20 ideas to help teenagers achieve more
and prepare early for the world of work
Here are some ideas to help teenagers achieve more as they prepare for adult life.
I wrote these some years ago for my three, now adult, boys.
I don’t claim to have always lived up to these standards myself. In all honesty, my life has been something of a bumpy journey. But, as my parents (like many) used to say in the ’60s and ’70s, these are ideas for ‘doing as I say, not as I did’ 😉
Nor am I making any claims that this is a complete list or that I’m some kind of model parent. I was just reminded of this list recently and thought I’d share it.
Like most parents, that I had to learn most aspects of parenting ‘on the job’ and I’m happily still learning to this day.
One of the many oddities of our social support system is that lessons in parenting are only made available once you’re proven to be a particularly bad parent. Thankfully I didn’t qualify for those !!!
So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas (positive or negative) and to hear your ideas about the essential guidance about life and work we could give our teenagers.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below – and please let’s keep any discussion of ideas to the world of work – we don’t have room here to add teenage relationship advice into the mix 😉
So, here, with only minor additions and updating, is what I wrote to my children… and yes, very few of these ideas were taken on board on first (or second) delivery.
1. Life is a marathon, not a sprint
You have lots of years ahead of you and will face many challenges.
I hope you find these ideas useful as you go through life. Some of these are my own and some are developed from the writings of others I respect.
2. Look after your health
It supports everything you do.
So, eat well, limit your consumption of ‘less healthy’ stuff, sleep well and take some physical exercise each day.
3. Strive to find purposeful work and go for it
Life gets simpler once you decide on a direction rather than spending time thinking about all the things you do not want to do… or the things you want to change in the world but are not equipped to do anything about.
We all have far too many of those things and we have to make choices.
So, get on and decide on your initial direction. The steppingstones will all become clearer once you’ve done that.
Don’t worry too much about making the wrong choices. Just consider your options before you choose your next destination and then do what you need to – to move towards it.
It’s only after you’ve arrived at a place that you can assess it properly and know if it’s where you want to stay for long.
If you find a passion for your work, that’s wonderful – but don’t get too hung up about the idea that you need passion in order to start.
It’s often said that Steve Jobs success was all about the passion he had before he started developing the Mac computer with Steve Wozniak. But the evidence (see below) suggests otherwise and it seems that many great achievers only acquire a passion for their work after they’ve been working at it for some time.
4. Learn at least two languages – English and Maths!
It’s good to be able to speak a foreign language and you’re doing very well at your French / German.
However, it’s worth thinking of Maths as your second language after English because it’s only with a solid grounding in Maths that you can decipher most scientific ideas.
With Maths you can use a single line equation to explain what cannot be explained in ten pages of text. And it gives you a much wider range of future career choices as well.
I know Maths is not everyone’s favourite subject and there are two reasons for this – both of which you can use to your advantage.
First, unlike an English essay where you can get a 50% mark for an ‘okay’ effort, your answers in maths will be right or wrong. And, because we tend to dislike being wrong, many people are put-off this subject – especially those with unforgiving teachers and that’s a big pity. So, be sure to develop your maths (and critical thinking) skills (and ask for separate coaching in those areas if you need it) and you’ll set yourself apart from others seeking work.
Second, you don’t need to be a genius to become reasonably good at maths, you just need to be prepared to take your time and learn some solid thinking methods.
We, humans, are impatient types. We love to grab at quick and easy answers, but they seldom serve us well.
So, we need to learn to slow down our thinking when faced with complex problems. And even apparently simple problems can trip us up unless we learn this habit of slowing down and thinking carefully.
You’re familiar with all my favourite riddles that prove this point, of course. But here’s a quick reminder of just two of them.
The bat and ball riddle
A bat and ball cost £1.10.
The bat cost £1 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
The answer’s easy right?
The same birthday question
There are 30 children in a class.
What are the chances that at least two of them have the same birthday?
So, 30 children and 365 possible birthdays… that’s another easy question, right?
Well, you know that these riddles prove how difficult it is, even for intelligent and well-educated people, to concentrate and focus on problem-solving.
We cannot resist jumping in with what appear to be the obvious answers.
Studying maths will help you to solve these and much more important questions about the world – and make a bigger contribution to the world’s challenges.
A reasonable basic knowledge will also help you to solve other, day-to-day, challenges around the home – and with your personal finances too 🙂
5. Always do your best
No one spends their whole life in their perfect job. So, don’t be surprised if you find yourself unhappy at work at some point. It’s normal for most people.
Just remember, if that happens, not to waste a lot of time moaning about it.
Get on and do something, calmly and quietly, to bring about the change you need.
And, in the meantime, carry on doing good work and being polite to others – regardless of how they treat you. These things will stand you in good stead in any new application for work.
6. Be a lifelong learner – and get in the flow
Keep stretching yourself towards new goals and the acquisition of skills and knowledge.
There’s no need to overstrain but don’t be idle either – both these extremes are painful and unproductive.
And aim, if you can, to find work that allows you to ‘get in the flow’ from time to time. More on that below.
7. Just decide to be in a good mood today and smile
Crazy as it might sound, it is possible to simply choose to smile. (I just chose to smile whilst writing this – let me know if it’s helping!)
The simple act of smiling helps your own confidence and displays it to others – and puts them at ease with you.
It even inclines others to help you when you need it, and we all need help from time to time.
Of course, it’s easier to smile when you’re on top of your ‘stuff’ rather than it being on top of you. So…
8. Get ahead on your important work
We’re all equal in terms of the time we have available. So, the tortoise and the hare rule applies here.
Perhaps you think you work better in the early hours – or perhaps later in the day but if that’s the case you need to think through how that might affect your relationships at home.
Either way, you certainly don’t have to wait to ‘feel’ like it – to make a good job of important work.
Just show up and start working – a concept supremely summarised here by Oliver Burkeman in this extract from The Antidote, happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking.
Well, Stephen Covey gives us a great, four-quadrant, way to think about this. And you need to watch out for that ‘quadrant of waste’ … it’s not a good place to spend too much of your time 😉
Achieve more efficiently and you’ll be promoted more quickly and have more time for your loved ones.
Spend half the day in bed and you’ll be under stress for the rest of the day.
You’ve seen the riddle about how delaying your start on your studies can make it impossible to catch up later – and I learned that lesson the hard way at university.
So, get on with big projects early and …
9. Break bigger tasks into small, digestible pieces
Yes, I know, very few people like planning. Many think it’s boring, non-creative or even a waste of time – but think about this…
- How do concerts happen?
- How do films get made?
- How do computer games get designed and built?
- How does an Olympic stadium or bridge or house get built?
These bigger projects are only possible by breaking them into much smaller parts.
Don’t try to eat a whole cow at once 😉
So, how should you chunk your work?
Well, there are lots of ways (and Apps) to help you manage your time but according to Pulitzer-winning author Charles Duhigg, the most productive people don’t use never-ending lists but instead chunk their work into projects and break larger tasks into micro-steps.
Use an App if you like but you can easily do this in a word document like this:
- This is one of my big projects
- Module one of my project
- Task one within that module
- Task two in that module
- Module two of my project
- Task 1
- Module one of my project
10. Give yourself quiet times in quiet spaces to get important work done
Allocate big slices of quiet time in your diary to get your important stuff done.
And I mean, seriously quiet and completely uninterrupted time. So that means getting away from your desk if it’s a noisy and distracting environment. Book a meeting room for your quiet space if you can.
And switch off the music too – unless it’s proven to help concentration. I love music and whilst it’s nice (and largely harmless) to have music playing if you’re doing repetitive tasks, most types of music are a distraction to learning and intellectual types of work.
So, take regular short breaks and lose yourself in your music then – not whilst you’re trying to work.
At home, switch off the TV and unnecessary social media Apps on your PC, giving time for those activities (if at all) at the start and end of the day – otherwise, that chatter will consume your day and your life 🙁
… and yes, I really do need to take this advice too. 😉
11. Reward yourself for completion of tasks
Give yourself small treats (but not all sweet and sticky ones) as a reward for completing tasks.
A walk with a friend in the park – or taking time out to listen to that music – are wonderful rewards.
And once you have your important stuff attended to, there’s always room, as we learned in this story, for a celebratory beer or glass of wine too
If you read nothing else here, please read that story.
It’s really powerful and very funny too 😉
12. Take a deeper interest in those you care about
Get to know them, where they come from, the struggles they’ve faced – and find out about their aims and hopes for the future.
By all means, have the banter and fun chat too, we all love some of that. But don’t waste all your conversations on trivia about events and other people.
You have a great mind – use it.
14. Praise others in public and only ever reprimand in private
Remember this most essential rule as you grow up into management and/or parenting roles.
It’s also important to remember in any group chat on Facebook or WhatsApp, for example.
Always try to avoid humiliating anyone – and especially in front of others.
We probably dislike being humiliated more than most other things in life. So, the consequences of this are seldom good.
15. Be clear with others about what you want from them
Write it down – and then talk them through it before giving/sending the message.
16. Seek to understand others before asking others to understand you
This is the classic idea of taking care to be interested in others – before trying to be interesting yourself.
It’s certainly rule number one in any relationship based sales environment – and possibly rule number one in personal relationships too.
Your plans, where they involve or affect others, should ideally offer some form of “Win / Win” for you and those others.
So, on those occasions where your idea needs to be sold – look at it from the other person’s point of view and take their opinion on it rather than forcing it. You’ll find it’s much easier to sell.
17. And seek to understand yourself too
You know I think there’s some value to be gained from looking inwards as well out to the world – and understanding how our own, unique behavioural traits, strengths and weaknesses can serve us well or let us down in different situations.
Just be selective about the assessments you pay attention to.
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for example, is not something worth leaning too heavily upon – despite it being used by a lot of organisations.
On the other hand, as I understand it, the ‘Big Five’ OCEAN model is widely accepted by Psychologists as offering some valuable insights.
So, it’s a good place to start and Jordan Peterson’s OCEAN self-assessment is particularly useful because it divides each of those 5 behavioural traits into two more – giving you 10 traits to consider about the way you are – and how you might come across to others.
17. Seek out ideas (and constructive criticisms of your ideas) from others.
You’ll obviously want to pay particular attention to those whose views you respect.
And be sure to include the quiet folk – who very seldom volunteer their ideas but often have the most value to add.
But never write off anyone as not having something to add – and be respectful to all at all times.
18. Learn how to present your ideas and communicate effectively
This skill is vital – whether you’re pitching yourself for a job, pitching an idea for a new development at work or pitching for some money to start up or develop a business.
Finding good solutions to problems requires co-operative work, analysis by people with expertise, and discussion with all key stakeholders to reach agreement.
The confrontational approach exemplified by participants in the BBC’s The Apprentice is absolutely useless in real-life business situations. That’s an entertainment show – nothing more.
At times when you are the expert and have been focused on the problem at hand, you will need to be patient and diplomatic with others. And be prepared to explain the issues slowly – and possibly more than once to help others catch up with your level of understanding.
People feel uneasy with change and many feel threatened by it. They may be overly critical of your ideas for various reasons: sometimes the internal politics of your organisation and sometimes due to simple misunderstandings.
But speaking up about doing the right thing is what you must do – one way or another.
Here are some ideas to consider under this heading:
- Stay calm, take time to explain the issues and the solution options that you (or your team) have worked so hard to produce. And, in outlining your proposal, also outline the other options you’ve considered and rejected – giving reasons why.
- Avoid comments that might humiliate others – either senior or junior to you. This will only make enemies. There are few things likely to anger someone more than public humiliation.
- If you feel someone has misunderstood your point, don’t attack them but instead apologise for not making your point clear and then rephrase it in a way that helps them understand. You will be thanked for this and more likely to win through. However good your ideas or logical your argument – you will lose it if your communications turn to conflict.
- Accept the fact that no-one (other than young babies) gets their own way 100% of the time. Be prepared for rejection or to have to wait for what you want.
- Sometimes a good idea will be rejected just because it doesn’t fit with the broader objectives of the business in which you’re working. But don’t be put off – and never give up on worthwhile ideas.
- Make valid proposals that align with your organisation’s aims and, provided you keep your stakeholders on board, you’ll have plenty of success.
19. Solve an overwork issue before collapsing under it
If you’re genuinely overloaded with work and stressed out then seek a solution.
Who’s pushing you so hard? Is it yourself?
The timescale on most projects (at work and home) is discretionary. So think about spreading the work over a bit more time if the end date is not critical. Or ask for more help and suggest others do the same.
But don’t expect to be given more time or help if you’re behind due to poor planning or idleness.
20. Balance your efforts across your roles.
Think about your life as a set of roles (worker, colleague/leader of other workers, student, partner, parent, provider, daughter, son, friend, sports team member, etc.) and think about how you’re doing on each from time to time.
Then write down what you could do to improve things in the low score areas – and get on and do those things.
But don’t switch all your efforts into improving your weaknesses. Work on them yes, but keep working in your areas of strength also.
Keep this in balance and read Strengths Finder by Tom Rath – which also includes an online self-assessment to help you understand your strengths. (Happy to share mine with you)
From time to time we all put a lot of effort into a single area of our lives- perhaps spending a ton of time with our partner, on our work, our children, a hobby etc.
And sometimes we need to do that – to improve a situation that’s gone off track.
Just be aware of the risks in those areas you’re neglecting when you do this – and try to keep a reasonable balance in all the important areas of your life.
Keeping all the plates spinning isn’t easy and, as I said, at the top, I’ve not always managed this myself – but we can always strive to achieve this.
Spend little time thinking about your desired results and most on well-directed efforts for achieving them. This is the Bill Shankly lesson of making every touch of the ball, the best you can.
You won’t win or get everything right all the time but you can keep learning…
And, besides a nice pension, if you want a lifetime of earnings – you need to commit to a lifetime of learning.
Take it steady guys.
End of note to my lads
Thanks for dropping in.
I hope there’s something of interest there and, as I said at the top, I’d love to hear your comments on these – and your own ideas too.
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