Category Archives: Self-Development

Is it Really that Important to be Well Rounded?

Why are we so obsessed with being well-rounded? Round is boring. When we think of all the interesting and fascinating people in the world how often do we say,

“Wow, that person is a really well-rounded individual; I mean just look at how incredibly mediocre they are in everything!” 

Let me ask you. Which would you rather be: average in everything or freaking awesome in one or two things?

I’m guessing you chose the second option. I would too.

Mediocre Round is boring

You don’t become awesome by focusing on your weaknesses. You don’t become great by correcting all your faults. You become awesome by focusing on your strengths. You become great by figuring out what you’re pretty good at and then working on that one thing endlessly.

As a high school or college student this is a very important concept to grasp. It’s tempting to focus all of your time and energy on improving the things you aren’t very good at. The problem is that when you do this you are neglecting the areas of your greatest potential.  For example,

Let’s say you’re a great writer. You’re an amateur, but you’ve got serious talent. You’re imaginative and articulate. You have the potential to become a phenomenal writer, but because you are already pretty good at it and you pass all your writing classes with ease; you don’t spend nearly as much time studying literature or writing as you do studying biology. You don’t even like biology, but you do your best. Nevertheless, all you’re efforts go into studying biology and thanks to all your hard work you become good enough in that class to pass with an A-. You do the same thing with some of your other classes: statistics, French, economy, and world history. Unfortunately, by the end of the school year you didn’t really advance much at all in writing because you were already pretty good in it. Now you are pretty good in lots of great subjects you don’t care two cents about.

This is how we become mediocre.

So What Can We Do?

I know, I know, you can’t just skip all the general education classes you don’t like (as awesome as that would be) so what else can you do?

Focus where you can.

A lot of your high school and college schedule is made up for you. You have to take certain classes and you have to fulfill certain responsibilities, but not all of your time is spent for you. We all have a limited amount of time and energy. Focusing your free time and energy on the things you love, your passions, seems like a good place to start in the journey to becoming awesome.

Let’s take the following four things for example. Do they line up with your passions?

  1. Your volunteering positions
  2. Your evening and weekend activities
  3. How you kill time or procrastinate
  4. How you spend your time online

If you start with those four things you’re off to a good start. Make sure that the themes of your life center around the things you are naturally talented at. Simply put, do what you want to be doing.

 Take Away

Don’t neglect the things you’re already good at, those might just be the keys to your success.


Jennifer Jopson: Lessons From Travels Abroad

Ever thought about traveling abroad after high school? Sometimes it’s nice to get a new and fresh perspective on life. I love to hear from my readers and to share their successes. Jennifer is one of them. I follow Jennifer’s blog Turning the Tide partly because I traveled abroad in Ireland myself when I was a freshman in college and love reading her stories and checking out the beautiful scenic pictures. I also read it because it’s exciting  seeing high school and college students finding their passions and doing something with them.  So without further ado…

Lessons from Travels Abroad

Author’s note: Last week fellow Blogger Jered Blanchard asked me over email if I would like to do a guest blog for him about my experiences traveling overseas during my post-secondary education. I was happy to hear from him and said yes right away. I enjoy seeing what Jered’s up to on Live Declared. His college advice is very relevant and written in a cogent style. He always asks his readers to consider two sides to a situation and to contribute to the conversation. If I were in high school now reading his Blog, I am sure I would be more informed about decisions related to third-level education, such as test scores and my vision for the future. This is my first guest blog, and I’m honored that Jered asked me to write for him!

Jennifer's Travels

Feeling adventurous at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in North Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Why is overseas travel important during your college years? There are multiple answers. First, travel gives you the opportunity to experience the world with all your senses. While you initially take in an unfamiliar city or country with your eyes, the sounds, tastes, smells and the things you touch all contribute to a unique memory of the place. At the beginning, your senses are more acute until your body and mind have time to adjust. Travel is very tactile. Second, you get to go beyond the confines of the classroom and the textbook and apply your knowledge. For example, learning Chinese in lecture is restrictive because it is not always possible to get instant feedback on your language skills. If you travel there, on the other hand, you’re forced to use the language to communicate, and you get to take part culturally as well. Third, you learn a lot about yourself–your preferences, abilities, and beliefs. I decided to travel overseas because my parents instilled in me the desire to understand and appreciate new places. I wanted the chance to travel independently of them through my college experience, and so I chose to study abroad. Are you thinking about traveling overseas while you’re in college? The goal of this post is to give you ideas for your future travels.

Before I left for Ireland, I bought a Frommer’s guidebook and read it since I knew that I’d travel extensively around the country. I hoped to arrive there armed with useful knowledge. This is how I discovered the seaside towns of Dalkey and Skerries, as well as my favorite pub in Dublin, O’Neills. The book was well-written and organized, which made it easy to find the information I needed later. I used the tear-out map that came with it nearly every time I went out in Dublin, which helped me learn the streets. I also watched videos on YouTube related to typical cultural experiences in Ireland, and looked at Google Street View so I would know what to expect.
Over time I became better at asking people for help if I was lost. The great thing about Dublin is that nearly everyone is willing to give directions, and they’re usually right. It is much easier and less painful to ask instead of wandering around thinking you know which way to go. Just ask with a smile on your face and you’ll have more time to explore. Naturally, being in a friendly environment, it was not too difficult to strike up a conversation with the locals at the pubs or on the street. I talked to an Irishman about politics (he brought it up) and a bartender about the best places to find live music, but it wasn’t until my second to last night in Dublin that I had an intellectually stimulating conversation. The man from Belfast taught me to set my mobile aside and talk to people sitting by themselves–there’s craic (“having a good time “) everywhere, you just have to look for it.
Two other things I made sure to do were to take photographs and share them online, and tours. I loved capturing my experiences on camera and letting others see it as I did. I also did three-day coach tours from Dublin: one called the Wild Wicklow Tour where I saw Glendalough and surrounding areas, and the other two by Wild Rover Tours to Galway and Belfast/Giants Causeway. I highly recommend these tours, as the guides are very knowledgeable and make sure that you have a memorable experience.

At Edinburgh Castle.

During the semester I traveled to Paris, France and Edinburgh, Scotland. What these trips have in common is that they were short getaways from college, and were also eye-opening experiences. When I went to Paris I had the mindset that the French are rude, arrogant people. It turns out that several people said ‘Bonjour’ to me, and I said ‘Merci’ a lot in two days! I realized the stereotype I placed on them was not fair: people are kind everywhere, and that the way we perceive others based on cultural norms create rifts in society. Enter a foreign country with an attitude of respect, as you are a guest, and be generous with others even if you do not understand them. My friend and I also had a few funny tourist moments, as she thought we actually needed more Metro tickets and we thought the Bastille was more than a simple monument. Don’t take yourself too seriously when you travel; it’s a lot more fun to laugh about things.

I traveled to Edinburgh and the Highlands for my program’s sponsored trip in March. My friends and I happened to meet at the airport, and so we made the journey together towards our hostels once we arrived. One thing I remember doing was taking in my surroundings and committing them to memory. Edinburgh isn’t a large city, but it is easy to get lost if you’re by yourself and it’s late at night. Particularly if you are female, it is important to stay in bright, public areas and travel with people you trust. Stay alert and know the area you are in. If you’re uncomfortable for any reason, retrace your steps and ask for help. I was lucky to travel with such a sensible group of girls. They insisted on walking with me to my hostel before they went off to theirs. I very much appreciated their company, especially as I would have passed the sign for the hostel if they hadn’t been there.
I’m grateful for travel opportunities I’ve had so far. While I’m not sure if I’ll be going abroad again any time soon, at least I can reminisce on my happy moments in Ireland, Paris and Edinburgh!
Thanks so much for reading. What are your thoughts about overseas travel after high school?
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Parker Mantell: Overcoming Self Doubt

As a Hoosier, I found this years Indiana University commencement speech pretty inspiring. Parker Mantell shares about overcoming setbacks and achieving great things in spite of his disability.


Share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

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The Midwest Homeschool Convention

Midwest Homeschool Convention

My wife and I just got back from an amazing three days at the Midwest Great Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati. We went for two reasons; well actually we went for a lot more than two reasons, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll say two.

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Walking by the river between sessions.

The first was to learn about home school curriculums for our 5 year old son who is starting kindergarten this fall. Mission accomplished. We talked with countless curriculum representatives and sat in on some great workshops on homeschool curriculum. Now we’ve got a really good idea of what’s out there and what we will be using this fall.

The second reason we went was to learn as much as humanly possible (in three days) about the current education trends in America, the college admission process , and what home school students, and high school students in general, need to be doing right now to succeed after high school.

Besides learning a ton from some fantastic authors, college admissions directors, and college counselors, I also got to listen to some great speakers such as Matt Walsh, Congressman Jim Jordan, and Ben Carson.

I won’t bore you with all the information about which curriculum we chose for our son, unless for some odd reason you’re just dying to know. But, what I do want to share with you is what I learned about the college admission process and how you can seriously improve your chances of getting into the college you’re after and getting in with less debt.

As I mentioned earlier, over the last few days I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on some great workshops led by numerous college admission directors. I’ve had the chance to learn directly from the source what colleges are looking for and what students can do to significantly increase their chances of getting into college in today’s world.  Things are changing in the college admissions world and you need to know how.

I’ve also learned some really interesting things about the SAT and PAST that I can’t wait to share with you.


Skipping out on the gourmet hotel restaurant for a little Skyline Chili.

Juniors and seniors, I spent quite a bit of time this weekend learning about how to make your high school transcript very attractive to college admission officers.

There are a bunch of other things I learned about that I’d like to share with you but it will have to wait.  For now I’m just letting you know that the blog will focus in on some of these topics over the next few weeks.  There is going to be a lot of really valuable information being shared here so keep coming back and checking it out. If you aren’t following Live Declared yet, maybe now would be a good time to start.

Thanks for reading.

And as a side note, for any of my readers who live in Cincinnati, is your entire city always under construction? Seriously, almost every road and every other building looked like it was under construction.  Other than that it was a beautiful city and we enjoyed it immensely.



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When I Quit TV



Everyone has 24 hours in a day.


Bill Gates has 24 hours in his day. Mark Zuckerberg has 24 hours in his day. The guy taking your order at Taco Bell has 24 hours in his day.

You have 24 hours in your day.

Why is it that some people seem to be able to accomplish superhuman feats? They seem to be able to do so much more than others in the 24 hours given to them each day? What is their trick? What are they doing that the rest of us aren’t?

Sure we could blame it on the fact that the most productive people in the world are often wealthy and can hire people to do the mundane tasks that seem to plague our lives. We could also point out that because they are wealthy; they don’t have the same pressing burdens as the less fortunate. Maybe they are just plain smarter than everybody else. I of course would disagree with all of those points, but what do they do differently? More importantly, what do they do differently that we can do too?

Let me be clear, I’m not talking to you as someone who is an expert in this area. I’m learning daily how to make the most out of my time. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back, but I’m making progress.

There are a lot of books out there about how to improve yourself and make the most of your time; books like Rich Habits – The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. These two talk a lot about the habits of successful people.  I highly recommend these books and there are a lot of habits in them I could talk about, but I’m going to focus on one very specific thing.


Last summer I tried an experiment with my time. I decided to take a month off of television. I did it partially just to see if I could, and partially because I had a lot of things to do and I needed to gain some focus in my life. It was hard. Apparently, I had established some bad habits with regards to TV.

Did you know?

  • The average American youth spends over 1000 hours watching TV each year.
    (For comparison, the average American youth spends 900 hours in school each year.)
  • The average American will spend 9 years of their life watching TV.
  • Children ages 2-11 watch an average of 24 hours of TV a week
  • Teens ages 12-17 watch an average of 22 hours of TV a week.
  • Young adults ages 18-24 watch on average 25 hours of TV a week.

I knew TV was a problem for other people, but I didn’t think that I watched too much television. For about an hour or so before bed each night I would turn on Netflix and watch something, on Friday and Saturday night I would sometimes watch a movie with my family, and on Sundays I would also turn on the TV in the afternoon while I laid around the house. I used television as a means by which I could disengage my brain and unplug from the world.

My Triumph:

When I quit, I quit cold turkey. I didn’t try to limit my time watching TV, I just stopped. A lot of times I had avoid the living room altogether. It was just too tempting. The couch would call to me and the remote with its beautiful buttons would scream out to me, but I resisted.

After just one week though, the results were amazing.  I found myself with way more time than I thought I could ever have. I read a book that first week. A real book, no pictures, and not one required for work. In fact, I read a couple books that month. I listened to a ton of podcasts and I got a lot of work done.  It was hands done the most productive month I can ever remember having.

Instead of sitting down to watch TV I would read or write or just plain think. I spent more quality time with my family and had a blast doing it. It was wonderful. After the month was over I kept going. I didn’t consciously decide to keep avoiding TV, but I did. I was way too busy doing meaningful things to watch TV. I kept that up for another month.

My Downfall:

After two months of not watching TV and being the most productive person I have ever been in my life, I started letting my guard down a little. I started allowing myself to sit on the couch more and more and every once in a while I would sit with the kids while they were watching a cartoon. I started watching movies again on the weekends, and eventually after another month I was back into my old TV habits completely.  My productivity plummeted. I found myself less motivated to do anything and I was always strapped for time. So why did I go back? I don’t know.

Call to Action:

Since then I’ve made a lot of progress. I’ve limited my TV time and do not turn it on every day. I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the amount of TV I watch and my overall productivity. As a result, I’ve made it my resolution to watch less TV this year. Am I going to quit TV again? Probably not, at least not permanently. But I certainly will be limiting it this year.

Interesting facts:

Tom Corley shares some statistics about TV and success at

  • 67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.
  • 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% of poor.

As a high school student, you have already established some habits in your life, some good and some bad. Do yourself a favor and think about how much TV you watch. Figure out exactly how many hours a day you are watching TV and decide if some of that time could be better used elsewhere.

If you want what the successful have, you’ve got to do what the successful do.  Let’s work on this one together.


Share your thoughts about TV and time management. What do you think is a good amount of TV to watch each day? What would you do if you didn’t have a TV for an extended period of time? I’d love to hear from you.

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Karoshi: Why You Need Life Balance


Ever heard of karoshi? It’s a Japanese term used to describe a cause of death. It is a growing problem in Japan and its main victim: working class men. It is causing seemingly healthy men to die at early ages in their offices, places of work, homes, and even in their beds. What is this killer that is plaguing their nation?


An Early Grave

Literally karoshi is translated: death by overwork. Japanese men are working themselves to death. Nobody wants to go that way. We want to leave this life surrounded by loved ones not TPS reports and expense sheets. In 2002 Kenichi, a 30 year old, died at work suddenly and unexpectedly of karoshi. He told his wife the week of his death, “The moment when I am happiest is when I can sleep.” Young healthy men are putting in obscene amount of overtime to companies to show their loyalty and are paying the ultimate price.

Work is good and it is an important part of your life, but it should not be the only part. It should not exclusively define you. As you graduate and begin the process of making work an even bigger part of your life, remember that.

Life Balance:

Work, family, friends, church, community, recreation, and personal development should all be a part of what you invest in. Those investments of time and energy don’t have to be equal, but it shouldn’t look like a 70% investment in work and a 5% investment in every other category. If that balance is too far out-of-whack you become incredibly vulnerable.

For example, the doctor who works 70 hours a week and only invests time into his career is going to go into shock if he loses his job or even worse his ability to be a doctor. “Who am I if not a doctor?” “How am I of any value?” Someone who views themselves and their value exclusively by their position at a company, their job title, or their profession are setting themselves up for identity crisis.

Don't let work exclusively define who you are.

Don’t let work exclusively define who you are.

A better approach to work and life balance.

A better approach to work and life balance.


As you begin you begin thinking about who you are and what kind of vocation you want to get into, remember your work doesn’t have to conflict with the other areas of your life. If you can identify your passions, utilize your talents, and create an economic plan to profit from those things, you can create a lifestyle that is balanced and fits you perfectly.

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New Year’s Resolutions: A Different Approach

New Years:

It’s that time of year again; yes it’s New Year’s resolution time! It’s that time when the gyms are running at maximum capacity and people who are trying to quit smoking are completely unbearable. Prepare yourself for endless posts on Facebook about new diets and healthy recipes. I’m sorry, but your friends will have less time for you due to the fact they are going to be committing themselves to volunteering more and being more involved in the community. It will be tough, but don’t worry; you shouldn’t have to endure all of this for more than 3 or 4 weeks.Weights

I don’t mean to come across as cynical, I find myself in that crowd as well. I usually make New Year’s resolutions; sometimes I blow it, sometimes I follow through. This year, however, I decided to be a little more intentional about how I approach my resolutions. This year I did a little research.

Did you know that:

45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions.
17% of Americans infrequently make New Year’s resolutions.
38% of Americans never make New Year’s resolutions.
8% of those who make resolutions will achieve their goal.
25% of those who make resolutions won’t even make it past the first week.

So what do you do with that information? No really, what do YOU do with it? Does it make you feel depressed and defeated to know that so many people try and fail at reaching their goals. Perhaps you think resolutions are stupid and that you aren’t going to make any this year. The thought crossed my mind.

However, did you know that…

Those who explicitly make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to reach their goals than those who don’t.

Perhaps you look at that information and it excites you. 8% of Americans are setting themselves a goal and are achieving it. How hard does it have to be to put yourself in that 8%? Well it’s simple; you just have to do what the 8% do. What does that look like? What do the 8% do differently?

Making it stick:

Here’s how to make this year’s New Year’s resolutions stick:

1. They should be simple.

Your New Year’s resolutions are not your bucket list. If you set up a list a mile long you will struggle. It’s just too overwhelming for most people to have a hundred different irons in the fire. Your resolutions should be simple and realistic. This doesn’t mean you can’t dream, just be realistic.

2. They should be measurable.


This is probably one of the most important things to remember and the one that will help you the most with reaching your goals. Vague is your enemy. Vague gives you lots of room to make excuses and to weasel out of your resolutions.

Goals like…
“to get healthier”
“to get ready for college”
“to get better grades”
“to read more”

…are all destined to fail. Why? Because how do you know when you’ve reached them? If you don’t have a clear idea of what you are aiming for you’ll never hit your target.

Better options would be…
“to jog at least twice a week, every week ”
“to have all college essays done by … date ”
“to get my chemistry grade to a 90% in the first quarter”
“to read 2 nonfiction and 2 fiction books by summer break”

3. Create accountability.

Tell people about what you’re doing. The more people you tell the more accountable you will feel about having to reach your goal. If all of your friends and family know you are trying to do something, they will ask you about it; of course you’ll want give them a good report.

4. Believe in yourself and in what you’re doing.

Making New Year’s resolutions to impress others or because of outside pressure will rarely work. Resolutions require a lot of willpower and to see them through you have to be genuinely committed.


What do you think? Do you have any tricks for sticking with your New Year’s resolutions? Have you ever made a resolution that you kept? Let me know your thoughts and have a very happy new year.

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Decisions: Part 1

     Decisions. Decisions are the atoms that construct your life. They make up who you are. Your life is a time line of decisions that you have made. Of course there are certain things placed outside your control.


     You didn’t choose your parents, you didn’t choose your neighborhood, and you didn’t choose your socioeconomic class. You didn’t choose to be short, you didn’t choose to be dyslexic, and you didn’t choose to hate calculus (well, maybe you did choose that last one, but that’s understandable).

We all find ourselves in different circumstances.  But, what we do have in common are decisions. You get to decide how you react to every situation that faces you.  Your decisions are the building blocks with which you will create your future.

Imagine your life is like the block stacking game, Jenga. One upon another. One upon another you make these decisions and you place them on top of and next to each other.  Sometimes you make bad ones and you shakily place the new ones on top of it and hope it holds. Sometimes you place them without thinking at all of the decisions you will soon have to put on next. Hopefully, more often than not, you take your time and make decisions carefully and intentionally which will create a strong foundation for all your future decisions.

Listen to the Voices…

Hating your job is a badge of honor. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re hanging out with some co-workers or friends try complaining about work last night.  You’ll probably get a few nods of agreement or any variety of affirmations – “tell me about it…”, “amen!”, “I know, I hate my job too!”  Now try telling the same group how much you enjoyed work last night. Chances are you’ll get some really odd looks and a lot of silence – crickets, crickets.  People might even avoid you.  Why? Because people don’t like to see someone happy with their job, it’s just weird.

If you are genuinely happy with your job it reminds them that they are not. It also reminds them of that little voice inside their head. The voice that says “you aren’t happy here, this isn’t where you belong.”  People don’t like to hear that voice. In fact, a lot of people spend their lives trying to shut it up. That little voice is dangerous. It often fills your head with ideas of grandeur like starting your own business and making lots of money.  Sometimes it tells you to go and make a difference; become a doctor and save people’s lives. Other times it tells you to quit your job and do something you actually care about.

You see, the problem with that voice is that it’s usually right.

As a senior in high school you probably have already started hearing this voice. For you it may be saying, “why are you majoring in THAT!? You don’t even like that.” Or “what difference are you going to make in that job?” Or maybe it’s saying, “Why aren’t you painting anymore, you love to paint?”

Don’t ignore that voice. It might just be the key to your success. Being successful isn’t about ignoring your hopes and dreams and keeping your nose to the grindstone. Success is about finding out what makes you happy and then figuring out a way to make that profitable.

What do you daydream about when you are in class? What would you rather be doing when you are at work? What is it that you do when you are putting off what you are supposed to be doing? Jessica Hische says it best when she says, “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

A fulfilling and profitable vocation is made up of three things: passion, talent, and an economic model. Before you even think about applying for a university or taking your next job, you need to have a plan for your future career path that addresses all three of those areas and it all starts with that little voice between your ears.

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Defeat is Not an Option

Victor Fankl Quote

I was talking to someone about finances today, debt to be more specific. I was telling them about a pretty simple plan to get out of debt.

His response:  “I have a plan to get out of debt. It’s called dying. When I die I’ll be out of debt. The end. So anyway…”

Now I can tell a subject change when I see one, I’m pretty smart like that. So I went along with it. I think we went on to talk about the weather or something safe like that. Some issues you just don’t want to press. But I couldn’t help but think about that brief 30 second conversation throughout the day. How many areas of our lives do we take on that defeated mindset? I know I’ve been guilty before.

Ever thought to yourself…

I hate my job but I don’t know how to do anything else. 

Some of my friends are a really bad influence but I’ll hang around different people when I get older.

I’m not eating right and haven’t exercised since the 8th grade gym class, but I’ll start when things settle down.  

I’ve got to catch up on homework but I’ll never get it all done, so why bother?

What areas of your life do you feel defeated in? Are you putting something off because of a lack of time or because you know it is going to be hard? Make a plan. It can be as simple as getting up an hour early three days a week and devoting that time to the area that you need to change. If time is not the issue, pick a date to confront the issue and hold yourself accountable to it. Be bold and be different. Normal is unsatisfied but unwilling to change.  Don’t be normal.

Create your future.

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