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The Hero on a Mission

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| “Nothing is as compelling as a hero on a mission. Not only can you begin to make your community better now (instead of waiting until you are older), but it is the mission that makes you great.

It is so easy to 'drift' through life.

Especially for teens. Middle school and high school is a 24/7, 365days/year battle to not be embarrassed. That means trying to fit in. But that is also a ticket to high anxiety and insecurity, and low self-efficacy.

Some people choose a different path. Normal, everyday teens can become truly great. What makes them great? They choose a mission.

When a core value of yours is violated, choose to step up and lead the charge to improve the world by righting that wrong.

Nothing is as compelling as a hero on a mission.


  • The key reason why you must become a hero on a mission
  • Why drifting through life will not help you get very far
  • A mindset to avoid if you want to succeed with your studies (and in life)
  • Why you should start living a life of a meaningful purpose now, no matter your age
  • How being a hero on a mission can get you through challenging & stressful times
  • A few guiding questions to help you discover how far away you are from becoming a hero on a mission

     And so much more.


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– Steve Gardner, Founder

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Welcome back to season two of Ivy League Prep. Academy podcast, equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back. High-performing teens believe that they are on a mission. Most of these teenagers don't see themselves as anything special. They believe that they're normal. Most high-performing teens, the truly high-performing teens that I've seen at Harvard and at other top schools. These are people who consider themselves to be ordinary people but who either understand unconsciously or consciously and deliberately. They understand that the mission is what makes you great. You are just as worthy of the spot in your dream college as anyone else. But if you are on a mission, if you have a purpose, you want to fix something or change something about your community. That is just not right. That is what makes you great.

As a high school teacher, I have seen so many examples of students who just kind of drift in life. A lot of these students, these teenagers, look to their peers and look to their community to decide what to do each day. They look around and try to just go with the flow, literally. That's a phrase. Going with the flow is the same as drifting with the flow. And these are students, these are human beings, teenagers, who decide to drift through life instead of focusing on a mission and pursuing that mission.

And the interesting thing is a lot of these students are not average students or below average students. They're not struggling students. A lot of these students who still go with the flow and drift through life are the top performers, but they believe that their role right now is to prepare. And I can't blame them; who could possibly blame them if they've been told by their teachers or their parents? In, say, junior high, you need to work really, really hard because high school is coming. At that point, junior high school is all about preparing for another day in the future when life begins to count for real. And then through high school, new teachers continue to say you need to work really, really hard because college is coming. That mindset that I need to prepare because life is about to begin. The things that I do, the things that I think, and the things that I care about are about to matter in the world. That's not correct. That mindset is not mission-driven. It is not purpose driven. It is a drifting mindset, but I know that some students have ambitions to attend universities that are absolutely elite.

I can say from my experience at Harvard that the students that I worked with, the students that I studied with. These are people who had a mission before they began university. They didn't spend junior high and high school preparing for some other day when life would begin to matter. They began living their lives much earlier on because they had a purpose, they had a mission, and they wanted to make a change. I think it's really important for you to understand, even now as a 13-year-old, a 14-year-old, fifteen, sixteen, however old you are, if you're listening to this podcast for you to understand that now is a great time for you to develop your purpose to live your purpose and to be the hero on a mission.

First of all, the purpose is essential to our well-being. It buffers us against challenges and provides a measure of stability in our lives. It will help you make decisions. Think about it. A mission helps you answer the question, given the finite nature of money, time, energy, et cetera, the fact that there is scarcity in all of these ways in my life, which experiences should I invest my time and energy in, and which life experiences? Let's pretend that this is all that we can just purchase our experiences with money. Which ones do you want to buy? How do you choose? A purpose, a mission helps you understand what things are important to you and which things are not. The better you understand yourself, the easier it is to choose where to invest your time and energy. Also, the more you understand who you are and what your mission is, the less you're going to let things upset you along the way. In an earlier podcast, I talked about the upside of stress. If you haven't listened to that episode, I highly encourage you to do. So. It is episode nine from season two, and it's called why stress makes you better or how stress makes you better.

Anyway, in that episode, I talk about a study that was done with over 60,000 people, where people were asked how stressed out they were, those who were the most stressed out in the world among these 60,000 people. We're also the most likely to have died over the next eight years. However, that is only true if they also believe that stress is bad for them. Meanwhile, inside that same group of the most stressed out of everyone, there were also others who believed that their stress was just normal. It's a normal part of life. Or they believe that their stress represented, meaning that they were stressed out because they were fighting for something they cared about. They were on a mission. They were doing something important, and guess what? Those people were the healthiest of everyone; even though they were the most stressed out, they were also the healthiest; being the hero on a mission may feel stressful at times and will be difficult for sure.

When you challenge yourself, you will experience resistance, but that resistance is what helps you grow. That's what makes you stronger and continue to fight in spite of the resistance. It is what puts you on a mission. A study by Cornell professor Anthony burrows might help us explain why stress just doesn't feel so debilitating for those people who are purpose-driven and who feel like they are on a mission. He did a study where he separated two groups of people and asked both groups to hike up a high hill. But before they did that, half of these people wrote about a movie that they had just watched, and the other half wrote about their mission and why their mission was important. Once they reached the top of the hill, they rated how steep the hill was and how much effort it took to get to the top. And that was very interesting because, among those people who had just written about the most recent movie that they watched, there was a very high correlation between how steeply they rated the hill and how much effort they estimated it required to get to the top.

Meanwhile, the people who had written about their missions who were focused on their mission or their purpose were accurate about how steep they believed the hill was. But they did not report believing that it required very much energy. There was a low correlation between the energy required and the steepness of the hill. Fascinating. Doctor burros believe that's because these people are not so focused on the here. And now they're focused on the long game. They're playing a different game than those who are not purpose-driven or not mission-driven. And that simply makes them more resistant to stress. It simply enables them to perform at a higher level. I also found it fascinating that he looked into goal setting as well and discovered that goal setting does not have that same effect. There are a lot of studies that support this and that support other ideas about how important it is to be on a mission and to live your mission.

One study by Tyler Stillman showed that mission-driven people have a higher likability rating and people find that very attractive. So being a hero on a mission actually makes you more attractive to people around you. So what about you? Do you believe that you are a hero on a mission? Are you living your life in this purpose-driven way? Let me ask you just a few questions and help you gauge where you're at one. Do you feel like your life has a clear direction? Too? Do you feel like your daily activities are important? Three, do you feel like you are engaged in your daily activities? In other words, do you wake up with anticipation for the day ahead?

Now we could ask a whole bunch of other questions as well, but I think just these few questions already get to the core of what it is to be a hero on a mission. And I want you to notice that there is almost no objective data about these questions or their answers; whether or not you have a mission that drives you is completely up to you. Doctor bro has gone on beyond that research. He's shown connections between having a sense of purpose and having greater health, having more wealth, on average, having better friendships and larger, more meaningful social circles. He believes that a lot of this is because people with a mission are not myopic or not hyper-focused on just what is directly in front of them right now at this moment, they're not distracted as easily, and they're not thrown off course as easily, because they are playing the long game.

As an educator who now works full-time with teenagers in the Ivy League challenge, I can tell you that perhaps there is nothing as compelling as a hero on a mission. I have seen teenagers do absolutely amazing things. The beautiful thing is that once you decide that you're going to live a purpose-driven life, that today is the time to live, not the time to prepare for some other time, that life is worth living right now, and you don't need to wait until college or after college to make your impact and to be your best self.

Once you begin to buy into this mindset, everything changes, I have seen. Teens move from that total drifting state of going with the flow and trying to gauge whether or not they're doing well, whether or not they're okay as human beings. Based on how they fit in at school, I've seen students shift from that perspective into the extreme self-confidence that comes when you begin rallying people and fighting for your mission. Not only does this build confidence. It also builds your leadership skills. It builds your problem, solving yourself efficacy, and your metacognition. It really helps develop you as a whole person. And it's a game changer for you academically. And socially. And in every other way, no wonder that elite universities are looking for people who already live their life with this mindset. They're looking for teenagers who have already adopted this mindset rather than looking for teenagers who they hope, at some time in the future, will begin to make an impact in their world.

Even at 13 or 14 years old, you can begin to engage in life in this way as the hero on a mission. High-performing teenagers believe that they are on a mission, and they also understand that they are normal human beings. They're not special, and they're not geniuses; they're not superman, a wonder woman; they are normal human beings; they are typical teenagers. But it is the mission that makes them great. You are just as worthy of the spot in your dream college as anyone else. It is the mission that you fight for, that you give yourself to, that is going to make you stand out and is going to help you get in. That is what makes you great.


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