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Thursday, March 1, 2012

For The Mormon Teenager

by Sam Nelson (bio)

image via LDS Living
The teenage years are weird. People are mean. You are lonely (every teenager is), popularity feels like the most important thing in the world and it seems like all you have to do to be "cool” is sex, drugs, and alcohol. Then there’s that rush of hormones you don’t know how to deal with. It's one of the most challenging times of your life, but you are too old to talk to your parents about it and too young to talk to your friends. And everyday you are making decisions that will shape the rest of your life.

Being an LDS teenager is brutal ... especially now.

I was excited to get an email a few weeks ago asking me to do a youth fireside about teenage issues in Salt Lake City. I definitely wasn’t a perfect teenager, but there was one little thing I did that made my teenage years soooo much easier.

The Two Brothers film showed a dramatic turnaround in my life that happened after a decision I made in five minutes. I wish the film could have explained that experience in a little more depth, because it was really simple and I'm convinced that anyone else can do it very easily and get the same result.

At the fireside I started with this example ...

Imagine you are coming home from school hungry, starving, and you realize you have a ten-dollar gift card to McDonald's! Your mind immediately floods with thoughts of the infinite possibilities of delicious greasy fast food. Your stomach growls as you pull into the drive-through and all of a sudden your mom calls. She tells you to be sure and not eat anything because in one hour, the whole family is going out to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

Whoa there … Immediately, McDonald's went from sounding like the greatest thing in the world to kind of lame. With this new information, going to McDonald's and stuffing yourself would be ridiculous. Not because your stomach craves McDonald's any less, but because the knowledge of something way better in the future washes out your desire for the cheaper thing.

See where I'm going with this? There was nothing more important for me during my teenage years than having quality long-term goals and focusing on the big picture.

I promised the youth at the fireside that if they followed the following three parameters, quality long-term goals would change them the same way they changed me.

The parameters are ...

1. You have to be excited about your goals.

a. Not your parents, not your friends, brother, sister, young women's leader etc. If it’s not honestly more exciting to YOU than the things you will have to give up in the short-term, your goals will whither like New Year's resolutions.

2. You have to feel good about your goals.

a. If you aren't intrinsically motivated by your goals, internal conflict will fade your excitement and any necessary sacrifices will be easily rationalized away. Pray about your goals and get a confirmation that they are good. Remember the initial impression you receive, though. Because the adversary will quickly go to work to confuse and discourage you.

3. You need to honestly believe that if you do your part, God will fill in the rest.

a. And He will, if you feel good about it, recognize the price, and are excited enough to pay that price. God will fill in where you fall short. Don't worry about it not working out.

As soon as I formed quality long-term goals, my life changed. My focus shifted from why I shouldn’t do something I wanted to, to an exciting focus on something I wanted even more. It wasn’t even a matter of willpower, really. Just like the hungry teenager who lost his desire to go to McDonald's, quality goals and looking at the big picture made avoiding the “McDonald's” of life a matter of common sense.

If you feel like you are too young to make these kinds of goals (or too old) … or you want to "keep your options open"… or you don’t know exactly what you want to do yet … or you think should probably start making life goals later when you “know more”… Stop thinking that way. Your goals may change in the future, but only if you find something better. Mine have actually changed a few times, but the qualities I've gained from past goals have fueled my new ones. So don't procrastinate. Each day you do is just another day spent far below your potential to enjoy it.

If you really think about it, change doesn’t take long. There may be a long lead-up time, but our life/habits/ desires/priorities change in an incredible way the instant that, to us, long-term goals > short-term gratification.

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