The Upside of Failing

June 9, 2010

Failure is NOT always a bad thing. Sometimes failing is what motivates, inspires and teaches us what it takes to be successful. Yet, too many educators and youth advocates view failure as something to be avoided at all cost. While they are usually well meaning, they are often dead wrong. In fact, by building environments that NEVER allow kids to fail, we are actually letting our kids down by not allowing them to gain the necessary experience to deal with the inevitable rejection and failure that happens to all of us who are human.

School districts put social promotion policies in place to “protect” a failing students self esteem. I think that is misguided on many levels. Isn’t it worse for a student’s self esteem to know that if they do not understand day one lessons and that they have an entire year of being lost ahead of them? Isn’t it better to let them try again to master the content and gain the skills needed for them to earn the opportunity to move up to the next set of challenges? That way students they will internalize that they can do, not just be told that they can do it!

Youth sports programs that don’t keep score so that the loosing team doesn’t know they lost do not seem to understand that many kids (not to mention parents) keep score anyway; and by not officially keeping score aren’t we really telling kids that loosing is so terrible we should pretend it did not even happen? In many coaches pitch baseball leagues they do not even let a hitter strike out for fear they will feel bad. But which is worse for a kid – taking three swings and sitting down or taking swing after swing after swing after swing while everyone on both teams watches you miss the ball? The inability to hit a ball may lead to a decision that baseball is not for them OR a decision to work on it until they can hit the ball.

There are too many examples of how failure has been central to some of the greatest successes and most successful people in history to continue to believe all failure should be eliminated from the lives of our children. Failure turning into success has not only been demonstrated by “great people” in history, but also in the daily experience of “regular people” whose failures have brought out the best in themselves and the people around them. I do believe as parents, teachers, coaches and concerned adults we should do everything we can do to help our kids be successful. But just saying and acting as if they are successful when they are not is not always helpful.

Here is a short but GREAT video that I came across that can help students, teachers and parents remember that failure can and usually is an important part of success. Don’t Be Afraid of Failure:


Millenials – Much more than ‘Just’ an Entitled Generation

May 27, 2010

There are people who believe entitlement is a word that characterizes millenials (ages between approximately 13 – 25 years old). I do believe there is SOME truth and evidence to support the idea that millenials feel a sense of entitlement. However, I think what millenials feel entitled to is often misunderstood. I believe millenials do share a sense of entitlement to being treated fairly, with respect and to having an opportunity to be judged and rewarded on their merits rather than on seniority, appearance, race, income, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I believe millenials grew up with a sense of urgency as they watched events around them including natural disasters, terrorism and the challenges of a global economy in real time due to the digital age in which they grew up and it is their sense of urgency that may be confused with arrogance or feelings of entitlement.

Beyond the sense of entitlement that millenials may or may not share however, there is evidence that millenials are actively working and achieving to make themselves, their communities and their world better. Millenials are more likely to become entrepreneurs than most other generations. Millenials are more likely to value social responsibility in the companies they work for as well as the companies where they spend their money. Millenials volunteer more than any generation since the WW2 generation. They may be doing this out of youthful optimism or altruism OR maybe it is because they feel let down by government, churches/non-profits, team sports and the companies their parents used to work for that they perceive were not looking out for their interests or showing them any loyalty.

I come to my opinions after speaking to high school students in their classrooms almost every day for the last 12+ years. By speaking in classrooms versus faceless auditoriums, I have been able to interact and connect with youth in a much more personal way. I understand that some millenials have not been helped by misguided adults who believe in promotion of self-esteem over competency in school, sports and parenting. Too often social promotion in schools, not keeping score in sports or overly positive parents have laid a misguided sense of self. But for every one of those lazy, crazy or unrealistic kids we see portrayed on the news for negative reasons, I believe there are thousands who are not crazy and hundreds who are absolutely amazing! What youth need more than anything is honest feedback, sincere and frequent praise when the do well and support from adults along with realistic, not cynical and bitter, guidance as to what is possible and impossible. When a youngster says they want to be a doctor, play in the NBA, make the world a better place or fill in the blank here, please do NOT tell them they can’t do that. Tell them that’s great and ask them what they will need to do to make their dreams come true. You might be surprised what they are willing to do and how much harder they will work in the pursuit of turning their dreams into a better reality for all of us!

Yes there is a senior slump!

May 17, 2010

This morning I read a very interesting article about senioritis/spring fever in Secondary Education newsletter – – I agree with the 3 categories that provide senioritis challenges and also found some of the tips for teachers to be quite useful.

I am a motivational speaker who for the last 12 years has spoken to almost exclusively HS seniors. Just this morning before I started speaking, I overheard a senior who said she is very tired of being asked what she is doing next year. I asked her why was she so tired of that question? Was it the frequency of the question? Was she bored with her standard elevator speech answer to the question? Did she feel people really didn’t care what her answer was? She said she was troubled by the question primarily because she still doesn’t know exactly what she is doing other than that she is “going to college” and feels that other people look down on her for her lack of detailed plans. I think too many people assume that all seniors have decided their future plans and many even assume most seniors decide what college they will attend in their junior year. Understanding seniors have NOT ALL made, let alone finalized, their plans for next year is important.

A few years ago, the US government some years ago commissioned a 2 year study to learn whether there was such a thing a senioritis/senior slump. Chaired by Governor Chris Patton of Kentucky, after 2 years of interviewing HS teachers, senior students, parents and others, the committee determined that yes indeed there was such a thing as senior slump. While I was not surprised that senioritis existed, I was very surprised that the study determined the number one cause of senior slump was students who were already accepted to the college of their choice and did not think school mattered anymore. I recently heard about a friend of a friend who was interviewed over 10 years after high school for a job that paid in the mid 6 figures being asked for their high school transcripts. When he got the job he asked his new boss why they wanted to look at his high school transcripts when he had college, grad school and a professional track record of success to judge him on. The answer he was given was they looked only at his grades from the 2nd semester of his senior year to see if he had shut down and packed it in or finished strong. Their reasoning was that if he would coast through the 2nd semester of his senior year, it might be a pattern that would still be with him today and could not be tolerated by his new company.

It is important for teachers to identify the malady of senior slump in order to work to help their seniors avoid what may be a natural tendency to coast down the stretch. Senioritis/spring fever are VERY contagious, and not only for seniors. It is also important for teachers to recognize and understand that teachers are not immune to spring fever either! Teachers have the double challenge to work to prevent and overcome cases of senioritis among their students as well as themselves. As I guest speaker, I welcome the challenge to provide assistance to teachers to combat spring fever/senioritis as the year winds down. Over the years I have learned that sometimes a GREAT presentation is the perfect cure for cases of the dreaded, but expected, senioritis. My name is Byron and I Speak to Students.

Inspiration, Basketball and Mom

May 10, 2010

I saw two INSPIRING basketball performances on Mother’s Day.

I saw Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics put his team on his back to have one of the most impressive statistical performances in the history of the NBA. He not only controlled the game, he dominated it. His performance was almost certainly singlehandedly responsible for three future hall of fame players not being on the verge of elimination.

Later, I saw Steve Nash come back into the game after receiving 6 stitches over his eye. When he left with a bloody eye it seemed like two years ago when a head to head collision split his nose open; and although he tried to play that day as well, the bleeding was not able to be stopped and the Spurs were victorious over a battered Suns team. I thought history would repeat itself but, with one eye swollen shut, he willed his team from collapsing to the team that ended their six previous seasons.

Rondo and Nash shined on a national/international stage. They will be celebrated by millions for their skill, determination and their will. The praise they will receive is most definitely deserved. It was INSPIRING to see.

However, even more inspiring was to see my mom overcome tremendous challenges every day. To my knowledge, she was never on national TV. Not even many of her friends, extended family or pastor truly understood the daily struggle she had raising me while living with an alcoholic husband. Without any fanfare, she got up EVERY morning and did what she had to do. I’d like people to know about her will and determination too.

My mom taught piano to over 100 students a week for years to earn enough to get our family through. In the process, she touched the lives of too many people to count. Growing up, it seemed I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing stories from someone about how much they loved my mom. I heard how she inspired and helped them accomplish so much, not just in music but in life. When my mom got sick and my dad’s drinking was particularly heavy, people I didn’t even know brought us food and transported me to and from school and my other activities.

My mom inspired so many of her students, including students that other teachers had written off like overly energetic boys, students with learning disabilities, autism and eating disorders. Her secret was love and her faith in God. While others would have complained about struggling to survive and the hardships of life with an alcoholic, she felt blessed to be able to earn a living by giving the gift of music – a gift her parents had sacrificed so much to give her.

I have come to believe that I am who I am and I do what I do in large part because of who she is and what she did. My mom’s story may not make for exciting TV, but I think it is worth sharing.

4 Minutes to Remember

May 6, 2010

On this date in 1954 Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile for the first time. What was once thought to be an unbreakable barrier was broken by 16 more people by 1957 and is now broken by high school milers all over the country. In 1997, Daniel Komen of Kenya ran two miles in less than eight minutes, doubling up on Bannister’s accomplishment!

Roger Bannister did not break the unbreakable barrier JUST by believing he could – he set his goal, made his plan and worked and worked and failed and failed before accomplishing the impossible and leaving his mark on history.

You might think why is this being sent to me? I am not a runner and I certainly was not alive in the 1950’s. Fair enough, but a better question to ask yourself is what 4 minute mile will I break in my professional or personal life? When you begin by asking that question great things may happen.

Feel free to pass this on to anyone who has unbreakable barriers they need to or would like to break themselves.

BTW – after breaking the unbreakable record, Bannister was more than “just” a history making, barrier breaking miler. After his track days were over he went on to become a distinguished neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford. He retired in 2001. Roger Bannister is yet another example of how success in one area of YOUR life – including sports – can in fact facilitate success in other areas of YOUR life as well! The tasks may be different, but the principal are the same. “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” Roger Bannister

I hope you have a happy and productive 4 minute mile day! I am off to speak to students.

Dr King and Our Greatest Tragedy

January 18, 2010

I like to speak to students on motivational and fun topics; I didn’t want to preach about respect. I had worked with youth and their families in conflict, but I had chosen to be a speaker. Now, I just wanted to motivate, educate and entertain students and then go home. But with incidents from Kentucky to California, to rural Cold Spring, MN and of course Columbine, school shootings were beginning to get many to question whether our kids were safe at school. When teachers learned of my background working with “at risk” youth, they kept asking me for a presentation to address what many feared to be a trend in school shootings.

One day my son asked if it was true that if he had lived when Dr. King was alive that he would not have been able to sit at a restaurant with his own god-father just because he is white and his god-father is black. When I answered it was true in some parts of the country, my blond, blue eyed, 6-year-old- son looked up at me and asked “why would people be like that?” WOW! GREAT question! As I was researching my presentation on respect and looking for an answer to the question from my son, I came across something Dr. King said in the early 1960s. I had an epiphany.

Dr. King said, “It may be that the greatest tragedy in this period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the appalling silence of the so-called good people”. Now, I really understood what I needed to say. It is up to us, “we the people”, to make things better. Within a few hours this quote had formed my outline for my presentation originally called An Uncivl Society and almost 10 years later is still the foundation for Promoting Peace in an Uncivil World.

What Dr. King said in the 1960’s seems to apply equally to the students I speak to today. We don’t have to look very hard to see the many transitions we are currently experiencing – economic transitions, political transitions, military transitions and global transitions; for students, physical and mental growth transitions and school to life transitions are always front and center. Students experience and/or hear about these transitions every day.

Students also hear about bad people in the news every day. We hear about the school shooters and the 9/11 terrorists. We hear about corporate and political scandal and corruption. Dr. King experienced those tragedies and more but still believed our greatest tragedy was “not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people”. Dr. King believed that our greatest tragedy was the “appalling silence of the so-called good people”. He believed that the vast majority of us know what is right and must no longer remain silent. If Dr. King is right THIS IS GREAT NEWS! Apathy is fixable! We can begin to pay attention and participate today. We can begin today to make the world a better place. Actions speak louder than words and Gandhi said “we must become the change we wish to see in the world”.

Today, as we remember Dr. King, let’s take the opportunity to remember we all can and do make a difference with our actions. EVERYDAY we have opportunities to make someone’s world better! EVERYDAY we can do something at home to make the world better! EVERYDAY we can do something at school to make the world better! EVERYDAY we can do something in our community to make the world better! EVERYDAY we can do something in our global community to make the world better! Will you take the opportunity!

My name is Byron and I speak to students.

Younger Workers are the Most Unhappy Workers

January 7, 2010

Recently there has been some discussion about a report that says the average American Worker is more unhappy than in the past. Young workers seem to be the most unhappy. It is a shame that younger workers are the most unhappy because they have the longest time to work. I have come to believe that there are two basic problems adding to this unhappiness at work for so many young people. The first is a problem with the educational system and the second is a problem of their expectations of what a career/job is going to be like.

While I am not an advocate of having K-12 be a job prep program, there does need to be more connection to the world of work. In my experience, the average teacher has never worked in a non-school environment it is difficult for them to really help prepare their students for a world they have not experienced themselves. For example, high school students are taught in career classes that a job is a dead end/boring thing that you do just to earn money, but a career offers virtually unlimited potential and is truly fulfilling. This thinking sets students up for disappointment. College students need to understand that they will be in a very different environment once they leave college and enter the world of work. Bosses do not have tenure or care as much about your self esteem as most teachers do. You do not go to the office 15-20 hours a week and then study at home at your convenience. At work, you can’t drop projects like you can drop a class or choose your boss like you can choose your professor.

Expectations of younger workers are part of the problem as well. Many students have come to believe what Confucius said “if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life”. I think it is important to love what you do, but if you believe that everything at work will be loveable, you are setting yourself up for unhappiness. I love what I do – speaking to students in schools – BUT that doesn’t mean I love everything about it. I will NOT love driving in the snow today to get to the school where I am speaking. I don’t love getting up so early everyday to make it to a school for the 7:30 AM start time. I don’t like the paper work I have to complete and I don’t always like the travel I need to do. But yet I love what I do. What I try to pass on to the students that I speak to is that if you love what you do, the stuff you don’t love about what you do will not be so bad.

Building a career is a long process and with a few tweaks to education and a shift in expectations, hopefully more young workers can find satisfaction in what they do. If youth are typical Americans, they will spend a lot of time doing it.

My name is Byron and I Speak to Students.


April 6, 2009

I have spoken to students in high schools for over 10 years but I have never posted a blog. Untill today. I am looking forward to learning what to do next. Tomorrow I am speaking at Minnetonka High School.