I have been thinking a lot lately about teenagers and what the future holds for them. I have a few teens in my family, and my daughter is on the precipice. I've contemplated science articles for teens prepping for college entrance exams and thought deeply about how my daughter (and your children) can prepare for an uncertain future.
Most recently I crafted a list of books that could change your life and it's available for free when you sign up for my newsletter. My daughter witnessed me preparing and writing that review, and asked me about the books I had piled on my desk. It got me thinking - which of these life-changing books would I recommend to a child during their formative teenage years? The easy answer is "all of them", but some more than others. But there are a number of books that I would add to the list that would be particularly good for a teen to read as they think about their future. I included here a couple of books off the life-changing books list that I thought would be particularly relevant for teens.
There is an enduring and toxic myth in our society: that people are born talented with special gifts bestowed upon them by their genetics. It's toxic because it is plainly not true. Coyle goes on a search for talent, talking to neuroscientists, artists, musicians, sports stars, and coaches, using examples of regular people who have achieved greatness. He uncovers that greatness--what most people would look at and call 'talent'--comes from extensive and effective practice, burning desire or passion, and masterful coaching. In other words: those with the greatest talent were not born with it, they grew it with hard work, grit, and time. Talent is achievable by all of us.
How you think has a massive impact on how you act, and thus how you treat yourself, those around you, and opportunities and challenges that you come across. Dweck reveals that how you think is largely determined by your mindset, which she categorizes into two distinct groups: fixed and growth. In a fixed mindset you view your talents and abilities as unchanging, where you are either smart or dumb, successful or a failure, strong or weak, fast or slow, and so on. In a growth mindset, on the other hand, you see yourself as always changing, always growing, always learning and responding to challenges and opportunities. It surely is no surprise that those who hold a growth mindset live happier, fuller, richer lives than those with a fixed mindset. But if you feel you have a fixed mindset (and we all do in some areas--no one is 100% either way), don't despair: mindsets can be changed, and she provides plenty of examples and tools to take steps in the growth direction.
What makes us feel good? What makes us feel bad? Surprisingly, it's not travel, or money, or love, or any of the typical societal expectations that make us happy. We are at our most satisfied and gain the most positive impact when we are fully consumed in an activity. Most shockingly, it doesn't matter what the activity is. It is the depth of concentration and focus that matters. Putting our full attention, to the exclusion of anything else (worries, stress, stray thoughts), creates a flow-state where concern for one's self disappears, time seems to stretch or compress, and we experience a sensation of connection to whatever it is we are doing. Flow is well known in sports (think "having your head in the game"), but seeking it in other areas of life is deeply transformative.
Why do you go to school? It's a simple question. If you answered, "Because I have to" then society has failed you, and this book will resonate. More of a rant than a book, Godin will force you to look at the system you are in, and ask if it is really getting you where you need to go. What do you want to get out of school? That question might disturb you, because it's highly unlikely that what you want to get out of it, and what you are getting out of it, actually match up. We've created a system that forces kids into boxes and doesn't let them stretch. School as it exists today was created 100 years ago. I bet you agree that the world is different today, and school should be too.
To say high school is stressful is a ridiculous understatement. There are the obvious social issues, but also heavy academic pressures. This is compounded by the looming responsibility of applying for and (hopefully) getting into a "good" college. This has basically become an arms race for straight-As and so many extracurricular activities and responsibilities that it would crush a typical adult. But what if there's another way? What if you could be a relaxed high school student, with plenty of free time to learn, explore, experiment, and yes even socialize? Cal Newport studied so-called 'high school superstars' and found that they invariably took fewer and less challenging classes, and with their free time did things that they found interesting, eventually becoming highly involved in one particular thing. What kinds of things? He describes it as something you'd want to do on a Saturday morning, willingly, excitedly, and voluntarily. The happiest, most successful, college-bound high school students make time to follow their curiosity.
How many times have you heard the advice, "follow your passion"? What if that was actually terrible advice that could ruin your life? That classic advice suggests you find your passion match, and then you do it and everything is roses. However, the reality doesn't match the myth. The reality is that you don't find your passion, you grow your passion. Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. If you believe that you must be passionate about your job at the get-go, you will be disappointed and not achieve your full potential. Newport uncovers this truth by spending time with and studying farmers, investors, writers, programmers, and others that report deep satisfaction with their work. This book provides immunity from the feel-good, worthless career advice that teens receive from all corners of society.
Other books for teens...
What books do you recommend for teenagers?
If you are a teen, what books have made an impact on you?
Drop me your email and let me know your advice on what books could be life changing for someone you care about.
Thanks for reading.