Your Future Has Already Started

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a SkillsUSA conference in St. Louis, MO. SkillsUSA has over 300,000 members across the United States and its territories, and the association boasts more than 13,000 school districts that participate. In addition to delivering the keynote address, the organizers asked if I would be willing to conduct three breakout groups to provide more hands-on attention. I was told the audience would include high school juniors and seniors who were preparing to become world-class leaders, workers, and responsible Americans.

I agreed. After all, who wouldn’t want to be involved in helping the next generation of American leaders succeed? But what to speak about…?

I decided to recall my own teen years as a foundation. Thinking back, I had a hard time being a teenager. Well, I actually enjoyed it, but I’m sure my parents and teachers had a hard time of it on my behalf.

Take a minute and think about your own teen years. What kind of words and pictures come to mind? If you’re like most, you might think in terms of challenges and some of the negative themes associated with the teen years that are just as real today as they were when you were back in high school:

  • the draw of peer pressure;
  • the torment of bullies;
  • the endless temptation to get caught up in left-of-center activities;
  • the desire to be fashionable (granted, since I’m old, for me that meant polyester plaid); and
  • the sensation of being boxed-out and excluded by the many cliques.

That’s when it dawned on me that some view their teenage years as something to be survived and endured. If your hair is on fire, you don’t usually take time to consider the beauty of the blue or yellow flames on your head. And while the teen years certainly have their challenges and certain level of hair-on-fire-living, I decided to focus my keynote on a more positive reality:

The discovery that we are creating our own futures right now!

For my own children and for the students of SkillsUSA, I want to help them look ahead and live intentionally, enacting deliberate plans to move into the future.

With that in mind, I created a simple breakout group exercise called “Congratulations, Graduate!” Take a minute to lose yourself into these questions to see how you would answer them given this scenario (If the graduation party is too abstract, replace “Congratulations, Graduate” with “Happy Retirement” or even your own eulogy):

You’ve just graduated from high school, and a party is being thrown to honor you. At the party are your closest friends, some teachers, your family, and some of acquaintances you’ve made along the way.

What 5 phrases or words do you most wish to hear others use to describe you at your party?

Which 5 people can you ask today to give you feedback on how you are doing to live up to the those phrases or words?

What 1 new behavior can you practice TODAY to increase your chances of hearing those phrases or words when you graduate (retire or die)?

Living intentionally and with purpose. Those who apply deliberate actions to accomplish their desires usually find themselves acting in ways that take them where they want to go.

How about you? Are you taking steps today to create the legacy you desire to leave?

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