The True Meaning of Tough

Tough kidThe latest research shows that 7% of high schoolers reported being threatened or injured by a weapon on school property; 20% reported being bullied; and 33% reporting being in a physical fight within the last year. Whether or not you’ve been on one side of those statistics, there’s something important I want you to know: being tough isn’t about controlling, intimidating, bullying, dissing or defeating another person. In fact, there’s nothing easier than making yourself look and feel good by making someone else look and feel bad. Needing to diminish the value of others in order to increase your value is a sure sign of weakness. And it’s not the path to reaching your dreams.

We live in a world where we often see and hear people forcing their way through life, leaving a trail of others behind them all in the name of success. It’s a lie that you shouldn’t believe. The success that comes with that behavior is an empty, lonely success that won’t last. While being a confident and assertive person is an important quality, being confident and assertive is not the same thing as being cocky and aggressive. If you are cocky, you don’t care about what others think or feel—you just do “your thing” with an air of aggression and apathy. On the other hand, if you are truly confident, you know how to assert yourself in a respectful, conscientious manner. While everyone may not agree with you all the time, you never devalue someone for thinking or acting differently. In fact, if you truly believe in what you are doing and ultimately know it’s right, then you shouldn’t need to say a word—the results of your actions will eventually be proof enough.

In the end, those around you are never immune to your words and actions. None of us lives in a cave. But if you choose to do what’s right, and if you choose to value the lives of others as much as you value your own, while others won’t always agree with what you say and do, in time they will always come to respect you. And earning the respect of those who are different than you or don’t see eye-to-eye with you is the truest meaning of tough. Be truly tough.

Say Yes to Your Dream, Part II

girl-planeLast week, I told you that until you get serious about your dreams for your life and truly hone in on them and own them, you will struggle to stay motivated in school. Sure, you can gut it out, put in the tedious hours, spit back the information you’re supposed to learn, and get a better grade just because that’s what a good student is supposed to do. But how long does that approach last? Are you really going to stay motivated to knock out that Geometry homework every week, not just for a couple months but for several years, with the “because I’m supposed to” strategy?

It’s highly doubtful.

Don’t hear me wrong. If you’re that rare sort of individual who doesn’t need a strong reason to excel in school, then more power to you. You have a leg up on most of your peers. But if you’re like most who struggle to see how learning Algebra or Chemistry or…you fill in the blank…will matter in the grand scheme of your life, then clarifying your dream is not only a good idea; it is one of the most important actions you can take. Here’s the proof.

In a recent MindShift blog post (, author Ingfei Chen explained that a few years ago, a psychologist named David Yeager interviewed high school students about their hopes and dreams, wondering what dreams were most common among those who excelled in school. He discovered something he didn’t expect. It wasn’t the students who spoke in generalities that they wanted to make good money or do what they loved for a living that seemed to put the biggest stock in their schoolwork. It was the students who went a step further and associated their future dreams with a specific purpose larger than themselves, like caring for the sick or improving the community where they lived, that ultimately rated their schoolwork as most meaningful.

“Given this information,” writes Chen, “Yeager and his colleagues wanted to know: could such a bigger sense of purpose that looks beyond one’s self-interests be a real and significant inspiration for learning?”

Yeager and four colleagues from the Univerisity of Texas, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania recently set out to run a serious of four studies to determine if “purposeful learning”—the idea of linking your schoolwork to your higher purpose in life, e.g. your dream—could help you overcome the boredom, lack of meaning, and lack of enthusiasm you feel about your schoolwork.

The results?

In sum, says Yeager’s colleague Marlone Henderson, with a mindset that is founded on a students’ dreams, “when they encounter challenges, difficulty or things that could potentially be roadblocks to learning, it motivates them to persist and barrel through.” Education researcher Camille Farrington of the University of Chicago further explained that this result occurs because “the student owns [the sense-of-purpose] and kind of puts those pieces together in their own heads, for themselves. And that is a different thing than your mom or your teacher telling you, it’s important to do this because blah, blah, blah, blah.”

In other words, your dream can be the strongest force in your life. Learn it and lean into it. Start today.

Say Yes to Your Dream

Child with planeIf you struggle with being motivated to succeed in school, I want you to know a couple things. First, you’re not alone. It’s challenging in your teenage years to make schoolwork a priority when so much else is going on outside the classroom. The second thing I want you to know is that you shouldn’t look to the next motivational poster hanging in your school’s halls to get you excited to study. That’s not going to do much for you. In fact, it may do the opposite; it may just make you cynical about studying harder and its relationship to a brighter future.

The truth that most adults in your life won’t admit—if anyone has at all—is that messages like “stay in school” and “education is power” and “math and success add up” are meaningless to you unless you have a dream for your life. They fall flat and don’t motivate you in the least bit, if you don’t have a dream, because without a dream for what you want your life to be you don’t have a strong enough reason to succeed in the classroom. There is no deep, heartfelt connection between how you act at school and your desires for life.

If I put up a poster in your school it would say simply: “Own your dream.” It wouldn’t say anything about doing better in class or staying off drugs because I know that, ultimately, when you own your dream and it becomes a very real part of your being, you will take whatever measures necessary to make it a reality. And you won’t let any hurdle stand in the way—even schoolwork.

Say yes to your dream. The rest will fall in line after it.

Be Kind

Group of high schoolersAround the world people are mourning the death of legendary actor Robin Williams. He was a giant of a man on screen and according to family and friends, an even greater man off the screen. There’s no doubt he will be missed not just by those who knew and loved him but by millions of others who enjoyed his shows and movies over the years. It is such a sad and unnecessary end to such an incredible life. And now that we’ve heard how hard and long he fought his demons of drug abuse, alcoholism, and depression, the news of his passing is that much more tragic.

There are many things Robin Williams’ death reminds us of, but one in particular sticks out to me: it’s hard to truly know what someone is going through in his or her life. Most of us are pretty good at putting a smile on while we’re in the presence of others. Robin Williams was one of the best. He was a comedian at heart. But deep down he was hurting far more than anyone realized.

As you look around your school and pass dozens of faces each day, remember that despite appearances, you probably don’t know someone’s full story. That’s why 2,500 years ago, Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” They are great words to live by. And if you can own them in your life when you’re young, you will be a light in others’ lives for a long time.

Don’t Quit

DontQuitIt’s something I seem to encounter all the time.  I want to quit.  Just last night, only three days into a commitment I made to eating healthier, I laid in bed and tried to convince myself that one bowl of ice cream wouldn’t affect my goal of getting back in shape. Fortunately, I found some will power and was able to talk myself out of giving in. Now I’m on day four, and I’m so happy I didn’t give in to those temporary feelings and I’m one step closer to seeing this thing through to completion.

The truth is, for me, quitting is not just limited to eating healthy, it seems to come up at one time or another in every area of my life. If you’re honest, it happens to you too. There are times we want to give up on our job, our school, our marriage, our friendships, our workouts, or even God.  It’s just the way life is. The want to quit is and will continually be an easy option for all of us.  To make things worse, society is changing. We’re surrounded more and more by people that encourage us to take the easy way out, wave the white flag, find a shortcut, after all you don’t want to stress yourself out.

What these people are failing to tell you is that there is a major difference between reaching your goals and the work that is demanded to accomplish it. Everything of lasting value requires work. Hard work. One of my favorite proverbs says “Hard work ALWAYS pays off.”  It doesn’t mean that your goal will be reached overnight, but what it does guarantee is that if you continue to put in the work and don’t quit, eventually you will see positive results.

Often times, there is a long distance between beginning to pursue your goal and seeing it realized. Throughout my life I’ve seen this played out over and over, and I’m convinced that the life’s greatest lessons are learned when we refuse to quit. Your character is always tested in these moments but that’s what makes life great. The grind is so worth it and rewarding when your goal is finally reached.

Question: Have you been thinking about quitting something?  Leave me a comment below on why you’re going to keep going?