Three Big Core Challenges


The Personal Challenge – Putting the Identity Puzzle Together

The teen years are where we really start exploring this “who am I?” question.  That identity question doesn’t end after the teen years, as it is a lifelong question, but the most intense focus for most people is as a teenager.   

A big part of the teen heroic journey is leaving your identity as a child behind and  discovering who you are becoming – your gifts, your values, what matters to you, what you like about yourself and what you want to change or develop.  Who am I in the world?  Who am I in my relationships with family, friends, romantic partners, my community, etc.?

It’s Asking the Questions that Matters

The best approach is to relax and be curious – pay attention and talk with others.  The answers will come.  Putting your identity puzzle together takes time – it is a journey and sometimes a long one.  Your sense of identity will grow and evolve.

You Have an Identity in Two Worlds –  the Physical and Digital Worlds

In terms of identity, we now live in a physical world and increasingly in a digital world (internet/social media).


“The Weird Challenge – Finding the fit with others when everyone is changing”

This is often the toughest of the three big challenges because it can just get so weird and unpredictable – and involve such strong emotions and so many people.  The relationship challenge is definitely a rollercoaster experience with lots of ups and downs.  The ups can be wonderful and exciting.  The downs can be confusing, disheartening and depressing. 

Remember, it’s a pretty long journey and you will develop your relationships and your relationship skills over time.  It takes time.  It takes experience.  It takes being resilient.  And it takes courage. 

Lots of Relationships & Skills

  • Relationships with Parents
  • Relationships with Peers
  • Romantic Relationships
  • Sexual Relationships
  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Three Relationship Competencies
  • Communicating out to people
  • Listening effectively
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Networking and Building a Web of Relationships

There are Two Complicating Issues

There are two big complicating issues that make this challenge particularly difficult.

  1. Moving Targets.  You’re changing.  Your friends are changing.  Your parents are changing how they relate to you.  Relationships are about fit and sometimes, because of all the changing going on, it is tough to find a good fit with others.  It’s not because you are lacking – it’s because the fit isn’t there.  Also, where there was a fit and a good relationship, all of a sudden the fit is no longer there as one or both partners change.  This moving target issue is one of the two biggest problems in forming – and keeping – good relationships during the teen years. 
  2. Skills & Experience.  The other big problem is that these new more mature teenage relationships – whether with parents, peers or romantic relationships – require skills and experience that almost no one has when they become a teenager.  Experience – obviously – only comes with experience over time. 


The Foundation Challenge – The Competencies of a Young Adult

This is the third core challenge to go with discovering a young adult identity and building relationships.

  • What do I need to be able to do to succeed as a teenager and as an adult? 
  • What knowledge must I gain, what skills must I develop, what attitude or approach to life must I develop? 
  • How do I do that? 
  • Who can help me?

Note.  This is a challenge where you can have a surprising amount of control over the experience and outcomes.  Building the competencies to be a successful young adult is more straightforward than dealing with the Identity and Relationship challenges – and it’s easier to be the author of the experience.  That’s not to say that it is easy or that it doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it is more within your realm of control. 

There are Twelve Types of Competencies to be Built

And they go beyond school.  This is the exciting part and the scary part.  It’s exciting to see all the competencies you can develop and think about what you might be able to do in life.  It’s also scary because there are so many competencies to develop.

Competencies are Built in Many Places and in Different Ways

Competencies can be developed in school, in families, in the community, on teams/clubs, in faith communities, even in community colleges and universities for high school students.  Some competencies will be developed in classes, some in workshops, some in performing or playing sports, some in volunteering, some in being a productive member of a family and some in jobs. 

You Don’t Have to Master All the Competencies

Some of these competencies you just have to be OK at.  Some you will want to be good at.  A few will be competencies that you really want to master.  Those are choices you will make.  The point is – you can be a successful young adult by being OK at a bunch of these competencies, good at more of them and a master of a few.

Your Trajectory on the Journey is the Key

Being a teenager is a ten-year journey and these competencies are developed over that period of time. 

Some will develop without you’re even being aware of it, but most will require you to “be the author” and take action and commit yourself to get to the competency level you want.  Some competency development will happen because you are in school or on a team, in a club or in relationships.  Many competencies, however, will require some effort by you to figure out where and how to develop them. 

Your Trajectory.  Because there are so many competencies and they develop over a long period of time, the key thing to look at is your trajectory – not how many competencies are left to be developed.  If you are being the author and developing a reasonable number of competencies – to the level you want – then you are on a good trajectory, you are moving down the path, and you can feel good about that and just “hold the course.”    

“Learning to Love the Plateau” – Where Mastery Happens
Developing competencies, particularly getting to the mastery level, does not happen in a straight line with constant improvement.  It usually happens in a rhythm of improvement spurts followed by extended periods on a plateau where improvement doesn’t seem to happen very much.  That requires learning to “love the plateau”, which is one of the keys to life.  That means valuing and focusing on what’s called “right practice” vs. consistent obvious improvement.  It means trusting that, if you continue to work at it, another spurt of improvement will come – although you probably won’t be able to see it coming. 

Essential to “learning to love the plateaus” is dealing with the inevitable failures and disappointments that are part of developing competencies.  They are a natural – and inescapable – part of the process, so the key is learning from them and getting stronger vs. being discouraged or diminished.

Perhaps we will never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal, but the path itself.

George Leonard,