Be Good to Everyone
No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.
Kindness, compassion, and respect go a long way (for a long time). The way we treat others often determines how people remember us. My principal emphasizes that the way a staff cares for its most vulnerable students defines a school’s character. His mantra resonated with me strongly as a teacher, and it has improved my mindfulness of how I treat others on a daily basis. The reality is that kind people aren’t always kind, and mean people aren’t always mean, but everyone is something in each moment. If we become more mindful of the way we treat others in every situation, kindness will prevail, and people will prosper.
Unfortunately, school isn’t always a kind place. Bullies can make life a living nightmare for others. In some cases, bullies don’t understand the destruction of their words or actions. My heart aches for all victims of bullying, but it’s hard to fault someone who honestly doesn’t know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong. That’s why education is so important; it brings enlightenment, acceptance, and maturity. Other instances, where bullies are aware of their hurtful actions, are shameful. These incidents, which occur at alarming rates, are character crushers for both the victim and the bully.
A perfect person has yet to walk this earth. We all have weaknesses, we all have insecurities, and we’ve all made mistakes—we don’t need others to magnify them for us. I could provide a specific example of bullying (sadly, I could give a hundred instances), but highlighting one situation would make it seem like it was worse than the rest. Whether you poke fun in person or behind someone’s back, online or offline, or in seriousness or jest, preying on someone’s weaknesses (mental, physical, or emotional) is never funny or cool. Kindness is cool. One act of kindness can be all it takes to make someone feel better about life. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
Opportunities to be kind or unkind will occur at school, and the way you act will create and reveal your character.
- If people are making fun of another student, will you join? Or will you demonstrate compassion and courage by standing up for that person?
- If the person in the cafeteria line is shy, will you jump the line in front of him? Or will you respectfully wait your turn, even though you could save yourself some time at his expense?
- If someone embarrasses herself, will your actions make her feel worse or better?
Use these opportunities to lift others up by demonstrating empathy and integrity. Put yourself in the shoes of others, feel what they would feel, and act accordingly with kindness as your guiding light. Similar scenarios will continue to occur in different environments for the rest of your life, and you will notice that some people try getting ahead by belittling those around them. This shallow approach might even appear to work at first, but rarely does it pan out in the long run. Integrity and empathy come from the depths of your heart, so by exhibiting these qualities, you will never become a shallow person.
Remember that you cannot control how others act, but you can always control how you act toward others. Let your actions better the lives of those around you. When you view everyone as equal, every interaction will begin from a place of respect, but this can only occur if you first have self-respect. Holding yourself to the highest standards and instilling integrity in your life are sure ways to develop self-respect. Expect your best efforts and attitudes, and never diminish your self-worth. When you personally demonstrate high moral principles, you will create a culture of civility that endures throughout your life. Giving your best to others brings out the best in them. People will love being around you and will give their best back to you.
One last detail about respect: We often hear that it must be earned, meaning that you must first prove yourself to others before gaining their respect. While this is a common stance, it is equally important to understand that respect can also be learned. If you learn to begin each encounter from a place of respect, you will undoubtedly experience more civil and productive interactions. You’ll be more open to new perspectives, your emotional intelligence will heighten, and you’ll enjoy richer discussions. You will notice that you argue less, negotiate more, and become more concerned about what’s fair and just. Through these adjustments, you’ll earn the respect of those around you, which will bring peace and calmness into your life. When your head hits the pillow each night, you will fall asleep a little easier knowing you are a person who appreciates every life. And who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep?
Reflection and Self-Awareness Opportunity
1) Consider a time when you (or others) took advantage of someone.
2) Looking back, what could you learn from this experience? What could it teach you about respect? What could have been done differently?
3) Tomorrow, try to approach everyone you encounter from a place of respect. Write down what you notice.
Ignite Your Internal Motivation
I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting because then it really counts. That’s what makes you a champion.
Based on our discussion from the preceding chapter that “eighty percent of life is just showing up,” then what makes up the other 20 percent? The answer is internal motivation. You see, doing something is all well and good, but doing something well is great. Once you become internally motivated to achieve in your daily pursuits, your potential becomes magical. Like a magician, you become capable of results that others cannot imagine or replicate.
Internally driven people go beyond life’s minimum requirements. In school, many students struggle to find the internal motivation to push themselves. Students often complete work but not to the best of their abilities. Countless people dedicate hundreds of hours to developing habits that promote mediocrity. Although doing something is better than doing nothing, it is still problematic. In the case of an assignment, it’s not problematic because grades might suffer (remember, I care little about grades); it’s problematic because settling for less than what you’re capable of achieving is a bleak way to live. No matter what, a minimum effort will never render maximum results.
Always strive for magnificence over mediocrity. External motivators, such as your parents, grades, or teachers, may spark your performance, but a spark can quickly fizzle out. When you learn to ignite the fire that exists within you, you develop a burning desire to succeed. You will become a person who accepts challenges, sees things through, and does things well. These behaviors separate the good from the great, the special from the spectacular, and the student from the superstar.
Once developed, internal motivation transfers to other areas of your life and propels you to future successes. You will begin succeeding not because other people want you to but because you demand the best that exists within yourself. School is the perfect opportunity to develop your internal motivation because of the broad range of courses you will take. Inevitably you will be expected to do things you like, things you dislike, and things you care little about. For the rest of your life, similar scenarios will occur, be it in your career, family, or other commitments. If you learn to treat all of these situations equally in finding the 20 percent needed to do all things well, your future self will thank you. Tackling all challenges to the best of your ability now will prepare you to accomplish anything in the future. A life of high personal standards will become the norm.
Once internal motivation is part of your persona, you become someone who strives for success. You will develop the passion needed to embrace life’s challenges. It is no coincidence that the most legendary names in music, sports, drama, and business hustled the hardest when no one was watching. When practice is easy, improving is tough, but when practice is tough, improving is easy. Superstars find the motivation within to put forth their best effort and to challenge themselves, no matter the circumstances. To quote the legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, again: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” With internal motivation, you’ll go the extra mile, and you’ll be so happy and proud of your results that you wouldn’t have it any other way. You will live your life like a champion. Ali would be proud.
Reflection and Self-Awareness Opportunity
1) Think about your previous school year. Which statement best reflects your current approach to schoolwork?
- When I have schoolwork, I try to find a way out of it.
- When I have schoolwork, I’m just happy to get it over with.
- When I have schoolwork, I put in the effort, but I often know I could do better.
- When I have schoolwork, I am internally driven to do it well.
2) For what activity do you usually give your best effort?
3) For what activity do you typically lack the internal motivation to perform well?
4) What might be some benefits of performing both activities to the best of your ability?
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
There is no bigger superstar than someone who helps others. Life can be crazy busy, so it’s admirable when people donate their own time for a cause they find worthy. Volunteers make society a better place. Think about your own life. It’s likely that at some point you’ve been involved in a group or activity that was led by a volunteer. Maybe a special individual stands out as a role model or mentor. Valuing volunteerism is an easy way to improve your life while contributing meaningfully to your community.
We all have various life commitments, so it’s easy to rationalize not having time to volunteer. You’re correct in thinking that volunteering takes up time in an already busy life, but it can actually save you time by narrowing your interests, which can help you determine future pathways. I knew that I was interested in becoming a teacher, but after I volunteered at a camp filled with elementary school children, it didn’t take me long to cross elementary school teacher off the list. Volunteering broadened my perspective yet narrowed my focus. Regardless of whether your volunteer experience is positive or negative, it will tell you something about yourself. Learning about you is always positive.
Many teenagers leave high school still unsure of their paths, which is normal, but this is often because some teenagers have yet to experience much for themselves. They’ve only done what they’ve had to do. Volunteering allows you to gain new experiences that can lead you down new roads and open up doors to places you’ll love. Volunteering can help you find a passion for living and giving—a dynamic combination.
We live in a competitive world, and volunteering as a teenager can help you gain a slight edge over your competition in a job, college, or scholarship application. Volunteer experience shows that you are
- caring (you dedicate time to a cause that is important to you);
- hardworking (if you are willing to work for no money, imagine how hard you will work when you are getting paid); and
- mature (it is honorable to voluntarily serve others).
Employers and educational institutions love to see these traits in an application, and volunteerism demonstrates them brilliantly.
It’s so important to help others, and what’s neat is that when you help others, you also help yourself. When I reflect on the thousands of hours I have spent coaching, I feel happy and proud. I feel happy because it’s something I enjoy—I’ve been places, developed relationships, learned a ton, and shared experiences that I’ll remember forever. And I feel proud because I contributed to the betterment of others. Many coaches did the same for me when I was growing up, and I’m so grateful they did. It feels good to give back. Too often we get so caught up in receiving things that we forget the joy that giving brings. Helping others is always a worthwhile endeavor. Remember, the world needs you to care about it.
Volunteering doesn’t have to be a big undertaking; in fact, you will probably want to start small. Your school community is a great place to begin because it will connect you to the school in a way that classwork cannot. When your school becomes a place to gain knowledge but also give back, your life as a student will have more purpose. Find a club or event that interests you, and see if you can contribute. It could be something that directly affects a small group of people in your school or something that raises awareness for a worthy cause in a different country. If you struggle to find anything of interest, gather some friends and create a volunteer group that matches your values. Everyone brings something unique to the table; do us all a favor by sharing your strengths and passions with the world in a way that helps others.
My only warning is that volunteering might lead you down unexpected paths, so be careful. Start volunteering, and the next thing you know, you’ll be learning a whole lot about yourself, making new friends, gaining valuable experience, standing out among your competition, finding your passion, helping others, and feeling proud. That is a lot to have on your plate, but it’s a pretty tasty dish, like my grandfather’s spaghetti. I’d volunteer to eat that any day.
Reflection and Self-Awareness Opportunity
1) What is an activity/event you have done in the past that relied on volunteers? Do you think the volunteers were important? Why or why not?
2) For what type of activity/event do you think you might like to volunteer? What are some personal and societal benefits that could result from your contribution?
3) If you currently volunteer or have volunteered in the past, how did it make you feel?
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path.
Happiness is one of life’s finest feelings, yet too often we do not let it into our lives. My brother used to quote the title of Bobby McFerrin’s famous song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” at the end of every email he sent. One day I asked him why he selected that quote, and he said, “Everyone can understand it, everyone can put it into practice, and it’s a good general mantra.” I loved his answer. Our mindset controls our willingness to be happy. Choosing to live a happy life will lead you down a path of positivity, making every day more remarkable.
Let’s get this straight: focusing on happiness does not mean that you will always be happy, but it means that you will likely be happy more. Your worry and your joy, along with a host of other feelings, are generated from within your mind and heart. “Don’t worry, be happy” acknowledges that tough times exist in life (the “don’t worry” part), but it also emphasizes how you control the way in which negative experiences affect you (the “be happy” part). Consciously deciding to focus on the good that exists in your life inherently makes it easier to deal with the bad.
We often become so stressed that we forget about happiness. There is no denying that school, and your teenage years in general, brings stressful and anxious times (a.k.a. worry). You have plenty to consider, ranging from social situations and financial issues to academic expectations and future considerations. Stressful events are going to continue to exist for your entire life, just in different ways. In knowing that, it’s important not to let these worries dominate your thoughts and bring you down. I’m not suggesting that you should avoid responsibility; instead, adopt a mindset that accepts life’s realities and deliberately focuses on the positives of any situation. Your mindset plays a key role in establishing your mood. For instance, school isn’t always the most fun place, but instead of viewing school as somewhere you have to go (negative outlook), see it as a place you get to go (positive outlook)—formal education is a privilege that millions of teenagers around the world do not get to experience. If you dislike a course, focus on the opportunity to be with your friends, or practice patience and persistence. When friends aren’t in your class, focus on the chance to step out of your comfort zone and make new friends. A shift in your perspective can be all it takes to turn obstacles into opportunities and unhappiness into happiness.
Choosing to focus on the positives will improve your life in more ways than you realize. Oscar Wilde said that “to live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist. That is all.” With a mind and a heart that seeks happiness, you will feel more alive, which is the greatest feeling that we so naturally take for granted. You’ll laugh and smile more. You’ll do more of what you love. You’ll see more value and meaning in every experience. You’ll give more to others and forgive more easily. You’ll develop closer relationships and bounce back more quickly. You’ll be proud of yourself and celebrate the success of others. You’ll be more calm and compassionate. You’ll become a grateful person who feels less stressed and more blessed. What’s neat is that all these benefits of happiness also bring more happiness, so the effects of positive thinking will multiply to create an increasingly enriching life of abundance. A plant still grows in rain, but a ray of sunshine makes a world of difference; positivity will only help you blossom into a beautiful person who leads and loves.
Remember, happiness is a perspective. Spend time doing what makes you happy, but know that with the right mindset, you can always make happiness a reality. At times, life will still be unfair, no fun, and downright cruel, but living by the simple mantra “Don’t worry, be happy” will shift your focus from negative to positive, no matter what life throws at you. Bad days are part of a good life. They allow you to come back stronger and wiser. With a positive attitude, happy moments in life will become more enjoyable. The bad moments will still happen; they just won’t seem as bad. And that’s good. That’s something to be happy about. I’m doing my happy dance right now.
Reflection and Self-Awareness Opportunity
1) Don’t worry: In general, how much time do you spend worrying about things you can’t control?
- I spend way too much time worrying about everything.
- Even though I try not to, I often find myself worrying.
- I typically don’t worry about things I can’t control.
2) Be happy: In general, how happy are you?
- I am generally an unhappy person.
- I am up and down when it comes to happiness.
- I am generally a happy person.
3) Write down three things in your life for which you are grateful.
Smile! That list is something to be happy about.
4) Now shift your focus. Write down one thing that would typically make you unhappy, and try to find the positive that exists in it.
Negative: Got into an argument with my close friend
Positive: Had the chance to discuss the problem together and make our friendship stronger.