The lessons below are excerpts from my teen self-empowerment book Truth for our Youth. You can view the video version of these lessons here.
Lesson 1: Don’t take people’s words or deeds personally. People sometimes speak or act out of turn for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with you: they might have poor health, be experiencing financial difficulty, death in the family, loneliness, insecurity, jealousy, etc. Don’t allow the cloudy attitudes of grumpy or unfulfilled individuals to eclipse the sunshine of your spirit!
Lesson 2: Choose friends wisely. True friends support you and advise you when you need it. Avoid jealous, competitive, and negative types. You want friends that add on to you, not those who will subtract and divide. Choose friends based on shared values and interests, not based on neighborhood proximity or “accident.”
Lesson 3: Do not gossip, and be suspicious of people that do. Speak favorably about a person’s strengths in public. Keep your critiques about them to yourself. Do not be naive. Assume that someone will repeat what you say. Gossip causes division and distrust. A sweet tongue can heal wounds or inspire people. A bitter tongue can lead to your destruction or that of others.
Lesson 4: Keep your mind open to learn from everything and everyone. Don’t be the type that’s quick to say, “I KNOW THAT,” before the person is done speaking. Even if you know a lot about a topic, you might gain a new perspective by simply listening. Even scholars interpret the same subject may interpret it in different ways. Be open to new ideas, angles, and approaches.
Lesson 5: The only thing greater than you is GOD; while you are expected to demonstrate humility and respect toward others, you should not worship or allow yourself to be mistreated, degraded, or intimidated by anyone!
Lesson 6: Secure yourself. Your happiness, financial stability, and contentment are YOUR responsibilities. Do not expect others to support you, and do not blame others for your problems.
Lesson 7: Do not allow unqualified people to advise you. The world is filled with pseudo experts and false prophets. How can someone that has never been in a healthy relationship for example, advise you on yours? When you seek advice from others, make sure they have the experience or study to offer the advice or expertise you need. Otherwise, people will have you lost and confused.
Lesson 8: You are so much greater than a mere job. The Creator has blessed you with a specific mission to fulfill! Determine what your mission is: why you were put on this Earth, and stay on your path. Everything else will fall in place. What is your mission? Identify what you love to do, what you think about all the time, what you’re good at doing, and what brings you peace and fulfillment…
Lesson 9: Spend absolutely NO time concerned about who likes you. Popularity is overrated. You will never please everyone, nor should you even try. There will be people in your class, on your job, in your neighborhood, etc. that will pretend to be cool with you, but secretly despise you and speak ill …of you. Stay on your path, be successful, and let God handle the haters…
Lesson 10: Treat time like money-budget and use it wisely! In the game of life, there are no timeouts. Organize your life and cut down on idle time by scheduling work, prayer, rest, and recreation. Fools waste time, wise people invest it…
Lesson 11: Life, like the game of chess, is a culmination of choices. To be successful and fulfilled, you must master the art of making good decisions. You cannot float around like a feather in the wind. Be strategic; plan the life you want with wise decisions and actions
Lesson 12: Always consider yourself a work in progress. Strive for excellence in all you do, but allow room for mistakes and poor choices. Learn lessons from your mistakes, don’t fall apart! Meet goals and set new ones; assess your strength and shortcomings. Perfection is elusive, but excellence and progress are attainable..
Lesson 13: Problems are meant to be solved, not complained or whined about. Endless complaints don’t solve your problem. Whining also causes you to dismiss and ignore your blessings. Remember the Chinese proverb: It is better to light a candle than it is to curse the darkness..
Lesson 14: Approach everyone and everything with confidence. Speak with authority, and walk with purpose. The world holds nothing but rejection and disappointment for the timid, insecure, and foolish…
Lesson 15: Command the respect of others through your service and contributions. Some may hate Henry Ford, but they drive cars; they may dislike Ali or Jordan, but must bear witness to their success. Be so useful, indispensable, and productive, that even your enemies are forced to bear witness to you!!
Lesson 16: Keep your spiritual GPS in working order. You will encounter many obstacles, detours, and mishaps as you navigate through life. Distractions and diversions will always be present, threatening to get you off course. Keep your GPS on…make sure that at all times, you know where you are, where you’re going, and effective travel routes. Don’t allow anyone or anything to take you off course
Lesson 17: Identify and develop mentors. True success comes from collective, not individual effort. Save years of wasted time and effort by developing relationships with mentors: older mature people that have achieved success in the field or endeavor you are interested in. They will help you cultivate the skills and habits you need to succeed, and will introduce you to important people and opportunities.
Lesson 18: Define your own reality. It is shameful to see people living their lives according to everyone’s rules but their own. Dare to define your own expectations, and standards of beauty, success, health, spirituality, etc. Place your unique, distinct footprints in the sand of time
Lesson 19: Live a monumental life. Not only should your life have meaning and purpose for yourself, but for those that come after you. Egyptian pyramids are monumental in size, but the true significance of their greatness is that they are 5-10,000 years old! At every job, school, place of employment, and certainly within your family, leave something behind that will serve others long after you’re gone
Lesson 20: Maintain balance in your life. Fitness is not just physical, but financial, spiritual, political, mental, etc. Strive to be a well-adjusted, diverse, complete human being with a variety of skills, interests, friends, and experiences.
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at email@example.com.
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