality strengthens the relationships between all of us.

Contributions of women across professions – including engineering, mathematics, literature, science, and government – inspire men, women, and most importantly, our children. These words of inspiration from strong men and women offer universal encouragement and support full equality of our entire citizenry:

The earth is the mother of all people and all people should have equal rights upon it. – Chief Joseph

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

Gender equality is not a woman’s issue. It is a human issue. It affects all of us. – Elizabeth Nyamayaro

I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side. – Maya Angelou

[clickToTweet tweet=”Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man. – Margaret Mead #quote #inspiration #equality” quote=”Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man. – Margaret Mead”]

It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are. –Emma Watson

No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens. – Michelle Obama

The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all. – Aung San Suu Kyi

No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. – Muhammad Ali Jinnah

"Word Wars: Redefining Feminism & Equality"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. – Bryant H. McGill

Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.  – Francis Wright

We are not created equal. We are are not carbon copies of one another. Each one of us possesses a unique set of gifts and talents. We also have individual challenges and personal hardships.

Every new day provides us with opportunities to share our strengths and face challenges – together. When we support and encourage each other, we have opportunities to celebrate greater equality and mutual respect.

What can you do to think and act in ways that reflect a vision of equality?


Kids and teens talk about controversial subjects at school.  Join the conversation with tips from Politics, God, Race, Sex, & Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School.

Some people (like me) don’t have children, but we can parent in unexpected ways. There’s more in Motherhood is a Matter of Perspective.

Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to examine ways you can inspire young people.

Invite teens into conversations about current issues with tips from Hear the Voice of Our Youth.

A 30-something businessman shared advice for 20 year-olds that is meaningful for seniors. Read What 50+ Women Can Learn from a 30+ Entrepreneur.


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How to Inspire Teamwork & Collaboration

How to Inspire Teamwork & Collaboration“The only place ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary,” insisted Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers. “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”

Lombardi passionately rallied team spirit and established a collaborative commitment to excellence among his players.  He believed “the achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” Lombardi insisted, “People who work together will win.”

What is Teamwork?  Teamwork and collaboration are popular buzzwords in many competitive environments. Although sports team analogies are often used in groups to encourage collaborative efforts, they are difficult to achieve without adopting the practices used by successful coaches.

Many group leaders try to generate team spirit without teaching and modeling successful collaboration to its members. Every successful sports team shares a commitment to the following habits of mind:

  1. Coaches successfully establish a vision for the team.
  2. All members of the team have a clearly-defined mission.
  3. Every player understands how their individual efforts contribute to the team’s success.
  4. Every player knows their teammates depend upon them.

Successful collaborative leaders rally teamwork among its group members to the extent that they:

  1. Communicate well-defined vision, mission, and goals.
  2. Identify the unique skills and talents of every member on the team.
  3. Support individual growth of each team member.
  4. Identify ways through which individuals successfully pursue their own goals in ways that reflect the vision, mission, and goals of the organization.

Do you have a vision?  A vision statement articulates the big idea of what you are working towards as a goal. It is a mental image of what you believe is possible. Your vision expresses how you want to be perceived in the world and the legacy you want to share with others. 

Jennell Evans, CEO of Strategic Interactions, explains that a vision is an “optimal desired future state – the mental picture – of what an [individual or] organization wants to achieve over time.” It is an expression of your core values. It should be concise and easy to remember.

Where do envision you or your group will be in one, two, five, or ten years? If you can’t clearly describe where you are headed, how can you expect your team to get there?

"How to Inspire Teamwork & Collaboration"What is Your Mission?  A mission statement is an action statement that reflects your vision. It clarifies (1) what you want to do, (2) who you do it for, and (3) how you do what you do. It expresses how your purpose distinguishes you from others.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explained that vision and mission statements are “more powerful more significant, more influential, than the baggage of the past, or even the accumulated noise of the present.” Strong vision and mission statements provide you with clear direction.

Does your mission align with your vision? Are members of your team aware of your mission? Do they see its value? Do they know how their individual efforts contribute to the mission?

Align Your Goals with Your Vision and Mission.  Many teams waste tremendous amounts of time because they over-focus on the completion of daily tasks without ensuring their contributions are aligned with their vision and mission. Goals without a vision and mission are like arrows without a target.

Use your vision and mission to prioritize and decide which tasks to complete and the order with which you will complete them. Look at your planner, schedule, or calendar. Are you preparing to complete tasks on your agenda this week because they meet your goals – or because they are written on your calendar?

These tips from my book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide, will help you write SMART goals:

  • State each goal as a positive statement.
  • Set objective performance goals. Use action verbs that can be observed and measured.
  • Be precise. Include dates, times, and measurable information so you can track your progress.
  • Prioritize your goals. Prioritizing tasks helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many goals and draw your attention to your most important tasks.

Commit to Excellence as a Team.  “Don’t succumb to excuses,” insisted Vince Lombardi. He encouraged players to “go back to the job of making corrections and forming the habits that will make your goal possible.”

Commitment to a shared vision, mission, and goals are the foundation for strategic decision-making processes that unite members of a team. This commitment will not eliminate conflict, but it will establish a collaborative focus that rallies team spirit.

Collaboration Includes Consensus.  Building a collaborative vision and mission is more than an all-in-favor-raise-your-hands voting practice. The collaborative process of consensus creates a framework that invites full participation from group members. The more invested members of a group are to the vision of the group, the thornier a consensus process can be.  

Michael Roberto, author of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer, states that consensus “does not mean unanimity, widespread agreement on all facets of a decision, or complete approval by a majority of organization members.”  Group members may not completely agree upon all decisions; however, they concur to components they can live with.  Roberto explained, “Consensus has two critical components: a high level of commitment to a chosen course of action and a strong shared understanding of the rationale for the decision.”

This SlideShare presentation by Avinash Kumar illustrates how to use the consensus process to make group decisions.



It is not uncommon for group members to show resistance when using consensus to make decisions (especially if they are unfamiliar with the process). They sometimes complain consensus is too time-consuming or stirs up unnecessary tension. Bruce Tuckman referred to this as the “storming” process. Tuckman explained there are stages of group development (or forming-norming-storming-performing theory) that are necessary for a group to grow, face challenges, and find solutions.

I have facilitated many groups as they struggled to use consensus. They quarreled about opposing viewpoints, argued about agreed-upon norms – and eventually agreed upon decisions that included the input from all group members. I firmly believe that consensus is at the heart of successful collaboration and teamwork. 

How to Inspire Teamwork & CollaborationSuccessful Teams Commit to the Process.  Of course, not all decisions within an organization are determined by consensus. However, nothing will undermine consensus faster than leaders who insist upon forcing their own agenda upon a group. Or group members who refuse to participate in the process.

When others are silent, it does not mean they are listening.  It simply means they are not speaking. Visionary leadership and a cooperative environment supports the success of all of its members as well as the success of the group.

The collaborative process starts with dialogue. Invite your team to brainstorm and discuss ways you can more effectively collaborate as a united front. Ask questions. Listen.

Let the games begin.

How can your group build collaboration and teamwork?


Can you articulate your purpose? Use these tips to Write a Personal Purpose Statement.

Write SMART Personal Goals that clearly define your direction and launch your path to success.

Discover how to apply Napoleon Hill’s 13 Steps to Success to your own life.

Find tips from Organize Your Day & Increase Your Productivity to make the most of your valuable time.

Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, describes Why You Need a Definite Chief Aim (and how you can create one).


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Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle

Escape the Scarcity Mentality JungleYou need air to breathe. Do you worry there might not be enough air for you to survive? Do you save air because someone may take it away from you?

When you believe you have an abundant supply of resources (like air), you don’t worry whether or not it will run out – unless your supply is threatened. What if air was so heavily polluted that you needed an oxygen tank to survive? And what if there were only a limited number of oxygen tanks available? Air suddenly becomes valuable. Its scarcity generates fear because there might not be enough for everyone.

Your perceptions shape your beliefs, attitude, words, and behavior. If you have an abundance mentality, you expect to find whatever you need whenever you need it. However, if you have a scarcity mentality – if you believe there are limited resources, money, opportunities, etc. – you feel threatened and nervous about your lack of options.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, believed many people possess a scarcity mentality. He explained, “They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, that would mean less for everybody.”

John C. Maxwell, motivational speaker and leadership expert, adds that those with a scarcity mentality fear losing what little they have and believe they must protect it. They find it difficult to share with others. They are often jealous or resentful when others experience success.

An abundance mentality flows from a deep sense of personal self-worth and security. Scarcity beliefs only manifest limitations and lack; an abundance mentality welcomes possibilities and new opportunities.

Covey argued that those crippled with a scarcity mentality believe they must compete for everything – even when resources are readily available to them. They don’t see beyond their lack because their perceptions are distorted. On a social level, scarcity thinking leads to fear and suspicion. You feel threatened. You feel unsafe. You believe you must be vigilant and protect yourself because others will hurt you or take what rightfully belongs to you.

Maxwell asserts, “Leaders who allow a scarcity mindset to work its way into their culture pay a high price.” The author of How Successful People Think explains, “When resources (money, opportunity, recognition) are perceived to be limited, paranoia, fear and politics thrive.”

Escape the Scarcity Mentality JungleWhen a scarcity mentality permeates a community, people become anxious and lose faith in one another. They no longer see possibilities because they’re focused on dangers around them. They want to protect what little they have. Statements such as “We can’t welcome outsiders because they take away opportunities that belong to us” or “We want to reach our goals, but we must save our money and we can’t afford change” are examples of scarcity mentality.

Strong leaders possess an abundance mentality. Their prosperity beliefs and visionary convictions about opportunities that lie ahead inspires confidence among others.

The most effective way to nurture an abundant mentality in our communities is by individually committing to abundant thinking and maintaining a positive, abundant mindset. Maxwell offers these suggestions to nurture abundant mentality:

Expect and plan for positive outcomes.  You must decide if you want plan for the future with a clear vision or be controlled by roadblocks. Goals aligned with your vision guide your direction. Those with an abundance mentality embrace challenges and plan ways to use them to their advantage. Roadblocks are fueled by fear.

Look for opportunities. Challenges are matters of perception. You can view challenges as obstacles that block opportunities and threaten your success – or directional arrows that point towards new opportunities. You quickly find what you need when you believe it is available to you.

Remind yourself that there is more than enough. As Covey said, there is enough pie to go around. We live on a richly abundant planet. Create a personal mantra: Say “There is plenty for everyone. There is plenty for me. There is plenty for me to share.” Mike Dooley, author of Infinite Possibilities: The Art of Living Your Dreams, says, “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.”

Express gratitude to others. Let others know how much you value them. Your happiness will increase in direct proportion to the appreciation you show others. Maxwell believes an attitude of gratitude is the most effective way to create a more abundant life.

Surround yourself with positive people. I once saw these words on a poster: “You are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time.” Maxwell insists, “Mindsets are contagious.” Find a tribe with individuals who share your interests and optimistic attitude – or the optimistic mindset you want to adopt. Find a mentor. Build a support system.

Spend time in quiet reflection. Remind yourself every day of the positive blessings that fill your life. Give thanks for all of those to whom you feel grateful. Imagine all of the wonderful opportunities that are available to you. As you pray or meditate, be open to Divine guidance. Repeat positive affirmations that build your confidence.

Give more of what you want. Maxwell encourages others to “be a river, not a reservoir.” Look for opportunities to volunteer and be of service to others. Scarcity thinking leads to selfishness. Service reflects a sense of abundance.

Sometimes it is difficult to find value in difficult past experiences. Do memories from the past provide you with meaningful information that invite transformation – or do they trigger fear? Life experiences shift our perspective. When present decisions are haunted by painful memories, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again until we are willing to change our mindset and our behavior.

FEAR is an acronym that has multiple meanings, including Future Events Already Ruined, Frantic Efforts to Avoid Reality, Forget Everything is All Right – or False Evidence Appearing Real. The only way to move out of a fear is to move through it.

The most powerful words that reflect an abundance mentality are found on the Statue of Liberty. In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote:

Escape the Scarcity Mentality JungleGive me your tired, your poor.
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

These words welcomed immigrants desperate for refuge as they passed through Ellis Island to a new home in the United States. If we possess abundant thinking, we believe there is plenty available and plenty to be shared.

An attitude of abundance does more than lift your spirits – it transforms you. You become a role model. Like the Statue of Liberty, you carry a torch that inspires others.

Always believe something wonderful is about to happen.

How can you develop an abundance mentality?


Gratitude is transformative. Try these tips from How to Feel Gratitude (Even If You Don’t Want To).

A positive attitude is a choice. Choose optimism and read 8 Ways to Feel More Positive.

Stop worrying about what others think. Read Why You Need a Definite Chief Aim and focus on your own direction.

When you can’t find words to life your spirits, discover inspiration from Inspirational Quotes When You Need Hope.



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How to Manage Change (Without Chaos)

How to Manage Change (Without Chaos)Change opens an emotional can of uncertainty. Change can shake you to your core. Feelings like anxiety and confusion that result from big life transitions can paralyze your efforts to move forward.

“What you are is what you have been,” said Gautama Buddha. “What you will be is what you do now.”

Transitions push you from comfort to discomfort and dare you to adapt to change in new ways. Fortunately, wisdom from past experiences serve as your internal compass. Through change, you learn how to do new things with new tools. Change opens new doors to new opportunities.

Easier said than done.

It takes time for your emotional center to adapt to changes. Internal changes do not occur at the speed of external changes. When life transitions rattle your cage and force you to make changes in your life, you must adapt to the changing circumstances.

William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, explains that successful change takes place when you have “a clear purpose, a plan for, and a part to play” in the circumstances affecting your life. He describes three phases to successfully move through change:

  1. Release old ways of doing things. Old habits may feel comfortable, even when those habits lose their effectiveness. Recognize there is a difference between what feels comfortable and what feels familiar. Time is needed to grieve the loss of familiar ways of doing things when they may no longer serve you.
  2. Move through the in-between time to prepare for change.  Bridges calls this a “neutral time.” Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go, adds, “We may feel all alone, wondering what is wrong with us for letting go of the proverbial bird-in-hand, when there is noth­ing in the bush.” When you face uncertainty, trust there will be opportunities to discover new ideas, spark new interests, and experiment with new tools.
  3. Adjust to new beginnings. When new ways of doing things replace old habits and common rituals, you find a new identity. You feel like you are standing on solid ground again. You gain confidence when you learn new skills and new ways of adapting to the changes around you. You become more optimistic and hopeful.

How to Manage Change (Without Chaos)When you consciously accept the change around you and focus on the positive opportunities that lay ahead of you, you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Circumstances that once seemed like roadblocks become important arrows that lead you in new directions to new experiences.

Mike Dooley, author of Leveraging the Universe: 7 Steps to Engaging Life’s Magic , insists, “Our positive thoughts are at least 10,000 times more powerful than our negative thoughts.” Positive thoughts motivate you to focus on positive outcomes and repositions you to explore new experiences you might not have previously considered.

Be deliberate about what you choose to think about. Worrying is praying for what you don’t want. Escape a scarcity mentality by focusing your thoughts on what you want to experience.

If you want to experience greater happiness, consider these proactive transition tips when you experience change:

  • Begin a gratitude journal. When you feel uncomfortable thoughts creeping into your consciousness, recall those things for which you feel grateful. Gratitude shifts your focus from what you lack and welcomes greater abundance.
  • I began a gratitude journal when I experienced a tumultuous job change. I wanted to experience something new – even though I did not yet know what the next career move would be. I committed to a daily writing practice of writing 10 statements about positive blessings in my life. Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, provides wonderful gratitude journal guidance.
  • Write positive affirmations. Put the positive in your affirmation by focusing deliberate intention on desired outcomes you want to experience in your life. Affirmations are always stated in present tense; they are personal and specific.
  • A constructive affirmation such as “Lucrative opportunities always come my way” invites prosperity.  When I say “Spectacular ideas flow to me in a river of abundance,” I acknowledge creative opportunities are at my disposal whenever I am open to inspiration.
  • Do something you love to do every day. It may feel more comforting to withdraw from others or postpone the work of adapting to changes in your life, especially if you are experiencing multiple transitions. It is important to engage in activities that connect you to people and areas of your life where you feel confident, positive, and in control.
  • Transitions often make additional demands on your available time and financial resources. Set aside as little as 15 minutes a day to do something you enjoy. Focus on the time you have; not the time you do not have within your day.
  • Find support. Find a group with members who are experiencing similar changes. Many groups have directories that promote meetings, sponsor special events, and attract new members. Local libraries, community centers, churches, and online networking groups provide information and resources that connect How to Manage Change (Without Chaos)like-minded individuals in ways they can inspire and motivate one another.

In the end, the work of personal change – and how you choose to move through it – is up to you. President Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other thing” to do the work for you. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Change is not easy, but it is necessary. Dr. Chris Michaels adds, “What happens to you isn’t as important as what you become from what happened.” You may not have chosen a particular situation or circumstances, but you choose how you respond to it and move forward. 

As you look back and examine the fabric of your life and recall how you adapted to change over time, you discover you actually evolved in ways you never expected. You find that you are stronger and more resilient. That is what growth is all about.

How do you cope when you experience change?


Moving through change is easier when you have a system of support. Use these tips to Build Your Support System.

Need help expressing what you want to say? Check out How to Say What You Want & Need.

Change your direction by changing your thoughts. Read Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle.

If you need to move in new directions, try these tips to create new goals: How to Write SMART Personal Goals.

Discover 8 Ways to Feel Positive (Even When Everything Seems Wrong).


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12 Days of Christmas & Hope for a New Year

12 Days of Christmas & Hope for a New YearMy friend, Pam, asked, “What do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and a partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?”

The origins of the twelve days of Christmas are rooted in European Catholic traditions. The first of the twelve days is Christmas Day and ends on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 5th). 

The Catholic liturgical calendar was adjusted so that the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is celebrated on the first Sunday of the year. The Feast of the Epiphany now falls on the second Sunday of the year. 

No one ever said Catholic traditions and calendaring is simple. The changes, however, do not prevent anyone – or any religious affiliation – from singing The Twelve Days of Christmas every year.

Pam is a writer (among other things) and a champion inspirer who posts regularly on her blog, Destress with Joy. She recently discovered an old email written by her mother. In it, her mother answered her questions about The 12 Days of Christmas:

Many years ago, Roman Catholics were not permitted to openly practice their faith in England. Someone composed this carol for young Catholics. There was a literal interpretation of the song; but there were also hidden meanings intended to be shared by members of the church. Every element in the carol represents religious teachings and Biblical verses children could remember.

The partridge in a pear tree represented Jesus Christ.

Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testament.

Three French hens stood for Faith, Hope and Love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Four calling birds referred to the authors of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

Six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation (Genesis 1:1–2:3).

Seven swans a-swimming represented the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.

Eight maids a-milking were the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit – Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).

Eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples (Judas nor his replacement, Matthias, were included among the pipers).

Twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostle’s Creed.

“So, there is your history lesson for today!” adds Pam. “This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening.”

12 Days of Christmas and Hope for a New YearPam’s mother is no longer with her, but this email is a reminder that traditions tell a story about our faith and love is something that last forever. Our stories are a torch that connect the past with the present. 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and philosopher, said, “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

As we prepare to celebrate a New Year, we can become bogged down by the weight of darkness or embrace optimism and hope. I choose to see light. I choose to see light in others. I choose to be light for those who are afraid of the dark.

When we choose to be light – as individuals and as a global community – we have the power to change the world.

How are you a light to the world?


Are you (or someone you love) struggling to get into the holiday mood? Where Are You, Christmas? may be just the lift you need.

There are people who inspire us in unexpected places. Read about Guardian Angel in this urban school.

Teens want to connect with adults. Use these tips to discover How to Be a Good Role Model.

Thinking about your resolutions for the New Year? Discover how to How to Write Awesome Resolutions.


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How to Be a Good Storyteller

How to Be a Good StorytellerOnce upon a time, a dangerous criminal was captured by a king. He was tried for his crimes and sentenced to death. The king offered the criminal two choices: death by hanging or passage through a large iron door with no information about what’s on the other side. The criminal pointed at the rope.

As a noose was slipped around his neck, the criminal asked, “What’s behind that door?”

“I don’t understand why everyone selects the rope,” said the king, shaking his head.

“But what’s behind the door?” the criminal repeated. “Obviously, I won’t tell anyone.”

“Freedom,” replied the king, “but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope.”

You don’t expect to hear “And they all lived happily ever after” at the end of this story. You do expect the story to have significance.

As an effective storyteller, a story must lead to a deeper, more meaningful message for your listeners or the point is lost. To capture and hold the interest of your audience, remember these fundamental storytelling tips:

  1. The story must connect to the purpose of your presentation.
  2. The story must connect to your listeners’ experiences.
  3. The story must invite listeners to connect and find value in their own stories.

My first presentation as a professional speaker was about core values. 

“We know you can talk about the topic, but I was in the audience during one of your presentations about 10 years ago,” said the conference planner. “Speak from your heart. Tell your story.”

I smiled. And I was terrified. Have you ever felt two strong emotions at the same time? Have you ever hoped your facial expressions and body language didn’t reflect your apprehensions? I was prepared to deliver an academic presentation about values and choices. I was not prepared to reveal personal information about myself.

I found the courage to pass through the door of unfamiliar territory shared my experiences with depression. I revealed how ashamed and afraid I felt when I first asked for help. Although the thought of talking about my personal experiences was terrifying because I did not want to appear weak or broken in front of my listeners, it also provided an opportunity to connect the story with the purpose of the presentation: aligning one’s life purpose with one’s core values

Courage is one of my core values. Asking for help took courage. Sharing my experiences with others demanded a lot more courage.

I felt as if a noose was around my neck when I stepped to the podium to share my story. Had I not connected my experience to the purpose of the presentation, the audience would ask themselves, “Why is she telling us about this?” (or “Why does she think we care?”).

When you share your story, you sometimes straddle a very thin line between personal connection with your audience and providing too much information. The purpose of telling your story is not to focus attention upon yourself. The purpose of your story is to invite your audience to discover their own story in your experience.

“Stories always have to land on the point that you’re teaching,” insists popular motivational speaker Lisa Nichols. “Weave the message inside of the story. A good story will drive listeners to action.”

Secondly, the story must connect to your listeners’ experiences. You can inspire personal transformation within your story. You cannot Google-download transformation; it must come from deep within your authentic self.

Rick Segel is a sales expert and author of Retail Business Kit For Dummies. At a conference in England, Rick heard a speaker give a powerful presentation packed with incredible stories. The speech he heard was the same speech, word for word, delivered by the winner of the International Toastmasters contest that same year. The award-winning speech was posted on YouTube and seen by more than 10,000 viewers.

Walk your talk … not someone else’s talk. Tell your own stories.

We live in a technological age. It’s easy to take credit for someone else’s story – and easier than you think to get caught in a tangled net of plagiarism. Telling someone else’s stories and claiming them as your own will tarnish your reputation as a storyteller. Avoid legal battles of copyright violations. Believe in the strength and power of your own experiences.

Finally, your story must invite listeners to connect and find value in their own stories. Your audience must be able to relate to your experiences – or relate to the feelings you share as you describe your experiences. I can gauge if my questions or stories connect listeners with their own stories by watching their body language. If they’re nodding or laughing, they’re usually connecting.

For example, I shared the following experience when I was asked to speak at a corporate conference about marketing strategies, hidden agenda, and authenticity:

During a session break, I asked a young man about his iPad. I explained I wanted to purchase one.

He asked what kind of car I drove.

“A Toyota Scion,” I replied, confused but eager to learn more about iPads.

“Would you recommend a Scion to me?” he asked.

“Of course,” I answered, “but …”

“But you don’t know what my automobile needs are,” he replied.

He scolded me for not asking specific questions about his needs first before making a recommendation. He handed me his business card and offered to be my marketing coach. For a price.

I felt angry and told him if I needed his services, I’d ask for them. 

As I turned away, a woman behind me handed me her business card.

“Hi, my name is Lauren,” she said. “I’m a business coach.”

“Thank you very much,” I curtly replied, “but I don’t need a business coach.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she quickly replied. “I heard you speak a couple of weeks ago about core values and depression. I just wanted to let you know your words changed my life.”

Discover "How to Be a Good Storyteller"I apologized and thanked her for lessons she taught me about patience, jumping to conclusions, and living in alignment with my core values. As I retold the story at the conference, I could tell by the facial expressions of my audience that they shared my pain. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel embarrassed.

Lauren taught me a a valuable lesson about living – and speaking – in alignment with the values I embraced.

Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The art of storytelling provides listeners with meaningful opportunities to join you on your journey. The story invites us into that magical, pivotal place where we experience intimacy – and it is within those precious moments of the story where you and I are transformed.

What experiences from your life can become great stories?


Share your experiences with powerful suggestions to Craft a Story People Want to Hear.

Use these 8 Powerful Writing Tips from 8 Powerful Authors.

Move beyond feeling stuck. Transform Writer’s Block into Awesomeness.

Read powerful storytelling experiences from urban students in Voices in the City School.

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Politics, God, Race, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School

Politics, God, Race, Sex, & Other Controversial Topics Kids Talk About at SchoolKids are talking. They’re discussing politics. God. Race. Sex. And other things they shouldn’t be talking about at school. 

Teachers may redirect controversial debate unrelated to school subject matter, but that won’t silence discussion. Neither will amendments that separate Church and state nor laws that forbid exploration of science issues such as evolution and global warming.

When schools silence conversations about sensitive issues, that doesn’t mean students aren’t talking about them. It means their conversations have gone underground. And that’s a tragedy.

We are bombarded with information discussed on television, radio, social media, and in newspapers about many emotionally-charged issues that may (or may not) be grounded in fact. Young people need role models who will guide them through communication landmines that potentially explode when two or more are gathered with differences of opinion.

Conversations about race, culture, politics, religion, and gender usually surface in schools after a child, their families, their beliefs, or their culture have been ridiculed. When we refuse to give students opportunities to explore controversial issues through dialogue, we unintentionally invite them to bully one another.

Adults Fear Politically-Incorrectness.  Most adults, particularly those who work with youth, want to be culturally inclusive. At times, we tip-toe around culturally-sensitive time bombs by denying the obvious. Many teachers and youth volunteers, for example, generally agree they treat all teens the same and they do not see color or other differences among youth. (More about this in How to Heal Racism.)

When we ignore skin color, we discount a part of our own unique human identities. When we refuse to discuss issues such as race, culture, gender, politics, or religious practices, we miss priceless opportunities to learn about the experiences of others. Authentic conversations are not possible until we honestly, fearlessly talk and listen to one another about our similarities and differences – including beliefs and biases.

Welcome Opportunities for Dialogue.  Every subject in the curriculum provides rich opportunities to engage students in discussion. Current events, laws, and political discontent invite youth to debate, listen, and voice their opinions in ways that promote dialogue.

Establish Discussion Norms.  Ground rules for discussion create healthy boundaries for lively debate. I created a discussion contract that students signed (I signed it, too) and posted the norms in the classroom. My role as a discussion facilitator was to ask questions, moderate the discussion, and remind youth about our agreed norms.

Rules for communication in the classroom include:

  • One person speaks at a time.
  • Listen to every speaker with respect.
  • Respond with respect.
  • Ask questions when you do not understand.
  • Use “I” statements (“I think …” not “You should …”).
  • Provide support for your point of view.
  • State your point of view once; you need not repeat your point of view.
  • Acknowledge points of view that hurt your feelings or find offensive.
  • Speak from your own experience instead of generalizing.
  • Use respectful body language and nonverbal messages.

Practice “Safe Topic” Discussions.  To help students abide by rules for discussion, allow them to practice communication skills about topics that generate less heat. Should secondary students have recess? Should we replace snacks and soft drinks in school vending machines with fruit and bottled water? Discussion about less controversial subjects provide youth with opportunities to practice healthy communication skills that can be used during more emotionally-charged conversations.

Ask Students to Clarify Their Questions.  Several years ago, a popular story about a small child who created a sketch of a woman who appeared to be pole-dancing splashed across the internet. The artist of the picture wrote “When I grow up, I want to be like Mommy.” When asked “Tell me about your drawing” by her teacher, the child explained her mother sold shovels at Home Depot.

Although the picture was actually drawn by a 17 year-old as a joke, it continues to be a wonderful springboard for a discussion about the value of asking questions before drawing erroneous conclusions.

I Want to Be Like Mommy

Asking questions often clarifies the direction of a conversation. For example, one day a third grade student asked me, “What’s a tampon?”

I asked, “What do you want to know about tampons?”

“Some women get sick when they use tampons,” she answered.

I explained some women got infections from bacteria when they used tampons. The infections made them sick.

“Oh,” she replied. Satisfied, she returned to her desk.

The discussion ended because her question was answered.

Be a good listener when young people ask questions. Do not assume you know what information they want when they ask a question.

Define Unclear Words. Ask questions during discussion. Invite students to question one another when they hear something they don’t understand or use vague terminology.  

For example, a discussion about politics among a group of high school teens quickly escalated into a heated argument when they accused one another of being “too conservative” or “too liberal.”

“What is a liberal?” I asked. “How does the word liberal differ from conservative?”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “liberal” as “open to new behavior or opinions.” The word “conservative” is defined as “a person who prefers traditional practices and standards.”

Encourage them to explain their points of view. Invite them to find common ground. Good questions deepen conversation, provide students with opportunities to share more information, and avoid unnecessary communication pot holes.

There Are No Right or Wrong Opinions.  Discussions often become emotionally charged because individuals involved in a debate want others to accept their opinions as their own.  Encourage children and teens to support their points of view with reliable sources of information. Remind them that the goal of discussion is not necessarily to agree or share the same points of view. The goal is to discuss openly and to listen with respect. The goal is to gain greater understanding of different points of view.

Question the Validity of Internet Content.  NPR shared results from a Stanford’s Graduate School of Education study about “fake news.” Eighty percent of the survey student participants did not question internet content sources and accepted most of what they read as fact. Encourage youth to check their sources. Do online posts have attribution? Does documentation support the content? Is the content from a reliable source? [There is a difference between content from (reliable source) and (fake news).] CBS News identified a few of many “fake news” websites.

Identify Reliable Sources of Information. Yale, Oxford, and 4000+ universities throughout the world recommend Encyclopedia Britannica as a trusted reference source. Unlike Wikipedia, updates to Britannica entries are added by informed experts across fields. Scholarpedia also offers reliable sources of information that is fact-checked by professionals. Scholarly journals typically contain information that is research-based and peer-reviewed for accuracy. Explain to young people that information on Wikipedia can be altered by anyone and, as a result, is not a reliable source of information. Internet sites such as, Pulitzer-prize winning, and Fact Checker by The Washington Post help discerning readers determine fact from fiction.

Learn to Distinguish Fact-Based Terminology.  Information is not necessarily grounded in fact if it begins with the words “Statistics show …” or “Research proves …”  Encourage teens to question the source of the statistics and research before they accept the reliability of information.

If a printed source or movie begins with the words “based on facts,” “based on actual events,” or “based on a true story,” assume large parts of the content are fictitious. Many facts are omitted or changed when movie versions are created from books. However, discussions about events recorded in multiple sources provide students with outstanding opportunities to use higher level thinking skills to compare and contrast information.

Practice What You Preach.  Adults must be good role models. If we encourage youth to demonstrate respect to one another, we must follow our own rules and show respect to our peers and children. Young people are very disappointed when they see inconsistencies in our words and behavior. They model behaviors we demonstrate as leaders and mentors. You may be a child’s only adult example of an inclusive and compassionate role model.

Courageous Conversations Are Cornerstones of Relationships. Glenn Singleton, author of Courageous Conversations About Race, explains that courageous conversations “engage those who won’t talk, sustains the Politics, God, Race & Controversial Topics Kids Talk About at Schoolconversation when it gets uncomfortable or diverted, and deepens the conversation to the point where authentic understanding and meaningful actions occur.”

Conversations about controversial issues often lead to discussions about other important social concerns such as poverty, immigration, and judicial systems. Courageous dialogue invites us to reject negative bias and evolve as beacons of hope for the future.  

Many youth are interested in world events and hungry for opportunities to discuss their concerns. Malala Yousafzai, 17 year-old recipient of the Nobel peace prize, said, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” 

If we, as adults, don’t engage in conversations about sensitive topics with kids in schools and at home, they will discuss these issues among themselves and use the internet, social media, and reality TV as their sources of information. They’ll keep talking – with or without you.

Every discussion about politics, God, race, sex, and controversial issues create opportunities to build bridges.  When we invite young people into meaningful dialogue, they learn to find their own voice.

How can you promote positive communication with young people?


It’s Not About Race reveals how conversations about race and culture open channels to explore perceptions and attitudes.

Children and teens are talking. Using these tips to encourage dialogue and Hear the Voice of Our Youth.

Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to examine ways you can inspire teens.

If you want to involve more young people in your organization, check out these tips from What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay).


Disclaimer:  This site contains affiliate links to products.  I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.  I only promote products I use and highly recommend.  My full disclosure is here.


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Inspirational Quotes When You Need Hope

Inspirational Quotes When You Need HopeWhen Allied troops entered a concentration camp in 1945, they found a handful of starved, sick prisoners who survived to see the end of World War II. A soldier found a three-line poem scratched by a Holocaust prisoner in the wall of the barracks:

I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even though I don’t feel it.
I believe in God, even when he is silent.

The anonymous verse reflects the power of hope and our need for inspiration at the most desperate times.

Anne Frank, a 16 year-old girl and author of the famous diary, hid in an attic with her family for two years before they were betrayed and discovered by Nazi soldiers. She died shortly before the end of the World War II at Bergen-Belson. She clung to her positive belief that there was good in the world and much to be thankful for.

In Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, released by her father and published after her death, she wrote, “Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Anne’s words continue to inspire generations of individuals who have lost hope and yearn for reassurance.

There is an indomitable spirit that burns within us and yearns to be reignited – especially during difficult times. The brightest inspirational words are often composed by individuals experiencing failure, desperation, or hardship.

Senator Edward Kennedy delivered his most powerful speech when he lost his party’s support for the presidential nomination in 1980. As he rallied support for the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter, he said, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dreams shall never die.”

Inspirational Quotes When You Need Hope

I hope these inspirational quotations rekindle your spirit when you most need to experience hope:

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. – Helen Keller

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. – Melody Beattie

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. – Gen. Colin Powell

In order to carry a positive action, we must develop here a positive vision. – Dalai Lama

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. – Mother Teresa

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.  – Anne LaMott

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. – Denis Waitley

Inspirational Quotes When You Need HopeVery little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. – Marcus Aurelius

Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there. – Vine Deloria, Jr.

What we think we become. – Buddha

Choosing optimism over pessimism does not mean that the steps ahead will be easy, but hope lightens a burden. When I need direction, I remember words from A Course In Miracles:

Where would You have me go?
What would You have me do?
What would You have me say and to whom?

The words of St. Francis of Assisi can guide your steps when you face difficult decisions:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Anne Frank joyfully wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” The light we often seek, especially during difficult times, is within.

It is my prayer for you that these words bless you with hope.

What inspires you?

Use these tips to remember How to Feel Gratitude (Even When You Don’t Want To).

Do you want to experience greater happiness? Try these suggestions from 8 Ways to Feel More Positive.

Life sometimes creates chaos. Discover ways to manage it with these tips from 7 Positive Ways to Reduce Stress.

These suggestions from Build Your Support System will help you create a compassionate network.

Replace negative self-talk with words of encouragement. Discover how to Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

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Build Your Support System

Build Your Support SystemAlthough technology creates swift channels of communication and connections throughout the world, many people struggle alone as they face life challenges.

“We want people who understand us and can be depended upon during tough times,” explains Cathy Williams, MSW, LCSW, CEAP. “We need people who listen and give us honest feedback.”

A support system equips you with tools to cope with stress and increases your life expectancy. Support reduces depression and anxiety. Williams adds, “Giving and receiving support from others is a basic human need.”

Leanne Fredrich, life coach and blogger at, insists, “When you are with your tribe [or your support system], you feel inspired to create, take chances and most of all you feel at home. Even if your passion requires a certain amount of solitude, you still need a tribe.” Although circumstances may force you to spend large amounts of time by yourself or with people you would not typically choose as friends, your support system is a central network with whom you find trust, mutual support, and strength.

It is particularly difficult to build a new support system after you’ve experienced a jolting life change such as a move, school or job change, or relationship changes. Unlike family, Ken Robinson, author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everythingexplains, “Tribe members can be collaborators or contributors.” He adds, “What connects a tribe is a common commitment to the thing they feel born to do. This can be extraordinarily liberating, especially if you’ve been pursuing your passion alone.”

In my book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide, I explain how to build your support system. Surround yourself with people who eagerly encourage you and celebrate your success. Build supportive relationships. Networking events, Mastermind groups, neighborhood clubs, and school and church activities offer opportunities for like-minded individuals to share similar goals, acknowledge progress, and hold one another accountable for completing individual and group projects and commitments.

You may have more than one support system. Consider these questions as you think about finding or adding new members to your circle of support:

Social Support
Do I have one or more close friends?
Do I take part in social activities?
How am I (or how can I become) involved in active service to others?

Build Your Support SystemHealth and Wellness Support
What changes in my diet would I like to make?
Do I want to develop an exercise routine?
What lifestyle changes can I make to improve my health?

Emotional Support
Do I have hobbies?
Do I take part in social activities?
Who can I talk to when I need emotional support?

Family Support
How do I define my family?
How can I be more supportive and engaged with my family?
In what ways can I let my family know what support I need?

Mental and Intellectual Support
What new skills or information would I like to learn?
Do I want to learn or pursue a new hobby or interest?
Where would I like to learn it?

Career and Educational Support
What is my ideal job?
What skills and knowledge do I use or need to maintain or pursue my career and educational goals?
How can I learn new skills and knowledge?

Financial Support
What resources are available to finance other goals?
How much would I like save and invest my resources?
How would I like my share my wealth with others?

Spiritual Support
Do I have a regular practice of prayer or meditation?
Do I belong to a spiritual community?
How would I like to become more actively involved in spiritual community activities?

Seth Godin, author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, explains, “For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” Trust your instincts to guide you to the right people. And trust your instincts enough to know when it is time to part ways with member of your tribe. Not all relationships are permanent – nor are they meant to be.

When someone enters your life for a reason, you typically share a common purpose, desire, or interest. Like an ad hoc committee, you move on after you meet or fulfill your common purpose. Relationships that evolve over the course of a season provide you with support, encouragement, and opportunities to learn and grow. Seasonal relationships may change when you move, change jobs, or change relationships. Lifetime relationships stand the test of time and are grounded in strong emotional commitments to one another. Even in death, the relationship can change, but the love endures.

19th century philosopher, William James, wrote, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind. If you can change your mind, you can change your life.”

So, how do you start to build a support system? Creating a strong network takes time. You don’t have to know how to move forward; you only have to be brave enough to take the next step.

Trust your judgement. Listen to your instincts. A circle of support is waiting for you.

Who is in your support system?  Who would you like to include in your circle of support?


Find Inspiring Transition Tips When You Experience Change.

Need help expressing what you want to say? Check out How to Say What You Want & Need.

Free yourself from negative, self-defeating thoughts with suggestions from Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.

Do you have people who mistreat you? Try these tips from How to Stand Up to Bullies.

Discover 8 Ways to Feel Positive (Even When Everything Seems Wrong).


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Teens & Technology: Tuned In or Turned Off?

Teens & Technology: Tuned In or Turned Off?A photo circulating across social media shows a group of teenagers preoccupied with their cell phones as they sit on a bench in front of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. 

An adult posted this image on Facebook with the words, “We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom.” Many comments included:

“Can’t those kids disconnect from their phones for two seconds? How disrespectful!”

“This explains why kids can’t carry on a decent conversation.”

“That’s what’s wrong with teenagers: They are completely tuned out and turned off from things going on around them.”

Are they? Or is this a modern version of “judging a book by its cover?”

Things aren’t always as they appear. I added a response to the Facebook stream:

Why are the teens focused on their cell phones? Are they taking selfies? Or are they interested in learning more about the artist, Rembrandt? If the artist is Dutch, is he from Holland or the Netherlands (or both?)? Are they inviting friends to the museum? Letting other friends know what part of the museum they’re in? Wondering if they can purchase a poster of “The Night Watch” at the museum gift store? Unlike the painting, the image of the teens offers very little information because we can’t see their cell phone screens. Much of the story is left untold.

Twenty-first century teens grew up with technology – it’s part of how they communicate with one another. The cell phone does not mean that they’re not tuned in; it just means they’re tuned in differently. If we, as adults, are curious – it’s up to us to ask.

As a college instructor, I established very clear rules about cell phone use during class. I seethed when students tried to secretly use their Smartphones during class. I called them out – by name – and asked them to put their cell phones away. Some of them deliberately ignored my instructions …

Teens & Technology: Tuned In or Turned Off?… until I observed their use of mobile devices while they worked on small group projects. Some students looked up definitions of unfamiliar words on their cell phones. Others searched for information related to their projects. Some watched YouTube videos and online PowerPoint presentations with tutorials about how to deliver an engaging presentation. They shared website links with one another via text messaging. They used their phone cameras to video record their deliveries as they practiced their presentations.

I was embarrassed.

What I thought was going on and what was actually going on as students used their mobile devices were two very different things. I am sure a few students used their cell phones to check email or text their friends. However, the number of students who used iPhones and iPads to advance their own learning far outweighed technology abuses.

“I completely misunderstood how you used the technology tools available to you to learn during instruction,” I explained. “Please continue to use these tools if they are helpful as you complete future assignments.”

“Really?” asked one of the students. “I thought you hated cell phones, Dr. Connor.”

“I hate cell phone abuse that interferes with learning and our connections to one another,” I answered. “I have a new perspective as I watched you use technology from the back of the classroom today. I apologize. And thank you.”

We established one more classroom technology rule that was simple: Keep your cell phones away unless you need it.

In the classes that followed, students respectfully muted their cell phones; the screens faced the desks. When one of them picked up their Smartphone, I was excited because I knew they were looking for information that would take learning experiences to a deeper level. Rather than prohibit cell phone and technology use in the classroom, I incorporated its use during instruction and it elevated our academic and relational experiences.

In an episode of Wall Street Journal Live’s Lunch BreakTanya Rivero interviews educators and uncovers how some schools throughout the country spark creativity and learning in classrooms as students use cell phones to complete homework.

Common Sense Media conducted a study and found that 50% of the surveyed teens admitted they were addicted to their mobile devices. Furthermore, 27% of the parents surveyed admitted their own mobile device addictions – and teens agreed. To be honest, I experienced many more cell phone abuses and mobile device disengagement when I taught adult students over 30 than teens and millennials. I believe this is due to the fact that teens and millennials are much more familiar with all of the technological advantages that cell phone use offers to them.

There is so much to learn from teens about technology! For example, many young people create YouTube videos to explain how to use and post photos on Snapchat. Or use hashtags on Instagram. They can show you how to create and edit a video on YouTube or start your own YouTube channel. Questions become gateways to conversations – and conversations deepen relationships.

Although mobile devices offer detours and provide users with a means of escape, adults often assume teens are more interested in connections with their cell phones than in personal face-to-face conversations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teens are starving for opportunities to build relationships – with adults and with one another. It’s up to adults to invite communication.

Positive communication starts with a dialogue.

In what positive ways are you connecting with the young people in your life?


Teens have a lot to say. Are you listening? Tune into their conversations with tips from Hear the Voices of Our Youth.

Encourage youth to explore their passions. Discover Why We Must Talk to Young People About Their Dreams.

Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to pump up the example you want to inspire teens.

If you want to involve more young people in your organization, check out these tips from What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay).


Disclaimer:  This site contains affiliate links to products.  I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.  I only promote products I use and highly recommend.  My full disclosure is here.


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Guest Blogger: Amy Oestreicher - How I Learned to Love My JourneyGuest blogger, Amy Oestreicher, is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, Huffington Post writer, TEDx and RAINN speaker, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright. She shares lessons from trauma through her writing, art, performance, and inspirational speaking.

I’ve spent a lot of time “waiting” in my life. As a kid I grew antsy with impatience, waiting until I was “older” to start dating, to go to the mall unsupervised, to learn how to drive. I was counting the days until I turned 18, giddy at the idea of college and independence at last. Two weeks after I turned 18, I was pulled into another realm where “waiting” took on an entirely new meaning.

When an unforeseen blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock, my life changed forever. Now, it was my devoted family who waited patiently and lovingly while I recovered from a three-month coma. When I awoke, I waited many more months before I could take a breath of outside air once again. I became extremely well-versed in patience — little did I know that I’ve have to wait eight more months before I was discharged from the ICU, six years before I could drink a sip of water or eat a morsel of food again and 27 surgeries before doctors could create a makeshift digestive system for me.

As a born go-getter, I’ve never been great with “patience.” So I became extremely frustrated as doctors explained to me how “it would be a long road to recovery, but I’ll get there.” But healing physically and recovering my “self” emotionally, feeling my aliveness as well as being alive… I learned that this is a daily process, a life-long one. Life will not always be perfect, and there’s no reason to wait until things are.

I had this fantasy that the day I was finally discharged from the hospital, everything would be “back to normal.” I’d have my old body back — devoid of any medical scars, tubes, bags or IVs. I’d be eating and drinking again. I’d be able to run, jump and leap like I had in dance class just the week before my coma. These surgeries would just be a “blip” in my life, and now it could proceed as it was meant to.

But I learned something far better. I learned my life as I knew it had shattered, but I could reassemble the pieces differently, but still beautifully — like a mosaic. These “imperfect” shards of a life I longed to reclaim could create a work of art even greater, using the grout of experience and newfound wisdom.

Over a decade has passed since my life took an unexpected detour. It was a messy detour that put most of my anticipated life plans on hold, if not changing them completely. But this detour turned into the richest time in my life. To this day, I am still healing physically and emotionally. Every morning I make a new attempt to find who I am and to discover who I am becoming. If I had waited for life to be “perfect,” or at least for life to go back to “how it was,” I would have missed out on so many things. I would have never mounted my first solo art show after learning to paint in the hospital. I would have never written a one-woman musical about my life that I’ve performed for five years or given a TEDx Talk… If I hadn’t had the audacity to set up an online dating profile for myself while still in my hospital gown, on IVs and recovering from a disastrous surgery, I would never have married the first love of my life.  And when I was suddenly hit with a divorce less than a year later, I learned that there is never a reason to wait to fully love yourself.  

Not “waiting” for life to happen can mean simply showing up and staying open to where the path may lead.  Even with wounds that still haven’t healed – and that’s not a metaphor – I’m on the road.  If I’m willing to feel, I’ll always have my heart to guide me. Apparently you don’t need a stomach to survive, but, a heart is indispensable!  

They say that all good things come to those who wait. But what for? Every day is an opportunity to learn, to grow and better myself. I love the imperfect twists and turns my life has taken, simply because they have made me who I am. It has been a mess, having life as I knew it shattered to pieces. But bit by bit it’s reassembling — different, imperfect, but beautiful all the same.


As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, Amy’s one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses. More information at

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How to Stand Up to Bullies

How to Stand Up to Bullies

Jennifer Lawrence, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Robert Patterson, Miley Cyrus, Marshall Mathers (Eminem), and Lady Gaga share more than celebrity status.  They know what it’s like to be bullied.

“Girls can be mean,” said Jennifer Lawrence.  “A popular girl once gave me invitations to hand out to her birthday party – a party I wasn’t invited to.”

“I grew up in Tennessee,” explained Justin Timberlake.  “If you didn’t play football, you were a sissy.  I got slurs all the time because I was in music and art.”

“Some of the girls in my school were big and tough.  I was scrawny and short,” admitted Miley Cyrus.  “They shoved me in the school bathroom where I was trapped.  I banged on the door until my fists hurt.  Nobody came.   waited for someone to rescue me. I wondered how my life got so messed up.”

Rather than giving the past the power to control them, each one of them carved out a new course.  As artists and anti-bullying activists, they encourage others, particularly young people, to speak out against bullying.

Memories of bullying are often internalized and become part of the tape many victims play in their heads.  Without a means of defense to protect themselves, those who have been bullied often experience depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and fear.  Many children who are bullied carry those unresolved issues with them into adulthood.

Like Jennifer and Miley, I did not have skills to protect myself from bullying.  “Turn the other cheek” and “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” were ingrained into my character.  When I was ridiculed and bullied by others – particularly by those I most admired – I sank into a world of silence.  I withdrew from the world.

I wanted to run away to a place where I could reinvent myself after I graduated from high school.  I saved money and enrolled at a college far from home.  However, the voices of the bullies continued to echo within me.  Although I was president of the student government association and nominated for many campus leadership awards, I was drowning in depression.

Dr. Dan Owleus, founder of the Owleus Bullying Prevention Program and author of Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, explains, “Bullying poisons the educational environment and affects the learning of every child.”  Approximately one out of every four students reports being bullied at school (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015).  Sixty-four percent of the children who were bullied in schools did not report it (National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance, 2010).

Fortunately, schools and organizations with anti-bullying prevention programs often report a 20-25% decrease in bullying behaviors. More than half of the bullying situations involving youth stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the individual being bullied.

Although programs designed to address bullying often promote positive character values, we must do more than enforce consequences after bullying has already occurred.  We must teach kids how to take good care of themselves before they feel threatened by a bully.

Try these suggestions if you (or someone you care about) is intimidated or harassed by a bully:

How to Stand Up to Bullies

  1. Act with ConfidenceYou are much less likely to be picked on if you behave with self-assurance.  Make a list of all of your positive qualities and keep it in a place where you can reread it if you feel like your confidence is shaky.  Act as if your self-confidence is strong.  Be proud of who you are.  Walk with your head up.
  2. Be Positive.  Bullies target victims who will not defend themselves.  They often make unkind remarks in front of an audience to boost their own lack of confidence.  If a bully says something unkind to you, ignore it.  If the bully persists, loudly shout their name, tell them to stop, and go to a safe place.  “Joseph, stop it!” “Jayiah, get away!  Now!”  Shouting draws negative and unwanted attention to the bully.  Let the bully know through your behavior he or she has no power over you.  Refuse to allow a bully to control your response or decide what you believe about yourself.
  3. Set Appropriate Boundaries.  Sometimes if you ignore repeated bullying, it escalates.  Bullies are cowards. Silent victims are their favorite targets.  Say in a strong, assertive voice, “Stop!” and leave the situation.  Take charge of your space.
  4. Stay Calm. Bullies often want you to argue or fight with them.  Take a breath.  Refuse to react with anger; a bully hopes you’ll respond in a way that gives him or her an invitation to engage in combat.
  5. Remember What’s True. If a bully calls you hurtful names, be direct and say, “No, I’m not” or “I don’t know where you get your information, but it’s wrong.”  Remind yourself:  If it sounds or feels unkind, it’s not true.  It’s not important what a bully thinks about you – what matters is what YOU think about you.
  6. Stay with the Crowd.  Don’t be caught in situations where you are by yourself, especially if you are being bullied by someone.  Follow others into the restroom if you need to use it.  Walk with others in the halls between classes.
  7. Ask for Help.  Do not believe only a coward would tell an adult.  It takes great courage to inform an adult if you’re being bullied.  Ask to be moved to a different class.  Contact the principal.  Write your teacher a note and explain the situation.  Tell the bus driver and sit at the front of the bus.
  8. Talk to Someone. Make an appointment with your school counselor.  Explore ways you can strengthen your confidence and communication skills.  Join a support group.  Build a support system.  Create a plan with a caring adult about how to work through a situation involving a bully.
  9. Focus on Positive Thoughts.  Don’t let negative self-talk get you down. Create positive affirmations (Use these tips to get you started).  Find inspiring quotes or words of encouragement to remember and repeat to yourself.
  10. Get Informed. Learn more about bullying and how to deal with it from information offered on websites such as, Kids Against Bullying,, and Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center.  Consider these books and check out the previews of Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl, Blubber by Judy Blume, or Bystander by James Preller.

One day when I was in college, I saw a sign on a bulletin board about the counseling center on campus.  I called and made an appointment with a counselor.  I described my traumatizing experiences with bullies.

“Why me?” I asked him.  “Why did the bullies single me out?”

The counselor answered, “Because you took it.”

He was right.  I believed what the bullies said was true.  I believed everyone hated me. I believed I was worthless.  It was up to me to change my thoughts and my beliefs about myself so I could be strong enough to withstand bullying.

When you get sick of tired of being sick and tired, you change your behavior.  When I changed my behavior and refused to be threatened and controlled by bullies, the harassment stopped.

I once heard a wise seventh grader say, “Ignore the people who talk behind your back. That’s where they belong: Behind you.”  When children (and adults) set strong personal boundaries and refuse to allow others to define who they are, they discover confidence.  Remember that your future is always ahead of you; never behind you.

The #1 deterrent to stop bullying is when a PEER has the courage to speak up on behalf of another student who is being bullied.  Children and teens often say nothing when they see bullying because they fear bullies will turn their hurtful actions towards them.  It’s time to equip youth with skills to take care of themselves and one another:

  • Shout “Stop it!” when you see someone being bullied at school.
  • Report bullying behaviors to a Mentor or Trusted Adult.
  • Empower youth with communication and conflict resolution skills.
  • Practice communication skills through role-play bullying scenarios and discuss positive strategies.
  • Equip youth with peer leadership skills.  Invite them to identify ways they can address bullying in their schools and communities.
  • Advocate for youth by encouraging school staff and administrators to address bullying in schools.
  • Arrange community discussions about bullying.  Discuss specific ways adults can collaboratively plan ways to protect all students.

These tips from describe specific ways children, teens, and adults can respond to bullying.  They also share ways coaches, teachers, parents, school staff, organization volunteers, and students can reduce bullying in their communities.

Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, said, “Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.”

Children learn to be kind by watching and modeling the behavior of adults.  Every day is an opportunity to be kind and, through each act of kindness, we are one step closer to ending bullying for good.

What can you do if someone bullies you? What can you do if you see someone bully another person?

Anita Washington, popular host of The Emotional Happiness with That Anita Live, discuss How to Handle Bullying. Listen to this podcast as Anita and I talk about how to address bullying.

Free yourself from negative, self-defeating thoughts with suggestions from Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.

Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmation. Discover how to Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

Are you ready to make a change in your life? Begin with these tips from What You Must Let Go to Move Forward.

Find 8 Ways to Feel Positive (Even When Everything Seems Wrong).

Get inspired with wonderful words from 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.

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How to Respond When a Young Person Dies

How to Respond When a Young Person DiesMichael George Smith, Jr.‘s body was discovered hanging from a tree in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. It was not a public lynching as many people feared. It was a suicide.

He was young. He was gay. Michael believed the only way he could silence the emotional pain and inability to make peace with his identity was to end his life.

I was a youth minister at a church when I received a call about Becca.  Karli, Becca’s best friend, blamed herself for Becca’s death.

“I knew she was sad, but I didn’t know she wanted to kill herself,” Karli cried.

Becca was 17 years old when she decided she no longer could bear the dark, consuming hole of depression.  Her mother found her lifeless body in the attic.  Becca swallowed a handful of sleeping pills, wrapped herself in a blanket, clung to a teddy bear, and never woke up.

“I begged Becca to talk to a counselor. I told her I would go with her if she wanted me to, but she refused,” cried Karli. “She trusted me. I thought it was my job to protect her privacy. She said she wanted to die, but I didn’t think she’d actually do it.”

The death of a child or teenager confuses and devastates everyone who loves them.

Barbara Hailey was a friend of mine in high school.  Her son, Jake, was killed in an automobile accident in 2010.

The pain of his loss are as real and deep as they were when she first received news about his death.  In a blog post called A Beautiful DifferenceBarb wrote:

What a beautiful difference a single life can make. Those words were on a sympathy card I received almost five years ago when I lost my 18 year old son in a car accident.  Jake had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to leave for college when he was killed one night on a dark country road.  I thought his life was just beginning, but I was wrong.  I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe that this is how his story ended.  He had so much more to do.

Over the years, people have asked if I am or suggested I should be “over it” or that I should be “moving on.”  The truth is, I will never be “over it” and don’t want to be:  “It” is my only son.  As for moving on, my life is going forward, but it will never be the same.  I am as happy as I can be under the circumstances.  I have a beautiful and talented daughter, a great man in my life (who has the same dry wit as Jake), and I am blessed with family and friends.   However, no matter what happens in the future, there will always be a empty chair at my table and an empty place in my heart.  Hallmark got it right this time: What a beautiful difference a single life can make.

What do you say to someone who is mourning the death of a child or teen?  Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, lost his son, Aaron, when he was 14 years old.

"How to Respond When a Young Person Dies" @drjulieconnorKushner explained, “At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me — some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability and that was more than they could handle.  But real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me.  If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence (much better than saying, “You’ll get over it” or “It’s not so bad; others have it worse”) and I loved them for it.”

So, what don’t you say to someone grieving the loss of a child or teenager?  Laurie Burrows Grad offers this list of the worst platitudes and insensitive clichés to those in mourning:

He’s in a better place. (A better place would be beside me now.)
Everything happens for a reason. (There is no rhyme or reason for this kind of loss.)
Time heals all wounds. (Time doesn’t heal all wounds, although healing takes time.)
Try not to cry. He wouldn’t want you to cry. (He’d be bawling his eyes out.)
It is time to put this behind you. (There is no timetable for grief.)
If you think this is bad, let me tell you about the time … (No comparisons, please.)
I know how you feel. (Do we ever really know how someone feels?)
Let me tell you about my own loss, which is similar to yours. (Please just listen and acknowledge my loss.)
You’ll get through it. Be strong. (This tells people to hold on to their grief and not let it out.)

Grad suggests these kind words to comfort someone in times of grief:

I am sorry for your loss.
I love you.
I wish I had the right words to comfort you. Just know that I care.
I don’t know how you feel, but I am available to help in any way I can.
How can I help or support you?
My favorite memory of your loved one is …
How are you doing?
Listen.  Be present.

How can parents, teachers, and adults help children and teens cope with death?

Jeff Yalden, youth motivational speaker, offers these suggestions to parents, youth leaders, teachers, and to anyone who mourns the loss of a child or teen.

Here are suggested responses:  Be physically present, show warmth and compassion, be patient, allow the teen to talk about it, listen carefully, acknowledge feelings, show an understanding of what happened, give reasonable reassurance and follow through on promises and agreements made.  Teens will try to make some sense of what happened and it is important for them to come to a resolution about the event.  Carefully challenge any negative conclusions and reinforce the positive ones.

The following behaviors can be harmful:  Focus on self instead of the teen, deny the seriousness of the event, shrug off the teen’s feelings, tell the teen not to think or talk about it, make assumptions, overreact with anxiety or anger, withdraw from the teen, or make major changes in the normal household activities and routines.

What do you do when a child or teen tells you they’re thinking about taking their own lives?

In conversations with children and teens, I ensure confidentiality except under the following circumstances:

* If a child or teen wants to hurt themselves

* If a child or teen plans to hurt someone else
* If a child or teen is being bullied or bullying someone else
* If a child or teen is involved with drugs or alcohol

I don’t share their secrets with everyone.  I share appropriate information to the appropriate people at the appropriate time.  When children or teens reveal fearful thoughts or dangerous behaviors within a cushion of boundaries, they know they have a safe place to land.  They understand they do not have to face challenges alone.

If a child or teen talks to you about taking their lives, it is a desperate cry for help.  Use these tips to guide the conversation and steer them to appropriate channels that can provide support:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support, prevention, and crisis resources for loved ones and professionals.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a professional.  Find the nearest Suicide Prevention Lifeline Crisis Center on National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.  Calls are routed to the Lifeline center closest to your area code that can provide local resources.
  • Pay attention to suicide warnings and contact a professional immediately if you hear a child or teen say:
    • “Nothing matters.”
    • “I wonder if anyone would come to my funeral?”
    • “Sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.”
    • “Everyone would be better off without me.”
    • “You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”
  • Engage in conversations.  Never discount their feelings.  Reassure a child or teen that you respect their feelings.
  • Seek professional treatment and counseling to support your child or teen as soon as possible.  Nine in 10 teens who commit suicide were previously diagnosed with a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety disorders.
  • Find a support group for the child or teen where he or she can talk about their feelings in a safe environment.

Many individuals such as teachers, pastors, mental health workers, etc., have a legal responsibility to report incidents when they believe a child or teen is unsafe and may potentially end their own lives.  Contact your employer or program director for specific mandated reporting guidelines.

#BeThe1To Prevent SuicideSuicide feels like an option when there are no options left.   The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline suggests these five steps:

#BeThe1To Ask.  Ask the tough question.  When somebody you know is in emotional pain, be direct.  Ask, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

#BeThe1To Keep Them Safe.  Is a friend or loved one thinking about suicide?  Ask, “Do you have a plan?”  Find out if they’ve thought about how they would end their lives.

If you can not physically intervene in someone’s attempt to hurt themselves, get help.  Call a family member.  Call 911.  Or use Emergency SOS on your iPhone or Android device to request assistance.

#BeThe1To Be There.  It is never easy to hear someone you care about describe their pain or hopelessness.  Listen with compassion without dismissing or judging their words.

#BeThe1To Help Them Connect.  Help the child or teen connect to a support system.  Work together to surround them with a network that includes family, friends, school administrators, teachers, counselors, doctors, clergy, coaches, or therapists so they have someone to reach out to for help.

When a child or teen dies – from suicide, accident, or illness – it emotionally shatters everyone close to them.

Acknowledge your own grief.  Be sad.  Remember their stories.  Allow the best part of them to become the best part of you.  Share their story with someone who desperately needs to know that the young person’s life mattered.

How do you comfort someone who lost a child?  

Use these tips from Politics, Sex, Race, God, & Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School to navigate conversations about tough issues with children and teens.

Grief, Change, and Resurrection offers encouragement if you (or someone you love) is experiencing change or loss.

Mothers don’t necessarily give birth to their children. Motherhood is a Matter of Perspective.

Discover comfort from 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.

How to Get Through Tough Times gives you new tools to move forward when you face difficult challenges.

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Talking to Teens About Social Issues

Talking to Teens About Social Issues

After speaking at a leadership conference, I left a hotel in downtown Atlanta to look for a good place to eat.  A large crowd of young demonstrators poured into the streets.

They held signs with powerful messages such as “Stand Up to Racism,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Pro-Black does not mean Anti-White.”  It was a peaceful protest that cried out for social justice.

“If you don’t stand up for injustice, you quietly allow it,” insisted Attiyah Ali.  “If we all go in our separate corners by religion, race, color, and dig our heels in the ground, we’re never going to come up with a solution.”

“We are standing together as a unit, as a people, regardless of black, white, Chinese, Mexican, Asian,” agreed a young protester.  “It doesn’t matter what you are or who you are, at the end of the day, today is the day we need to stand.”

Kasim Reed, former mayor of Atlanta, was among those gathered at the demonstration.  His presence showed the demonstrators that he valued what they had to say.  And he wanted to listen.

“I understand this is this generation’s protest,” said Reed.  “Let this be the best version of ourselves.”

It may feel uncomfortable to hear negative criticism from the mouths of teens and young adults, but we have a responsibility to listen.  More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 30.  Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, maintains, “That means that more than 3.5 billion young people represent 3.5 billion opportunities for change.”

Teens mature into volunteers, activists, community leaders, and elected officials when they have opportunities to join in the dialogue about critical issues that are important to all of us.  We invite them into active involvement at local events and organizations by listening to them and providing safe opportunities to express their thoughts and opinions:

  • Openly discuss issues with young people.  Don’t be afraid to raise sensitive topics for discussion.  They are ready for good debate that challenges them to think, respond, and garner your respect.
  • Create norms for discussion.  Set ground rules for discussion that do not allow personal attacks.  Use “I” statements (good example: “I think …;” poor example: “He’s an idiot.”).  Agree to hear each other out without interrupting one another.
  • Challenge their sources of information.  Encourage teens to explain the reasoning that supports their opinions.  Where do they look for reliable information?  Where do you find reliable sources?  How do you separate facts from fiction?
  • Agree upon mutual respect.  You may not share the same opinions as others, but do not judge or criticize. Ask questions.  Listen.  Allow one another to own personal opinions.
  • Try to find common ground.  Teens may have views that are drastically different from your own point of view.  What issues are important to all people involved in the discussions?  What common core values connect you to one another?
  • Avoid giving unsolicited advice.  There is an appropriate time and place to teach and give advice, but it is usually best received when it is asked for – especially during a discussion.
  • Express gratitude for opportunities to dialogue.  Thank them for sharing their opinions and listening to you.  Invite them to come back to continue discussion.  Dialogue strengthens relationships.
  • Expect dialogue to get messy – and it’s okay.  When you allow others to share personal opinions, you may not reach a mutual agreement.  Though you may not share the same beliefs; it’s important that you’re willing to listen to one another.

Many adults claim that teens are our future – but they are more than our future; they have something critically important to add to social discussions today. In the present. Now.

Teens are tuned in to current events and aware of social concerns. They are hungry to join the discussion. And they are starving for opportunities to dialogue with adults who will listen to them.

Civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr., believed, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The only way to build relationships with our youth is through dialogue. The only way to ignite their interest in political and social activism is to let them know that their participation matters. That they matter.

Young adults are far less likely to vote than older citizens. When we do not value what they have to say about political issues, the power of elected government is weakened. Talking to Teens About Social Issues

In his most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln rallied the importance of our entire citizenry; claiming “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I stood, with my hand over my heart, and watched the young men and women march down the streets of downtown Atlanta. I admired their courage to speak out against injustice and to stand together in solidarity. I could not have been more proud of them.

I felt proud to be an American.

Our youth are speaking out. Are you listening?

How can you become a better listener?

Kids are talking about everything they’re not supposed to talk about. Here’s what you can do to join the dialogue about Politics, God, Race, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School.

Use these suggestions from How to Be a Good Role Model to pump up the example you want to inspire teens.

If you want to involve more young people in your organization, check out these tips from What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay).

Encourage youth to explore their passions. Discover Why We Must Talk to Young People About Their Dreams.

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Keira X Speaks Out: The Color of Discrimination

Keira X Speaks Out: The Color of DiscriminationI met Keira X at a high school speech competition. Several of her competitors discussed racism and discrimination. They avoided controversy and alienating the judges by focusing on statistics and facts.

Keira knew if she withheld personal experiences with discrimination, she’d drain her speech of its power. She addressed colorism, a form of prejudice among those within the same ethnic groups.

This is her story:

In 1712, a British slave owner named Willie Lynch taught others a full-proof method for controlling the blacks as slaves.  He stated, “I use fear, distrust, and envy for control purposes.”  

He continued, “You must use the light skin slaves versus the darker slaves and the darker slaves versus the light skin slaves.” Lynch believed slaves would remain perpetually distrustful of one another for at least 300 years.

It has been 304 years since this infamous speech was made on the banks of the James River and it appears that Willie Lynch was right.

Don’t get me wrong.  There have been advancements in and for the black community.  In 1863, President Lincoln declared all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states were set free by the Emancipation Proclamation.  In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed. During the Civil Rights Movement, it was said that Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could march and Barack Obama could run.

With all these accomplishments that the black community has experienced since Lynch’s speech, you might think that blacks would all be joining together, hand in hand, walking toward a goal of Black Lives Matter.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Along with the racism people of color already face, we still have that problem of fear, distrust, and envy that took root in the 1700s:  Colorism.

Colorism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.”

You may not be aware of the jokes that are made within the black community about the different skin tones. For example, dark skin guys have names like Quanze and Malik and light skin guys are named Theodore and Barry.

Black parents know their kids will always go by a nickname.  Nicknames like Big Boo, Taystee, or MorDarkerdenme. Or, did you get left in the oven too long, because you came out burnt.  Funny, right?  Except these types of jokes are often made by people who are only a tan or two away from being as dark or light as the person they are joking about.

Some girls say if they are too light, they’re not right.  And some black men won’t be with a black woman unless they look almost white.  Some blacks are even afraid to go out into the sun because of the fear of getting “too dark.”

Rodney Harrison, a black former NFL football star and broadcaster, said Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the 49ers, “was not black enough to stand up, or in his case kneel down, for racial injustices here in the U.S. ” Even former president, Barak Obama, was once told by his wife that he didn’t have enough street cred in part because of his skin tone.  And one of their black friends added that he came across as “a white man in black face.”

According to an article in The Washington Post (May, 2014), a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that 77% of Nigerian women use skin lightening products on a regular basis, more than any other nation in the world. In 2010, India’s skin lightening industry was worth over $400 million and thrives today by peddling the beauty myth that light skin is the right skin. Some dark-skinned individuals lighten their skin because they believe it affords them better opportunities.

Sadly, some people are buying skin bleaching cream from the black market that contain harmful chemicals such as mercury, hydroquinone, or steroids.  These chemicals have damaging effects such as a blue-blacking of the skin and can lead to cancer.  Along with the physical damages these bleaches have, there is also the psychological damage that comes with the belief, supported in advertisements, that “Fair and Lovely” is where beauty is at and that their God-given skin tone isn’t good enough.  

Can we blame them for wanting to become what is being put out there on billboard and in videos? Many people claim that the European beauty standard has set the new benchmark.  In a Columbia University study (2013), Susan L. Bryant stated, “The European Beauty standard is the notion that the more closely associated a person is with European features the more beautiful he or she is.  This notion includes a thin nose and lips, light colored eyes, and fine hair texture.”  Well, Willie Lynch was from Britain. 

The film, Dark Girls (2011), captures this phenomenon of colorism in a nutshell.  It explores the damaging effects discrimination in one’s own community can have on its women and children through many heartbreaking interviews.

A story from Dark Girls that still resonates with me was about a woman who experienced colorism as a young girl. One day, her mother and mother’s best friend were having a conversation.  Her mother began to brag about how beautiful her daughter was.  She talked about her daughter’s great hair; how she had perfect eyes and lips. The girl sat in the back seat of a car, grinning from ear to ear with pride.  That pride was quickly shot down when she heard her mother say, “Could you imagine how beautiful she would be if she had any lightness in her skin at all?”

I’m sure that you have guessed by now that I am black.  Black enough?

Growing up in a family filled with many different mixtures of race and skin tones, ranging from high yellow to the richest tones of melanin, you can bet I have many stories of how I have witnessed and experienced colorism.  I could go on for hours about the internalized hate I have witnessed, but I want to focus on one story I have dealt with in my family.

One day, I was at my cousin’s house. My cousin is a very light-skinned woman and has had kids by a darker-skinned man.  Her children’s skin tones ranged from light to dark. Her daughter, Aaliyah, is six years old. She has the warmest smile that can brighten anyone’s day and is the smartest little girl I know. She has her father’s beautiful melanated skin.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t see herself as beautiful as I see her. When we were hanging out, she shared with me something that has left me very unsettled.

Aaliya said, “Keke, I hate being black.”

I turned to her in shock and asked why she would say something like that.

“I have no friends, Keke, because all the kids make fun of me because of how black I am,” she said, picking at her skin. “I try to tell them that I can’t do anything about it, but nobody listens.  I just want some friends.”

I swear I could feel my heart break.  I tried to reassure her how beautiful she is and how she doesn’t need friends that would make fun of her, but I could see in her face that I wasn’t making any headway.  I left that visit realizing the spectrum of color between her experience and mine.

I also realized there needs to be a solution to this problem.  I know that there is no quick fix.  Dr. Martin Luther King may have said that he dreamed of a day when we would “live in a nation where they (the children) will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” but that can’t happen until we in the black community understand that it starts with us.  How can black lives matter when we don’t even see the inequities that our judgments create?  It has to start at home. 

Children are taught to hate, discriminate, and envy.  Parents need to set an example and to teach how to be more accepting of people, no matter how light or dark.  Families can’t be afraid of open discussions on these issues.  Just because we don’t want to hear it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be said. Be the courageous person that saves that son, daughter, cousin, niece, nephew, brother, or sister by not ignoring the issue, but affirming the people you care most about.

This would lead to a more healthy school environment where kids won’t play on others insecurities and won’t create an environment where others feel isolated, like my cousin, Aaliyah. Institutions like schools could include more black history. We need not teach the generations to come that black history began with slavery – it only interrupted it. People of color grew from roots of greatness and royalty. We must teach all are worthy.   Yes, even a man who was once seen as a white man in black face could rise above it and become President of the United States.

Finally, it ends with you.  I hope that you leave here today remembering these words the next time you are about to say something negative about someone’s skin tone.  By telling a girl that she is “pretty for a black girl,” you are leaving that person thinking that she is lucky and an exception, rather than someone who matters, no matter what.  Don’t allow yourself to do damage to someone’s psyche.  Be persistent in the change you need to make in yourself. 

Keira X Speaks Out: The Color of DiscriminationThe black singer, India Arie, tells us, “I am not my hair, I am not my skin, I am not your expectations … I am the soul that lives within.”

Love the skin you are in and recognize the power that is inside.   It is time for Willie Lynch’s words to become history.

– – – – – 

I asked Keira Moná Burton why she preferred to be known as “Keira X.” She referenced her admiration for Malcolm X, a U.S. Muslim leader and human rights activist who was assassinated in 1965.

“Malcolm X was an amazing speaker and was actually one of the reasons I joined speech and debate. He and many others showed me that if I am not afraid to speak my mind, if I stay true to myself, and if I am passionate, people will listen.”

With or without a contest, Keira X is a winner. She is a role model who speaks out against discrimination with courage and conviction.

Do your words and actions support your convictions?


Politics, God, Race, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School explores ways adults can engage in conversations with youth about controversial subjects.

It’s Not About Race reveals how conversations about race and culture open channels to explore perceptions and attitudes.

Children and teens are talking. Using these tips to encourage dialogue and Hear the Voice of Our Youth.

What Color Is God? is a story about a discussion among a group of third graders as they explored the nature of the Divine.

Voices in the City School reflects the power of storytelling and the importance of building relationships with youth.


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What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay)

How to Invite and Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay)The pastor of a small church encouraged his congregation to reach out to young people and make them feel welcome.

“Our youth are important. We need you,” he insisted. “You are our future.”

Everyone applauded.

Unfortunately, no young people were in the audience to hear his message.

We must do more than tell youth they are welcome in our communities.  We must invite them.  We must involve them.  We must ask for their input.  We must listen.  We must give them a reason to stay.

One day when I was director of a youth ministry program, the president of the church council walked into my office. He explained the council wanted to more fully involve the youth in the life of the church.  And he had a plan about how to do it.

“Our annual church picnic is coming up,” he explained.  “We want to invite our youth to be part of the event.”

The council wanted me to implement their plan and the youth to execute it.

“We want the kids to mow the lawn and set up chairs for the service,” he continued.  “We want to involve them in the service, too.”

“Would you like them to speak at the service?” I asked.  “Or select the music and lead the singing?”

“Of course, not. The teens can pass out programs and be ushers,” he said. “They can stack chairs after the service, set up picnic tables, serve food to everybody in attendance, and clean up after everyone goes home.”

“Thank you for your invitation to involve the youth,” I replied.  “But how can we ensure senior citizens in our community feel welcome, too?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Why don’t we ask our senior citizens to set up the chairs and tables, prepare the meal for everyone, serve the food, and clean up after everyone goes home?”

“They don’t want to do that!” he exclaimed.

“Then, why would young people be eager to do it?” I asked.

What You Must Do to Invite and Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay)Service opportunities offer very important ways to connect members within a community.  However, efforts to increase organization involvement by inviting guests to serve the community are often unsuccessful without prior efforts to build relationships with new or alienated members first.

If you host a party, you don’t ask guests to prepare the meal and clean up when the party’s over.  You invite them to sit in the best seats.  You initiate conversations with them.  You listen.  You express how genuinely interested you are in them.  You introduce them to other guests.  That is good hospitality.

If young people are hooked to their cell phones and disengaged from the flurry of activity at events, there is a reason.  It’s not because they’re uninterested in being part of the group.  In fact, many young people are starving for opportunities to connect and build relationships with adults.  They want to belong to groups where they feel welcome and their presence is valued. It’s not their fault they’re detached.  It’s ours.

If you want to invite and more fully involve young people in the life of your community, you need to deliver more than an invitation.  You need a plan:

  • Initiate a dialogue among members of your community who want to reach out to the youth.  Brainstorm ways young people can become more involved in your group.  Include youth and young adults in the discussion.  Explore their unique gifts and ways they can be shared with others.
  • Invite youth within the community to discuss how they want to be involved.  What makes them feel connected?  What activities do they enjoy?  Invite them to be part of event planning.  Encourage them to bring their friends.
  • Identify youth with leadership gifts.  When I build a new leadership team, I personally select team members; it’s not a popularity contest.  I look for a variety of different skills and build a collaborative squad of leaders.
  • Provide training for a collaborative leadership team.  Guide them through processes that allow them to create their own vision and mission.  Show them how to align their goals with their vision and mission.
  • Provide training for adults to act as mentors and role models.  Equip adults with tools to be good role models.  Children and teens learn leadership skills by the example they see demonstrated by adults.
  • Develop teams of youth to plan activities (including service projects – especially service projects) and form special interest groups.
  • Actively involve trained youth leaders to serve on larger community planning boards, commissions, and collaborative leadership teams with adults.
  • Support youth leadership teams with funds to launch and operate their programs.  Many church and community organizations provide funding for adult programs, but insist youth must be solely responsible for raising funds to support their programs.  Provide equitable program funding for groups of all ages.
  • Invite youth to be part of the planning process with adults.  Collaborative planning with youth and adults is possible when all participants receive training and conduct meetings with agreed-upon norms.
  • Create opportunities for adults to mentor youth – and train youth to mentor one another.

It is exciting when teens empowered with leadership skills are invited to represent their peers on church and community leadership teams with adults. However, young leaders often ask me, “How come we have to follow the rules of consensus and collaboration and the adults don’t have to?”

“Because you have leadership skills and training,” I explain. “Now, go and be role models.”

When we demonstrate respect for our youth through our words, actions, and invitation into full involvement in the life of our communities, they will come – and they will stay.  And they will bring their friends.  Their friends will bring their parents and curious adults. That’s how church and community organizations grow.

One of my most powerful leadership experiences with teens occurred after I delivered a keynote presentation at a youth conference in San Francisco.

During my absence, the architect of the new church announced plans to eliminate classrooms.  Elaine was a member of our senior high planning team and a preschool teacher in our Sunday school program.  She had vested interest in the plans.

What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay)

       Elaine, me, Andy (front), Elizabeth, Ben

I received a frantic call when I got home about an emergency meeting with the architect in the church hall.

“The architect is changing the plans!” she shouted.  “You’ve got to get up here to the meeting and support us.”

I explained there was probably a misunderstanding and everything was going to be fine.

“You always say we’re more than the future Church, Julie,” she barked. “You say we’re the present church and what we have to say is important.  You either believe it or you don’t.  If you believe it, you better get up here right now.”

I said, “I’ll be there in five minutes.”

That’s what happens when a young person is fully committed, active, and connected to the community.  They hold us accountable.  They measure our words by our actions. They model – and lead – by our example.

What can you do to more fully involve youth in your community?


Learn How to Be a Good Role Model with these tips.

Empower youth leaders with these tips from How to Build a Collaborative Leadership Team.

Prepare adults with suggestions from 10 Tips to Mentor Youth Like a Superstar.

Equip your community with skills to support youth with these tips from How to Be a Good Role Model.

Discover Why We Must Talk to Young People about Their Dreams.

Use these suggestions explore What’s Your Dream? and create a strong vision, mission, and goals.


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Teachers Need Permission to Teach

Teachers Need Permission to Teach“I’m exhausted,” exclaimed a teacher as she exited an eight-hour training session at her school. “Enough of the workshops already. When am I ever going to get permission to teach?”

Most teachers welcome opportunities to learn more about effective instructional strategies and classroom resources. They reach into their own pockets to purchase materials that engage students and open doors to greater academic success. They attend classes that equip them with knowledge and tools to become better instructors.

Federal programs such as Title I were created to provide teachers with on-going professional development (PD). Professional development delivers training to empower educators with knowledge and skills to help students meet high academic standards. 

However, no amount of professional development or teacher training replaces consistent implementation of building and district policies in schools. When students are permitted to violate policies, when parents and primary caregivers are allowed to verbally attack teachers, when administrators reprimand teachers for supporting policies and procedures they were hired to support, and when superintendents and school board members undermine the authority of school administrators, professional development will not fix problems beyond the teachers’ control.

There are three essential elements necessary for creating a positive school culture that supports sustainable change. Solutions to challenges in schools can be explored when staff members are provided (1) training, (2) resources, and (3) permission to do the jobs they were hired to do.

When teachers lack training, schools and districts provide educational opportunities to staff members. Professional development offers outstanding educational opportunities for teachers to acquire new instructional techniques, discover how to effectively use technological tools, and engage in meaningful dialogue to share ideas and discuss classroom strategies that work.

When teachers lack resources, schools and districts provide appropriate tools that enhance learning in classrooms. When schools lack money to equip schools with adequate resources, many teachers spend hundreds of dollars from their own funds to purchase paper, pencils, and supplies for students. These are purchases teachers willingly make because they love to teach and are eager to provide students with tools they need to experience success.

Teachers Need Permission to TeachTeachers must also have permission to teach. This means schools and districts must create consistent policies and procedures that support learning and ensure safe learning environments for all students. Policies and procedures must be clearly defined and communicated to all students, families, and school staff members.

Clear guidelines must unmistakably outline consequences of policy violations. It is imperative for administrators to regularly discuss the importance and value of policies and procedures implemented throughout their buildings with all stakeholders.

Unfortunately, many schools and districts fail to support their own policies and procedures – particularly as they relate to student behavioral and academic expectations. When schools require teachers to attend professional development that focuses solely on academic rhetoric without providing them with permission to teach, professional development is useless – and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

For example, when student behavioral issues interrupt instruction, there must be consistent means through which teachers redirect inappropriate behavior.  Of course, teachers must not exclusively rely on dismissing students from classrooms when unacceptable behaviors interrupt instruction. A teacher must employ several interventions to redirect student behavior.

If the seriousness of a student’s inappropriate behavior escalates after multiple intervention strategies consistent with school and district policies have been employed, all students learn the consequences of inappropriate behavior by watching and listening to exchanges between teachers and pupils.

Students also learn the consequences of inappropriate behavior when their peers discuss the results of inappropriate behavior. Are there consequences? Are parents allowed to persuade teachers to change the consequences that follow inappropriate behavior? Are teachers reprimanded for following school or district procedures? Are administrators’ decisions reversed by school board members who pressure district superintendents? Are teachers’ and administrators’ responses to students and primary caregivers consistent with school and district policies? Or not?

If we want to create schools with sustainable change, school staffs and districts must work together to:

  • Create and support consistent policies aligned with the vision, mission, and goals of the school and district.
  • Provide clear guidelines that support implementation of policies and procedures.
  • Communicate school and district policies and procedures with all stakeholders.
  • Administrators and instructors must be given permission to set appropriate boundaries with students and primary caregivers.
  • Regularly evaluate and update policies and procedures.

Strong professional development experiences can equip educators with powerful learning and teaching strategies. Fred Hang, senior trainer and consultant at The Great Books Foundation, insists teachers share a common attitude about quality PD: “Don’t bore me, don’t waste my time, and don’t talk down to me.” Professional development must be useful, engaging, and applicable to schools and classrooms.

Teachers Need Permission to TeachAs school and district administrators consider professional development for their staffs, consider the following suggestions:

  • Provide meaningful professional development experiences that address specific needs.
  • Provide meaningful professional development experiences facilitated by highly-qualified, experienced experts in their fields.
  • Maximize 21st century tools of technology in ways that enhance PD experiences.
  • Require all staff members, including administrators, to attend professional development experiences.
  • Engage in dialogue about professional development experiences and evaluate effectiveness of PD strategies in classrooms.
  • Offer ongoing support to new and struggling teachers to ensure success.

Brad Henry, former governor of Oklahoma, once said, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.” Teachers enter education because a passion burns within them to share their love of lifelong learning with others. Most teachers are highly trained and highly skilled at providing exceptional instruction. It takes a village to educate our children. We must be willing to collaboratively work together to support our schools and trust the teachers who are hired to provide quality instruction.

What attributes mark an outstanding teacher?


Young people want more than a friend in their adult mentors. Read How to Be a Good Role Model.

Why We Must Talk to Young People About Their Dreams offers tips to engage in meaningful dialogue with teens.

Enjoy reading with your child with these suggestions from Fun Reading Tips Your Child Will Love.



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Stand Tall with Confidence

 Stand Tall With ConfidenceMany people are terrified by three things: fear of public speaking, fear of a painful death, and fear of high school and college reunions. Fortunately, reunions (though sometimes painful) are not fatal.

Reunions reintroduce you to those who know your teenage history. Many people invest entire lifetimes running from their pasts – or running towards new futures severed from their pasts.

I attended a reunion with my sorority sisters from college. When we were students, it was important to wear the right jeans, the right shoes, and to make the right friends.

Marilyn Monroe once said, “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” I believe when we show young women and men how to stand tall with confidence, any shoes are the right shoes.

When I was in seventh grade, I had one focused dream: I wanted to go away to college. I was awkward, shy, and did not have social skills to defend myself when I was bullied. I desperately wanted to run away from my hometown and reinvent myself.

I worked all kinds of odd jobs through high school and college to fund my education. I joined a sorority to overcome shyness and develop social confidence. I did not believe I was as pretty as the other girls in my sorority, but I was smart. I was elected president of the student government association and received numerous leadership awards.

As a speaker and teacher, I am comfortable delivering inspiring speeches and motivating large audiences. However, I’m still an introvert at heart. And I’m still shy.

I was eager to see my sorority sisters again. We gathered around large tables and shared stories about our lives. As my friends opened up, several of them apologized for what they didn’t have, relationships that ended, weight they’d gained, and dreams they abandoned. Several of these remarkable women apologized for where they didn’t live, what they didn’t do, and what they didn’t accomplish.

One particular sorority sister, Cheryl, had the courage to shatter the success myth.

Cheryl is a lively, extroverted woman who graduated with a degree in education. She has the ribbons-and-glitter of a luxurious package: she had a successful career as a teacher, married a successful man, and lives in a beautiful home. She explained the turbulent relationship she shares with her daughter who has bipolar disorder.

She wasn’t sad or ashamed; Cheryl spoke matter-of-factly about the illness, its symptoms, and the genetic line of bipolar disorder within her family. She explained how they set appropriate boundaries for her daughter as a family and how they struggled to love and support one another.

I wanted to stand up and applaud. As someone who understands the struggle of depression, I am elated when someone discusses mental illness with such frank openness.

Cheryl’s example of authenticity reflect powerful lessons about transparency. Her example invites others to stand your own ground with grace and dignity.

"Stand Tall With Confidence" - Here's how with these tips @drjulieconnorTo stand tall with confidence, we must commit to the following life practices:

Stop comparing your insides with other people’s outsides.

It is impossible to realistically compare yourself to others, especially if you are unaware of their personal histories, struggles, or life difficulties. No one escapes this life unscathed. Focus your attention on the gifts and talents you possess and stop punishing yourself for what you don’t have.

Adopt an attitude of gratitude.

Write a list, create a gratitude jar, or begin a journal that contains all of the people, life events, and blessings that make your feel grateful. Ann Voskamp, author of 1000 Gifts, writes, “It’s only in this expressing of gratitude for the life we already have, we discover the life we’ve always wanted.” Gratitude shifts a negative attitude to optimistic appreciation.

Embrace your own story.

Life’s challenges provide us with opportunities to learn new skills, develop wisdom, and find balance. Challenges shift your perspective. You can view challenges as obstacles that prevent you from going where you want to go – or directional arrows that point you in a new direction. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, insists, “When you own your own story, you get to write the ending.”

Rediscover your own passions.

Do you remember what your passions are? What makes you feel enthusiastic and alive? Create a vision board. Start a bucket list. Recall what makes you feel joyful. Do more of what makes you feel happy.

The word, pride, comes from a Latin word, prosum, which means “to be useful, do good.” As you embrace and develop your gifts, you can be of service and an example to others. When you are proud of your story, you give others permission to do the same.

Dr. Seuss, beloved children’s author, wrote, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

The next page of your story begins today. You choose how to write your next chapter.

What are your greatest gifts? How can you use these gifts to strengthen your confidence?


Get rid of negative thoughts with positive words that build confidence with these tips from Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.

Struggling with self-doubt to move forward? Try these suggestions from What to Do Next When You Don’t Know What to Do.

Need encouragement? Read 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.

Your thoughts impact your life. Use these tips from Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle and try on an attitude of a abundance.


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How to Be a Good Role Model

How to Be a Good Role ModelI recently asked a group of adults to describe important qualities they believed young people look for in a role model. They said a strong role model is fun and has a great sense of humor. Someone who understands what it’s like to be a kid. Someone who wants to be their friend. 

Developmental psychologist and researcher, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., surveyed college students to identify common attributes among their role models. They pinpointed qualities like compassion, courage, and listening skills. Price-Mitchell insisted, “The greatest attribute of a role model is an ability to inspire others.”

In her book, Tomorrow’s Change Makers, Dr. Price-Mitchell shared five qualities young people identified as qualities they admired in adult role models:

They Possess Passion and an Ability to Inspire. Role models show passion for their work and have the capacity to infect others with their passion. They love what they do and want to share it with others. Strong role models have an ability to share their light in ways that ignite others to chase their own dreams.

They Have a Clear Set of Values. It’s one thing to talk about your beliefs; but young people expect role models to walk their talk. They admire those who act in ways that support their core values.

They Are Committed to Community. “Role models are other-focused as opposed to self-focused” explained Price-Mitchell. They are active in their communities and share their time and talents with others.

They Are Selfless and Accepting of Others. Young people admire those who demonstrate selflessness and are engaged in service to others. They ignore social barriers and differences. Their words and actions reflect inclusivity.

"How to Be a Good Role Model"They Overcome Obstacles. Young people understand that challenges are part of their lived experiences. They want role models to show them how to face obstacles with courage and determination. They want role models to show them how to use what they learn from challenges to gain new knowledge and skills.

Young people are motivated by confident role models who have a clear purpose and accomplish their goals with hard work, courage, and resilience. They look to their role models for inspiration and to show them the way.

So, how can you be a good role model? Consider these tips to be the kind of adult young people admire:

Be proud of who you are. Stand tall in your own shoes. You don’t have to be a celebrity or a superstar to be a role model. Embrace the gifts you share with the world.

Hold high expectations for yourself and others. When you set a high bar for yourself, you inspire others to set a high bar for themselves.

Stand for something. William Ellery Channing once said, “Be true to your own highest convictions.” Don’t be afraid to honor your own beliefs.

Walk your talk. Young people may listen to your words, but they pay more attention to your actions. Make sure your actions are aligned with your values.

Integrity is important. Be honest and trustworthy. Honor your commitments. Young people are unwilling to open up to you unless you are authentic. Be who you are; not who you think others want you to be.

Be respectful. Treat others as you want to be treated. Don’t ignore kindness or good service. Say “thank you.” Pay it forward. 

Accept responsibility for your own actions. Admit fault when you make a mistake. Apologize if you’ve hurt someone and take action to correct mistakes.

Young people develop coping and problem-solving skills as a result of their life experiences and relationships. Their role models inspire them to overcome obstacles and face each day with a positive attitude. It does not matter what you do to impact a young person’s life for good – it matters who you are.

Are you a good role model?


Do you (or someone you know) want to learn more about what it takes to be a youth mentor?  Read 10 Tips to Mentor Youth Like a Superstar and find out.

Invite youth into issues about social issues with suggestions from Hear the Voices of Our Youth.

Kids are talking about everything they’re not supposed to talk about. Here’s what you can do to join the dialogue about Politics, God, Race, Sex, and Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School.

Discover Why We Must Talk to Young People about Their Dreams

Voices in the City School reflects how storytelling has the power to connect adults with young people and with one another.


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Why You Seriously Need a Sense of Humor

Why You Seriously Need a Sense of Humor“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds,” explained William James. “A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”

The influential philosopher of the late 19th century, often called the “Father of American Psychology,” understood that a sense of humor was as valuable an attribute as common sense.

There is deep wisdom at the heart of humor. It allows you to look at challenges with a lens that frees you from defeat. Laughter lowers stress levels, permits you to comfortably engage with others, and allows you to diffuse difficult situations.

You don’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny to have a sense of humor. All you need, as Eric Idle sang in the musical, Spamalot, is a willingness to “look at the bright side of life.”

  • Tickle your funny bone. What makes you laugh? Read the comics. Reader’s Digest post thousands of funny (and clean!) jokes on their website. Think about the last time when you laughed out loud. What was so funny?
  • Understand context. What might seem humorous or funny to you could also be interpreted as clueless or tasteless by others. Be sensitive to cultural or gender bias. The point is to laugh without sacrificing your dignity.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself. If you can find absurdity in your own circumstances, you can keep them from getting you down. Poet Robert Frost said, “If we can’t, we would all go insane.”
  • Stay above the fray. To develop a sense of humor, be objective. Much that we call humor is victim-related: the guy who slips on a banana peel or the poor dumb blond. You can laugh or make humorous remarks without sacrificing your dignity.
  • Lighten up. Not everybody’s humor will be the same as yours and what might tickle them to death might make you yawn. Instead, find the humor in the situation.
  • Watch and learn. Go see a funny movie or watch a YouTube video. Learn something new: be willing tWhy You Seriously Need a Sense of Humoro adjust your funny-bone-perspective.

Humor allows you to see the ironic, the satirical, and the whimsical in circumstances around you. It need not be dark, profane, or sarcastic to be funny. Humor is clever when it invites you to consider different points of view.

A sense of humor is the leading attribute people look for when they want to build relationships with others. If you can find the absurdity in your own circumstances, you can keep them from getting you down. Victor Borge was correct when he said, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”

At no other time in history has large audiences gathered to watch reality TV stars demonstrate notoriously mean and nasty behavior, bachelors and bachelorettes systematically slash each other up and out of one another’s lives, or talent show judges ridicule and laugh at hopeful contestants. Except at the Colosseum. 1900 years ago. What we once called “rudeness” is now considered “entertainment.”

Our planet desperately needs brave souls with a sense of humor. And kind hearts. They make the world a brighter place to be.

What makes you laugh?


Do you need your spirits lifted? Check out these Inspiring Quotes by Inspiring Authors.

It’s time to have a good time with these tips from Remember How to Play and Have Fun.

Just because you fall down doesn’t mean you have to stay down. Read How to Get Up When You Fall Down.


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Remember How to Play & Have Fun

Remember How to Play & Have FunHave you ever wished your life was a lot less complicated? And a lot more fun?

Kids get it. They know how to have fun. Children are masters of letting go of what happened yesterday and beginning each new day with a fresh start. They are delighted with small surprises, special treats, and opportunities to play. Those are lessons big kids need to learn.

Many years ago, I left a job feeling hopeless. I didn’t want to work there anymore – but the work was familiar and I was good at it. My identity at the time was completely tied to my job. I had no idea what was going to do next.

A friend asked, “What do you want to do?” I didn’t know. He asked, “What do you like to do?” I had no idea.

I completely forgot what made me feel happy. I had to relearn how to play,

How much joy you experience is a mindset – it’s a choice. You get to choose the attitude you want to wear today.

One of the easiest ways to shift your attitude and experience greater happiness is to make small positive changes. Try these simple, practical tips to enjoy your life and experience a lot more fun:

  1. Smile before you get out of bed. You may not feel like it. Do it anyway.
  2. Find and post pictures of things you enjoy. Leaf through pages of magazines. Find words and pictures that inspire you and made you and make you feel happy (You may want to create a vision board). Hang them in places where you will see them.
  3. Draw. Pick up a pencil and doodle. Grab a crayon (Coloring books for adults are very popular!). Expressing your creativity exercises your right brain.
  4. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Think of 10 things that make you feel grateful. Start a gratitude journal. Try these tips to Feel More Grateful (Even If You Don’t Want To).
  5. Take a break. Frequent short breaks during the day boost your energy level. Francesco Cirillo, creator of the Pomodoro Technique, insists that frequent breaks improve your mental agility. Your attention span sharpens when you allow a 5-10 minute breaks for every hour of work.
  6. Listen to music. A large body of research proves that music eases stress, lifts depression, and elevates your mood.
  7. Watch a video that makes you feel good. There are many YouTube videos that brighten your day. Search for videos and podcasts that align with words that make you feel happy.
  8. Learn how to do something new. Take a class. Watch a video. If you want to learn a new skill, there are many online webinars that can show you how to do it. Your library card may give you access to quality videos and webinars on at no charge.
  9. Spend time with people who think you’re awesome. Reach out to a friend. Or create the support network you deserve with these tips from How to Find Your Tribe.
  10. Exercise. Stretch. Take the stairs. Exercise releases dopamine, a chemical in your brain that stimulates feelings of happiness. Go outside and walk around your office building. Walk around the block. Walk your dog. Move your body.
  11. Read. When was the last time you read a good book? Need suggestions? Check out Goodreads and find recommendations.
  12. Create positive affirmations. Find words or inspiring quotations that uplift you. Put the positive in your affirmation by creating statements of what you want (rather focusing attention on what you don’t want).
  13. Practice meditation. Quiet negative thoughts by allowing time to try simple habits of meditation. Leo Babauta outlines easy meditation tips for beginners.
  14. Find a hobby. What did you love to do when you were a kid? What hobbies did you abandon when responsibilities filled your plate? Build 15 minutes into your schedule to do something fun.
  15. Sing a song. What is your favorite song? Sing in the shower. Sing in the car. Do you need backup singers? Sing along with a tune on the radio.
  16. Eat healthy. You feel better when you eat better. Use these wholesome food tips to make healthier food choices.
  17. Resolve to stop complaining. Try it. For one day."Remember How to Play & Have Fun" #play #havefun #fun #selfcare #relax #howtohavefun
  18. Get enough sleep. Most adults are sleep deprived and need at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night to make sound decisions, increase work performance, and reduce crankiness.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” Fly a kite. Play a game. Jump rope. Remember a good joke. Share it with someone else.

Is your cup half-empty – or half-full? You can choose to be happy – or not. The choice is yours. And you can begin to do something about it. Today. Why not now?

How can you celebrate happiness today?

Write your own positive affirmations with these tips from Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.

Feeling sad or bored at work? Check out these suggestions to lift your spirits from 6 Motivating Tips When You Feel Depressed at Work.

Check out these 11 Inspiring Quotes When You Need Encouragement.

Rekindle the fire within you. I share my direction-changing experience in Holding Fire.

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8 Powerful Writing Tips from 8 Powerful Authors

8 Powerful Writing Tips from 8 Powerful AuthorsHave you ever wanted to write something that had your name listed as the author – but didn’t know how to begin? Or do you guard what you write in a journal for your own enjoyment? Established authors are often eager to share writing tips to anyone who wants to sharpen their composition muscles.

Shanna Mallon, a successful blogger and author of Written Together: A Story of Beginnings, in the Kitchen and Beyond, shares tips from eight writing masters to strengthen your writing skills:

1.  When you do something, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If there’s one thing that separates good writers from great writers, it’s passion,” insists Shanna. “When you care about what you’re saying, your audience can tell. So, write with passion.”

I write passionately about topics that interest me and areas with which I have experience. I love to write about things that inspire me – like goal-setting strategies, collaboration, and inclusion. I love to write about my teaching experiences in the classroom. I am currently working on two novels for teens. I would not attempt to write about carburetors, neurosurgery, or aerodynamics.

2.  Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.  – Ray Bradbury

Shanna explains, “The more you practice, the better you become.” Produce quality content. Although she suggests “refine as you go,” I write first and edit later. Editing while writing can create a roadblock that can seriously stall the completion process.

3.  Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  – Anton Chekhov

“Work to reveal information rather than tell it,” Shanna advises. “Let your readers figure things out for themselves.” Provide details that make readers hungry for more.

When I teach creative writing workshops, I share my favorite writing tip: Use strong verbs.

Bad Example:  The large and angry manager in the navy blue suit with grey pinstripes and silver hair spoke very loudly to the little man in the corner.
Good Example:  An angry manager roared at the little man.

4.  Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.  – George Orwell

Avoid clichés. Shanna adds, “Common, overused phrases make your writing feel stale and boring, so look for new ways to describe ideas.” Clichés are void of personal experience. Use your own words because they are original.

I once taught a communication arts lesson about similes and metaphors to my seventh grade students at an urban middle school. Their creative use of language was inspiring:

* He was as angry as an assassin’s bullet.

* Her heart was as empty as an abandoned apartment.

* Poisonous ideas bubbled in their heads like witches’ brew in a caldron.

(I share some of their personal stories in Voices in the City School.)

5.  I try to leave out the parts that people skip.  – Elmore Leonard

Once upon a time, a writer showed his manuscript to his publisher. The publisher repeatedly shouted, “I don’t know where you’re going with this!” The writer insisted, “Just wait until you get to Chapter 3.” The publisher returned the draft to the writer and said, “I’ll take a look at it after you cut out Chapters 1 and 2.”

I launched the writing process for my personal goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide, with a table of contents. I used the table of contents as a guide to create a dream-it-plan-it-do-it process that showed readers how to transform an idea into an action plan with attainable goals. Although there were big differences between the first draft of the table of contents and the final product, it served as a helpful outline throughout the writing process.

Ask someone you trust and who has knowledge about good writing to critique your work. Invite them to be ruthless. Be willing to receive critical feedback and make changes to your writing. Make the courageous cuts your work needs to strengthen the power of its content.

6.  No matter how wonderful a sentence is, if it doesn’t add new and useful information, it should be removed.  – Kurt Vonnegut

It’s easy as writers to become attached to our own creative use of words. Shanna explains, “If you want your writing to be powerful, you must eliminate anything — even things you like — if it doesn’t carry its own weight.” Try to write without editing as you compose your first draft. You waste valuable time when you write, then correct, and edit again while you try to write. When you’re ready to edit, be prepared to cut the clutter (see suggestions in #5).

Sometimes it is a good idea to walk away from your draft — particularly if you experience writer’s block. Time and space away from your draft offers opportunities to see unnecessary content and correct mistakes.

7.  Don’t be intimidated by the vastness of your audience. Imagine you are writing to a single reader. I have found it helps to pick out one real person I know and write to that person.  – John Steinbeck

Consider your target audience as you write. For example, think about one particular person who needs to hear your unique message and write to that person. Shanna states, “Writers can get caught up trying to please the masses.” She adds, “You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try.”

Many people believe they have a powerful story to tell. Remember the purpose of telling your story is not to focus attention upon your experiences. The purpose of your story is to help your audience discover their own story in your experience. Use these tips from Craft a Story People Want to Hear to deliver a strong message with which your readers can identify.

8.  I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice and then going away and doing the exact opposite.  – G.K. Chesterton

Conway Twitty once sang, “Listen to advice, but follow your heart.” I offered readers opportunities to critique my work and provide feedback on several occasions. Many of them shared positive reviews that are included at the beginning of my book.

At readers’ requests, I am creating a book study leaders’ edition of my book. Someone who thought the goal-setting strategies in the book may be helpful to others suggested that I should add sample pages from Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide  as free downloads on my website. I am eternally grateful for the criticism and helpful suggestions I receive from readers.

Although advice may or may not shape what you write and how you write it, your work and your voice is distinctively yours. “Don’t ever let trying to follow someone else’s path stop you from forging your own,” insists Shann8 Powerful Writing Tips from 8 Powerful Authorsa. “You have a unique voice and that’s the best thing you can offer your audience.”

Many authors (and potential authors) may share your areas of interest and appeal to your particular audience, but none of them share your experiences, passions, ideas, inspirations, or gifts. Nor do they possess your unique talents.

It does not matter whether you choose to write poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction – what matters is that you commit to writing. French poet, Charles Baudelaire, wrote, “Always be a poet, even in prose.” Choose words that have meaning and power. Choose words that sound like your authentic voice.

It’s time to put your pen to paper (or your fingertips to your computer).

Your audience is waiting.

What are your favorite writing tips?


Are you ready to write – but struggle with writer’s block? Try these tips and Transform Writer’s Block into Awesomeness.

Thinking about writing an ebook? These suggestions, Tips to Write a Spectacular Ebook, are written by seasoned authors (They guided me as I wrote my book).

Are you ready to get started? Why not write a SMART writing goal? Or assemble a visual collection of your writing thoughts by creating an awesome vision board.

If you want to share your story, it must include more than your experience. Use these tips and discover How to Be a Good Storyteller.

Life’s challenges often point the way to stories that inspire others. I share my experiences when I had to change the direction of my life in Holding Fire.



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