You Are Not Your Grades

You are not your grades.

You are not your SAT score.

You are not the sports trophies on your shelf (or the lack thereof).

You are not the college you got into.

You are not your future career.

You are more than all that.

You are a complex, dynamic human being, and your life cannot be boiled down to a collection of letters and numbers.

You are not your grades.

Dragons, Mountains, and Math: Why Kids Need Challenges

A dragon flying through the forest

It’s often said that, on a hero’s journey, there will be dragons. This means that, if you’re doing meaningful work, you’re going to encounter extremely difficult problems. These problems will often be scary, but since you’re committed to your goal, you face them head-on. That’s what heroes do.

And in one way or another, we’re all on a hero’s journey – or at least, we should be. And that means we all need to be able to face down whatever dragons are on our path.

Of course, no one goes from zero to hero overnight. To be able to face serious challenges as adults, kids need to learn how to face lesser challenges as they grow up. They need opportunities to practice, starting with small challenges and building up gradually. They need direct instruction and encouragement. And they need adults to show them the way.

Mountains and Math Problems

Growing up, mountains were the main arena in which I practiced challenges. The first hike I remember doing was Little Si in North Bend, WA. It’s a tiny little nub of a mountain nestled up against the much larger Mt. Si. When we were on the top, my dad pointed to the big mountain and said, “People are climbing that right now. One day, you will too.” All I could do was stare up at it in disbelief. It seemed impossible to my six-year-old brain to climb something that large.

But as the years went by, the hikes got longer and steeper, and I got tougher. Eventually, peaks like Mt. Si were easy to climb, so I pursued the next level of challenges: backpacking and mountaineering. I climbed Mt. Rainier when I was 15, which was by far the most difficult thing I had ever done. The memory of that experience has forever inspired me to be resilient when I’ve faced other challenges.

Mt. Rainier

School provides a similar progression of ever-increasing challenges, and, done right, it offers them up at an appropriate pace. When my students express frustration that the math they’re doing is difficult, I kindly remind them that it’s supposed to be hard. After all, your brain muscles don’t grow unless you put them to work.

Direct Instruction

Overcoming challenges is not merely a matter of willpower and mental toughness; it’s also a matter of strategy. Children should not be expected to reinvent the wheel. They should be given direct instruction about how to manage the challenges they’re facing from their parents, teachers, and coaches. The methods for solving hard problems in life must be passed down from generation to generation.

“Children who have not been taught to confront challenges will try to avoid all challenges.” –Alfred Adler1

This extends beyond concrete problem-solving to teaching about resilience itself. Children need to be encouraged to try hard things and persist in the face of difficulty. They need you to express confidence in them – not necessarily confidence that they can do it right now, but a certainty that they can figure it out eventually. And they need to understand what it means when something is hard. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them, and it doesn’t mean they should give up. It means they should seek out strategies and resources; it means they should keep trying.

Leading By Example

Kids learn how to deal with challenges in large part by observing their parents, so modeling the right behaviors is essential.

“Model healthy and appropriate ways to manage stress. It’s OK to share your mistakes … with children when it is appropriate. Tell them how you are going to manage that stress, ‘I am going to go for a short walk and then come back and talk about this,’ or ‘I am going to take a few deep breaths before I try to solve this problem.’”2

In addition to practicing good stress-management tactics, you can also apply Stoic principles and practices in your daily life. The resilience you model will naturally rub off on your children.

A boy standing on a rooftop while his dad fixes the roof

Let Them Fight Their Own Dragons

The problems that are extremely challenging for your child might be much easier for you because you’re an adult, so it will be tempting to just take care of things yourself. Don’t. You can provide love and support, but your child needs to be the one to do the work. In the end, your children will need to fight their own dragons and climb their own mountains.

Don’t manage their school life for them. Don’t shield them from difficulty. Don’t rescue them from failure. Give them the chance to experience life fully and encourage them to seek out challenges. The struggles they will inevitably experience might be painful, but it is only through these struggles that they grow stronger.

1 Kishimi, Ichiro, and Fumitake Koga. The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness. Atria Books, 2018.

2 Rymanowicz, Kylie. “The importance of taking on challenges for young children.” Michigan State University Extension. May 4, 2016.

Side Hustles For High School Students

A high schooler mowing a lawn - a great summer side hustle for a student

For a lot of high school students, summer break means getting a job, and there are many good reasons to do this: earning some financial independence, learning valuable skills, getting experience that will help you land better jobs in the future, and cultivating a strong work ethic.

But finding a summer job isn’t always easy or a good fit. Many students are out of town or at camps for large chunks of the summer, so employers are reluctant to hire them. And other students simply don’t want a job dictating their summer schedule.

Luckily, there’s another option: side hustling.

What is side hustling?

A side hustle is “anything you do to earn money outside of a traditional job.”1 Often, it’s a part-time job you create for yourself. These usually involve selling a service, but they can also involve selling actual products or the creation of digital assets that generate revenue, such as blogs, videos, and podcasts.

When you’re side hustling, you don’t have a boss, which is appealing to many people. You don’t have a set schedule, so you’ve got flexibility. And you’re not a wage worker, so you get to keep all of the profits, minus taxes.

Many adults pursue side hustles in order to earn extra income on top of their regular job. Some pursue side hustles as passion projects, getting paid to do things they love. Others aim to grow their side hustles so much that they’re able to quit their 9-5.

But side hustling isn’t just for adults; it’s also a great opportunity for students to make money and learn valuable skills.

Side Hustles for High School Students

When I was in high school, my best friend Tom and I advertised our services around the neighborhood by putting fliers up on all the mailboxes. We would do anything physically demanding: landscaping, pressure washing, dump runs, pulling seaweed around people’s docks – you name it. We charged $15 per hour, which was a lot more than we could have earned at a job in those days. And we loved it.

Here are some other great side hustles for high school students:

  • Babysitting – self-advertise or use a service like Sittercity
  • Lawn mowing and other yardwork
  • Dog walking/sitting – self-advertise or use Rover
  • Watering neighbor’s plants while they’re out of town
  • Buying cheap furniture at thrift stores, refinishing it, and selling it for a profit (Click here for a guide to flipping furniture)
  • If you’re over 18 and have a car, you can become an Instacart shopper.
  • Are you savvy with social media? Become a social media manager for a local business. (Hint: If the owners are old, they probably aren’t savvy.)
  • Are you an amazing baker? Perhaps a neighborhood restaurant will buy your pies.
  • Heck, we once had a student who started a fashion company in his spare time.

Not inspired by any of these ideas? Check out this list of over 100 different side hustle ideas. Some are, of course, not appropriate for high schoolers, but many are.

I recommend choosing something with a low barrier to entry. Advertise a service using skills and equipment you already have. Leverage your family, friends, and neighbors to spread the word for you. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on tools or advertising. Just find something you can get paid to do, and start doing it.

What Side Hustling Teaches You

If you do start a side hustle, you’ll learn a great deal.

First and foremost, it’s an exercise in executive function. Starting and running a side hustle requires a great deal of organization and planning, so the part of your brain that does that will get a lot of exercise. You’ll have to manage the whole operation, from scheduling and communicating with clients to resolving disputes and receiving payments. As you take on more responsibilities, you’ll naturally become a more responsible person.

You’ll also learn practical skills that might help you in future jobs or entrepreneurial ventures. You’ll learn marketing and customer service on the fly through trial and error. You’ll want to keep track of expenses and revenue in a spreadsheet, so you’ll need to learn how to use Excel or Google Sheets.

And even if your side hustle fails to make money, you can use the failure as a learning opportunity. Don’t beat yourself up. Do better next time.

The Downsides of Side Hustling

As great as side hustling can be, it’s not for everyone, and it does come with some unique challenges.

First of all, you probably won’t make as much money as you would at a job, especially when you’re getting started. The long-term growth potential is higher, but it takes a while to build up a good reputation in your community and in your chosen industry. So if you need a reliable stream of income, you might be better off taking a job with set hours and a regular paycheck.

The mechanics of side hustling legally can be challenging as well. Depending on what you’re doing, you may need to get a business license with both the city and the state in which you live. And you’ll have to remember to save money for income and self-employment taxes (or make estimated tax payments).

And perhaps most importantly, you’ll have to be a self-starter. If you struggle with motivation, it’s probably better to just find a traditional job so you’ll be given a structured work schedule.

1 Loper. Nick. “What is a Side Hustle? And Why Millions Have One.” Side Hustle Nation.