Category Archives: Life Skills

Are you laughing enough?

Seriously, are you having any fun?

No matter how passionate you are about your career/cause/job, or how important/critical/time sensitive it is, I don’t think you’re doing it right if you aren’t laughing. Not like a hyena, not like the Joker from the 1980s DC comics, not like an Elmo doll. More like the Dalai Lama, or Lily Tomlin, or Missy Eliot. You know those people are conscious, and working hard, and finding the humor and joy in their world. You can too.

Let’s talk about some ways to bring healthy laughter to your workplace or class or project.

Telling a story on yourself

Sometimes if we’re a manager or a teacher or in some other position of power we don’t want to show any vulnerability. If we could all just tell meaningful, funny stories about times that we learned something the hard way or the dumb way, we’d model growth, learning, and demonstrate trust in our colleagues. I promise you, the times that I’ve shared moments of young dumbness, my students, have gasped, laughed, and trusted my authenticity.


One of the moments from my last job that I treasure is the time that my boss imitated the Prancercise lady to put me into a better mood. One of the lessons learned was that prancercise IS a good work out. But I also took note that my boss and I bonded over foolishness. Whatever tiring task I was working on, was made easier by our brief break. Sometimes it can feel like to be “productive” you have to be task-driven, but that 5 minutes looking at a lady with a prominent camel toe can give you the drive to get back to work.

Hyperbole and Wordplay

For me and my nerd friends, playing with the words we use– the sound, the spelling, the semantics– becomes a way to enliven our discussions. With my students, I consciously and unconsciously pepper my speech with regional idioms and colloquialisms. Sure, if I was designing classes for international classes, I’d use standard business English, but I’m not. My students live in Central Virginia. When I use some silly expression, it becomes a teachable moment, but with humor. They ask me what on earth I said, shake their head at Americans, and then usually ask me for clarification that’s been puzzling them from a previous conversation.

Unacceptable Forms of Laughter 

There is absolutely no place for laughter that comes from a place of derision, humiliation, racism, sexism, or othering of any sort. Yes, laughter can be a way to bond, and form community. It can also be used to humiliate and cheapen people in power differentials. Stop asking, “Do you mind if I tell a racist joke?” The answer is yes. Yes, yes I do mind if you tell the racist joke. Besides the fact that as a white person I don’t find it funny, I also see that the black server who doesn’t have the power to tell you to shut the hell up, feels ostracized. I see that if your Hispanic dishwasher is laughing along, it’s not in good humor, it’s going along to get along. I see that the laughter that your “joke” caused is malicious and hateful. I see that your “joke” continues racist norms, even if you proclaim that you aren’t a racist. As always, be aware of power differentials, and be kind.

Communication is Key

It’s amazing to me that with so many means to communicate with one another, most of us still do such a terrible job at it. I think that 90% of the work that I do with my young people is coaching and encouraging them on how to communicate more effectively.

Communications 101
Why is it important to learn how to communicate effectively?

  • You’re going to want to get and keep a job.
  • You’re making agreements and signing contracts that have long-lasting impact on your life, and you need to make sure that you and the other person are on the same page.
  • Most of getting through life is forming and keeping relationships, and communication is the key to maintaining those relationships.

Here is some practical advice, particularly for the young folk, on how to more effectively communicate with others.
Communicate with Purpose.
When you are in touch with someone it’s probably to

  • ask for help,
  • volunteer help, or
  • gather or clarify information.

Before you call or email, think about what you are trying to achieve, and make sure that you’ve provided all the information to complete your mission. Don’t make the other person work to extract the information from you.
Use your Manners
In written correspondence, include salutation, closing and a nicety. A nicety can be as simple as saying, “Thanks so much for all of your help.” or “Hope that you enjoy your weekend.” or “I really appreciate your time on this.” The 10 seconds that it takes to write this is well worth the social lubricant. When calling, be sure to identify yourself, speak slowly and completely, and close with a nicety. When leaving a message, be complete, but succinct. Don’t assume that people have caller ID. Most businesses do not have them.

Manage your Email
Sure, email will be obsolete in 20 years, but right now, you’re dealing with professors, managers and business owners who are in in their 30s-40s, who live and breath email. Use all of the tools included in your email. Unsubscribe, identify as spam, archive read emails, delete un-needed emails— these are all ways to manage your email. Your inbox should only have emails that you still need to follow up on. Any professional job will require that you know how to manage your email.

Close the Loop
As you communicate with others, make sure that you send the last email, send the last text or leave the last voice mail. This can be as easy as saying thanks, but it can be as critical as saying thanks and acknowledging a gift.

Why Not? Reaping the Benefits of Saying No (as well as Yes)

Despite leaving my 40+ hour a week gig 6 months ago I remain consistently busy. I haven’t taken up some major Candy Crush addiction, in fact my playtime is less than it used to be. I’ve found that my interests and passions are what fill up my time, to such an extent that I’ve got to exercise my ability to say no. Here’s what I’m remembering:

Establish Priorities Continue reading

Building Experiences Youth Conference 2015

This past weekend we had an amazing time at the first ever BE Youth Conference. Over 3 days 11 youth and 15 adults, one baby and one falcon came together to:

  • Make pizza
  • Bind books
  • 10891934_10205948761945270_1854783206660880486_n
  • Design a personalized flag
  • Set goals and expectations
  • 10897083_10205948764105324_7114031788607864172_n
  • Discuss college and career
  • 150103-0435

    With Permission from Peggy Harrison

  • Share life stories
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  • Explore available scholarships
  • 150103-0409

    With Permission from Peggy Harrison


    With Permission from Peggy Harrison


    With Permission from Peggy Harrison

  • 10898210_10205948775065598_6616167356019678992_npixel (4) pixel (3) pixel (2) pixel (1) pixel
  • Learn to knit and crochet
  • 10917309_10205297771220847_508034615138598994_n
  • Begin saving for the new year
  • Learn about car maintenance
  • 10408728_10205297771300849_4663716593044087324_n
  • Share meals
  • 10915231_10205948763105299_6143350829842027119_n
  • Hold a falcon
  • 10905997_10205297771340850_498779582771180810_n
  • Meet new friends
  • 10390528_10205297894503929_978074711424628580_n
  • Share cleaning responsibilities
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  • Hug and Laugh

It was magical.


Thank you to Peggy Harrison for sharing her photographs.

Encouraging Personal Growth through Scavenger Hunts

Building Experiences is holding a Youth Conference in January and we’re hashing out the structure of the weekend. One student has been vociferously requesting a scavenger hunt so I’ve been trying to figure out an authentic way to include her request in the weekend’s agenda. The scavenger hunt is still in development, but here are some creative ways that I’ve been thinking about modifying the structure:

Continue reading

Practice: Early and Often

As I work with my young adult students, I find that I am not offering profound insights into calculus or chemical engineering, I am coaching them on skills and ideas that we continue to practice as adults. Often I’m merely retelling students my own insights in coping with problematic situations, and reminding myself again to improve myself. Here are my top 5 skills that every adult, young or old needs to practice, early and often, to be more productive, and happier.

Recognize Your Passions and Strengths Continue reading