Category Archives: Motivational stories

Put Down That Cell Phone and Find Your Passion

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When I was a teenager, I thought the happiest teens must be the ones who didn’t get acne.  Or the ones who got excellent grades.  Or perhaps the ones who had a lot of friends or a great wardrobe.  Now I’m convinced I had it all wrong.  Certainly clear skin, honor roll status and solid friendships help a kid feel better about himself in the roller-coaster teenage years.  But it seems that teens who are passionate about an activity (excluding texting and other forms of screen viewing) may be the ones who are the happiest of all – or at least the most resilient.

Recently at my son’s high school baseball game in a neighboring town, I was prepared to be impressed by the powerhouse opponent his team faced. And I was not disappointed (except for the fact that my son’s team lost).  Sitting in the bleachers, I wondered how this town always seemed to produce top notch sports teams… They did back when I was in high school and they continue to do so today.  They even have music blasting over loud speakers in between innings…. And an announcer who would sound great at Fenway Park.

That announcer, my daughter pointed out to me, is Johnny, a boy she went to preschool with, fourteen years ago, who she remembers, happens to share her September 11th birthday.  Now Johnny has a commanding voice and is doing what he loves: announcing at sports games.  He’s been doing it since fifth grade, when he happily volunteered to fill in for an announcer at a Mighty Mites football game.  Now a senior, he and his best friend Luke (who started up a sports advice site  http://www.streakadvice.com/) will attend college in Alabama in September.  They will take different routes to attain sports-related careers but they have already booked air time to host a sports radio show on campus this fall.   Now that’s passion.

Even if a teen happens to love the challenge of reading Shakespeare and doing complex math problems (and I’m sure there are some who do), having a passion outside of school hours could make some of the daily challenges of high school – the coursework, the teen drama, the acne, the moodiness – feel less burdensome.  Finding a passion could even lead to career ideas or opportunities.  I went to high school with a girl whose love of sewing beginning in seventh grade home economics class, eventually lead to a successful career in fashion design.

A friend of mine was uncertain about her son’s interest in auto mechanic work.  She and her husband earned advanced degrees and are now professionals working in medicine and law. When their son and a classmate from his vocational high school scored the highest in the state of Massachusetts in an automotive repair competition last year and qualified for a competition at the national level, she finally realized this type of hands-on work was his passion.

But what if a teen doesn’t seem to have a passion?

Not knowing what one’s passion is, is similar to not knowing what careers are out there.  There are probably many that are suitable for each individual but until they are discovered, they can’t be tried.**

At my kids’ high school, an Ultimate Frisbee club has formed because enough kids expressed an interest in it.  Where was this game when I was in high school?  It’s obvious to anyone driving by, that these kids love their game.

1999021Quidditch – the game played with broomsticks, made popular by Harry Potter — is gaining in popularity.  I know a 23 year old who plays regularly.  Really!

Do my kids have passions?  My tween enjoys soccer, lacrosse and cooking (breakfast food, that is).  My son plays baseball, hockey and golf.   And my soon-to-be college student enjoys singing and lately, scrapbooking.  Will they make careers out of these passions?  Maybe indirectly.  Maybe not at all.  Their passions may even change.  But they may add some much-needed relief when life gets bumpy.

 

** Check out this site for hobbies you and your teen may not know about:

http://www.notsoboringlife.com/list-of-hobbies/ .

 

photo:  youthultimateproject.org

 

Reclaiming Patience — Can It Be Done?

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If I could find a decorative sign with the saying Patience is a Virtue, I would hang it prominently in my home to remind us all that we can’t have everything we want when we want it, lest we become whiny, perpetually dissatisfied beasts.

Patience  (noun) 1. The quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.

Ironically, I just returned home from dropping the minivan off to be fixed.  On the ride back to the house, kindly given by my teenager in our other car, she informs me that she and some friends will be using the car to go to Castle Island in South Boston today and that she has already discussed this with my husband.  My first thought was: I will be without a car on this gorgeous, sun-filled day.

Instead of thanking my teenager for getting out of bed and following me to the auto body shop, I felt instantly annoyed by this new information. Without thinking I snapped  at her that I would need her to help clean up around the house before she left.  In my impatience I blurted it out in a tone that sounded bitter and mean, kind of like Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest.  As a result I was treated to some eye rolling.  The whole exchange could have been pleasant if I had given myself time to think.  I really didn’t need the car.  I had things to do at home and going for a walk would be beneficial.  Patience is a Virtue.

Patience (noun)  2.  An ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.

My family has a hard time waiting.  Each of us is currently waiting for some big events to arrive and we are guilty of getting restless:

  • Fifteen days left of high school for my daughter (and then the start of college a few months later).
  • Less than a month until my sophomore son takes his driver’s license test.
  • A seventh grade week-long trip to Washington, DC for my youngest child.  (She’s finally there this week after she thought it would never come).
  • An exterior painting makeover for our house, weather pending, any time now.  (Some may wonder if it’s an abandoned home, it looks so bad).
  • Spring weather!  It’s almost May and brief flurries are in tomorrow’s forecast.  Sigh.
  • Big events are hard to wait for but the waiting serves a purpose.  The waiting makes the event that much more delightful.  Christmas, Hanukah, big trips, graduations, marriages, the arrival of newborn babies, house renovations —  all require planning, preparation and yes, funding.  Surviving the wait is almost as joyous as the event itself.

On the other hand, there is a different kind of waiting or patience that is almost missing these days.  These days it’s easy to get what we want, when we want it, thanks to technology and the availability of services and conveniences.   I worry that the younger generation, including my own teenagers, is slowly forgetting how it feels to have to wait even a short amount of time for something.

Recently we picked up donuts to bring to my in-laws’ house.  Prior to going into Dunkin Donuts, one of my children made a request for bottled water. This certainly wasn’t a major request, or an expensive one, but I decided she could survive the ten minute ride to her grandparent’s house without water.  She disagreed wholeheartedly.  (She survived).

7079fe14-ac9e-4fc3-ae62-86b6f0bf8e36How many of us need a coffee to drive wherever we’re going?  How many of us prefer to grab a coffee on the go rather than wait for the coffeemaker to brew a pot?   When I was little, people drank their coffee before they left the house or waited until they reached their workplaces to have a cup.  Now people can’t wait.  They need to drive directly from home to the nearest drive-through.

When I was a teenager, it was a treat to get a manicure and a pedicure. We would wait to get one when we had a special occasion to attend.  It was a treat to eat out at a restaurant.  I didn’t know what eyebrow waxing was (and I certainly would have benefitted from this service).  Watching TV and going to the movies was a one-shot deal.  There were no videos and DVDs and On Demand.  We looked forward to seeing our favorite TV shows on their scheduled nights and we talked about them with our friends the next day.  Today, young girls are getting manicures and pedicures and all sorts of expensive hair treatments on a regular basis.  (Do teens have bad hair days anymore?)

I’m sure there are plenty of people who choose to eat at home and who don’t need fancy beauty treatments, clothes and gadgets.  In fact, most people know when they need to “tighten the belt” and when to turn off the TV or computer.   But I also know that we could all use a little more self-restraint and that requires patience.

Patience (noun) 3.  Quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence: to work with patience.

There are some things that absolutely demand time and patience.  Earning a degree, writing a thesis paper, mastering a golf swing, learning a foreign language, saving for college or building up the strength and stamina to run a marathon – all necessitate patience.   We owe it to our children to emphasize the importance of sticking with a task patiently – to not give up no matter how boring, uncomfortable or challenging a task might be.

Today I was fortunate to be able to have lunch with my Godchild Elise.  At 13, Elise knows more about patience and perseverance than most kids her age and probably more than many adults.  Elise was born with an upper limb anomaly.  She is missing her left hand.  Most kids Elise’s age want nothing more than to be accepted by their peers. They dress alike, talk alike and form friendships based more on their similarities than their differences.

Elise has been navigating the same world as her peers but she has developed a different mindset. While the average 13 year old makes the most of her strengths and minimizes her weaknesses, Elise makes the most of her strengths and prevails over her weaknesses.   She’s a good student but admits that math is not as easy or enjoyable for her as science and reading. (She’s reading Pride and Prejudice for fun).  She has set a goal for herself:  To work extra hard at math since she’s hearing that high school math is significantly harder and she will need strong math skills to pursue a career in either neonatology, genetics or forensic pathology.

I have no doubt that Elise will succeed at challenging math.  This is a girl who learned at a very young age to focus on her abilities rather than her disabilities.   She learned how to dress herself and tie her shoes – no Velcro necessary. Her parents nudged her to give swimming a try.  She didn’t love it at first but stuck with it and now swims competitively.  She writes poetry, knits and does Pilates.  Many of the tasks that others take for granted require patience, practice and determination for Elise to master.  (She had to sit out when her gym class did chin ups on a bar).  She has no desire to be fitted with a prosthetic device simply because she has managed just fine without one.

Has all this been easy for her?  Not at all.  She has suffered through her share of girl drama.  (She now prefers to hang out with academically driven students).  She is accustomed to people staring at her anomaly.  But she wishes they would approach her with questions rather than remain silent.  In fact, she chose to talk to her mother’s fourth grade students about her missing hand – to demonstrate how efficiently she can do certain tasks.  To welcome their questions and eliminate any misconceptions they may have.  I have a feeling Elise’s future is very bright indeed.  She has the patience and determination to make it so.

That’s a wicked good teen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rare Kind of Popular

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Something happens to students upon entering middle school.  It was only 7 months ago that I watched fresh faced kids, including my own, in their best attire, smiling broadly as they received certificates for completing elementary school.  Now, as some of these same faces arrive for Monday night CCD class, it’s as if someone flipped a switch and they officially became teenagers who walk, talk and dress alike.

Clusters of girls in skinny jeans, wearing UGG’s and North Face jackets and sporting pony tails, walk in tight groups, practically tripping over each other.  They’re chatting and laughing excitedly, their eyes darting around the room, assessing the others. The boys sport their own “uniform” – mostly North Face jackets, jeans and sneakers or work boots.  More clustering and more scoping out the scene. Just one year ago as an assistant,  I would have received many more  hellos from these kids.  Now they barely register that I’m present.

Although the “look” is not unfamiliar to me, as I have two kids who have gone through this stage already, it’s still remarkable to watch it in action.  It’s no longer easy for me to pick my girl out in a crowd of seventh graders as she, too, has the “look.”  Occasionally our eyes meet and I am rewarded with a sweet, if not sympathetic, smile. (She still likes me).

Tonight’s topic is social justice and how God deeply loves everyone in the world, regardless of their appearance, achievements or possessions (or lack thereof) and how God expects us all to extend that same love to our neighbors.  We have a responsibility to love and to take care of each other, particularly those who are the poorest and neediest among us.

Close your eyes and imagine what this room would feel like if we all loved each other unconditionally, the same way God loves us.  How would it feel?

It’s a question that appears to have caught them off guard.  It’s clearly a moment of thinking outside the box for these middle school students, most of whom spend each day trying to dress right, feel good emotionally and physically, and fit in with their peers while projecting an image of having everything figured out. Love one’s peers?  Whoa.

“It would feel gooooood,” said one boy, fluttering his eyelashes and wrapping an arm around the shoulders of the boy next to him.

“Amazing!” shrieked another boy who likes to get a reaction (and he got one).

“Good,” replied my daughter, when I asked her later, in the privacy of our home. “’Cuz there’d be no meanness, no sarcasm… no bullying.”  Aha.  The original question at the group meeting was meant to elicit such a response but, alas, got none.  Not even from my daughter who apparently had the answer in her head.  I have a feeling others may have had it, too.  Confidence, peace, acceptance and cooperation were some of the ideas I had in my own mind.

If we each could see only goodness in each other, the way God sees goodness in all of us, the lack of judgment and competition could free up individuals to completely and comfortably be themselves.  No one would feel the need to compare himself to others, but would just be somewhere along the path of his own journey.

But typically for teens (and for many adults), that’s not the way it works.   Survival of the fittest takes over, beginning in middle school, when it is of utmost importance to wear the right clothes and own certain gadgets.   They desperately want to be liked by others.  They want to fit in, to be smart, to make the right team, to look attractive, to make people laugh.  They want others to believe they have everything under control but in reality, underneath the “uniform” and the giggling and the silly responses to serious questions, they all have limitations that they try to hide from others.  Sensing they belong is sometimes more important than sensing the need to show compassion for someone else.

The same kid in this seventh grade CCD class who only a few years ago was shy and polite in class, tonight appears to be the ring leader among the guys, even showing no remorse for failing to save his long-time friend a seat with the group. I watch as the friend without a seat shrugs his shoulders, red faced, and searches for a free chair away from his peers. It’s similar to the second question posed tonight.  If you saw someone sitting alone at a table in the school lunchroom, would you sit with him or even ask him to join your table?

Many teens know the discomfort of sitting alone, if for no other reason than seats at a table are unavailable.  Regardless, sitting alone is not enjoyable for most teens.  Even self-assured teens don’t enjoy sitting alone.  Would you join the kid sitting alone?   It depends, they say.   How many teens would sit with a friend who was alone?  How many would sit with someone they didn’t know who was alone?  How many would sit with someone who had few friends?  God asks us to take care of each other.

Not long ago, another mom and I were talking about how fantastic the bonding is that typically takes place for the sixth grade students in our town at a week-long overnight camp.  This year, however, one student made the long trek home to sleep each night and returned in the morning.  When some of his cabin mates joked about the student’s need to go home, one student not only refused to join in but verbally questioned the integrity of the group for ridiculing this child and for doing so behind his back.  Speaking up takes tremendous courage for someone so young.   Even adults have trouble putting an end to idle gossip.  It’s much easier, although cowardly, to remain silent.

* * *

Teens might be surprised to know that everyone is more or less fighting some kind of battle.  Even those who seem to have everything going well for them oftentimes are struggling in some way.  Consider these situations:

  • The academically driven student who is secretly hurt when others criticize her for trying too hard.
  • The student who wants to succeed but just doesn’t have the passion and/or skills to do so and develops an attitude to mask his discouragement.
  • The rule-following student who doesn’t understand why the disrespectful behavior receives more approval by peers.
  • The kid who has lots of friends but feels enormous anxiety about the dysfunction happening at home.
  • The kid who will do anything to feel accepted in the “popular” crowd, even if it means severing old, established friendships
  • The kid whose family is struggling to make ends meet, and cannot afford fancy gadgets or brand name labels and feels inferior.

Things are not always what they seem.   Extending compassion and acceptance to others — regardless of how they look or act — could be habit-forming and could be life-changing for the giver as well as the recipient.  Be kind to enemies?  What is there to lose?

All teens have the potential to be popular.   By popular teen I mean those rare people who are genuinely kind to everyone with no expectation of kindness being returned.  These are the teens who smile and talk to everyone – the wallflowers, the know-it-alls, the athletes, the band geeks, the Queen Bees and even the rough-around-the-edge rebellious types.  Maybe some day, this kind of popular will be the norm.

* * *

I recently stopped at the local pizza parlor to pick up dinner.  While there, I was approached by a beautiful girl who goes to the same high school as my children.  Without hesitation, this girl approached me with a big smile, saying hello and asking me how I was.  She did not have to do anything other than wave at me from her seat yet she came over to me and showed genuine interest.  I am certain that if I were her age, I would not have the courage to do so.  I don’t know this girl well but she made me smile – and did so in front of her peers.  Now that is a wicked good teen.

Swing That Bat! (Who cares if you miss?)

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As a mother, I find it so easy to dole out advice to my kids.  A big piece of advice I seem to be doling out lately is don’t give up, i.e.  stick with it or  keep trying.  Or, as the late Ed Amaral (my Trigonometry teacher of ‘84) used to repeat daily:  You’ve gotta get up and swing the bat!  You have to be a doer and when things don’t go perfectly, try it again. Keep at it.

My daughter, 17, is on the fence about trying out for the lacrosse team this spring, her senior year.  Her thinking:  She and a handful of other juniors were placed on the JV team this past spring, so her chance of making the varsity team as a senior, when so many talented underclassmen are trying out too, is slim.  She will probably be cut, she reasons.  “Don’t give up!” I keep telling her.

It sounds so easy.  But it’s not.  Because unless you were born with a photographic memory and you can ace verbal and written tests, you need to work hard to learn something new and to improve your skills in most areas.  So why don’t people follow the Nike message and Just Do it?  Why do I have to keep reminding my teenagers to keep trying and to not give up?

As far as I can tell, a person who moans and groans at the thought of working hard does so for one of three reasons:

  •  Reason #1:  Fear of failure.  This person gives up prematurely or procrastinates because he or she is paralyzed by the prospect of not succeeding.  Instead of saying “I think I can, I think I can…” like the little toy engine did, this person says “I can’t,  I can’t…..”   yet deep down knows that doing well is within reach.  This kind of person needs encouragement. My youngest child (12) is a good student but will whine about tackling a big school project until she knows she is running out of time to complete it.  Then she works with tunnel vision, excited by how it is coming along each step of the way.
  • Reason #2:  Laziness.  This person cannot bear to feel the pain of thinking, practicing, or preparing well.  He or she will do just enough to say he tried, but no more.  Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions to get in shape or lose weight start out with good intentions until they realize reaching that goal doesn’t happen overnight – it takes hard work.  A student who takes a final exam without having studied (because he already learned the material all semester!) most likely won’t get a good grade.
  • Reason #3:  Reality.  This person comes to the realization that he or she is just not skilled enough to perform the task – and he’s right!   This would be me if I suddenly decided it would be cool to be an opera singer.  (I can’t carry a tune to save my life nor do I like to be on stage, although I dream of having a beautiful singing voice).  The non-reader who knows that taking AP English would be disastrous is making a smart decision by not enrolling in the class. (Note: Taking a difficult course to be challenged is good if extra hard work results in a attaining a C or better, in my opinion).

The point is, most teenagers (and many adults) are still learning that hard work is required of any worthwhile task and the sooner they learn this lesson, the sooner they will realize perseverance pays off.  Does it mean they will always get the A, make the team, land the job or lose the weight?  No.  However, it will help establish a very positive mindset that they’ve given it their all and that’s a tremendous feeling.

I recently read a story in The Boston Globe about a local teen, Sammy Davis (Pembroke, MA), who was invited to try out for the U18 national hockey team in Lake Placid, NY.  Although she ultimately got cut, she was thrilled to be one of only 30 girls nationwide to be selected to try out.

How did this remarkable feat happen?  Sammy has been ice skating since she was five years old, playing on boys hockey teams through the Squirt (age 10) level. Then she played on girls teams, including her most recent Tabor Academy team and Bay State Breakers Green (U19) team.  That’s a lot of hockey.  In response to getting cut from the national team she said it only gives her fuel to come back stronger next time around.

So….  Back to my daughter and her upcoming lacrosse tryout. Is it totally unreasonable to think that she might make the varsity team?  After all, she is a decent player and has played on a lacrosse team (albeit the JV team) all three years of high school.

I think she has a shot at it IF she adopts the attitude that she needs to train extra hard in the weeks or months leading up to the tryout.  She will be tired because she will have to push herself to run faster and further.  She will have to spend a significant amount of time practicing her cradling, passing and catching with a friend.  She will have to head onto the tryout field with the attitude that they need her on that team and she deserves to be on it.

And, if she doesn’t make the team, she can feel good about herself for doing her best and for swinging that bat.

Now that’s a Wicked Good Teen!