My life coach gave me an assignment about a month ago. I needed to come up with 10 lessons I’ve learned since my teenage years. Why? To celebrate how far I’ve come. And, so I could stay empathetic to my teens as they’re struggling through this difficult life phase.
In all honesty, I really wasn’t too keen on revisiting my teenage years. The homework assigned by my coach lay untouched. One day, while browsing through social media, I noted two very interesting things happening. One, the passionate group of teenagers in Florida, out of the tragedies they have experienced in the recent school shootings, are finding their voice, their message, and partaking in social change conversations that many adults are struggling with.
That was juxtaposed with some very troubling pictures and posts of teenagers who could potentially be making mistakes that they will regret for the rest of their lives. You know the types of pictures I’m talking about.
This turned out to be very powerful homework and sparked interesting conversations at the dinner table that night. Having conversations with our teens unearthed even more lessons learned and reinforced that we’re always growing, learning and evolving. What’s more, I think this reflection is something we can all benefit from.
I’m going to share my homework with you. By doing so, it makes me accountable to my coach and I’m curious if you’ll find value in reflecting on some of these lessons too. I will admit, I’m still working hard to follow a few (e.g., sleep). And I’d be honoured if you would share, in the comments below, what you resonate with and other lessons you’ve learned.
- This Too Shall Pass.
Didn’t we learn in Hamlet that patience is a virtue? Are you still struggling with patience like me? Furthermore, when we don’t hold onto the present or spend all our time looking in the rearview mirror at the past, we can get perspective that, sure, our circumstances may not be ideal (or maybe even downright rough) but it won’t last forever. Remember your first breakup? You’re over it, right? Whatever is going on for you right now, that too shall pass.
- Your Mess is Your Message.
As a speaker, we often talk about messes being the most important stories we share. It’s where our greatest learnings, growth, and perspective has come from and therefore, our most powerful message. Think this sounds fluffy? Well, there’s much literature on Post Traumatic Growth that demonstrates this to be true of people who have been through incredible tragedies. How did the messes you experienced as teen become some of our greatest lessons and character building moments? Let’s face it, as adults, we still have a lot of mess that we continue to work through. How is it here to serve you?
- The World Isn’t Always Ready For You.
My great-aunt, an incredible businesswoman, despite the fact she had been born to meager beginnings, was a very demure “5’11 and four quarters,” as she called it. She was used to being a black sheep and having to prove her value. She would say to me, “You know, Sarah, the world isn’t always ready for you. Just go and be yourself and wait for them to catch up.” What a wonderful, important thing that was for me to hear as a 13-year-old. How is the world still not ready for you? What if you just went for it anyway and proved them all wrong?
- Embrace Differences.
I think our teenagers today are more equipped to embrace differences than we were. For us, we are struggling in organizations to be inclusive. Consider, how we can help our students, help teenagers and our communities to further embrace differences within themselves as well as within each other? How can we learn from our teens about how they see differences as a good thing? How can we help them with their mindset when they fall into the trap of wanting to fit in at all costs? And how can we bring these lessons into our own lives, relationships, and organizations?
- Find Your Voice.
Again, the teenagers in Florida, who I so admire, are finding their voice. They are creating social change and a discord that absolutely needs to happen in the U.S. about gun control. They risk not getting into the “right” college, being ostracized from their friends (one of the worst fates for a teen) and upsetting the status quo but the need to express their voice is so strong, they’re willing to risk it. How do we use our voice? How have we kept quiet when our gut was shouting out and what impact did that have? What would life be like if we could assert ourselves, and our teens do the same? Wouldn’t we be safer, clearer, more aligned, and happier?
- Your Best Friend Is Already Within.
Your gut will never steer you wrong, yet it’s often ignored. I have learned, many times over, that when I ignore my gut I live to regret it because my gut is my most accurate internal compass. I call it my Soul Judge. Teens can be hesitant to listen to their gut for fear of not fitting in, because they need to do what their parents, teacher, society wants them to do, and they don’t yet trust it. How can we role model, making tough choices by listening to our gut, being transparent about it, and the result? How can we encourage them to reflect on if they regret a choice, was it counter to what they knew inside they should or shouldn’t do?
- Sleep Is Important.
The number of times that I chose to hang out with friends or be on that phone call with a boyfriend, or to be studying and cramming, as opposed to sleeping, I dare not reflect on. When we get the right amount of sleep, we don’t experience stress to the same degree, we do our best work, are more focused and productive. Yet, the average adult gets two hours less sleep each night than is recommended. This is a lesson teens and adults keep relearning.
- Your Body Is Your Temple.
Not every temple is perfect, just like our body isn’t either. Have you ever travelled and visited historic ruins and thought, “This place would be nicer if all the rocks were still in place?” Your body is your temple, treat it as such, and don’t expect it to be perfect or ageless or flawless. Every wrinkle you’ve earned because you’ve been passionate, you’ve smiled, you’ve shown concern. Every dimple is earned through meals with good friends, holiday times with family and a zest for life. Every creak is your body’s way of reminding you what a wise long life you have already lived, and how lucky you are to still be here. Teens, just like many of us, need to remember that our body is our temple, so healthy food, plenty of water, regular exercise and everything in moderation helps us to keep going and it’s unlikely all those efforts will result in perfection. And that’s just okay.
- What you Believe Matters
What you want and what you believe in is right. It matters. What you think or want is more than what your friends or other influences think (again as long as it’s coming from your gut). Stand for what matters most to you. Even if it’s against the grain.
- What You Do Now May Well Come Back
What you do now may come back to reward or haunt you. Make good choices now and follow your, “Soul Judge,” to help keep you on track. On the Internet, there is no such thing as “gone”. What you do now may impact your future in academics, employment, relationships and brand (just ask past Presidents’ who, “didn’t inhale”). If you won’t want that photo, tattoo, party, to be something brought up at a job interview or with your prospective life partner’s parents, you may wish to give it a sober second thought. Adults, we’re still learning this one too, aren’t we?
That’s my 10 lessons, but what about you? Any lessons I’ve missed of what you wish you’d known as a teen that would allow you to be an even better adult to this day? Post in the comments below! Any wisdom you still endeavour to follow?