Professional Development

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5 Things Youth Can Do to Stay on Track This Summer

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength." —Mahatma Gandhi

It's so easy to want to surrender right now. Summer plans have been disrupted. Programs are completely virtual or postponed. Students feel stuck. Families are scared.

We've heard from a lot of parents, educators and afterschool professionals worried youth will waste the entire summer. But just because "normal" has been disrupted, doesn't mean our young people have to stand still. We need to help them find creative, meaningful ways to spend their time.

Even with just a few weeks until school starts, here are five things youth can do to keep moving toward an exciting future.

1. DESIGN THEIR LIMITLESS FUTURE.

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In 2009, I missed a coveted college spring break with my fraternity brothers to start my own leadership camp. My fraternity brothers thought I was crazy.

"You're going to miss one of only four college spring breaks?"

But I had a compelling future vision, to become an entrepreneur. Spoiler alert: I've been a full-time entrepreneur for five years. When youth think about their future, most don't (a) clearly identify their goals or (b) make their goals exciting enough. We need to help them get clear and get excited.

Help them identify current or potential passions.
What do they love doing when they have free time?
What subject do they naturally read, watch or play the most?
What comes easier to them than their friends?

Have them close their eyes and imagine their work, lifestyle, and relationships 10 years from now, without limits.
Once they're done visualizing, have them write out their vision.

Have them share this vision with three people.
Sharing with peers and mentors puts the vision out into the universe and creates accountability.

2. BUILD SKILLS FOR THAT FUTURE.

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Even if we get youth to design their limitless future, many don't realize they can make huge leaps toward that future right now. Most of the world-class professionals our young people admire started at their age and would be taking advantage of this increase in free time. So first, ask:

  • "Who is someone accomplished in the work you chose for your limitless future?"
  • "What would they be doing with their free time right now?"

Then help them do the following:

Establish a weekly nonschool learning routine.
At least three sessions per week for podcasts, books/audiobooks, videos, documentaries, and online courses on a passion subject—i.e., photography: learn about photography styles, strategies, and techniques.

Establish a weekly practice routine.
At least three sessions per week for practicing what they're learning—i.e., photography: take and edit pictures.

Complete a passion project.
This should be something they'd be excited to put on their résumé and talk about in interviews—i.e., photography: create a new portfolio or album.

3. CREATE OR UPDATE THEIR RÉSUMÉ.

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When I worked as a financial analyst, I also helped recruit new college candidates to the bank. I had to review over 1,000 résumés. I can tell you most student résumés look bad, are too generic and undersell their value. We need to help young people create a résumé they're excited to share with schools and employers and that stands out because it communicates their unique value.

Review fiercely for formatting, spelling and grammatical errors.
If I noticed any of these errors, that student was an immediate "No." I was reviewing too many similar résumés without these errors.

Write bullets that communicate unique accomplishments and impact.
Don't use generic responsibilities any other person with that experience could claim.

Eliminate all self-describing adjectives.
Hard-working, detail-oriented, organized, resourceful, experienced, and similar words are subjective and should instead be implied through powerful bullets.

4. EXPAND THEIR NETWORK.

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The old saying "It's all about who you know" is true. But most people assume this is based on which circles you were born into or getting lucky in other ways. The people with the best networks are actually very intentional about building and nurturing those relationships.

I majored in finance in college. But before I graduated, I didn't know which finance career I was interested in. I did some online research, but the most important thing I did was reach out to a commercial banker in Chicago. Not only was he willing to help, he also invited me up to Chicago for an office visit and lunch. He spent several hours with me and broke down the different areas of finance I could go into. After that, I knew I wanted to go into commercial banking. I had a great three years at my bank and continued my relationship with him throughout my time there.

Let's help youth start building their network—especially at a time when many professionals have more time without a commute and in-person meetings.

Clean up their online presence.
If they put themselves in the shoes of someone they'd like to connect with in their dream field: Would that person want to connect with them if they googled your name and looked up your online profiles? If not, they need to clean up their personal brand, posts and pictures.

Follow and connect with people online.
If they're already spending a lot of time on social media and other online networks, they might as well use that time productively.

Send three emails to people they want to connect within their dream field.
TThey might not get a response, but they also might get one.

5. DEVELOP PERSONAL FINANCE SKILLS.

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Most young people never learn basic financial skills. Unfortunately, this means they overvalue the importance of money by using it as either:

  • The ultimate goal (at the expense of more important things).
  • The ultimate obstacle (the reason why they can't do something).

One of the best things I ever did financially was sit down with my uncle who owns his own wealth advisory firm before I started working at the bank. Not only did he help me create a personal budget, but he helped me understand how money works. He taught me how to save, invest and spend my money automatically every month. This allowed me to achieve two of my most important goals just three years after graduation: Buy a condo in Chicago and become a full-time entrepreneur.

To get young people started on their own journey, help them do the following.

Read a personal finance book.
Have them read some reviews and choose one that gets them most excited.

Create a personal budget.
Have them use income from their current job or future dream job. Then, have them choose percentages of their income to calculate how much money goes towards each of the following: saving, investing and spending. Finally, have them list out all the expenses they would have living on their own.

Ask three people to review your budget and have a conversation about money.
They should choose people they respect and want to mimic in terms of money habits.

If youth complete even two or three of these five steps, they may end up better off than if everything was "normal."

Want to dive deeper into each of these recommendations? Check out our free Summer Playbook, which includes project examples, downloadable worksheets, résumé and personal budget templates, and specific recommendations.

Matthew Moheban is an NAA Advocate member and the Co-Founder of 220, which creates online courses to help students succeed in the real world.