What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘teenager’? How do you describe yourself as a teen?
I recently did a Google search for words that described teenagers. Apart from a few positive words, the most common ones I found were ‘lazy’, ‘rebellious’, ‘ignorant’, ’immature’ and ‘self-centred’. These are some negative stereotypes faced by us teens nowadays.
According to worldly standards, our typical Generation-Z teenager likes to be idle, has an indifferent attitude towards most things in life, can’t live without checking a device every few minutes, and is infamous for their mood swings and rebellious nature towards their parents. Unfortunately, I have to admit these descriptions have some truth for many of us.
On the other hand, I’m convinced that you will strongly agree with me that teenagers do possess more positive qualities than those given labels. However, the real problem is that we start to believe and normalise their undervalued claims and think it is okay to live ‘down’ according to those low expectations placed on us.
Over the recent school holidays, I participated in a book club activity organised by the teens in my church. The book I read was Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris. Just as the name suggests, this book is all about how teenagers should rebel against society’s low expectations, step outside of their comfort zones, go beyond what is expected, and start doing hard things worth doing for the glory of God.
The Average Teen
The book introduced me to many young people who had gone on to do extraordinary things in their teen years to make significant contributions to society. There’s no surprise that the book’s authors, Alex and Brett, also have plenty of extraordinary experiences in their teen years including writing their first book at the age of eighteen! Do Hard Things became a best-selling book that has been translated into a dozen languages and has empowered so many (young, and not so young) people to start doing hard things in their lives.
Reading about all of these extraordinary teens was the most inspirational part of the book for me. But at the same time, it also made me feel uncomfortable.
When I reflected on myself, the first reaction I had was to feel overwhelmed. Here, I am an average 14-year-old girl living a plain and ordinary teen life, and I have definitely not done anything extraordinary like all those young people mentioned in the book.
Sure, I’m sitting in front of my laptop and writing this article right now instead of idling around, but we are talking on a whole lot of different levels here. We’re talking about serving as grass-roots directors for statewide Supreme Court campaigns and writing a best-selling book. I started to wonder if I was missing something along the way and had wasted some of my precious teen years.
Unintentionally, I started to reason with myself.
Well… you see… I just turned 14 not so long ago. That means I can still be considered a newbie teenager right? Besides I am fully aware that God has created each of us unique with sets of different talents, and we should be content without comparing ourselves with others. I think I’m already doing good enough. Those young people they’re talking about in the book are outliers, they are way above my league — I am just average after all. It’s best if I just stick to doing what I know best to carry out my responsibilities as a student.
Once again, I am convinced that I just represent the inner voices of so many of you, fellow ‘ordinary’ teens. While we are in full agreement on this (I take liberty to assume), unfortunately these kinds of reasoning are the exact excuses that the book states would hinder us from doing what we could actually do — to be specific, from what God actually made us to do.
Overcoming Common Roadblocks
For those who know me personally, I am conscientious, a perfectionist and a high achiever. Furthermore, I often ‘overthink’ things. Previously, I thought that my unhealthy habit of ‘overthinking’ was just a result of my personality. But I learnt that there are actually two main reasons why these thoughts came to my mind (yours too) and possibly held me back to reach my full potential.
If you’re anything like me, fear is probably the most common reason that stops you from doing great things. Fear of failure is a big thing for me, and I know for sure that this is also the case for many of my friends and the majority of people. I mean, who likes failing, right? Whether it be participating in a competition, trying a team sport, taking a maths exam, or taking up ministry at church needs a great deal of effort and … there’s always a chance of failure in doing it.
As teenagers, we tend to worry a lot about failure and about how others’ opinions of us will change after we experience it. We have a reputation to maintain, don’t we? Thus we tend to choose to ‘play it safe’ within our comfort zone. The old me would be so reluctant (and would avoid if possible) to sign myself up for something that I couldn’t do well or be the best at it.
We always think that by not starting in the first place, we won’t have the chance to experience failure. Unfortunately, we will realise sooner or later that we’ve missed the opportunity to do many amazing things and have wasted days, weeks, months or even years doing nothing significant.
I started to be one of the writers for RegenerationZ in January this year. That time, my teens youth group leader casually asked me to write a reflection on what I learnt from the teens retreat we had a few days before that. Never in a million years would I imagine myself doing this if not for the opportunity offered to me at that time, simply because it was outside of my comfort zone.
Throughout the year, I was given more responsibilities to take on. Often these thoughts came haunting me.
‘Are you sure you can do it all? There’s no way you will be able to finish all your work and assessments from school if you spend more and more time doing ministry! Sooner or later, you will be drowning in all the work and fail in both school and ministry!’
There I would be lying if I say I’m not scared if that really happens. But, I can attest that God is sustaining me and enabling me to do them alright so far.
I am also learning to look at failure from a different perspective now. Failure brings so many lessons that we would not have learnt in times of success. Obviously, no one would purposely fail just for its life lessons, but God will be at work in times of failure to make us less prideful of our limited self and ability and to learn to be solely reliant on Him.
Looking back now, I am glad that I did not let my fear of failure overtake the situation. I am glad that I was able to take those scary first steps, and now I am embracing all of the new responsibilities and challenges that are given to me.
By definition, complacency is ‘a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.’ In simple terms, complacency is closely related to the feeling of pride, as well as the thought that we are already ‘good enough’. These thoughts and feelings are also significantly fueled by the low expectations of society. We often receive praise from others just for completing a task that was already our responsibility. Over time, these compliments and praises pacify us for not wanting to do more. We feel too comfortable to stay in our current position, and wouldn’t want to risk aiming to achieve bigger and harder things. Soon we fall short of our true potential because we aim only to be bigger than the next fish in our small pond.
I realised that too often, I fall into the trap of having this mindset. On some occasions, I would soak in all the compliments and awards I received and use them as proof of my ability. Other times, I would use it as an excuse to justify that I was already doing better than others thus, I had the right to chill out.
I believe my parents saw this trend in me when I was still in my previous school. So, we agreed for me to move to another school that would challenge me more academically. I remember they were saying that it is better for me to be a small fish in a big pond rather than a big fish in a small pond as it will challenge me to reach my full God-given potential. I learnt that we should measure our lives by excellence, rather than excuses. This is the only way in which we can grow and improve ourselves, and to cultivate the talents that God has given us for His glory.
I Dare You
A few months back, my 5-year-old sister was practising a piece on the piano. It was a song titled “Not So Hard” in her stage three piano book. After a few tries, she innocently commented, ‘Why is the title ‘Not So Hard’ when it is actually hard to play?’ My mum laughed at her and told her that it wouldn’t be so hard if she kept practicing.
Isn’t it true for almost everything else? The concept is the same —It will be hard when we first start doing it, but with practice it will become easier. This goes for simple tasks such as learning to sit, to walk, to eat and on to a bigger task such as waking up earlier to do your morning devotions, obeying your parents, and joining your church ministry.
In the end, I would like to leave you with these two fundamental questions worth pondering (Do Hard Things pg 56) :
First, are we spending our time right now to prepare us for what we hope to become in the future?
Second, are we doing things now that will equip us for the greater things God may have for us to do?
I would like to challenge you, fellow teens, to change your mindset and take that first step outside your comfort zone to do more hard things worth doing for God’s glory despite your fear or complacency. Draw your confidence in God to equip you to do what He wants you to do. Remember this: ‘We are created to do hard things and we can do hard things.’ That small step will change the entire direction of your life.
“It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.” –Lamentations 3:27 (NIV)
Joanne Soviner (14) is one of the writers and designers for RE Generation-Z. She strives to share God’s love and grace she has received and the truth she is learning with other teens. She enjoys dancing, bullet journalling, and learning new languages.