Who knew an internship could have such an impact on a college student? Not me! My name is Emily Wilburn, and I had the privilege of interning for Growing Leaders this summer. I am a rising senior at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. I am majoring in Business Management and Entrepreneurship with a minor in Non-Profit Management. Throughout my search for an internship, I was told that Growing Leaders had a great program and decided to apply. I was expecting a summer of professional growth, but I couldn’t have imagined the main perks of interning with Growing Leaders.


  1. Making coffee was not my main task.

As you know, interns are typically given basic busywork. Stereotypically, if no one else in the office has time or enjoys a task, it is given to an intern. I can say this was not the case for my summer. While I did learn to make coffee during my time at Growing Leaders, my list of responsibilities was much more comprehensive. Because of my interest in non-profit management, I was able to work with The Growing Leaders Foundation and its Development Coordinator, Alysse Whatley, who served not only as my supervisor but also as a mentor and friend. I was taught by example the importance of doing everything with excellence, how to serve others well, and the importance of being a life-long learner. These are things you learn through experiences, not through shadowing, and I am thankful my internship was experiential.

  1. I was connected with business professionals.

One exciting perk that I was not expecting was the amount of business owners and professionals that I had the privilege of interacting with. The full-time staff at Growing Leaders went above and beyond to introduce interns to people who they believed would help us along our career path. These connections happened by inviting successful professionals to lunch at the office, meeting them at events, or by having one-on-one meetings over lunch with board members. For instance, one intern this summer wants to work with professional baseball teams, so Dr. Tim Elmore connected him with a professional from the Atlanta Braves.

While I am not certain what lies ahead for life after graduation, Growing Leaders has certainly set me up for success with all of the contacts that I made this summer. I respect that instead of being threatened by other connections, Growing Leaders encouraged us interns to cultivate new relationships. Any student looking for an internship should also find a company that promotes networking.

  1. I got as much value as I brought.

I am proud to say that throughout my summer, I was able to add value to Growing Leaders, specifically within The Growing Leaders Foundation. In preparation for this experience, I read a blog on how to become the ‘best intern.’ The last tip was to become a key player in the office, to the point that when you leave, the company feels your absence. I would like to believe that happened this summer, but I am certain that I have felt the absence of Growing Leaders since returning to school.

The culture that Growing Leaders has crafted is unbelievable. Instead of leaving this summer drained and overworked, I feel more prepared for school than ever. This is because of the amount of value this internship provided. For instance, each Monday, everyone allots two hours for ‘lunch & learn.’ This is a time when the entire office gathers around a conference table to eat lunch (that is provided from a stocked kitchen) together in community, catch up, hear a book report given by a staff member, and have a teaching from Dr. Elmore. Each week, I walked away from our conference room with a full head and a warm heart. Can you imagine a place where the CEO of a company spends at minimum two hours each week with the interns? I couldn’t either until this summer.

In conclusion, I would encourage any college student to search for an internship. This experience has grown me professionally, personally, and spiritually. I have gotten a glimpse of what it looks like to transition from backpack to briefcase, and because of that, I feel more prepared for life after graduation. Also, I encourage each student to be selective. Do your research, apply for as many internships as you can, and during interviews, ask questions. I did, and I am grateful.


Know anyone who might enjoy a Spring 2015 Internship at Growing Leaders? It begins this upcoming January and ends in May. The deadline to apply is October 1. Have them fill out the simple form on our site: www.GrowingLeaders.com/internships


Lies We Tell Our Kids

August 28, 2014 — 1 Comment

My friend Greg Doss is an educator. He recently told me about Annie, a high school student who was ranked among the top five in her class. She always wanted to know who was ranked above her and how they could possibly be taking more A.P. classes than she was. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Annie never received a grade below an “A.” If she ever did, she’d approach her teacher and get permission to re-submit the assignment. It always worked. Annie won awards and attended the Governor’s Honor Program in her state. Her GPA continued to climb. She told Greg that if she ever got a “B” on any project, she’d be devastated.


After graduation, Annie soon learned that post-secondary education is a completely different story. Upon receiving one of her first assignments back, she discovered she had failed it. Annie was shocked. Surely there must be some misunderstanding. She waited until after class to approach the instructor and negotiate. Politely, she asked if she could re-do the assignment. The professor’s reply was pointed: “This is college, not high school. There are no second chances. This is the real world.”

As she spoke to my friend, Greg, Annie was devastated. Her shock turned to grief, and then to anger. But her anger wasn’t directed at her college professor. She told Greg she was upset with the high school culture that “allowed us to keep doing an assignment until we got the grade we wanted.”

For the first time in her life, she had to adapt to the system, rather than the system adapting to her. Annie’s first year was a struggle and she did receive her first “B.”

Like many other adolescents, Annie feels lied to.

Why We Do It?

I recognize what you might be thinking. “Me? I would never lie to my children or my students or my young employees. I am an honest person.”

You think so?

Lying to our kids is rampant in our nation. It happens for a variety of reasons:

• Because we’re insecure. Telling the truth, even gently, requires a deep level of emotional security. The kid we tell the truth to may reject us or may not like us enough to confide in us. Our need to be liked cannot be allowed to eclipse our pursuit of our children’s best interests.

• Because speaking the truth takes time and work. There may be only one truth, but many possible ways to “spin” an issue. Sometimes we lie because it gets us out of a jam. We can’t handle the hassle. At times the lie just seems to make things easier.

• Because the truth can be painful. The truth can hurt and be much more painful than a charming lie, at least in the short run. To most of us, pain feels like an enemy. In the name of peace and harmony, we become “spin doctors.” We so want our kids to be happy, we sacrifice the truth in order to medicate the moment.

• Because facing the truth makes us responsible. Lies sometimes let us off the hook. They allow us to pass the blame to someone else, or avoid facing something we’d rather not acknowledge. Often we’d rather trade in long-term consequences for short-term benefits.

• Because we’ve lost sight of the truth ourselves. We Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers who are raising the next generation have our own set of misconceptions that can affect our ability to be truthful. Sometimes we tell lies because we believe them too.

The Problem with Distortion

I recognize I should probably use a euphemism for the word, “lie.” It sounds so wrong. So harsh. We could replace the word, “lie” by simply calling what we do—distorting the truth. We want to gently introduce reality to our kids, so we withhold some of the truth. Whatever we call it, we still cause long-term problems doing it. When we lie to our kids or distort things for them, disillusionment will follow the dreams that we helped them create—dreams that don’t match their gifts. Consider how it leads to wrong conclusions:

  • When we say they’re smart . . . they assume school should require little effort.
  • When we suggest they’re “amazing” . . . they wonder why everyone doesn’t adore them and want to be around them.
  • When we tell them they’re gifted . . . they get confused that people won’t pay big money for their talent.
  • When we say they’re awesome at their sport . . . they don’t understand why talent scouts don’t recruit them.

We’ve actually developed a system that automatically sends mixed signals to kids as they mature. Parents drive a car with bumper stickers that say: “My Kid Is Awesome. My Child Is Super Kid of the Month. My Kid Is an Honor Student. I even saw a bumper sticker that said: “My Kid Is Better than Your Kid.” We subtly send them the message: “You’re incredible. Just be nice. Stay within the boundaries and you’ll be rewarded.” Then we place them in institutions that are industrialized, where if they simply follow the rules, keep their nose clean, make a decent grade and follow the advice of the career guidance counselor—their dreams should work out fine.

Uh, no. Not so much anymore.

Literary editor Rebecca Chapman was quoted in the New York Times: “My whole life, I had been doing everything everyone told me. I went to the right school. I got really good grades. I got all the internships. Then, I couldn’t do anything.”

What she’s saying is—she’d been handed the assumption that if you just do what the system tells you to do, it will all work out OK. That’s not necessary true; it’s certainly not guaranteed. Not in this economy. And our kids—the ones we love so much—deserve to know the truth.


P.S. Today’s post is an excerpt from my new book 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid.
If you’d like to know more about it, Click Here!


I just dropped my son off at college, as a transfer student, in California. He studied for two years at a local community college and is now off to finish his degree. What’s interesting is, he’s heading out just as many college boards are contemplating their futures. Some educational experts predict loads of universities won’t be around in twenty years. Many four-year institutions will not make it beyond the next four years. Have you looked at the numbers?

photo credit: Christopher Chan via photopin cc

photo credit: Christopher Chan via photopin cc

The business model for many universities (at least the ones that aren’t endowed) is antiquated. Now that millions of parents and potential students are questioning the value of tuition costs, some schools can’t convince a 21st century “hacker” of education to attend. In fact, as I look at many colleges today, I see the newspaper industry ten years ago. Newspapers were once deemed indestructible. Then the Internet came along and took away their classified business. But the problem was bigger than the fact that their classifieds disappeared. They had accumulated huge debt and had overinvested in physical assets that could not adapt to the new, digital marketplace.When revenue fell, the debt was still there — as were all the buildings they’d purchased, presses they’d bought, and acquisitions they’d made. Everything had declined in value, but the debt accumulated to pay for it all never diminished. Sadly for them, people had found a more convenient (even free) way to get the news.

Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban commented, “For the smart student who cares about getting their money’s worth from college, the days of one school for four years are over. The days of taking on big debt (to the tune of ONE TRILLION DOLLARS as of today) are gone. Going to a four year school is supposed to be the foundation from which you create a future, not the transaction that crushes everything you had hoped to do because you have more debt than you could possibly pay off in 10 years. It makes no sense. Which in turn means that four-year schools that refuse to LOWER their tuition are going to see their enrollment numbers decline. It just doesn’t make sense to pay top dollar for Introduction to Accounting, Psychology 101, etc.”

How Should Colleges Respond to Current Students?

If I am right about this, colleges must make a big paradigm shift. First, arrogance must be thrown out the window. Arrogance put thousands of antiquated businesses and CEOs out of business. Schools must find a new way to reach their goal of educating a new population of students in critical thinking, career skills, philosophy of life and liberal arts. Let me suggest some initial steps:

  1. Interview or survey thousands of students. I am serious. Get a big cross-section of adolescents and twenty-somethings to tell you what they’re after. I realize you have answers to questions they don’t even know to ask, but start with where they are.
  1. Rethink the “how” as well as the “what.” Not only do I believe that courses need to be evaluated in colleges, I believe the way they are delivered needs to be changed. And I’m not just speaking about out-dated pedagogy — I’m talking about new systems of digital delivery.
  1. Get extremely practical. Employers are begging for schools to equip graduates in emotional intelligence, soft skills, social intelligence, etiquette, and even how to conduct oneself in the professional world. I realize a liberal arts degree has not been traditionally about practical skills, but we must rethink this.
  1. Differentiate yourself. Because competition for career preparation is stiff, figure out a way to approach students in a meaningful way that others aren’t — establishing coaching or mentoring relationships, life planning, life skills, etc.
  1. Help students prepare a college value plan. What classes should they take online to enable them to get the most credits for the least cost? What classes are you going to take at a local, low-cost school so you can get additional credits at the lowest cost?

The smart high school grad no longer just picks a school, borrows money and wings it.Are you ready for them? What else do you believe colleges must do to stay relevant?

Help students successfully transition from high school to college and college to career with:

Habitudes® for the Journey: The Art of Navigating Transitions


Rejection Therapy

Do you see what I’m seeing among college students today? As I labor to develop young leaders, I’m finding that an increasing number of them shrink from stepping into leadership positions because they’re afraid of the rejection they could face as a result. For instance, many claim they don’t want to serve as a Resident Advisor in a dorm because they’d have to take so many “hits” from their peers on the floor. The fear of rejection has always existed, but today… it appears to be on steroids. That’s why I recommend “Rejection Therapy” for leaders.

photo credit: Daniel Kulinski via photopin cc

photo credit: Daniel Kulinski via photopin cc

Jia Jiang is a social entrepreneur from China. As a young professional, he’d dreamed of leading a start-up company, and after working at a Fortune 500 company for six years, he knew it was time to take a risk. He knew that if he stepped out of his comfort zone and took this next career step, he’d have to become comfortable with rejection. He was afraid; like all if us, he hated rejection. So he initiated something he called “Rejection Therapy.”

Over the course of 100 days, Mr. Jiang made all kinds of crazy requests from people, knowing that they would reject it. He called it “100 Days of Rejection.” Just like lifting weights, Jia hoped that consistently facing rejection would help him grow stronger and, potentially, desensitize him to the fear of rejection. The experiment was hilarious. Mr. Jiang traveled around to neighborhoods, stores, and restaurants, asking for things like:

  1. Will you let me have a “hamburger refill” at a fast food restaurant?
  2. Can I serve as a live mannequin for Abercrombie and Fitch?
  3. Would you let me give a weather forecast on live TV?
  4. Mind if I make an announcement on a Southwest flight?
  5. Would you allow me to play soccer in your backyard? (He got a “yes”!)

Making these crazy requests did the trick. After asking dozens of people for outrageous wishes (and getting some to say yes), Jia Jiang won the battle over his fear of rejection. But it was like a workout — he lifted the weights of “fear” until he was no longer overwhelmed. He said later, “The only thing standing between me and my dream… is me.”

A Take Away for Leaders

Many of us today need to initiate the same kind of therapy. Leaders must spot their fears or areas where they procrastinate and “run to the roar.” We must create a workout to enable us to overcome our apprehension. For some, like Mr. Jiang, it might be the fear of rejection. For others, it’s the labor of strategic planning, or the art of confrontation, or the necessary shift when we move from a “doer” to a “delegator.” In the same way our muscles develop or atrophy based on how much they’re used, our social, emotional and intellectual muscles do much the same thing. My question for you is this: In what area of fear do you need to create a therapy?

A Take Away for Your Students

Our second application has to do with the young people we lead. Today’s students have an enlarged level of fear when it comes to rejection. They’re a population of students who’ve grown up quantifying approval: they draw their self-worth from how many “likes” they get on Facebook, how many followers they have or re-tweets they get on Twitter, how many “shares” their latest blog gets, or how many views they get for the YouTube video they posted. It’s no wonder an increasing amount struggle with not being liked, loved or valued. We live in a culture that’s driven by consensus. Technology makes it too easy for kids to be targets if they don’t get it.

As we develop leaders, we must be intentional about this kind of “therapy”. We must enable them to take a stand, even if it means standing alone on an issue they believe to be right. Sometimes justice isn’t popular. We must equip them to think critically and not just follow the crowd on issues. A decreasing number of kids think beyond the superficial, so we must incentivize them to read deeply, beyond texts or tweets that contain 140 characters or less. My question for you is: What kind of workout or therapy should you invite your students to enter?

The Fear of Rejection

I happen to believe the fear of rejection looms far too high in the students we lead. I am not suggesting we try to help them to like rejection—only a sadistic person does that. What I am saying is that we must help them build personal convictions to lead well, even when their direction is not popular or they’re un-liked by friends. Even if they’re “de-friended” on social media or — may I say it — rejected. In the words of Jia Jiang:

  • I must become comfortable with people saying “no” to me.
  • I must believe that rejection is universal. All of us face it at some time.
  • I must understand that rejection is really only an opinion.
  • I must never be afraid to “ask” others to commit to a goal with me.
  • I must remember that avoiding rejection from others might just mean I’m rejecting myself or my dreams. I must not do that.

Too many people avoid vocational tasks (like sales or phone calls), not because we lack people skills, but because we are paralyzed by the fear of rejection. I say, let’s launch some Rejection Therapy and push through it.


Looking to develop leadership skills in students? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


If you have your ear to the ground at all these days, you’ve heard of the significance of stories among students. Narrative has replaced so many forms of argument and persuasion. I wonder, however, if you’ve ever discovered why? Further, have you read how telling stories actually cultivates empathy in students?

college students

A new neuroscience study may explain why telling stories builds empathy and why, when you tell a good one, people act as if they’re watching it unfold before them.

A team of scientists at Princeton, led by Uri Hasson, had a woman tell a story while in an MRI scanner. Functional MRI scans detect brain activity by monitoring blood flow. When a brain region is active, it needs more blood to provide oxygen and nutrients; as a result, the active regions light up on a computer screen. They recorded her story on a computer and monitored her brain activity as she spoke. She did this twice, once in English and once in Russian (she was fluent in both languages). They then had a group of volunteers listen to the stories through headphones while they had their brains scanned. All of the volunteers spoke English, but none understood Russian. After the volunteers heard the story, Hasson asked them some questions to see how much of each story they understood.

As the woman spoke in English, the listeners understood her story and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula (a region of the brain linked to emotion) the listeners did as well. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts or emotions in them. No such activity showed up when she spoke Russian, which they didn’t understand.

The study also showed that the more listeners understood the story, the more their brain activity dovetailed with the speaker’s. When you listen to and understand stories, you experience the exact same brain pattern as the person telling them. It’s as if you are experiencing the story yourself.

Putting this research to work

The fact is, our brains know little difference between a real experience and an imagined one — the same impact on the brain happens. That’s how powerful our brains are. Storytelling, to a degree, can provide instruction closer to a real-life experience than a didactic lecture full of statistics. Here are some simple suggestions on how to capitalize on storytelling as you teach or lead students:

  1. Choose to insert stories in your content. To really engage with you, students need a point for their head and a picture for their heart.
  2. Clarify the point of your story in your mind. Even if it is only to make them question something, know where you’re going so you don’t wander.
  3. Include important details in the story. The more specific you are, the more students can step into the shoes of those in the story. Make it real.
  4. Use colorful adjectives and verbs. Make the story come alive, describing how something felt, smelled, looked or sounded. Help them feel, not just think.
  5. Involve some conflict. We love movies because good ones always center on a great conflict. Leverage this as the story unfolds.

When you tell a story to your students, you can transfer experiences directly to their brain. They feel what you feel. They empathize. What’s more, when communicating most effectively, you can get a group of listeners’ brains to synchronize their activity. They engage. As you relate someone’s desires through a story, they become the desires of the audience. When trouble develops, they gasp in unison, and when desires are fulfilled, they smile together.

For as long as you’ve got your audience’s attention, they’re in your mind. When you hear a good story, you develop empathy with the teller because you experience the events for yourself. This makes sense. Stories should be powerful; they helped us share information long ago, before we had a written language. Let’s use them well.

Help students successfully transition from high school to college and college to career with:

Habitudes® for the Journey: The Art of Navigating Transitions