Back to Podcast Index →

Why working with teens makes me more optimistic

Listen in to learn where my confidence comes from.

I recently overheard a conversation that inspired me to set the record straight.

This conversation was about how difficult it is to lead new employees in the workplace, because these young adults are too selfish, too self-absorbed, too lazy, too... whatever.

But I have worked with teens all day, every day, for a loooong time.

And the longer I work with these amazing humans, the more optimistic I am for the future of this planet. Tomorrow's leaders are in high school right now, and I am privileged to be able to work with them full time.

This generation is exceptionally diligent, focused on equity and fairness, and is going to lead the planet to a better future.


Ready for the Ivy League Challenge?


Take the Challenge


Too many people are overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated about college admissions prep. I created this podcast to help you build a standout college profile and boost your confidence. Enjoy!

– Steve Gardner, Founder

Listen to my podcast

Listen to other podcasts 

Success Mindset

The right mindset can ensure your success. Listen to begin building your own winning mindset now. 

Start listening

Build Your Confidence 

When everyone else is trying to fit in or go with the flow, learn how you can develop the confidence you need to blaze your own successful path. 

Start listening

Reduce Stress & Anxiety 

Stories, research, real-life examples... Listen to learn how my Harvard peers and I faced stress and overwhelm. 

Start listening

How to Stand Out 

Hard work and great test scores are not enough- but what kind of admissions prep activities will help you get in? It's not what you think... 

Start listening

Admissions Strategy 

Essays, rec. letters, curriculum choices, college visits, research, test scores, and more. Don't wear yourself out with a bad strategy.  

Start listening

Succeed In High School 

The best college prep will ensure you thrive in middle school & high school. Don't settle for stressful, unhelpful college prep advice. 

Start listening

Would you like to be notified when new episodes are launched in your favorite category?

Yes, sign me up



Welcome back to season two of the 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.

I was in a long taxi yesterday, and very quickly the conversation turned to brand new employees. So today's teenagers basically these are brand new graduates from university, maybe 21, 22, 23 years old, entering into the workforce. And I was a little bit discouraged to hear that.

The conversation was about how difficult it is to lead the next generation of workers, how difficult this generation is, because they don't care about a job well done. They don't show up on time. They don't expect to need to be there.

They don't expect to need to participate in meetings or whatever, an entire conversation about how difficult and how pessimistic these two individuals are because of how difficult the next generation of workers are to work with. I've worked with a lot of teens. I've been working with teens for a really long time.

And as I work with teens all day, every day, I am becoming more and more optimistic over time. I want to say as loudly and clearly as my voice can, the future of our planet is in good hands. Over these next ten years, there will be disruption.

I would venture to say that in ten years, we may not even recognize what university is like, let alone the job field. Between the disruptors that we've already seen and the disruption tools that are coming very quickly, I think university education might change dramatically. There will be disruption over the next ten years.

And you know what? Today's teenagers were born in about 2008 or its aftermath. These teens are used to disruption. They were literally born in the Great Recession, and they have lived through this entire time period.

And Chat GPT is if you're listening to this when this podcast goes out, it's a brand new thing that everyone's talking about, this AI powered writing tool that can program it can do all sorts of things right, but it's just the latest tool. There are lots of tools that have created incredible disruption just depending on which field you're in. There are some people who worked very hard and took on a whole lot of graduate school debt in order to be able to program computers or to design things on the computer or whatever.

And then in an instant, a new computer program comes out that actually designs those things better than a human can do, and they're out of a job. It's easier to code websites now. It's easier to find answers to questions.

It's easier to design things with canva and other tools. There are a tremendous amount of tools that have already disrupted entire industries that used to be very healthy, and those tools are continuing. But I will argue those who are willing to actually figure out what they care most about and then pursue those things with more diligence are going to be the change agents in the world.

All right? And so these tools that we see that feel like disruptive forces are only going to empower that group of people. And to be clear, I'm talking about those who are willing to pursue the things they care about most, right, with more diligence than everyone else. Chat GPT is fantastic at guessing the next word in a series of words to communicate a thought.

And it's guessing those words based on the average answers that average people might say throughout the planet, or at least across the Internet, wherever it's combing its data from. But Chat GPT is not willing or able to care about something to the point that they pursue that thing with enough diligence to be a thought leader, to come up with new ideas and new connections between old ideas. I think that it's important to understand that resources by themselves do not equal wealth.

Think about for just a second oil. Everyone understands that oil is wealth, right? It's a resource. And if you have more oil, then your car can travel longer.

But there's something else to that, isn't there? It's not just the oil that's valuable. What you want is not a barrel of oil. You want to be able to get in your car from one spot to another.

And so if you have a car that travels 100 miles per gallon against a car that travels 10 miles per gallon, then the resource of gasoline, refined gasoline, goes much further in one tool, in one car than the other. And so the actual wealth is not the resource itself. It's the resource plus the ability to take advantage of that resource.

And usually that's technology. Resources multiplied by technology equals wealth. This is the same idea as the fact that experience does not equal wisdom.

Just like resources do not equal wealth. Experience does not lead to wisdom necessarily. There are plenty of people who grow older and that's it.

They do not grow wiser too. In order for experience to lead to wisdom, we have to add reflection. And so if you have an experience and then you multiply that experience by the reflection on that experience, if you are thoughtful about it, if you reflect on it, then that's going to lead to wisdom.

Just the same way that resources multiplied by the tool that actually takes advantage of those resources. Usually technology is going to lead to wealth. So why do I say, after kind of this brief introduction, why do I say that I'm more optimistic than ever before? Why is it that I'm so confident that the future of the planet is in good hands? It's because I have seen the force of teens who have aligned themselves with their core values, right? These are people who care about kindness, about fairness or equity.

They have compassion. They care about taking care of the planet. They care about what is right.

The teenagers that I see, they truly care about kindness, about taking care of people who are weaker and are at a disadvantage because of the way that society has evolved, right? And they are inspiring to me. Absolutely, 100% unequivocally inspiring to me. Now, those of you who are listening in, if you've been listening to me for a long time, you know that I talk about teenagers and core values and community impact all the time.

That's literally what I do 24/7 in my program, the Ivy League Challenge, I teach teens to figure out their core values and then parlay that into community impact. That's extremely meaningful. If you're listening to this for the first time and you're not really familiar with who I am, one of the reasons why I am so optimistic is because I've seen how quickly teenagers can go from just looking around and trying to fit in, following whoever's doing whatever around them, and they can shift very quickly to aligning with their core values.

And I will say that the adults in the room or those adults listening in, if you're a teacher, you're a guidance counselor, you're a parent or a mentor, we've got a lot that we could do better around this. Because as children become teenagers, what's the message that we send to them over and over and over again? Right? You better work really, really hard because middle school is not going to be so easy. It's not going to be so fun like elementary school, you better work hard now and prepare.

Middle school is about to begin. And then you get to middle school and it's, you better work really, really hard because high school is coming, and then you better work really hard because college is coming. And these children and then preteens and teenagers, what's the message that we're sending them? We're sending the message that you better work really, really hard because life is about to begin.

Like, something important is about to start. Right now is the preparation stage, and soon the important stuff begins. So prepare now.

I teach my teens something differently. I encourage every adult listening to me to shift their perspective ever so slightly, because you know full well that when these high school kids get to college, what's going to happen? They're going to hear the exact same message, just slightly reformed, right? Instead of, you better work really, really hard because high school is coming or because college is coming now, it's going to be, you better work really, really hard because your first job is coming and you start that first job. And if you work really, really hard, you can get your first promotion, your first management position, and people just keep working really, really hard, hoping that the preparation that they're putting in now is going to be enough so that when life matters, they'll be ready for it.

And the irony is that type of preparation acting as if life hasn't really begun yet, but it's about to begin. So we better prepare hard now. It's not going to prepare us to take advantage of all the opportunities that exist all around us all the time and it's not going to prepare us to solve the problems on this planet.

What does prepare us is saying hold on, life doesn't begin when you get to college. Life doesn't begin when you graduate from college. Life doesn't begin over the next corner.

Life begins when you figure out your core values, because that's when you can begin to align your choices with those core values. And that is what empowers that's the first step in empowering someone to actually develop the skills, the mindset and the vision to be able to take advantage of opportunities that exist around them or to identify problems that need to be solved and to have the gumption to go and work to solve those problems. And so I am more optimistic than I've ever been before because in my program I work with students to teach them to find their core values and then to align themselves with those core values in such a way that they're making a positive impact on their community.

The optimism comes from the fact that these teens love it, they light up. You should see the change in confidence level and excitement as they shift from doing activities that they think they're supposed to do so that they can stand out to some future admissions officer that they've never heard of or met instead of doing all these activities that they've heard are what admissions officers are quote unquote looking for. Drop them all and start aligning your daily activities with your core values because that is when your daily activities recharge your batteries, they recharge your soul and get you excited for the day and you have plenty of battery left over to do well in your classes that don't necessarily align with those values.

But then you parlay those core values, right? You understand yourself well enough to say, hey, these issues in my society, I'm not okay with those issues, I'm not okay with this problem, let me do what I can today to solve that. And we've seen example after example after example and I just love the fact that we can shift so quickly. Teenagers can shift from you better, work really really hard, stick your head into your books and just focus on outworking, out performing, out achieving everyone else so that you can impress the admissions officers.

Shift away from that into what matters most to you. Let's do that because there are issues that can be solved within those things that matter most to you. And if you begin to solve them, not only do you build your confidence but you're building all the other problem solving skills as well, naturally and in this beautiful way.

And so as you align with those core values. And as you change the way that you interact with your community, the world becomes a better place. And we can all do this.

We can do this together. So, adults within earshot, if you're listening to this podcast, I challenge you to step up. I challenge you to help your teens understand that what matters most to them really matters and that it's okay for them to spend their time doing things that are meaningful to them.

So parents listening in, adults listening in, and teens, as you listen in. That's my challenge for all of us. Let's recognize that the things that matter most to you do matter.

And so we can make time and space for those things. And as we do that begin to solve or work towards solving problems that matter to us, that's when we lead a more meaningful and more exciting life. And that's my encouragement for everyone this week, let's align with our core values so that the future of the planet can be in better hands.

I have every faith and trust in you. Let's do this together.