“My peers don’t value their education,” she stated emphatically and with some anger, as we stood together in a classroom full of AP students.
For those of you who don’t know, AP stands for “Advanced Placement” and this young lady was referring to the students who were failing in school.
AP students are the so-called “smart kids”. Although the longer I live and the more high-schoolers I meet, the more I realize it’s not just their intelligence that sets them apart. They are also hard workers and this is the number one reason they get good grades.
That memory was bouncing around in my head the other day when I ran across a reference to an old saying that goes something like this– “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
Immediately my thoughts went to the myriads of troubled young men I have worked with and the many AP students and athletes I have met along the way. The differences between these two groups are huge.
To start with, the minds of AP students and athletes are usually preoccupied with their busy schedules. It is interesting to hear a conversation amongst such teens. They will complain about tough teachers, coaches and parents and, in the same breath, tell their peers how they are accomplishing all the objectives these tyrants imposed on them. The action they reap is a strong work ethic. They will use this to get good grades and excel on the field of sports.
This action leads to the habit or standard of excellence. Does this mean they will always do excellent work or be the star athlete? No, of course not. What it does mean is that they will accomplish much more than they ever imagined they were capable of accomplishing had they not developed this standard.
Invariably, this standard impacts their character. They take pride in who they are. These are the kids volunteering and doing community service work. These are the kids who belong to the community and high school organizations. They are becoming responsible young adults and they like to be known as responsible.
Many times, have I stood before a football team and told them that the lessons they learn on the gridiron will be lessons they will be able to apply in life. These same young men and women who have developed a character of responsibility, leadership, work ethic, and good communication will set out into the world with great confidence.
This confidence is well earned. They have become problem solvers and they have great tools to help them through the matrix of difficulties that life will present them. They will be able to set life goals and pursue them with some degree of certainty.
As a sharp contrast, many of the young men that I have counseled along the way will not go down this road. For many, their constant thought is on entertainment. They spend their time in school for the social interaction and get very little accomplished in terms of academics. As they fall further and further behind they begin to covet leaving, dropping-out, taking the easier path.
The easy life becomes their goal. This means that many will only do bare minimum work and therefore earn bare minimum wages. Many have very limited reading skills, which sets them back even more.
While working a part-time job at a restaurant, a couple years ago, I met some young people there who became my friends. Some of these young friends, the same ones who had dropped out of high school and had very minimal skills, were the first ones to volunteer to leave early when the restaurant slowed down. Unfortunately, because of their party lifestyle, they are not dependable. This is why I have rarely referred one of these young friends for a job. For the most part I lay the responsibility of finding work on their shoulders. Yes, I will let them know of any leads I come across, but that is about it.
The future is not a bright one for these young men. They lack the basic skills to grow in a profession and they lack the work ethic that they will need to compete.
Is there any good news in all of this? Yes, there is. Not all my young men have wallowed in this cycle of dysfunction. Some have pulled themselves out of poverty, returned to school and gone on to higher education. Although this is rare it has happened.
In order to influence someone, we must first earn the right to be heard. This is the quest of anyone who works with at-risk teens. Why should they listen to you if you have no vested interest in them as human beings? So this is what I do to the best of my ability– I work to earn the right to speak wisdom into their lives.
Along the way, some of my guys begin to understand how life and success work and they begin to make changes. The work proves to be quite difficult. This is something they are not used to. Some will have to stop and start many times. Change is difficult and an inside job.
My job is to guide them and that I shall do until my final day arrives.