Pack Your Suitcase and Prepare Your Inner Self for the Future

I work with young adults who are busy preparing for high school, college and life.
My work focuses on helping people learn how to adapt, how to bounce back, and how to build resilience.  Resilience is adapting in the face of adversity and stress.  It means you can bounce back from difficult experiences.  Everyone finds that there are both challenges and opportunities in life, and you will need to strengthen your resilience, your ability to adjust and bounce back, so that you will be ready to respond effectively to your challenges and opportunities.

Think of this time in your life as if you are going on a trip.  The trip is your future and you need to pack your suitcase!  Think about all of the things you normally need to put into a suitcase:  clothes, shoes, cosmetics, tooth brush, books, mobile devices, and lots more.  This ‘stuff’ represents the external things that you have accumulated, and want to have with you.  Now imagine that you will pack a second suitcase with the internal parts of you–your emotions, feelings, reactions and thoughts.  The contents of this suitcase are the composite of YOU!  This suitcase will go absolutely everywhere with you, and the contents will help or will hinder your progress. Now you have two suitcases ready for your trip:  external “stuff” and internal “feelings/reactions/capacity to adapt.”

First, let’s think about your external ‘stuff’:   As you go through your daily life, you may decide to change or move around the external ‘stuff.’ A good example is your clothing.  You change your clothing when you wake up and go to class; you change again for sports; you may change again when you are going out with friends.  The clothes that you wear this year may not work in three years.  So, you continuously evaluate your physical ‘stuff.’  It is easy to understand that you will need to add and subtract, pruning your physical items over time.

Second, let’s think about your internal ‘feelings/reactions/capacity to adapt.’   You have developed a way of responding to stressful things that happen to you.  You have also developed patterns of behavior.    Now is the time for you to think about whether or not these patterns work for you, or against you.   You will continue to face stress in the future as you head to college or trade school and again when you begin your career.  Do you manage the way you react to stress like homework, tests, being late for class, or fights with parents or friends? Or does your reaction manage you?  Are you in control, or are your emotional reactions in control?  You can learn how to change your reactions and your behavior.  Instead of yelling or reacting in a way that you don’t like, you can use some of the following tips to help you maintain a healthy internal suitcase:


  1. When stressed take time for some deep breathing exercises.  This will help you to shift your focus.  When you are stressed your breathing gets constricted and shallow; deep breathing helps to increase oxygen!
  2. Discover your best time of day.  Do you have more energy in the morning, afternoon or evening?  You can use that time to do the things that are hardest to do, like studying for a test or writing a paper.
  3. Take breaks.  When working at something that is hard, take a timed 15 minute break.  Take a walk or talk to a friend.  You will come back to the work feeling refreshed and energized.
  4. Set reasonable goals.  Reward yourself when you reach a goal and then set the next one.  Unreasonable goals and expectations can lead to frustration.
  5. Friends are important.  You need people as support systems in your daily life.
  6. Practice self care.  You are in charge of managing and taking care of yourself, and you deserve the very best!   Eat well, get some exercise, and get enough sleep!

I hope that these hints will help you to find your best path.   There will be many interesting opportunities ahead of you. Your current task is to prepare yourself to take advantage of those opportunities.  Keep your mental suitcase packed with those internal items that continue to help you become the best “you” that you can be.  Remain willing to evaluate and discard the internal thoughts and behaviors that are no longer effective.  That is the test of growing and improving!

Written by Antonia Macpherson, LEAD Pittsburgh Board of Directors, for the Pittsburgh Promise IdeaPod Magazine, Spring 2014.