High school can be a tough time. In my years as a teacher, coach, mentor and parent, I have seen many young people struggle with school and life issues unrelated to often demanding coursework. Sometimes they face actual or perceived challenges in their home or social circles, or just need stress-free time away from their usual routines.
As every individual has a unique view of his or her world, finding the way to an improved outlook or emotional perspective must come from within. Guidance can come, however, from many sources, including an adult who isn't a parent or teacher, or from reading or media that strikes a chord. The desire to help young people find their way has inspired me to find the right approach to reach and motivate each individual and to make a difference in their life.
I suggest that there are two primary ways in which young adults can spend their time outside of school to help them through choppy emotional times.
- Find Your Path. Everyone has a passion for something that brings meaning to their life. Finding and pursuing passions is an important part of personal growth. Spend time discussing, exploring and experimenting with different activities and ideas that may make you feel alive and help keep a balance with the necessary tasks you face.
- Interact Meaningfully with Others. Life meaning comes from interacting with others to make their world a better place. It happens one individual and one day at a time. When you give of your time and emotional energy, you gain as much, if not more, as the recipient of your kind efforts. Find ways to give of yourself and spend time with others that bring meaning to your days.
The pursuit of a life well lived should be never ending. We are all mortal, so why not try to make the most of every day? Here are some of my thoughts derived from some of the readings that I recommend below.
Be a Fountain of Goodness
When you wake up in the morning, do you know whether you're going to have a good day? At that moment, you can't know what might come your way in the next few hours, and you certainly can't control it - good weather, light traffic, good news, a stroke of luck. But, you can ensure a day of goodness by finding it within yourself. Think good and kind thoughts and act on them. Nothing can stop your goodness. The famous Stoic thinker Marcus Aurelius called it a "fountain of goodness, which is ever ready to flow if you will keep digging." Be a fountain, heck, be a geyser; have yourself a good day.
The Buck Stops Here
Nobody else can do your work for you. No matter what obstacles or challenges you face, only you can choose how to respond. No matter what goals you set, only you can take the action necessary to move toward achieving them. Don't blame a lack of progress on anyone else because you decide what you do every minute of every day. Decide to move forward regardless of any resistance or life turbulence that you encounter. It's your life. The buck stops with you.
Work on Your Weaknesses
Why do people spend so much time strengthening their strengths? My observations in the gym are of people doing the same exercises with which they are comfortable and have at least a base level of, if not substantial, strength. The most fertile ground for personal growth (whether emotional, intellectual or physical) is your weaknesses. Consider what you'd like to improve about yourself and make a plan to start doing so. Otherwise, you'll suffer from an imbalance that you may not realize is an obstacle to getting the most out of life.
Always Make a Quality Effort
Whatever task you are faced with is the focus of your life at that moment. Why not choose to complete it to the best of your ability? Even a menial or unsavory task can bring you satisfaction for a job well done. Why waste this precious life moment feeling annoyed at having to do this work and at your mediocre effort to get beyond it? You can feel satisfied and fulfilled in any moment if you give it your all.
Learn from Dogs
Dogs are great role models. They’re always living in and for the moment. They give their full attention to whomever or whatever they are engaged with. They give their all to a game of fetch, licking your face or just cuddling. They aren't disappointed by expectations. They don't hold grudges. They love life.
Nothing is a waste of time
‘Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely" - Rodin. What if you approached every task and interaction, enjoyable or not, as a potential learning experience. To open your mind. To better understand yourself, others or the world around you. To improve your skills. To test the strength of your convictions. To see beauty or wonder in your surroundings. Try it. You'll never waste time again.
Swim downstream. Long before I started reading philosophy, a client told me that swimming downstream was his secret to success. Accept what you're given and use it to your advantage. The Chinese and Stoic philosophers take a similar approach (without concern for profit. of course). You can't control anything other than your personal choices, so why fight them? Like a martial artist that flows with an opponent's attack to create an effective countering movement, we can remove a lot of stress over external events and future expectations by concentrating on how we react in the moment. Make the choice that you think is best for you at the time. You'll feel good about yourself.
Practice kindness. Treat well each person that you meet each day, from the first person to the last. Try to understand who they are, what they need, why they act as they do. Not only will your kindness be appreciated, but it will also bring you the great benefit of a life of compassion, one that is instinctual and unbending.
Be the Still Waters under a Choppy Surface
It is said that "still waters run deep." Think of yourself as those still waters under the surface of a lake - unruffled, calm, tranquil. You cannot control the ways in which daily life may make make the surface water rough and choppy. You can, however, remain confident and at peace that your true self is not affected by difficult daily events. Make a daily ritual of reminding yourself of who you want to be, how you want to interact with others, and how you want to react to whatever comes your way. Be resolute in your approach - goodness, empathy, integrity, dignity. No rough seas can deter you.
About Coach Caine
Andy “Coach” Caine is a father of 3 grown sons, taught social studies at Mira Costa for 9 years, and coached baseball there for 6 years. He has practiced law for over 30 years and has actively aided young people throughout his adult life, as a big brother, coach, mentor and tutor. He helped create the internship program and curriculum at Mira Costa, and shape what is now the Manhattan Beach Mayor’s Youth Council. You can learn more about him and his mentoring and services at www.coachcaine.com and read his weekly blog about life at www.coachcaine.com/coachs-blog.
Coach Caine's recommended reading list:
The Path by Puett and Gross-Loh
The Daily Stoic by Holiday
Man’s Search for Meaning by Frankl
The Power of Now by Tolle
Barking Up the Wrong Tree, a blog by Eric Barker