Student Spotlight: Nick Yokum on The Art of Being, Not Just Doing
“I believe that all people want to be kind; a lot of them just don’t know how.” -Houston Kraft
My name is Nick Yochum, and I am a senior at Sumner High School in Sumner, Washington. To be completely honest, for much of my life, this quote was a perfect description of who I was as a person. I had spent much of my time stuck in a place where I wanted so badly to be a kind, selfless, and humble person, but just didn’t have the skills to do so.
During my Sophomore year of high school however, I began something called the Character Card Goal Setting Process. To explain it simply, this process involves setting weekly goals designed to practice growing one's character. At Sumner High, we set goals around the Eight Essentials: Patience, Kindness, Honesty, Respectfulness, Selflessness, Humility, Forgiveness, and Commitment.
These weekly character goal-setting meetings were something that was started by John Norlin, Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, in 2005 and have been a tradition ever since.
There are numerous methods that can be used to set goals, and I personally have practiced the following two styles for goal setting in the past three years.
40 Day Character Dare
One effective process I’ve utilized in the past is a tool called the 40 Day Character Dare. This tool is a set of 40 CharacterDares, the idea is to do 1 Dare per day for 40 school days.
Though it doesn’t involve setting goals, this process is very helpful when first starting out as it provides examples for ways in which to structure goals, as well as allows you to practice the Eight Essentials for over a month before ever needing to set your own character goal.
I have found this tool to be a high-quality base to start the Character Goal Process. CharacterDares are now built into both the CharacterStrong Leadership Curriculum and the CharacterStrong Advisory Curricula and they even have a Staff CharacterDare with over 40 weeks of staff-centered Dares within the CharacterStrong Gym.
Weekly Goal Stems
The main process I have utilized over the past 3 years is setting weekly character goals based on weekly goal stems from our Character Card Goal Setting Meetings.
For example, last year during a meeting I talked about how I was doing a poor job of being kind and selfless to my peers because I was too concerned that I would be looked at differently by others in my classes. I explained how I was avoiding being the authentic version of myself and wouldn’t make an effort to be kind to others simply because I was afraid of my peers' judgment. Based on that message, I wrote the goal stem, “I will practice being my true and authentic self this week by ____”. The purpose behind this stem was to intentionally practice being the real version of ourselves at school, even if we’re afraid of what others will think of us.
Each person in the room then took 10 minutes to set a goal based on this stem for the week. My school goal, for example, was to practice being my true and authentic self by intentionally connecting with 5 people I feel didn’t trust my character, and choosing to be my real self, even when it scared me.
When I first began setting character goals, I was not good at it. My compliments were excruciatingly awkward, I struggled with being selfish, and I still to this day have an ego I have to check constantly.
What these goals have provided for me however is a constant reminder to practice being kind. To practice being selfless. To practice being my true and authentic self.
These character goals are significant because they focus me on the important parts of life. I find so many times in my life that I get caught up with tasks, and my own personal stress that I simply don’t feel like being the best version of myself. I allow myself to take a ‘vacation’ from serving others when I’m not focused on it.
The concern here is that our character doesn’t take a vacation. The influence we have in the lives of others is directly impacted by the thousands of choices that we make every day (around 35,000 for the average adult, according to a study done by Dr. Joel Hoomans of Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York). If each decision that we make has an impact on those around us, that means that all of our kind actions have an influence on them. It also means that all of our UNkind actions have an influence on them as well.
The significance of setting character goals consistently is that we refocus ourselves on what really matters in our lives: people. Character goals remind us to put our values into action and give us measurable ways to gauge whether or not we are doing a quality job of working on ourselves.
I wholeheartedly believe that if I was never introduced to character goals and didn’t set them every week, I would not be the person I am today. Because of the focus I put on these goals I have become more patient, more intentional, and a far better listener.
As I begin my last year of high school, I know that I want more than anything to make a positive impact on the people within my school. Considering that you’ve made it to the end of this blog, I know that you do too.
This means that we need to get to work on ourselves and really learn, through intentional practice, how to serve people.
Here are 3 Goal Stems for you to get started with:
- I will put empathy into action this week by…
- I will take advantage of my opportunities this week by…
- I will practice intentional kindness this week by...
Nick Yochum is a senior at Sumner High School in Sumner, Washington. He has been involved in student leadership since the 7th grade and has held the front doors of his high school every morning he can since his freshman year. He is currently serving as Sumner’s Student Body President.