A few weeks ago, my family went up to the local mountains skiing during a school break for a few days. We had an awesome time—all five of us are pretty good skiers, and it’s the one sporting activity we all do together. But I couldn’t help checking the weather app on my phone nonstop; a big storm was headed our way, and it was going to be dicey if we were going to be able to get out of our AirBnB on time and make it home.
I’m not sure if you saw the news, but Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead had their first-ever recorded blizzard event, receiving over 7 feet of snow across three days. It was bonkers! We were officially stuck as they closed all roads leading into and out of the mountains.
Here’s the deal: getting stuck in the snow for an extra three days turned unexpectedly into one of the best family trips we’ve ever taken. Sometimes getting stuck is a good thing.
But getting stuck in life, especially on a path wrong for you, is quite possibly the worst-case scenario for any kid. Pause for a moment and see if you can think of someone you know, perhaps a friend, family member, or even yourself, who would admit they feel stuck. Maybe they feel stuck in a career they don’t enjoy but have to stay in due to financial obligations. Maybe someone feels stuck in a relationship they grew out of. Or maybe someone feels stuck in the habits and persona they’ve created over time and don’t know how to unravel.
We don’t want that for any kid, especially the ones we care about.
So why do we often recommend that seemingly timeless life wisdom to figure out the big things later on? Almost every day I talk with parents or teachers who doll out advice to kids still searching for the right path for them and try to encourage them to put their heads down and do well in school and figure it out later on.
That wait-til-later advice has a fundamental flaw: it hardly ever works. The kid unsure of their path when they’re 17 turns into the adult still searching at 37.
There actually is a better way, and it centers on an intentional plan to help kids develop self-awareness. Warn them now about going down the wrong path. Tell them scary stories about friends you have who “live lives of quiet desperation,” as the famous quote says. Guide them to the most helpful, productive reflection questions you can find, answer them out loud for yourself with them, and give them multiple opportunities to come up with their own answers, too.
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).