Chad Varga’s unforgettable story has made him today's preeminent authority on how to overcome any odds and all obstacles to fulfill your dreams.

Respect

050114_senior_prom2_640We live in a time when people do just about anything—even illegal things—to get some respect from others. Don’t get caught up in that game. Respect isn’t something you force others to give. It’s not something you ask for. It’s something that’s given to you in return for the respect you give out. That begins with respecting your elders.

Austin Dennison is a great example. He just graduated Parkway High School in Rockford, Ohio, but before that, he attended his last prom and his decision on who to take for a date gained national attention. As Todd Starnes reported, Austin asked Delores Dennison, his 89-year-old great grandmother, to the big dance.

Austin wasn’t desperate for a prom date. He’s a good-looking kid who’s an accomplished athlete in three sports: football, baseball, and basketball. He also plays music and is an Eagle Scout. But when it came time to prepare for his last prom, he knew he wasn’t going to take the typical route and ask a girl from his school. He called his great grandmother, Delores, instead and asked her. Then he made the night special.

After helping her pick out a new dress and purse, he took her to her favorite spot for dinner before heading to the prom. Once there, Austin introduced her to all his friends and then escorted her onto the dance floor where he had one more surprise. As he took his great grandmother’s hand, the song that his great grandfather used to sing to her began to play: Frank Sinatra’s “Delores.” It was a moment, and a night, neither will forget.

When asked afterward why he did it all, Austin Dennison explained that he has respect for his elders because they have taught him so much throughout his young life. He wanted to do something in return. That’s precisely how we all need to look at respect. It’s not something you ask for. It’s something you earn through your actions toward others. And now, Austin Dennison has earned the respect of millions. It’s absolutely deserved.

Go Out of Your Way

Two pathsLast month Kyle Lang, a senior from West Salem High School in Wisconsin, went on a jog. But not just any jog, a long jog—101 miles to be exact, the equivalent of roughly four marathons. The run was part of Kyle’s senior exit project aimed at raising awareness for those who go hungry every day in this country.

It’s shocking but 1 in every 6 people in America have to face the day without enough food. That statistic alone was enough to inspire Kyle to do something big about it. He set out on his run on June 24 and by the evening of June 25, he had completed 101 miles and raised (and is still raising) thousands of dollars that will go directly to the Hunger Task Force advocacy group and the WAFER food pantry. Kyle Lang is an inspiration to everyone but especially those who’ve been told you’re too young to make a difference.

Don’t let the words of others or your age be an excuse to not do something big. And don’t let being a student with limited means keep you from being creative and going out of your way to make life better for another person. You have everything you need inside you—heart, mind, will, and faith.

Ask yourself what stirs your heart, then go do something big about it. “Don’t ask what the world needs,” said Howard Thurman. “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Be Uncommon

StrawberriesA ninth-grader in northern Pakistan was walking to school on January 6 this year when a young man wearing a school uniform asked him where the school was. The 14-year-old immediately sensed something was wrong. He challenged the man who grew agitated and eventually turned and ran. That’s when the boy realized the man had a bomb strapped to himself that he intended to detonate inside the school walls.

In an incredible act of courage and selflessness, the boy took off running after the man and eventually caught him at the school’s main gate. When the boy tackled the man and they began to scuffle on the ground, the bomb detonated, killing both the boy and the bomber.

A week later, Pakistan’s Prime Minister nominated the boy, Aitazaz Hassan Bangash, for the country’s top civilian award for bravery. He also announced that the school would be renamed after Bangash, whose uncommon act of self-sacrifice would never be forgotten. And it won’t.

The world is full of common people who make choices every day that most people make. They keep quiet when they see someone being ridiculed. They walk away when they see someone in need. They go along with the crowd even when they know it’s not smart. Common people are forgotten. And they do not make an impact on this world, or themselves. Common people end up with common, uninspiring results. They do not realize their dreams.

People like Aitazaz Hassan Bangash are anything but common. While they don’t seek the spotlight, their actions set them apart from those around them. They don’t let peer pressure or a need to look “cool” dictate what they say or how they act. Uncommon people are true to themselves and the dreams they hold inside. And they are committed to doing the best thing in each situation.

Uncommon people know the one thing common people refuse to believe: if you want to see uncommon results in your life, you have to take an uncommon path. Every day. It is the only way your dreams will be fulfilled.

The Power of Forgiveness

HoweWhen 16-year old Jordyn Howe discovered his stepfather’s pistol sitting on a high shelf and wrapped in a towel, he brought it to school to show it off to friends. The gun was passed around on the school bus and when it came back to Howe, he pointed it at the floor and pulled the trigger. It didn’t discharge leading him to believe the gun wasn’t loaded. A few minutes later, he jokingly pointed the gun at fellow student Lourdes “Jina” Guzman-DeJesus. This time when he pulled the trigger, the gun discharged, hitting Guzman-DeJesus in the neck and killing her.

Jordyn Howe plead guilty to manslaughter and two other chargers and was ordered by a Florida court to be sent to juvenile prison for two years. His time in prison would have begun earlier this month. But Martha Guzman-DeJesus, the mother of the victim, stepped in.

Through a series of meetings with Jordyn Howe, Mrs. Guzman-DeJesus came to the conclusion that Howe was a good kid who knew her daughter and never meant to harm her. He’d made a terrible, life-altering decision but she saw that he was truly remorseful for what he had done. With the help of her lawyers and Howe’s, she made a surprising, courageous decision.

Last week, Martha Guzman-DeJesus stood up in a Florida court and read a tear-filled statement that she’d written to Jordyn Howe and those responsible for his fate. In it she explained that she had forgiven her daughter’s killer and that she did not want him to serve time in prison. Instead, she wanted him to join her going from school to school over the next year, sharing with students, teachers, and parents about the imminent dangers of guns in the hands of children. When she finished giving her statement, she walked over to Jordyn Howe and embraced him

The court accepted the plea deal and today, Jordyn Howe is not in prison—not because of a loophole or because his parents hired expensive lawyers who played the system. Jordyn Howe is not in prison for killing a fellow student because he is the recipient of the power of one woman’s forgiveness.

We will all be hurt by others in our lifetime—some to an incredibly painful degree. The common person chooses to hold onto resentment for months, years, even a lifetime. The uncommon person chooses to forgive. Ultimately we cannot change what is done to us. But we can change how it affects us. Resentment is poison. Forgiveness is freedom. Always choose to forgive.

Don’t Run from Weakness

Man holding boulderHere we are again, on the eve of another tragic shooting at a school—this time the Seattle Pacific University. And as always we are left wondering why these things still happen. There is no perfect answer, unfortunately, but there are common reasons. One of them is fear. But I’m not talking about fear in the typical sense—I’m talking about the fear of weakness.

I’ll be the first to admit I am no psychologist or human behavioral specialist but I know a little something about failure and success. And I’ve seen far more than my share of the dark side of human nature. In fact, I lived in the midst of it for the first 18 years of my life. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that when you run from personal weaknesses or try to hide them behind a facade of toughness or coolness or some other trait that you think makes you more acceptable to your peers, you don’t become stronger or tougher or cooler. You actually become weaker. If you run from your weaknesses long enough, you eventually become so unstable you crack.

I know it’s not a popular notion to mention our weaknesses let alone actually work at improving them. In fact, there is a major movement in our country that promotes focusing on your strengths and ignoring your weaknesses. This is a half-baked approach to a healthy, successful life for one primary reason: your weaknesses are the primary enemy of your strengths and therefore any progress you try to make.

While strengthening your strengths is critical to succeeding at any endeavor, if it’s all you do, you’ll eventually hit a ceiling on your potential. And it may come sooner than you realize. The only way to lift that ceiling is to work on your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. When you do that you not only become a far more formidable force toward your dreams, you greatly diminish the possibility of breakdown. You become a more whole and healthy person.

It’s not weak to admit weakness. And it’s not uncool to work on a weakness until it becomes a strength. Don’t hide who you are to be more acceptable. Accept who you are, strengths and weaknesses, and put in the time to diminish the biggest enemy of your dreams—and possibly others’ dreams too.