January 15, 2013

Message for teens: Take risks, try new positive activities

DEAR TEEN READERS: Instead of answering a question this week, I wanted to share something for the new year.

DEAR TEEN READERS: Instead of answering a question this week, I wanted to share something for the new year.

A few days ago I was at the gym working out. After being on the abs machine for a few minutes, an older gentleman walked up and sat down next to me. Slowly, and I mean ever-so-slow, he did about six or seven crunches and then stopped. As he got up, he looked at me, smiled and said, "Well, that's two more than I did yesterday, so that's a success."

I thought a lot about that moment in the gym and what wise words that man spoke. I wanted to share this with my teenage readers because what he said transcends into so many areas of teenage life.

That man saw success in baby steps, and he was proud of himself. He realized that what he did today was slightly better than what he did yesterday, and he felt pleased.

He took a moment of small change and will build on it. He didn't let the previous day's struggle stop him from coming back again to better himself. He was successful and he was able to smile about it.

All too often teenagers choose not do something because they are afraid of failing. They believe that unless their efforts produce a big success, it is not worth the risk. Big successes come in things like being the lead in the school play, first chair in band or being in the starting rotation for a sport.

Instead of being willing to take a chance, they stop themselves from trying because of the fear of not achieving on the level they expect. Because they never try, they miss golden opportunities for successes – be they big or small.

Teenagers have grown up in a world that provides them with instant gratification for very little effort. They don't have to wait for someone to get home to call them back; they just text them and hear back immediately. They no longer have to wait for school on Monday to hear what people did over the weekend; they see it all over Instagram or Twitter.

Working at something and appreciating the accomplishment of getting a little better every day has gotten lost somewhere in the teenage world.

The idea of being happy to do six stomach crunches might not be seen as a success and therefore not even attempted. Most teens would think, "How embarrassing to only do six stomach crunches," instead of seeing it as a small positive step that can eventually lead to bigger and better changes.

Teenagers need to learn to take a risk and step out of their box. No, I am not encouraging risky behavior (yes, there is a huge difference!), but rather encouraging taking a risk in doing something you want to try and being OK if the success is small.

If you have always wanted to go out for track at your school but fear you will be the slowest one out there, push through the fear and go out for the team. Be proud of yourself for taking the chance and doing something different. You might surprise yourself and have more fun than you even expect.

Readers of my column hear me tell teenagers that this is the time in their lives to reach out and try new things that are positive.

When you get to be an adult, you can't join the wrestling team, try out for the dance squad or run for class president. Now is the time to do those things if you want to. Do-overs don't happen for missed moments in high school. Stop letting fear prevent you from taking baby steps.

Imagine what would have happened if the man at the gym saw four abdominal crunches as a failure and never tried to do them again? What if he was too embarrassed to go back and do it again? He would have missed the moment the next day when he did two more and he felt like he had accomplished something good. He would have missed out on that little moment of victory when he realized he did better today than he did yesterday. He would have missed out on getting stronger, fitter and healthier.

Don't miss out on the journey because you are afraid to start. Learn patience and celebrate the small victories.

Success comes with being a part of something and working for it. Remember, the man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.

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