Read an Excerpt
The 6 Most Important Decisions You'll Ever Make
A Guide for Teens
By Sean Covey
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Chapter One: The 6 Big Ones
The Choice Is Yours
Call me Sean.
I'm the author and I'm glad you're here. Don't worry. This won't be another boring book. This one's different. It's written just for teens and deals with your life, your problems, your stuff. It also has a lot of great cartoons (I had to hire several artists and pay them a fortune because I can't draw worth squat.)
This book is about one idea. I'll get straight to the point.
There are six key decisions you make during your teen years that can make or break your future. So, choose wisely, and don't blow it.
If you do happen to blow it, however, it's not the end of the world. Just get back on track quickly and start making smarter choices.
Being a teen today is tougher than ever. While your grandparents may have had to walk uphill to school in the snow, you have a different set of challenges to navigate: like media overload, party drugs, Internet porn, date rape, terrorism, global competition, depression, and heavy peer pressure. It's a totally different world!
Although I still shoot spit wads, I'm no longer a teen, but I vividly remember the ups and downs I went through. Most of my problems began at birth. My dad said, "Sean, when you were born your cheeks were so fat thedoctor didn't know which end to spank." He wasn't kidding. You should see my baby pictures. My cheeks hung off my face like water balloons. You can imagine how often I was teased.
Once I was with all the neighborhood kids jumping on our trampoline. We were playing a game of add-on and it was my turn. Susan, my neighbor, couldn't resist saying what everyone was thinking, "Man, look at Sean's bouncing cheeks. They're so fat."
David, my younger brother, in an effort to defend me said, "They're not fat. They're muscle."
His valiant effort backfired, and everyone got a kick out of my new nickname, "Muscle Cheeks."
My problems continued into junior high school. I hated seventh grade and have chosen to forget most of it. I do remember that I still had fat cheeks and an eighth grader named Scott kept trying to pick a fight with me. I don't know why he picked on me. I'd never met the guy. Maybe it was because he was confident he could pound me. He'd wait in the hallway with a couple of his friends and challenge me to a fight every day after my algebra class. I was petrified and tried to stay away from him.
One day he cornered me.
"Hey, Covey. You big fat sissy. Why don't you fight me?"
He then slugged me in the stomach real hard, knocking my breath out. I was too scared to fight back. He left me alone after that. But I was humiliated and felt like a loser. (By the way, I'm bigger than Scott now and I'm still looking for him. Kidding!)
As I began high school, to my pleasant surprise, my face grew into my cheeks, but a new set of problems arose. Suddenly I had to make a lot of important decisions that I wasn't ready for. During the first week, I was invited to join a club with seniors who drank a lot. I didn't want to join but I also didn't want to offend them. I started to make new friends. Then, there were all these new girls. One even started liking me. She was pretty and aggressive and it was exciting and scary all at once. I had so many questions. Should I like this girl? Who should I hang out with? What classes should I take? Should I go to that party? How can I juggle school, sports, and friends?
I didn't realize it at the time, but these were some of the most important decisions I'd ever make in my life.
The idea for this book started when I sent out surveys to hundreds of teens from all over and asked, "What are your biggest challenges?" Here's what a few of them said:
"Stress. Trying to fit everything in is my number one challenge because I have a lot on my plate."
"Dealing with sexuality. I have to be able to make the right choices now so that I don't have to live with my mistakes later. It seems like if you're not having sex when you're a teenager, then you're a prude or something."
"Parents. I have to deal with them every day and it's exhausting."
"School and grades. My mom screams at me."
"Preparing for college. It's right around the corner and I haven't really given it much thought. Every time I try to think about it, I just end up getting a huge headache, so I don't."
"Divorce of my parents. They always fight over who gets visitation."
"High-school drama. Who's going out with who? Popularity. Best hair. Most athletic. Who's got money? Who said this about them? It's ridiculous!"
"Money. Barely enough money to live."
"Peer pressure is a major problem. I give in really easy, with the right people."
"I worry about the safety of my family because you can walk the streets and get killed. Most people are not going to school just to do drugs. I fear for my lil' brother and sister."
"Body and appearance. I struggle with my weight all the time."
"Friends. They are just bugging the heck out of me. I don't relate to them anymore. They ignore me and stay in their little cliques. I feel excluded, so lately I have just been staying away from them."
"Dating. I don't date whatsoever and here I am at 17. My friends dog me and make me feel like I'm not doing something I should."
"Body and appearance. I struggle with my weight all the time."
I carefully studied all the surveys I got back. I also interviewed numerous teens from various locations over a three-year period. And a pattern began to emerge. Out of the 999 different challenges that were mentioned, six stood out above all the rest.
As I looked deeper, I discovered that with each challenge there was a choice (or series of choices) to be made. Some teens I interviewed had made smart choices; others, dumb ones. As a result, some were happy and some messed up. These challenges represented fork-in-the-road decisions and the consequences were huge. It became clear that what you do about these challenges are the six most important decisions you'll ever make as a teen!
The Six Most Im portant Decisions You'll Ever Make
- School. What are you going to do about your education?
- Friends. What type of friends will you choose and what kind of
- friend will you be?
- Parents. Are you going to get along with your parents?
- Dating and Sex. Who will you date and what will you do about sex?
- Addictions. What will you do about smoking, drinking, drugs,
- and other addictive stuff?
- Self-Worth. Will you choose to like yourself?
You may not have thought much about these decisions. Or you may be struggling with one of them or all of them. Whatever your situation, you need to learn all you can about each decision, the ins and outs, the good and bad, so that you can make informed decisions, with your eyes wide open. You don't want to get down the road and find yourself saying, "If only I'd known better."
Many decisions you make as a teen can impact your life forever. In his book Standing for Something, religious leader Gordon B. Hinckley tells this story about when he was young:
While working in a Denver railroad office, I was in charge of the baggage and express traffic carried in passenger trains. One day I received a call from my counterpart in New Jersey who said that a passenger train had arrived without its baggage car. Three hundred patrons were angry, as well they had a right to be.
We discovered that the train had traveled from Oakland, California, to St. Louis, where a switchman had mistakenly moved a piece of steel just three inches. That piece of steel was a switch point, and the baggage car that should have been in Newark was in New Orleans, fourteen hundred miles away.
Prisons all over the world are filled with people who made unwise and even destructive choices, individuals who moved a switch point in their lives just a little and were soon on the wrong track going to the wrong place.
Each of these six decisions is like a switch point, a small three-inch piece of steel that will lead us down the right or wrong track for hundreds of miles.
A Tale Of Two Teens
Imagine two 19-year-old girls about to graduate from teenagehood. At age 13, they were in similar situations. At 19, they are in very different places, because of their choices.
Meet Allie. She smiles a lot. She is attending a local university and has two great roommates; they have a riot together. Allie has a tuition scholarship, and also works part time as a teacher's assistant. She plans to graduate in two years with a degree in English and become a teacher. Allie is dating two different guys right now, but isn't really serious with either yet. Throughout her teen years, she didn't date much and felt a little insecure about it, but she's proud that she didn't sleep around with every other guy. She hopes to meet a wonderful guy and get married someday.
At fifteen, Allie tried drugs once but, afterward, realized how stupid it was. Since then, except for an occasional glass of wine, Allie doesn't drink, smoke, or do drugs. She's free of addictions. Every Sunday night, Allie calls her mom, whom she calls her "best friend." Although she has problems, overall, she is confident, goal-driven, and happy with herself.
Meet Desiree. She is strikingly beautiful but suffers from low self-esteem. When asked why, she replies, "I don't know. It's just that I'm always thinking I'm fat and ugly."
Desiree started smoking when she was fourteen and smokes two packs a day now. She claims she could quit tomorrow.
She works full-time at a grocery store making minimum wage. Although she completed high school, she never really tried in school and doesn't see a need to get more education. She lives in an apartment by herself and has various live-in boyfriends. During high-school, she fooled around with lots of guys and was involved in many abusive relationships. "I always seemed to pick losers," she says.
Desiree doesn't have much of a relationship with her parents. And she has little contact with any of her best friends from high school. She doesn't know what she wants to do with her future and often gets depressed.
Two girls. Two totally different outcomes. Why? Because of their choices. Can you begin to see why making smart choices about school, friends, parents, dating, sex, addictions, and self-esteem is so huge?
The Ten-Year Experiment
Before going any further, try this little experiment:
Your job is to introduce yourself to someone as you were exactly ten years ago today and tell them a few things about yourself.
If your name is Jeremie and you're seventeen, you would say something like: "Hi, my name is Jeremie. I'm seven years old and I live in Toronto, Canada, with my parents and my younger brother, who is four. I just finished first grade. I have a goldfish named Spot and I love to color and play soccer. I feel happy inside."
If you're reading this book and you're near someone, try this experiment with them. Tell them it's part of a book assignment, so they don't think you've gone psycho. Introduce yourself as you were ten years ago, then have them do the same. If no one's around or you're too embarrassed (no big deal), just fill in the blanks below.
The date ten years ago today is:
My name is:
I am ______ years old.
I live in:
I live with:
My favorite things to do are:
Now, shift gears. Your job is to introduce yourself to the same person as you would like to be ten years into the future. Tell them what you're doing and a little about yourself. Remember, this is how you would like to be ten years from now. So, Jeremie would say something like:
"Hi. I'm Jeremie. I'm 27 years old and I live in Vancouver, Canada. I just got married to a wonderful woman named Jasmine. A few years ago I graduated in music from the University of Toronto and I now teach piano at a private music school. I love my family and I hang out with them a lot. I'm feelin' really good about where I'm headed with my life."
The date ten years from now is:
My name is:
I am _____ years old.
I live in:
I live with:
Over the past ten years I have:
You just practiced time travel. When you went back ten years, what memories surfaced? Were you in a good spot or a bad one? And what about the future? What did you see ten years from now? What do you want to do and who do you want to become over the next decade?
Free To Choose
The good news is, where you end up ten years from now is up to you. You are free to choose what you want to make of your life. It's called free agency or free will and it's your birthright. What's more, you can turn it on instantly! At any moment, you can choose to start showing more respect for yourself or stop hanging out with friends who bring you down.
Ultimately, you choose to be happy or miserable.
The reality is that although you are free to choose, you can't choose the consequences of your choices. They're preloaded. It's a package deal. As the old saying goes, "If you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other." Choice and consequence go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. For example, if you decide to do poorly in school and not go to college, you'll suffer the natural consequences of finding it hard even to get an interview for a high-paying job. Likewise, if you date intelligently and avoid casual intimacy, you'll enjoy the consequences of having a good reputation and not worrying about STDs and pregnancy.
The word decision comes from the Latin root meaning "to cut off from." Saying "yes" to one thing means saying "no" to another. That's why decisions can be hard sometimes.
You're always better off making a decision once and being done with it instead of making it again and again. For example, as a teen, I decided I wasn't going to smoke, or drink, or do drugs. (Now, I'm not making myself out be a hero, because I made lots of mistakes as a teen, as I'll show you later. But I did do this one thing right.) So, I avoided parties where everyone got plastered. I chose not to hang out with guys who did drugs. I never felt peer pressure to do this stuff because I'd already made up my mind once and didn't have to keep making that decision over and over.
Some might say that I missed out on a lot of fun. Maybe so. To me, it gave me freedom: freedom from getting stoned and doing something stupid; freedom from a drunk driving offense; freedom from forming an addiction.
A Quick Overview
There are different ways in which you can read this book. You can read it from start to finish (probably the best way), or skip around and go to the chapters that interest you the most. If you're really lazy, just look at the cartoons. Here is a quick overview of the chapters.
School -- I'm Totally Stressed Out!
Of all your challenges, school ranks #1. Why? It's the stress! As one teen put it, "School...Argh! People put pressure on students that school is everything and it stresses me out!"
You have to deal with gossip and grades, teachers and tests, labels and lunch ladies. Yikes! You have to cope with parents who actually expect you to try your best in school, for crying out loud. On top of that, you have to worry about preparing to get a real job someday.
Why is what you choose to do about education such a big decision? Probably because what you do about it will open doors of opportunity or slam them shut for a very long time.
In the chapter on school, we'll hit many important topics like:
- How dropping out of school wrecks your money-making potential
- Finding motivation when you have none
- The 7 secrets to getting good grades
- Rising above a learning disability
- Preparing and paying for college
- Finding your voice (we're not talking choir here; we're talking about discovering what you're good at)
Freinds -- So Fun...So Fickle
Some teens find it easy to make good friends. For many, though, it's a struggle. We don't fit in. Or we're judged because we don't have a perfect body or wear the right clothes. It's especially hard when your family has to move and, suddenly, you're the new kid at school trying to break into established cliques. Many of us have had times when we've not had any friends at all. Or we have such a great need to be accepted we become friends with anyone willing to accept us even if they bring us down.
And then there's all the drama. It is the weirdest thing, but virtually every girl I've spoken to tells me, "Any two girls get along fine, but three never works." Us guys have a different set of challenges, like punching each other and dating each other's girlfriends.
Who you choose as friends and the kind of friend you choose to be is a huge decision. In this chapter, we'll talk about lots of interesting stuff such as:
- Surviving the popularity game
- What to do when you don't have any friends
- Being the kind of friend you'd like to have
- Surviving the catfights
- What you need to know about gangs
- Standing up to peer pressure
Parents -- How Embarrassing!
"My mom is OK. She tries to understand me. But it's like the more she tries the more she annoys me. And then my dad is just crazy. And I just can't relate to him at all."
This is Sabrina. She's pretty normal. She loves her parents but can't figure them out half the time. Part of the problem with parents is how we see them. When I was in grade school, my parents were cool. But when I turned 13, they morphed into nerds and became so embarrassing. Suddenly, they forgot how to dress, talk, or walk upright. I'll never forget the time in eighth grade when I was on the sidelines during a football game and I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Hey, Sean. It's me. Dad. Do you and your buddies want a piece?"
I was shocked. There stood my dad on the sidelines, where he wasn't supposed to be, with a 16- inch pizza, during the middle of my football game, asking me if I wanted a piece of freaking pizza.
I was horrified. And, in front of all my teammates, I denied that I even knew him.
But, trust me, when you get a little older you'll find that your parents will instantly mature and become cool again and your friends will start saying things like, "Dude, your mom is awesome."
The quality of the relationship you want to have with your mom and dad is a choice and it's one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. In this chapter, we'll discuss many vital issues, including:
- How to build an awesome relationship with your mom and dad
- Disarming your parents in one line or less
- Four magical expressions to use with your parents that work every time
- Surviving a divorce
- Coping with the "Why can't you be like your brother?" syndrome
- What to do when your parents are really messed up and you have to raise them
Dating & Sex -- Do We Have to Talk About This?
I wish we didn't have to talk about it, but we do. If we didn't, I'd be irresponsible, because it's one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. Perhaps the most important. (Parents, if you're secretly reading your teen's book right now to see what I have to say about this topic, just relax and trust me. I won't botch it.)
When I was a boy, my parents never talked about the birds and the bees. My dad would turn red in the face if he even thought about it. So, I learned all about it from the neighborhood boys that were in the know. But times have changed and you'd better get real clear on what kind of people you're going to date and what you're going to do about sex. If you don't, someone else will make the decision for you and you don't want that. In this chapter we'll get into stuff like:
- Dating intelligently
- So you don't date...so what?
- The problem with centering your life on a girlfriend or boyfriend
- Spotting red flags in a relationship
- What are STDs and why should I care?
- Debunking the four great myths about teens and sex
Addictions -- It's Not Hard to Quit...I've Done It a Dozen Times
I admit it. I picked up an addiction in high school -- to nachos. I couldn't get enough of them. I couldn't watch a movie without nachos. I couldn't pass a 7-Eleven without getting my nacho fix. I'm still hooked. I've never stopped to think about what goes into that greasy, cheesy stuff, but I'm sure it ain't cheese.
I'm so lucky I didn't pick up any other addictions during my teens. I feel bad for a coworker who has to go outside every two hours in the rain or heat to have his smoke. I feel bad for a family friend who messed up his brain so bad from drugs that he's just not in there anymore. Clearly, the decisions you make around this challenge often stick with you for life.
Today, there's pressure to binge-drink, smoke, do drugs, take steroids, sniff glue, and do a number of other enticing things. As a couple of teens put it:
"A ton of people do it, so it's hard to stay away from it."
"I've stopped, but I still want it."
You won't want to miss this section. Your peers have some really good stories to share. We'll chat about:
- The three brutal realities of addiction
- The truth about alcohol, tobacco, meth, ecstasy, 'roids, cocaine, prescriptions, inhalants, and more
- This is not your parents' marijuana!
- Conquering an addiction
- The drug of the twenty-first century
- Where to get great nachos
Self-Worth -- If Only I Were Better Looking
One girl said, "My biggest challenge is selfesteem. There are too many beautiful people. I feel ugly." If you ever feel this way, you're not alone. Compared to the models we see plastered in Cosmopolitan and GQ, we all feel ugly.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. But if your self-confidence or lack of it comes from how you stack up on the good-looks gauge, you've got serious problems.
The fact is, there are lots of kids with big noses and dorky clothes that are full of self-confidence. And there are loads of well-dressed, popular kids who have no self-confidence at all. Obviously, there's so much more to healthy self-worth than beauty and biceps.
When all is said and done, learning to like yourself is a choice. It may not seem that way, but it is. It's a matter of learning to get your security from within, not from without -- or from what others say about you. This chapter will cover:
- The one true mirror you should always look to
- Why fixating on other people's opinions of you is stupid
- Character and competence: the foundation stones of healthy self-worth
- What to do when you're depressed and can't pull out of it
- Developing your unique talents and skills
- Mining your own fields for diamonds
The 7 Habits Crash Course -- They Make You or Break You
In addition to a chapter on each of the six decisions, there's a short chapter called The 7 Habits Crash Course. It's up next. A few years ago, I wrote a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. If you've already read that book, the chapter will serve as a good review of the habits. If you haven't read it, the crash course will get you up to speed. It doesn't really matter in which order you read these books. It's sort of like the Star Wars movies. They all go together but it doesn't really matter which one you watch first.
In this book, we'll use the 7 Habits as a tool kit to help you make these big decisions. So just what are the 7 habits of highly effective teens? Simply put, they are the habits that successful and happy teenagers from Africa to Alaska have in common. Don't leave home without them!
Ready for Tomorrow
My purpose in writing this book is simple: I want to help you make smart choices around each of the six decisions so you can be happy and healthy today, and ready for tomorrow -- a future so bright you'll have to wear shades. When you turn twenty and retire from being a teen, I want you to be able to say:
- I have a solid education!
- I have good friends that bring out the best in me!
- I have good relationships with my parents!
- I don't have an STD, am not pregnant (nor gotten anyone pregnant),
- and have made smart choices about dating and sex!
- I am addiction-free!
- I like myself and am OK with who I am!
Of course, you'll make mistakes during your teen years, face many struggles, and have many highs and lows. No one expects you to be perfect. But please don't make it harder than it has to be. By simply making smarter choices starting today your teenage journey can be so much smoother.
I like what the poet Robert Frost had to say about the importancI like what the poet Robert Frost had to say about the importance of decisions.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
Oh, by the way, I encourage you to personalize your book. A teen named Carol said, "I come from a book-oriented family. I've been reading since the age of three, and writing anything in a book is a sin." I was raised this way too. But let's change that rule, right now. The new rule is: Mark up your book! Get out your pen, colored pencils, highlighter -- whatever -- and go to town. Scribble. Doodle. Have some fun with it. Write in the margins. Circle quotes you want to remember. Highlight stories that inspire you. Record insights as they come. You'll get a lot more out of this book if you make it your own.
Copyright 2006 by FranklinCovey, Co.
Excerpted from The 6 Most Important Decisions You'll Ever Make
by Sean Covey
Copyright © 2006 by Sean Covey.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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