products of our youth


I often wonder why people do the things they do. Oh. And stress. How they deal with stress. In work life or personal life. Because stress certainly brings out the extremes in people.

For some reason, lately, I have seen a number of situations in work and outside of work which have made me scratch my head.

Stress is an odd thing. It makes seemingly rational people do some quite irrational things (or exhibit some short term irrational behavior). To be fair … stress also can bring out the best in some people.


Me being me … I watch not only because I am curious but also because I think effective leadership is often significantly defined by how you deal with stress.  Because stress situations are “judgment” times. Moments when things happen … or they don’t happen … and are scrutinized within the moment … and from a distance. Leaders should think about this shit. Because I often believe leaders forget that they are always watched … always … as an example of how to do or not do things.

And I often believe leaders forget their actions beget a culture or work environment.

And while I believe parents <who are leaders in their own world> NEVER forget this (that their actions beget a culture) I do believe stress short circuits this understanding and they do some irrational shit (which, I hate to break the news to us adults, is not solved by simply going back and trying to correct it … because the impact of that irrational behavior triggers a deep imprint in a child’s rational mind … and forever stored – to forever haunt not only us adults but their own behavior at some point).


Suffice it to say simplistically that leaders and parents actions beget “how to act rules of the road” for others as the road winds its way toward some horizon. And it behooves us to remember that <unfortunately we need to remember that 24/7>.

So. All that said.

As with thinking about most things like this … it creates a little self reflection. Not naval gazing type reflection but rather ‘why I act the way I do’ type reflection.  And just to be clear it isn’t naval gazing in terms of self understanding but rather learning & understanding to reflect upon leadership, or how I act, in times of stress.

I guess, in particular, I am looking specifically at leadership as a parent (although I am not one) and leadership in terms of people who follow your lead (so I put this self reflection exercise down as one that can help me as I teach high school students and such). But I imagine it won’t hurt in the workplace either.

Inevitably this type of reflection slips back to one’s youth. Yup. Childhood.

Because whether we like it or not … we are products of our youth.

For it is in childhood that the majority of our attitudes and behaviors took root. No … to be clear … I do not believe we ‘become our parents’ as we get older. I believe we become products of our youth (of which significant portions are certainly impacted by our parents – or any significant adult exposure) but it is more experiences, and experiential, and the imprints those experiences have left upon us. Some good. Some bad. But they are there. They direct our instinctual behavior. Sure. They can be ‘over-rided’ with some thought but many times, because they are instinctual, we don’t even think about over-riding them.


It pays to step back and look. Understanding the “reason why I do things” may not change anything you actually do. But it may change how you THINK about what you do. Worthwhile effort? Shit. I don’t know.  I know I think so. I believe it is always healthy to peel back the layers and recognize the “why I do” aspect. And sometimes, just sometimes, the exercise may actually change what you do. And that’s gotta be a good thing, right? (he says hopefully)


I am going to tell you some stuff about me growing up and I am NOT suggesting any of my parent readers don’t know how to parent your child or anything. This is simply telling you stuff and, if it is relevant or useful, use it.


My parents worried about my grades a lot, incessantly as a matter of fact, and whether I was going to “live up to my abilities.” Apparently I had “tested well” as a child and both my parents also had education expectations. That was okay (and I do believe it is okay as a general rule).

But they also had preparation/studying expectations.

And that included a lot of ongoing pressure and nagging and unrelenting point of view on how it had to be done in order to be successful.


Because they stressed and put pressure on every single testing event (especially the more important ones) … I stressed.

And I would purposefully study less and appear to casually prepare … not because I wanted to piss them off (although they certainly did on occasion and absolutely would get very very frustrated) or do poorly but rather because it was my way of decreasing my own stress and clearing my head on stuff.

Over time I actually learned how to manage what I needed to do to succeed … as well as what I needed to do to get myself out of the parental (leadership) stress zone.

But my “self program to succeed” had some repercussions … during preparation I would sometimes look ‘not as smart’ (even though I found a lot of it boring and didn’t really feel like investing a lot of energy on things I didn’t think I would have to work that hard on to do well on) and it would stress my parents out … and … well … unfortunately the doom loop continued. They stressed … put stress on me … I did what I needed to do to defuse my stress so I could succeed … and they got stressed because of that.

So I was a stressed out kid. Geez.  Just typing it stressed me out.

But I would continue to get good grades. Which for some unfortunate reasons did not decrease stress within the process itself.


The problem. When I DIDN’T get good grades <an A> invariably they would then ‘ramp up’ the stress of ‘you didn’t prepare well’ … ‘you should have studied more’ … ‘you need to care more’ … and that was a different doom loop.

And a difficult doom loop because no matter how smart I was I wasn’t going to get straight A’s (well. that’s not true. I would imagine if I had really cared to do so I may have had a shot at it). This particular doom loop is a sonuvabitch … because it is a self fulfilling loop, i.e., everyone doesn’t max out every time therefore, in the end, the exceptions (the non-A’s) dictate the loop.

So any non-A’s seemed to feed their focus on the exception rather than the rule. And that was additional stress.


When I finally got old enough … I tried cutting the doom loop by dealing with it (surprisingly my father did okay with it but my mother was relentless with regard to pressuring to ‘do it the only way she believed it should be done’). I finally told them when they got all over my ass “look. Let me do it my way. If I don’t do well then I will do it your way. But until then can you just shut up and let me do it my way?”

This was quasi-successful.

What I mean by that … is see #2, the exception rule, all over again.

If you aren’t 100% successful doing it this way than the one, or two, exceptions become the proof points for failure of system.


My solution (warped as it may have been). Because everything had to be done my parents’ way (education and studying wise) I would figure out a way to do about 50% of what they wanted (and go out of my way to show them I was doing so). Invest maybe 30% of my time doing it the way I wanted. And used the free 20% to actually do things I wanted to do (which had nothing to do with grades or studying).

The math didn’t work but it was my solution. The math? Unfortunately even if you are good you never get 100% right. So no matter how you slice the %’s my parents were unhappy about school and studying and stressing out over tests and homework and whatever so that in the end <sticking with the math> over 50% of all the time with me and school.

(that was an algebraic perspective on a stress situation … never to be found in any school book)

If you didn’t follow it suffice it to say that over 50% of the time my parents were all over my ass just on education <all the other stuff is a completely different post>.

I say all this for a couple of reasons:

–           because I get asked about teaching and unlocking kids thinking potential a lot by parents.

And whenever parents ask me about teaching kids and working with kids I almost always open up with “just because you think a way is the best way it may not be the best way for your child.”

Invariably they ask “so how do I know the best way?”

And I say “you don’t.”

But I do suggest that what matters is ‘if the way you are 100% positive is the way to do it is not getting the results you are positive you should be getting … then rather than get frustrated maybe try a different way.’ In other words … your 100% positive ain’t 100% right.


I know that sounds simplistic but oftentimes the most obvious simple solution is also oftentimes the most difficult to do.


Why does it really matter?

We are a product of your youth.

–          It means we can also take those same memories and start generalizing them to similar or future situations, with the unhappy result that we become increasingly fearful and avoid events, people or activities we perceive as threatening to our emotional well-being.

This is a fact (proven by research as it is)

It turns out that fear and anxiety can also be learned and passed on to future generations.  According to Livingston (2009), children who grow up with parents who show a lot of anxiety or apprehensiveness, or who convey an exaggerated sense of the world as a dangerous place, are themselves more likely to develop unreasonable fears as they grow up.

It becomes easy to see how quickly successive generations within a family could experience generalized anxieties and fears but might not make the link as to how they came to be more anxious than their peers.


Store it away. This is probably not useful but I wanted to share.

I know I was sometimes seemingly unfocused and bored. Sometimes I was … and sometimes it was just my way of dealing with everything else around me.

As an adult this now shows up during moments of stress.

I am so calm it almost seems like I am unfocused and bored to others.

It is just my way of keeping everything clear in my head so I CAN perform.

Look at yourself today.

I promise you, yes, promise you … you are a product of your youth.


I admit that I have certainly fought my way through some “product of youth aspects” and change not only my behavior but my attitudes (yes … they are linked) but other things are simply my coping mechanisms to be successful (and keep my head from exploding … which is a bad thing by the way).



Truths of youth? Sure.

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Written by Bruce