August 21, 2017
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‘Don’t be embarrassed to try hard in school,’ and other advice to our younger selves

If you could talk to your middle school or high school self, what would you say?

Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

What advice would you give to your younger self? At this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, Allstate asked participants—some of today’s most innovative thinkers and creators—what wisdom they could have used in their youth. “Trust your gut,” “Don’t be afraid to fail,” and “Ask questions” were just a few of their answers.

As students start to head back to school this month, we decided to ask the same questions of our very own experts—the founders, CEOs, and community leaders who have contributed essays to The Renewal Project. (The Renewal Project is made possible by Allstate.)

Earlier this month, we heard from Liz Forester of the Cleveland nonprofit DigitalC and Jimmy Chen, the founder and CEO of the social impact startup Propel. Last week, we heard from CEOs Reshma Saujani of the national nonprofit Girls Who Code and Stephen Garten of an innovative program called Charity Charge.

In this final segment we hear from a teacher who mentors other teachers of color across the country and an urban planner who’s working to make Atlanta a place that all residents can enjoy.

Embrace who you are

Jason Terrell is the co-founder and executive director of Profound Gentlemen, an organization that is building a network to support male teachers of color who will go on to have a profound impact on their students, especially boys of color. His advice is to his middle school self:

    Jason, I hope you’re listening closely, knowing you, probably not, but I want to leave you with three nuggets of advice:

    • Embrace who you are, your community, and your family. Understand that your community is complex, it has beauty and pain; you will experience both.
    • Don’t be embarrassed to try hard in school—yes, you can still listen to Ludacris, wear FUBU, and keep your same friends. In fact, push yourself and them to be better young men.
    • Above all, please take your books home; it’s ok to carry books. You secretly love to read anyway.
    • P.S.: The lawn service you started to make extra money was a great idea. Trust your gut, you’ll help create something amazing one day!!!

Be patient

Jodi Mansbach is an urban planner and developer in Atlanta who chairs Chattahoochee NOW, a regional initiative to create awareness of and access to 53 miles of the Chattahoochee River. She writes that her professional successes are the result of a winding journey:

    Be patient with yourself. I knew my life would not reveal itself in a straight line, but I worried that the changes in direction (degrees, jobs, moves, etc.) that I took along the way were only due to a lack of discipline or confidence on my part. I now realize that those turns were not as sharp as they seemed at the time and were only curves in the road—curves that now make sense and have made life so much more interesting!

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project is an effort by Allstate to highlight, support, and celebrate ordinary people creating extraordinary community renewal.