Life can be like a Cross Country run for adolescents – guide them!

Life can be like a Cross Country run for adolescents – guide them!

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” (Epictetus)

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, they make them.”  (George Bernard Shaw)

Read through those two quotes a couple of times and think about your response to them.

There is a strong message here about the way we choose our future pathways.

In many discussions I have had with teenagers over the years, there have always been students who will make excuses for not reaching their potential, especially when they do something wrong and are found out.

Some of the more popular comments would be:

  • • “It’s my parents’ fault. they’re always fighting. Life at home sucks!”
  • • Or maybe a parent has an addiction of some sort which makes life at home tough to cope with.
  • • Or they want to keep their circle of friends. These friends keep breaking rules, but being with those friends is more important than reaching their potential? Negative peer pressure tends to lead to negative behavior. We drag ourselves down. Why?
  • • “It’s the teacher’s fault. He/she doesn’t like me!”
  • • Or, one of the classic comments: “I didn’t think about the consequences of my actions.” (Brain research tells us that this can be a genuine situation, as the Pre-Frontal Cortex, the Chief Executive area of the brain, where decision-making is taking place, is still developing until the mid-20s)

Do you get the message?

Instead of standing on their own two feet and learning how to take responsibility for their choices and behavior, they prefer to blame everyone else. That  ‘blame mentality’ is definitely not the way to move forward …… and it’s being made worse these days, as more and more young people live in the unreal world of instant gratification and entitlement.

Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankel, says it better than anyone else I have come across:

“Everything can be taken from a man or woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

No matter what the situation might be, I have the ability to make my choices about how to respond to what’s going on around me.

There are positive messages mentors, coaches, parents, teachers, indeed anyone working with young people can sow into their conversations and eventually the young person might take ownership of these thoughts and feelings, especially when they have a significant adult walking alongside them and guiding them:

‘You have the seeds of greatness within you.

You can be a positive influence.

You can make a difference.’

Every single one of us has the seeds of greatness within us. Translate that as meaning, I can become the Best I can Be. And, having made my choice, as I start heading in that direction, others look at me and want to be like me. They start asking me questions and commenting that I have changed. As I share my story, I start making a positive difference in the lives of those around me and that is such an awesome feeling.

You see, one of the major shifts in my thinking takes place when I honestly believe that

‘I am lovable and I am capable.’

This is true of each and every one of us.

No quick-fix solutions

There are no quick-fix solutions or easy answers to the challenges we face in life.

However, if we start thinking about the choices we are making every day, we will start changing the way we think about ourselves, especially if we are feeling useless or worthless.

The major goal each one of us should be striving to achieve is to BE MYSELF.

Keep holding on to one of my key life philosophies:

 Life is a learning experience.

As long as you are willing to learn, you will go FAR!!


Paul (not his real name) was 16, a boarder, always the last one to get up in the morning, often not doing his homework and completing projects on time. Paul was a talented sportsman. He did well at his sport, though relied more on his natural talent than anything else, and had supportive parents who were realistic about his efforts, or lack of effort.

I coached Paul Field Hockey and Cricket. When his Housemaster reached a point of total frustration, he approached me and asked me to speak to Paul to see if there was a way forward with this youngster before he failed his exams and placed his future at the school in doubt.

Paul and I had an interesting conversation. I asked him if he was achieving his best in the classroom. He immediately acknowledged that he was not doing so. I asked why this might be the case.

“I’m stupid,” was the quick response.

“Who says you are stupid?” I enquired.



“My friends, some teachers ….”

“Do you think you are stupid, Paul?”


So began the journey of guiding Paul to become the best he could be. He said he would like some assistance, so we got off to a good start.

I suggested he write down all the subjects he was doing. Then he should look at his previous year’s exam results. Once he had completed that task, he should set some goals ie, the mark or percentage he would like to achieve at the next exam.

I asked him if he felt he was doing well in his sport.

He said that he had made the Ist Xl Cricket team and was pleased with that.

“I think you can do even better,” I smiled.

Paul looked surprised.

“Absolutely! You have a lot of talent. What do you think you have to do if you want to improve?”

“Get fit,” he said immediately.

“Okay, go and have a chat to the Physical Education teacher and see if you can design a get fit program for the next few weeks. Come back to me in a week with your academic aims and your fitness program.”

A week later Paul returned. He had written out all his academic subject results from the previous year and alongside each he had written some new goals. A quick glance at these results showed me that he had aimed to improve in every subject by 10% – 15%. He was shocked when I put a line through most of his intended goals.

“How will you feel if you don’t achieve the 55% you have set for English?” I asked.


“How will you feel if you obtain 47% and you set the goal of 45%?”

He smiled.

“It’s better to set small, achievable goals and then keep increasing the target in small bits, so that, for example, by the end of the year you might be achieving 50% to 55%. Remember, too, that you are trying to improve in six subjects, so you can only make so much of an effort.”

So, we reset the goals to make them more realistic and achievable. Paul’s fitness program looked great!

From that point on Paul and I met at different times during the next few months to review his goals. Many commented on a changing attitude, but what really turned things around for him was when he came 3rd in the School’s Annual Cross Country. Suddenly people took note of his achievements and his self-esteem rose. What many did not know was that he had been getting up at 6.00 a.m. in the morning to go on his training runs. The young man who had always been last up, late for everything, was now first up and working at his personal goals.

Paul passed his exams okay at the end of his school career, a year or so later. He played representative Field Hockey and did well in his Cricket. Best of all, about 10 years later I opened a newspaper and saw that Paul had been named Businessman of the Month. I think he had set up an import – export business of some sort after he had left school and done some studying.

Paul was most definitely on his way to Becoming the Best He could Be.

I am 100% convinced that when students start setting goals, sharing them with someone they trust and really give it their best shot, their lives change for the better and they suddenly realise what they are capable of achieving.

“A good goal is like a strenuous exercise – it makes you stretch.”  (Mary Kay Ash)

Paul lived and breathed the meaning of this.

One of the lasting impressions I have of Paul was when he told me that, with getting himself organised, he suddenly found he had so much more social time. And, as we all know, most teenagers want to enjoy their social lives!

I have shared Paul’s tip with hundreds of adolescents over the years, as the statement is more powerful when I can share with adolescents what other adolescents have shared with me.

Indeed, it was students like Paul, who kept telling me that I should capture my mentoring principles, goal setting ideas and so on in writing, that eventually led to me writing Letter 2 a Teen – Becoming  the best I can be, a user-friendly book specifically for adolescents to embark on a self-empowering journey.

In a strange sort of way, Paul’s decision to work at his fitness transformed his life in so many ways and, most important, he came to understand the power of setting goals AND having a significant adult in his life, other than his parents, to whom he was accountable. This person became his non-judgmental Cheerleader who would stick by him, work through the high and low points, yet be a consistent presence in his life.

I probably found it easily to informally mentor Paul, as my life-changing moments at School had been similar, working at my fitness, achieving sport goals which, in turn, impacted my health and wellbeing, my academic performances, my social relationships, finding a mentor or two at critical times during this journey and so much more.

Perhaps you have a story to share of how someone encouraged you as a teenager and, through the decisions you made together, your life moved in exciting new directions?

About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook or on Instagram or contact him through his YES! website