Sample Chapter #5

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Count Your Blessings - (Not Your Money)

Teenagers have a lot to deal with these days. It seems like every time you turn around, there's another problem to face - school problems, parent problems, boyfriend and girlfriend problems, weight problems, zits, bad hair days, etc.

Unfortunately, problems are not restricted to teenagers. Everybody has problems: old people, young people; rich people, poor people; smart people and people who are not quite as smart as smart people.

Problems are a part of life, and they are not something you can avoid. They must be dealt with, and your ability to deal with them is a big part of being successful and happy.

As I started to write this chapter, I wasn't sure I knew all of the answers about dealing with problems, so I started looking for advice. I didn't have to look far. My next-door neighbor, Patrick Lloyd, explained that everyone learns to deal with problems in their own way. He told me that he learned this when he was 23. Patrick had just finished college on a baseball scholarship and had a chance to play in the major leagues. He loved to play baseball and he loved to party. He only partied occasionally, though - like seven nights a week.

It could have been any night, but it just happened to be a Monday. Patrick and four of his friends headed out to party at 10 p.m. By midnight, they were all loaded. If you could smoke it, drink it or snort it, they had done it. Just after midnight, Patrick's car came around a sharp curve. The speed limit sign on that curve read 35 mph. The speedometer in Patrick's car read 70 mph. Nobody saw the curve and nobody saw the sign. The driver was no help. What they needed was a pilot. Their car flew 50 feet as it sailed off an inclined driveway and into the air.

As you know, what goes up, must come down. Fortunately, their car landed in the middle of a soft, grassy backyard. Unfortunately, there was a large concrete slab in the middle of the backyard. Two of Patrick's best friends were in the front seat. They aren't his friends anymore. They were both killed on impact.

Patrick and his two friends in the back seat survived the crash. Patrick woke up in a hospital two hours later with his mother at his side. When he woke up, he heard one of his friends screaming hysterically in the next room. He wanted to walk over and check on his friend, but it wasn't meant to be. The three friends who survived the crash left the hospital with one thing in common - wheelchairs. All three were paralyzed and might never walk again.

The point of this story is not that Patrick and his friends went out and got loaded, or that the result of their party was two funerals and three wheelchairs. The point of the story is that my friend Patrick has been faced with a challenge that is far more difficult than any challenge most of us will probably ever face. So when Patrick was telling me how to deal with problems and bad days, I listened very carefully.

Patrick says, "In order to deal with your worst days and your biggest problems, you need to do two things. First, keep your problems in perspective and remember that they could always be worse - much worse." Second, Patrick says, "Become aware of others who are less fortunate than you. Become aware of others who have bigger problems than yours." But more important, Patrick says, "You must act on that awareness. You must go out into your community and do something for others who are less fortunate than you."

Sometimes we don't realize how good we have it. We forget that everybody has good days and bad days. If we didn't have the bad days, maybe the good days wouldn't seem so good.

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."
- B.F. Skinner

I remember one of my bad days. I was 17, my girlfriend had just broken up with me and I thought the world was coming to an end. I couldn't imagine anything worse. I sat on my front porch and felt sorry for myself all morning. As I sat, I watched a guy and his dog jog around the block four times. On lap five, the guy stopped for his mutt to make a pit stop in my front yard. I couldn't believe it. I walked across the yard to yell at the guy, and then I saw something I'll never forget. This dog wasn't a mutt, and he wasn't making a pit stop. I was the one who felt like a mutt. The dog was just doing his job. The jogger was blind. The message was powerful.

Since that day, no problem of mine has ever overwhelmed me. Next time you think you're having a bad day, put a blindfold on and jog around the block.

Keep your problems in perspective. It could always be worse.

For many people, it is worse - much worse. Just look around and see how many people have been dealt a hand that makes your life look like a bed of roses. If you pay close attention, you will see them everywhere. There's the homeless guy spending the winter in a cardboard box. He doesn't have a pair of NIKE high-tops; in fact, he has no shoes at all. There's the 16-year-old girl with a brain tumor. She doesn't pray for a boyfriend at night; she just prays to live another year. Then there's the guy in the hospital writing letters to his friends. He's telling them not to bother writing back because he has AIDS, and he thinks he will die before their letters arrive.

Look around and become aware of others less fortunate than you. Everyone has an obligation to act on that awareness, including teenagers. Don't feel sorry for the homeless, the AIDS patients or those who are physically or mentally challenged. They don't need your pity. They need your acceptance and they need to feel like they are part of society. You can help them feel that way.

Your generation has already taken great steps in this area. Your concern for others is remarkable. Don't stop - don't even pause. Make community service a priority in your life.

Opportunities to do for others are endless. In case you want to know what your options are, a guide to community service organizations can be found on page 91. These are all organizations that are looking for teenage volunteers. Give them a call, get involved and tell your friends to do the same. Don't forget to volunteer at your local hospitals, feed the homeless in your city and spend some time with the senior citizens in your area.

Helping others will help you keep your problems in perspective. The community service formula is simple: help others, learn something, meet people and feel good.

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