What attitude did you choose when you woke up today?
While young people might not be able to choose the circumstances in which they are living, they are able to choose their attitude towards the environment in which they are living. They are also able to choose their attitude towards their studies, friendships and other relationships, though having a non-judgmental Cheerleader by their side will probably assist most young people on their journey to become the best they can be.
These thoughts, while reflecting about the power of mentoring relationships the other day, reminded me of a mentoring journey I undertook with Emma (not her real name), a while ago.When Emma popped in to my office to see me at the beginning of a new term, she appeared to be anxious and worried about how things were going in her final year at school.
While she was talking, I looked at my watch and said, “Emma, I’m going to interrupt you.”
She looked a little puzzled, even surprised.
“You have only been sitting here for a few minutes. What one word have you used more than any other word?”
Emma paused for a short while and then shook her head, “I don’t know.”
“It begins with a W,” I responded, sharing a clue.
Emma smiled and shook her head again.
“Worry. Almost every sentence has the word ‘worry’ in it and that is not healthy.”
Emma was a top student who will go far. However, through her own admission, she was a perfectionist. I had vowed to myself and to her that, during the time we would be working together, we had to alter her mindset so she was in a better head space and ready for the challenges of University the following year. We had to eradicate the ‘perfectionist’ thoughts and focus on encouraging her to become the best she could be with the gifts and talents she had already identified.
And so the conversation flowed as Emma shared her recent academic results. She was on track to achieve her goals and, as I pointed out, wasn’t that what was important?
There was one result she was not happy with and we talked about that, though it still did not justify her feeling ‘worried’. She talked about meeting her parents’ expectations and the pressures she was putting on herself, how conversations were shaping at home about her academic studies, the conversations she was having with her peers and other issues she was dealing with.
Then I opened my file, pulled out an A4 sheet of paper on which was a poster I had created and sent Emma after a discussion we had had a couple of months earlier. As I placed it on the coffee table, I said to her, “There was someone I spoke to recently who came up with a wonderful statement.”
Emma looked at the photo of a red sunset and was reminded of a conversation we had shared when I had pointed out that setbacks are temporary. “Beyond the storm clouds is the sun and it will rise again.”
Then we read the words that Emma had uttered and which I had copied down – a WOW! moment in a mentoring relationship – “It does not matter how I get there, as long as I get there.” This was linked to Emma appreciating that, even if she did not achieve her first choice of University and the course on offer, there were other ways she could still achieve her career dream.
“I can get there in different ways, ” Emma said, identifying with her own statement and reminding me that she had placed her copy of the poster by her desk at home.
“Yes, and you will definitely get there, Emma. I have absolutely no doubt about that. Are you working consistently?”
“Did you give your recent exams your best shot?”
Emma nodded. “And I have set out my work for this term in my diary. I am better organised than usual.”
I pointed to a poster on my wall as I reminded Emma of the words in front of her. “Pause. Just read those words again.”
These were well known words penned by legendary Basketball coach, John Wooden:
“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
This is the best definition of success I have ever come across.
“Emma, let me ask you something we have chatted about before. Are you able to look in the mirror and say, “I am lovable?”
“Not all the time,” Emma said, reaching for a tissue. “I am going to use all the tissues …” and she smiled.
“The tissues are there, so you use as many as you want.”
And on the conversation went – now at a deeper level, as Emma was learning when and how to be vulnerable. She shared about self-image issues and a whole lot more that was going on in her young adolescent life. She smiled again as I reassured her that she was a normal teenager dealing with the emotions and issues all teenagers deal with. Sometimes young people do need to be reassured that they are normal!
We talked about how to lead a balanced life, looking after one’s health and wellbeing and discussed pro-active strategies she could use when communicating with her parents. Emma interjected as we discussed the latter point.
“I followed your advice. I count to 20 when I am angry and about to say something to mum.”
“Does it help?”
“Definitely,” she smiled, “but it’s a bit weird.”
Our regular conversations continued in the months that followed and we continually reviewed Emma’s academic goals, as well as her regular exercise goals, sleep patterns (9 hours sleep every night) and diet, particularly eating a healthy breakfast before school.
We had an agreement that Emma could email me if she was ever feeling anxious or beginning to wobble, so she did not bottle things up and create negative stress in her life. She later told me that the emailing had helped her cope more effectively with a variety of challenges she was facing.
What was my role? To listen, to encourage, to guide her through times of confusion, to affirm, to challenge, to share messages of hope and for Emma to take ownership of her inner and outer beauty by the year’s end, thus heading into life beyond school with a new found confidence, the strength to stand on her own two feet as an independent young woman, yet enjoying an interdependent relationship with her family … and no more worrying!
A month or so after that discussion, Emma and I completed a resiliency activity to affirm her known strengths. With that knowledge she would learn that, using those strengths, would help her deal with and bounce back from adversity.
The key to this relationship was that Emma always had the choice about coming to chat at an appointed time, setting her own performance and life goals and sharing an email when she simply needed to unload.
Needless to say, Emma achieved all her goals, was accepted to a University of her choice and is well on the way to achieving her career goals.
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 (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.