Hard work isn’t enough.

Making progress towards a big goal can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life.

You’re not pushing your teen (or yourself) simply for the sake of doing so. You want your teen to be successful and achieve their goals. But what if your teen is going about this one arm tied behind their back.

Heres the brutal truth. Hard work is not enough anymore. Our teens are living in an incredibly competitive world. To gain admission to an elite university, arts program, or play division one sports your teen needs to produce. Hard work will get you a participation trophy; touchdowns, solos, and grades get you a scholarship. Your teen cannot simply spin their tires, they need to have something to show at the end of the day.

This article is about how to get out of your own way and get as much out of your hard work as possible. If we are going to push our teens harder, let’s help them be as efficient as possible.

My Situation

I’ve worked in nonprofits since the age of 16. I knew I was called to serve people in need from a young age. In February I started my role as a manager at a camp for children with functional disabilities and at-risk youth. One of my first goals was to improve our camper’s experience in a positive manner. Our camp is an incredible place for these children. Campers develop a support system of peers who understand how they feel. They also learn how to cope with the psycho-social aspects of their disability.

I was also looking for a way to improve camp without a dramatic increase in expenses.   A seemingly natural place to start was staff. If I could retain and recruit the best staff, I hoped it would manifest a variety of positive outcomes for campers. I hoped transformational leadership and avoiding micromanagement would be a great place to start. This might yield staff who are more patient, understanding, and knowledgeable about campers disabilities. 

 One of the more widespread issues that summer camps face is the loss of staff to the internship lobby. Competing with career-specific internships, I knew that summer camp had to be more than a fun seasonal position. I wanted social, professional, and emotional developement at camp. A place where staff felt valued for their insight and responsible in their own personal growth. I set about developing a process to accomplish this. However,  I would soon discover that even the best of intentions can’t go far without a way to measure progress. 

My best effort wasn’t enough

I started by giving staff a chance to express areas that they wanted to grow in through an informal interview. We then spent some time outlining the type of environments I could foster that might encourage growth in these areas.  Next, we discussed what growth looked like in those areas from their perspective. It felt important for us to be on the same page concerning what growth looked like in real life. Therefore we discussed how they would know they had grown at the end of the summer. Next, I defined the parameters that they would be comfortable with for me checking in on personal growth. This process of deep personal exploration and goals was one of the most rewarding experiences for me. It was also very popular among the staff.

Goals, grit, perseverance, growth mindset, and work ethic.
A great distance shouldn’t be a reason to abandon a goal, it just means you need the right tools!

However, once the interview was complete, it became clear that I had a new problem on my hands. Even if I could see some subjective signs of growth, I had no way to measure objective progress. If I could measure, I could begin to identify situations that yielded better results and eliminate those that were ineffective. I began to realize that my elaborate plan to help my staff was being severely handicapped by a lack of an actionable plan or tool.

How you can avoid this mistake

  • Know what you are trying to do before you set out: Set specific goals that are time bound. Saying you want to be a better soccer player is too subjective. Try defining the number of goals or specific awards you would like to receive by the end of the next season.
  • Define what success and progress look like: Get better is not enough. You need objective measures like complete the first 1/3rd of this solo by the end of the month. While you might not have an entire solo mastered in two months, you can look at sub goals being achieved and know that you are making progress.
  • Define how you will measure progress: This seems simple but it is very important. How will you record progress? It is not adequate to rely on impressions of your performance. You NEED to measure something relevant.

SMART Goals: a system and tool for accomplishing goals 

This is where SMART Goals come into play. Around the time camp was heating up, my family began developing a mobile application and based on the SMART Goal setting system. It addresses some of the very same issues but with a focus on extracurriculars and academics for students. For a more in-depth look into what SMART Goals are and how they can be of benefit, follow this link.  Looking back, it would have been a great opportunity to have used a system that addressed this. It would have made my efforts to help my staff much more effective. Not using this process made clear the value of following a methodology such as SMART.

This blog’s goal is to provide some anecdotes and practical tools for you to use in your teen’s goal setting. In the following posts, we will provide more practical exercises and tools you can use. I felt this was an important post to start with though. Hopefully, you could see some of the consequences I faced for not having an adequate system in place. Hopefully, this post will allow you to avoid some of my mistakes and spend more time working on your goals.

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Is Your Teen Pursuing Their Goals With One Arm Behind Their back?


Claim your own copy of our eBook “5 Simple Skills to Maximize Teen Productivity”.  You can share these valuable ideas with your teen, and help guide them through simple steps to become a master planner!

This book will help you guide your teen to develop new habits that will make it easy to:

  1. Plan ahead
  2. Prioritize efficiently
  3. Master “single-tasking”
  4. Take breaks to improve efficiency
  5. Practice self-reflection


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