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Posts tagged education
Speaking Event: Orientation at Christopher Newport University

In just a few short weeks, I'll be visiting Newport News, Virginia for the first time in order to speak to the incoming freshman class at Christopher Newport University. This is my first event booked in conjunction with CAMPUSPEAK. We'll be talking about how to pack as much as possible into the next four years in order to finish college and find who we are in the process. I firmly believe that the point of college isn't to find a job as much as it is to find an identity. It's also a great time to find a cause or a passion that stirs us and motivates us through the next phase of life.

One cool thing I've learned about CNU is that each freshman is given a penny. When they graduate, a tradition is to toss that same penny into a fountain on campus, bookending one's journey as a Captain.

See you soon, #CNU16!

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What Michael Grinder Taught Me About Public Speaking

One of the highlights of my brief time with CAMPUSPEAK thus far has been attending their every-other-year conference, Huddle. This is a chance for all the speakers on the roster to get together, learn from each other and from experts, and become better at what they do. Keynoting the event was Michael Grinder, someone who bills himself as a communications expert, particularly when it comes to non-verbal communications. And in just five minutes, I'd learned more from Grinder than I had in my hundreds of times on stage.

Many times, we think that the bulk of our impact as speakers comes from our words. Michael showed us otherwise. Sure - words matter, but so do all the things we do when not saying something.

Here's a sample:

  • The first thing out of Michael's mouth was, "The first thing you need to know about me is that I love my wife." This floored the audience. Here was a guy hired to come teach and he begins with his values? But what a way to start it was. Instantly, Michael became someone we admired and trusted, which is important for an audience. A personally invested and connected audience is one that will listen.
  • Michael then carried on along this line, reminding us that it's imperative we know the difference between life as a speaker and life as a husband, wife, or whatever else we are when not on stage. He said, "No matter how good a problem solver you are at work, that's not lovable at home." In other words, most of the time, our loved ones aren't looking for us to spout wisdom; they just want us to listen.
  • "If you're in a bind, stop making statements and start asking questions." This is good with an unresponsive audience or when things get tense at any job.
  • "Make sure your audience walks away with value, not just adrenaline." Great speakers don't just pump their audiences up; they give them something to use.
  • "Influence is not just about power. It's about permission." People need to willingly give us their attention if we're to be successful.
  • "Brilliant communication gets people to be accountable to themselves." This is what is 'motivational' many times about speaking. You're motivating people to believe in themselves, work hard, and be their own coach and hardest critic.
  • "Leadership is comfort with uncertainty."
  • "If you want to help something you say sink into someone's long-term memory, increase or decrease voice volume from the baseline." A whisper can be as effective as a shout.
  • "Speaking 'techniques' are like a match. They aren't ethical or unethical in and of themselves. How you use these techniques determines whether or not what you're doing is ethical." If you're great at speaking, those skills can't and shouldn't be used to manipulate. There's no real impact there.
  • What makes a great speaker isn't whether or not they can employ great skills; it's when they choose to use them.
  • "Our perception of ourselves is the number one thing that gets in the way of our professional development." We can all get better.

What's the best speaking advice you've ever received?

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College and University Keynote Speaker

I'm proud to officially announce today that I'm part of the CAMPUSPEAK family. This fantastic organization helps colleges and universities find relevant and dynamic keynote and workshop presentations for students. Learn more about CAMPUSPEAK here. If your campus or students are in need of a message about leadership, community change, or social entrepreneurship, you can learn more about the keynotes I offer.

I'm excited to launch this next stage of my speaking career, helping university students think critically about their future when it comes to how they will use their lives to make the world a better place. 

How to Never Learn Anything

We must never mistake education for school. While school usually teaches us something, education can happen anywhere at the hands of anyone. I've found that learning from other people is a very valuable experience. What others have accomplished, what they have learned, what they know, and what they suggest are all lessons I lap up when meeting someone new, bumping into an old friend, or hearing someone else's stories.

But we can't learn these lessons if we're unwilling to attend the impromptu school known as conversation. When we shut ourselves off and only participate in the planned dialogues (phone calls, emails, meetings) with those we already know, wisdom is left sitting on the table and we are the lesser for it.

Most of this wisdom never reaches us because of our unwillingness to engage. And often times, all it takes is a set of white headphones.

You'll never learn anything if you're marked as unapproachable. And I know of no better way to do that than to turn on your iPod, wear a frown, or look busy. Show the world that you're occupied and it will leave you alone. And if you never get to engage with others or open yourself up to the spontaneous learning that comes from meeting someone new, you may never get the knowledge you need to accomplish something important.

Just for a day, let's open ourselves to learning something new by putting away our headphones, extending our hand for an introduction, and asking those we meet, "What's your story?"

Remember when your teacher used to call roll in school? You'd raise your hand or say, "Present."

When you become approachable to others, you're telling the world you're here, you're present, and you're ready to learn, to become someone smarter, wiser, and better than you are right now.

The conversations we don't have are the books we never open, the classes we never take, and the lessons we never learn.

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"I want to do it."

I try to help her clean the cupcake icing from in between her small and sometimes uncoordinated fingers. "I want to do it," she says as she grabs a wet wipe and gets to work.

She grunts as she attempts to pull Legos apart, blocks that I attached rather well so we could build the tower taller.

"No, Daddy. I want to do it." I watch as she struggles until she relents and whimpers, "Help!"

Putting on her pants is no longer my job. It's her exercise in independence.

"I want to do it," she tells me and she stabs one leg in and then the other, often down the same pant leg.

And so it goes with most of our daily routine. Opening the pack of crackers, turning on the TV, choosing a book for bedtime reading, lining up buttons, buckling her seat belt, cleaning up a spill, getting into her stroller, putting a clip in her hair - these are all things that she now wants to do.

Yesterday, we were coloring and she spotted some stickers. I asked her if she'd like me to take one off the page and give it to her so she could place it on her shirt.

And then she hit me with it: "No, Daddy. I need to do it."

And she was right. She did need to do it. It was time.

This is what growth looks like. It's letting people do what they need to do so that one day, when they're on their own or miles away or all grown up (or all three), they can play with stickers or clean up a mess or eat lunch or go for a walk without your constant oversight, meddling, or touch.

And while it takes the wind out of me sometimes to think about her not needing me, I know that ultimately, my duty is to teach her that she only needs herself. I'm not supposed to wipe her mouth forever. I'm just supposed to wipe off that milk mustache until she's figured out how to do it.

As a parent, I am the teacher who's fighting against the end of the semester. While traditional educators look forward to the summer break, I don't want to stop giving lessons, demonstrating how something is done. I crave her mastery, but I don't want to lose the intimacy that comes from being the ever-present helper, cleaner, teacher, and guide.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that the only way I can ever be always there is to teach her something she'll take with her forever. She'll always know me not because I'm within earshot to help wipe her fingers after eating a cupcake. The best I can do is that when she's grown and big and strong and eating a cupcake, she'll think of me and our icing faces as she takes a napkin to dab in between her slender fingers to get all the gooey sugar goodness that likes to hide when you're eating a cupcake after a long walk with someone you love.

Don't Rely on Your Natural Resources

Passion is a valuable thing. Many people want to build a career around it, but putting all your eggs in this basket may not be a good move. Passion is rarely learned. You become passionate about something naturally, usually. It's a gut feeling, something visceral and emotional. You need this kind of fire in the core of your being to keep going when the going gets very, very tough.

But, you need more than this. You need to learn and hone skills. You need to get smart. You need to try new things, build new networks, and develop new relationships. You need to try hard things, to challenge and push yourself. Otherwise, you'll just rely on what you're naturally good at or what gets you excited. Sadly, these things may fade one day.

Here's a parallel from the world of geopolitics. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes about what makes Taiwan so great:

Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off of — it even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction — yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence — men and women.

While many other countries rely on what comes naturally - minerals in the ground - Taiwan has had to rely on education and intelligence. As a country, it didn't take what was given; it went and earned what couldn't be bought.

We must do the same with our careers. If you're lucky to have an innate skill or talent, then milk it for all its worth and earn as much as you can. But, along the way, be sure to combine that gift with real knowledge, new opportunities, and worthwhile challenges. Leverage your passion and your talents, but be sure to grow beyond that so that you can have a bevy of options when you need them most.

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Three Articles That Will Make You a Better Parent

Parenting is a weird task that gets easier and harder at the same time. Just when you've figured something out about taking care of your child, a new challenge crops up to remind you that you kind of suck at this. Ultimately, the best you can hope for is to parent in a way that leaves your child emotionally connected to you, feeling safe and secure, and tattoo-free until she's 18. Bedtimes, TV patterns, and toy accumulation can be flexible to keep you sane. Just make sure she doesn't get tattooed before she can vote. I've found the following three articles very helpful over the last few months as my daughter is fully two years old. She's starting to not just have opinions (mainly about how much time she'd like to spend at the park or eating ice cream) but also to forthrightly articulate them to her mother and I. I know that these momentary struggles will pass and we'll be on to other issues like potty-training, homework, driving, and tattoo prevention. So, as she grows, I'll keep the core ideas of these articles close at hand.

1) How to Parent Like the French

This article got some online traction last month in advance of a book about the same topic being released (kudos to Kottke.org for the link). The main point is that the French way of parenting (and living, I'd say) produces children that seem to better understand boundaries and behavior. French children (in comparison to American kids) seem to throw tempter tantrums less and obey parents more. The reason has to do with the boundaries and processes put in place by parents very early on so that children respect the requests made by their moms and dads. From the article:

The French, I found, seem to have a whole different framework for raising kids. When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. "Ah, you mean how do we educate them?" they asked. "Discipline," I soon realized, is a narrow, seldom-used notion that deals with punishment. Whereas "educating" (which has nothing to do with school) is something they imagined themselves to be doing all the time.

One of the keys to this education is the simple act of learning how to wait. It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep. It is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and one snack around 4 p.m.)

The rest of the article focuses on the need to teach delayed gratification - that kids can't have what they want when they want it all the time. It seems as if that lesson can be learned, children can grow up balanced and grounded.

2) You're Responsible for Yourself - Make Good Decisions

My friend and colleague Anderson Williams penned this piece. About to be a new dad, he reflects back on how his parents raised him and what that means for the way we collectively raise and teach youth today.

While growing up, Anderson heard constant reminders from his parents that he was to make good decisions and was ultimately responsible for those decisions he made. He remembers:

Although as a teen I may have rolled my eyes hearing these words over and over again, I knew what Mom meant, and I knew that she was reminding me of a social contract we had. I got freedom and opportunity as long as I showed that I was responsible enough to handle it.

And, I knew I would be held accountable if and when my responsibility lapsed. I also knew why. There was no question and no fight. I knew what was expected of me and I knew when I had failed those expectations. Candidly, with a teenage son, my Mom knew I would screw up. The question was how badly and how would I respond.

While teaching responsibility isn't like teaching addition, it is possible to teach it in the context of relationships. Then, the idea of accountability is introduced, which leads to any of us understanding how to make better decisions.

3) 9 Essential Skills Kids Should Learn

Leo Babauta has another insightful post. As a minimalist and a father who understands the world is rapidly changing, he is working hard to homeschool - and unschool - his children. From that, he offers up nine skills that children should be learning. If a young person has these skills, she'll be able to adapt and grow in an ever-changing world. He writes:

9. Dealing with change. I believe this will be one of the most essential skills as our kids grow up, as the world is always changing and being able to accept the change, to deal with the change, to navigate the flow of change, will be a competitive advantage. This is a skill I’m still learning myself, but I find that it helps me tremendously, especially compared to those who resist and fear change, who set goals and plans and try to rigidly adhere to them as I adapt to the changing landscape. Rigidity is less helpful in a changing environment than flexibility, fluidity, flow. Again, modeling this skill for your child at every opportunity is important, and showing them that changes are OK, that you can adapt, that you can embrace new opportunities that weren’t there before, should be a priority. Life is an adventure, and things will go wrong, turn out differently than you expected, and break whatever plans you made — and that’s part of the excitement of it all.

We can’t give our children a set of data to learn, a career to prepare for, when we don’t know what the future will bring. But we can prepare them to adapt to anything, to learn anything, to solve anything, and in about 20 years, to thank us for it.

Go read his other eight suggestions. I feel better about the unpredictable future for my daughter now that I have a list of things I'd like her to learn, other that data or facts that may not be applicable in a few years' time.

4) Okay, one more good one

I was also reminded of this article I read last year, when my daughter had just turned one. In response to another online post about what a four-year-old should know, the author makes a compelling case that being able to name all the planets or having legible penmanship isn't what a four-year-old should be concentrated on knowing. Rather, a child should know that she's loved, safe, and how to imagine. Go read the rest of the recommendations.

Parenting is hard. We need ideas, resources, wisdom, and humor to do it well. Share articles you've found helpful in the comments and let's tackle this great adventure together.

Spring High School Speaking Roundup

In the next few months, I'll be speaking a handful of times to high school students, both at their school and at some events.  I began my speaking career long ago by speaking to high school students, so I always enjoy the opportunity to be in the middle of the energy and excitement that teenagers can bring into the room. It also gives me a chance to stay flexible, use a different style of speaking, and try out fresh content.

Here's where I'll be soon:

March 13 - Independence High School, Franklin, TN

I'll be keynoting a spring assembly for the senior class, speaking with close to 500 students about ways they can become involved in their communities over the summer and as they head off to college. I'll also discuss ways they can use their college experience to find out what excites them when it comes to community service.

May 9 - Franklin Road Academy, Nashville, TN

In May, I'm keynoting a convocation for the entire middle and high school, talking about ways students can volunteer in order to find out about their core passions. I'll also discuss how leaders tell stories and how they can begin sharing among their peers the stories of service in order to work more deeply with a particular cause.

May 18 - Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Seminar, Nashville, TN

I've spoken at this event before, which is a statewide gathering of high school sophomores who have been selected to spend a long weekend learning about leadership. We'll talk about leadership through service and why building a team of people to tackle a problem is very doable for any high school student.

As a reminder, you can view my speaking page to see where I'm speaking soon.

Lessons from Fitness Bootcamp

Just over 90 days ago, I began a fitness bootcamp. It's been the most intense workout stretch of my life and the results from a body/fitness standpoint speak for themselves. But, as I drip sweat for an hour twice a week with a handful of others, there are a few key lessons I've learned that I think apply elsewhere:

You must be your biggest coach

I'm always baffled by the people at bootcamp who complain and cut corners when asked to do a certain activity. After all, they're paying someone to get them in shape. The instructor creates fitness plans based on individual needs; if you don't want to do all of the push-ups or leg presses requested, then why even come? Sure, it's ultimately voluntary, so you do have a say whether or not you want to do the exercises. But, you're here for a reason. Cutting corners does you no good.

The same is true in relationships and work. Why are you there? What do you hope to gain? Going through the motions, complaining without suggesting solutions, and taking shortcuts doesn't provide you with what you need to grow. Do the hard work and celebrate the good results.

Growth hurts

The first day of bootcamp, I couldn't make it through the entire rotation of activities. I felt like I was going to vomit. Same for the second day. Likewise, the days after a bootcamp session, my legs and arms hurt. But that's good. It means the muscles are getting a workout. They're working to grow and do what they need to get bigger, firmer, and stronger.

Ditto for your personal and professional lives. If you want to grow, you have to stretch. And many times, this might hurt. You will need to say goodbye. You may need to shift your schedule, change jobs, go back to school, or move away. You'll need to change habits and set up new routines. It's not easy, but if you want to grow and thrive, you'll need to make those hard decisions. The good news? It eventually gets easier.

Community is powerful

At bootcamp, I immediately - as in, my first day - saw how powerful the community of my classmates was. Some of them have been a part of this group for four years. I'm the rookie. But, the group was there to encourage, inspire, tell stories, and lend a hand. Many days, I only make it through our rotation of 150 push-ups (not all at once), wind sprints, leg curls, or burpees because I pair up with C-Whiz or Mark to get it done. From that, people then become genuinely interested in your life. They want to know what you're doing on the weekend, if you'd like to listen to some music they're working on, or if you want to join them on a trail run.

I've written before about the power of community to get any of us to do great things. There are no solo acts. I don't shed 15 pounds of fat and add 10 pounds of muscle in 90 days without the entire group who sweats together on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Marathon Fitness. You won't get where you want to be if you don't have others to accompany you, whether you're on a faith journey, a quest to climb a corporate ladder, or trying to reach your goal of being a great parent.

Have you learned any life lessons from working out, running, or cycling? Any lessons from your hobbies that inform your work? If so, please share in the comments below.

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