The #1 Roadblock Your Teen Can't Avoid

There is no limit to the amount of time and treasure we can invest in enhancing our children's potential. It can feel like there are endless educational and experiential opportunities to be had... because there are. It can also feel as if there's no limit to the expense those opportunities can amass. At the end of the day, we do our best with the means at our disposal to help our children realize their potentials, but as teens reach the cusp of adulthood, the stakes can feel higher. The added pressure to help them "launch" successfully can be overwhelming. 

The thing is, we can become so focused on the "ideal" of what a successful launch might look like or what a particular experience – educational or otherwise – might do to help our teen get to that point, we can completely lose sight of the roadblock that always plants itself in plain sight, smack dab in the middle the road. 

What am I talking about?

Let me share a story. 

A few years ago I was having an initial consult with a mom and her first question was, "Can you help my son get into college?" She went on to explain that he had a 2.1 GPA and a transcript with multiple Ds in core classes but heading into senior year, he'd realized that he did, indeed, want to go to college. John* and I started meeting two weeks before the start of his senior year. He started off by talking about his vision of himself attending college. He wanted to attend a big football school, either the SEC or a Big Ten. He then looked down: "I know that's not really in the cards, you know, because of my grades." 

John's primary roadblock was not his GPA. John's issue was that he had convinced himself that he wasn't capable of doing well in school. He hadn't experienced success since middle school and was therefore resolved that he wasn't capable of academic success in high school. 

I can hear you saying, "Jessie, Jessie, Jessie -- come on, his GPA is a 2.1 going into his senior year. What gives? If his GPA isn't his biggest roadblock, what is?" 

It's the same roadblock every teen faces: the self-limiting belief. In John's case, it just happened to present as a ginormous piece of concrete blocking the road ahead with the acronym "GPA" spray-painted on it. Every teen (and lots of us adults) faces self-limiting beliefs in various forms on a regular basis. Self-limiting beliefs know no bounds and can become ever-present.

To get at the core of the composition of the roadblock, we need to start with fear. What's the fear underneath the false narrative.

John had convinced himself that he was literally incapable of succeeding academically. Telling John that he was capable of succeeding and telling his mom that he could get into and succeed in college might have made them feel better momentarily (I did say these things – it's part of my job) but I knew that at the end of the day, it wouldn't really help either one of them see and then bypass the roadblock. Self-limiting roadblocks are cunning and full of deceit and they lodge themselves deep, often without us even being conscious of what fears they are keeping cloaked.

To help move John forward in a new way, I first had to work with him to identify what he was afraid of. He was afraid of what it said about him that he was doing poorly in school. He was afraid of the opportunities or lack thereof beyond high school. We go deeper: What's at risk if the story driving the roadblock is true? How is that fear serving him?

At the end of our first session, John started in again about how he needed to do better in his classes this year. He was shocked when I held up a hand and said, "John, that's a fine goal but let's not worry about that right now. Right now, I'd suggest doing the following two things. First, go buy a planner. Second, I want you to write the numbers 1-30 on a piece of paper and hang it in a place you will see it. The only thing you need to do is to write down your homework assignments in the planner for the first 30 days of school this year. Each time you write them down – cross off the number on the paper on the wall."  

John was confused but sat up a bit straighter. "That's it?" he asked. 

That's it (for now). Because that was where John was at. Any more would have been too big of a step and would have reinforced his failure habit. 

That spring after a number of deferrals and many, many incremental steps along the way, John got his dream. He was accepted to an SEC school. The acceptance was thrilling for all, but what I found most thrilling was meeting with a John who had found his self-confidence and had vanquished the self-limiting belief that he just wasn't capable. 

Our kids are capable. Your kid is capable. Sometimes they just need a little help getting out of their own way.

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* The student's name has been changed to protect his identity.

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