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.

You Determine the Weight of Others’ Opinions

ScaleThe fear of what others think is a major reason many people don’t pursue their dreams. While it’s in our nature to give consideration to what other people think about us, there is a huge difference between considering what other people think and fearing what they think.

It is very possible to consider what others think about you without letting their thoughts dictate your actions. It is nearly impossible to fear what other people think about you and keep that from hindering your progress. Giving too much weight to the opinions of others will eventually derail you altogether.

The desires to be liked, accepted, and to “fit in” are powerful forces. When we are young, it is easy to let them become the most powerful forces in our lives. But if you are serious about chasing down your dreams, you can’t give them so much power.

That starts by understanding that no matter where you try to go and what you try to accomplish, people will always have opinions. Some will agree with you and support your efforts. Others will not. They’ll say you can’t. You won’t. You shouldn’t. You’d be stupid to. Some of them will be adamant about their opinions. But that’s okay, because that’s all they are—opinions, words floating in the air that have no power over your actions except the power you give them. Choose to only give power to your own words and the words of those whom you trust.

As for the rest?

Let them drift to the ground where they can do you no harm. Then keep marching forward. It’s your dream, not theirs.

Stop Letting People…

Stop letting people dump on your dreams. Life will test you to see how serious you are about pursuing your dreams.  And sooner or later you’re going to face negative feedback from others.  When this happens, remember not to let anyone crush your spirit.  If you are passionate about something, pursue it, no matter what anyone else thinks.  That’s how dreams are achieved.

Stop letting naysayers talk you out of putting in the extra effort. Hard times often lead to greatness.  Keep the faith.  It will be worth it in the end.  The beginnings to great things are always the hardest.

Stop letting people bully you. Bullying is not OK.  Period.  There is no freedom on Earth that gives someone the right to assault who you are as a person.  Sadly, some people just won’t be happy until they’ve pushed your ego to the ground and stomped on it.  What you have to do is have the nerve to stand your ground.  Don’t give them any leeway.  Nobody has the power to make you feel small unless you give them that power.

Stop letting friends be untrue to you. What is a true friend?  Someone who loves you no matter what, but still inspires you to be a better person.  Be a true friend to others, and keep only true friends close to you.

Stop letting people keep you bitter. Remember, the first to apologize is the bravest.  The first to forgive is the strongest.  The first to move forward is the happiest.  Always.

Stop letting people use your past to poison your present. Life is too short to tirelessly struggle with old news and those who refuse to let it go.  Some people cannot stand that you’re moving on with your life and so they will try to drag your past to catch up with you.  Do not help them by acknowledging their behavior.  Keep moving forward.  Practice forgiveness.  Letting go of the past is your first step to happiness.

The Time is Now!

HelpMany people say that this generation of teenagers is a lost generation. No other generation in history has been so plagued by drugs, alcohol, sex, bullying, and greed at such a young age. Everyone knows something terrible has happened in the social development of today’s youth. Crime and violence have become so common that many schools throughout the country have metal detectors installed at the entrances. The reality is our culture has become so tolerant that it is inadvertently creating a perversion of our youth and the downward spiral has become blatantly obvious.

Our entire society is experiencing an ethical collapse and this collapse has become so urgent that most leaders in education acknowledge that our foundations are being threatened. Our nations’ media and entertainment outlets seem to be more concerned about ratings than the effects their programs are having on our teenagers. You have to wonder what kind of world we are living in where many of our country’s leaders look the other way while these destructive ideals are being pushed on our youth. So many of our young people have been robbed of all moral concepts.

We all should be burdened by what we see and motivated to play a part in initiating change to inspire our youth through character development. It’s time we take responsibility and give of our time, resources, and talents to instill the time-tested results that good character traits provide. Test scores are important, but infusing personal character development into the daily academic routine for students is ultimately what will address these areas of need and create a better society for the future.

Never Assume You Know

Sad girl in dark roomOne night when I was in the first grade and shared a bed in the basement with my 8-year-old sister Wendy, we were startled awake at two in the morning. My mom yanked back our covers and dragged us up the basement stairs in our pajamas. She tugged us outside in the cold and shoved us into the backseat of our rusted-out Ford Escort. We accelerated into the darkness.

When I peaked out the side window I could see beat-up cars along crumbling curbs and dilapidated houses on dirt lots littered with trash. Suddenly my mom screeched to a halt next to a busted-out street lamp and barked at us to get out of the car. She then yanked us up a decaying staircase and into a rundown, two-story Victorian house.

A smoky haze floated out as my mom opened the front door and we stepped inside. The house was quiet and dark except for the moonlight reaching through the broken windows. People were passed out on the floor with haphazard piles of half-eaten food and garbage around them. There was no furniture, no lamps or beds except for a dirty mattress in one corner. My mom pulled us down a hallway that led to the back of the house as our footsteps creaked on the floorboards.

We passed a man slumped against the wall just before reaching an old wooden door. The hinge creaked as my mom pulled the door open.

The room was cold and the air was grayed with cigarette smoke. You could just make out a door at the opposite end. We stepped inside and my mom pressed Wendy and me to the floor and motioned for us to stay put. She continued toward the other door as Wendy and I crawled into the nearest corner.

Wendy’s body trembled as she pulled me close. That’s when we noticed the longhaired man sitting guard by the other door. He allowed my mom to pass and then locked his gaze on us. His face was sharp and he wore leather boots, skintight jeans and a tie-dyed shirt. The snub nose of a silver handgun pressed against his chin.

Wendy brought her quivering lips to my ear and told me to stay still and quiet and that everything would be okay. Quietly and as still as two children could be, we spent the next hour pressed together, praying that our mom would return and take us home.

We waited. And waited. After nearly two hours, the door behind the armed man creaked and opened slowly. My mom appeared. Having had her fix of crack, she was smiling. I jumped up and ran to her side, hugging one of her legs. She led us out of the house and back into the car.

Once home, Wendy and I scurried down the basement stairs and climbed back under our covers. She rubbed my forehead and sang songs to me so I could fall asleep. I’ll never forget watching her reach over my body to set the alarm clock for school.

Two hours later, the alarm sounded. Wendy helped me get dressed in the same clothes I’d worn the day before. I did my best to tame my bed head. Our mom was passed out so we walked to the kitchen where we fixed our own cereal and packed our backpacks before heading out the front door. Then we walked to the bus stop where we stood with the other kids in the neighborhood and tried to act like everything was fine.

I was only six at the time that happened but very little changed as I grew older. I was surrounded by the horrors of addiction, neglect, and abuse my entire childhood. But I was not alone. There were other kids like me back then—some of them in worse circumstances than mine. The same is true today.

Next time you notice a schoolmate wearing the same clothes or looking rundown or acting withdrawn, don’t assume you know what they’ve been through. Like me or many others like me, they may be suffering through circumstances brought on by parents or caregivers who abuse drugs and alcohol, or them—circumstances that aren’t their fault and are outside their control.

If you want to be a leader, a difference-maker, an extraordinary person in life, you must be someone who seeks to empathize with others, and then treat them the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. Compassion is the truest measure of strength.