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Teen Magazine
February 1997

At least once in your life, you've probably been invited to attend some sort of personal-growth seminar. But can such a course really help you? Yes, says one 16-year-old girl, whose life was changed by a weekend self-help seminar.

I'd always resented my mom because she worked a lot when I was little, and I didn't see much of her. Once we got in such a big fight that I ran away from home. But I only made it to the local train station before my parents came looking for me and took me home.

None of this was on my mind, however, on the Friday morning my parents drove me 30 miles to New York City for the three-day self-help seminar for teens called The Landmark Forum. I just kept telling myself, “This is gonna suck.” Little did I know that my life - and my attitude - were going to change forever.

We got there, and I checked in and said good-bye to my parents. I put on a nametag and took a seat in an auditorium filled with about 100 other teens.

After we were all settled in our seats, The Forum leader asked if any of us wanted to leave. “Anyone can walk out of here right now and get a refund,” he said. Two kids did walk out, I would have left, too, but I didn't want to upset my parents.


During the breaks and at lunch, I met a lot of great people. When the first day ended, I was actually looking forward to going back the next day, mostly because of my new friends.
On Saturday, the leader asked us, “What is your racket?” He explained that everyone has a “racket” - a bad way of behaving that on one hand you don't like, but on the other hand is somehow working for you. He explained that you can't be happy until you give up your racket.

I confessed that my racket was lying. I didn't just lie to my parents about drugs, I lied about a lot of things to entertain myself and make life interesting. I even felt proud because people told me I was such a convincing liar. However, admitting that I was a liar to 100 people didn't make me feel proud; I felt embarrassed. I felt even worse when, during the break, I overheard a girl saying, “I hate liars.” It was obviously time for me to rethink my lying habit.

By the end of the second day, people were starting to change. One of my new friends, who was a drug user went into the bathroom after the day's session and flushed a bag of weed down the toilet.

On Sunday, the leader did an interesting exercise called “chocolate/vanilla.” He asked one of us to sit in a chair on the stage, and then he asked her if she liked chocolate or vanilla better. She chose chocolate. Then he asked another person to sit up on the stage and choose between vanilla and vanilla. Obviously, the second person didn't have a choice.

This exercise was used to illustrate that sometimes you don't have a choice in life, and you have to accept the situation you've been handed instead of complaining or acting like a victim. A girl got up from the audience and started talking about how her mom was a drug addict and how much she hated her mother.

“I want a new mom,” she cried.

“Unfortunately, you can't choose a new mom,” the leader replied. “You have to deal with and accept the one you have.”

This hit me hard. It made me realize that, for better or for worse, my mom was my mom. I couldn't choose another one, but I could try to make the best of the situation.

One of the most powerful moments for me came on Sunday. The leader asked, “What is life?” People said things like, “Life sucks”, or they joked, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Then the leader said, “Life is none of those things. Life is what you make it. You have the power to take action and change things in your life. Life has no meaning except for what you give to it.”

Up till then, I thought that my life was pretty bad and would always be bad. It never occurred to me that I could do something about it.

When I got home from The Forum, my head was spinning with all the new ideas I'd been exposed to. It's hard to explain all the things I learned, but so much of what they taught me changed the way I think - about school, about my mom, about lying, about drugs, about my entire life. I realized that if my attitude about school could change, I could change my relationship with my mom.

We sat down and had a totally great conversation. We also devised some ground rules that both of us can live with. Now we get along 100 times better. Our relationship isn't perfect, but we're friends - something I never thought would be possible.

I also decided to make other changes. I quit doing drugs and have tried to stop lying. Instead, I put my energy into other things. I'm involved in soccer, volleyball, and track and field. I've acted in my school's productions of Taming of the Shrew and Animal Farm. I'm also an editor of the school paper. I don't hate life anymore - I love it! I never knew I could be so happy. And a lot of it I owe to The Forum. I know it sounds hard to believe, but that weekend totally changed my life.

Empowerment Options

Lots of organizations can help girls feel empowered, learn skills and gain self-esteem...

  • Hugh O'Brien Youth Foundation offers 90 leadership development seminars each year in the , , , and the . To qualify, teens must go through a selection process at their high schools (ask your counselor if your school participates in the program).
  • Girls Inc., which has 144 affiliates throughout the country, offers math, science, sports, and other workshops aimed at helping girls build talents and self-esteem. Though directed at low-income teens, anyone can get involved. (For more information, call 212-689-3700.)
  • Almost all Young Women's Christian Associations (YMCAs) run ongoing teen programs - from fitness to job training - some also offer self-esteem workshops and teen talk groups. (Call your local chapter or 1-888-YMCA-INFO.)
  • National Organization for Women (NOW) offers opportunities for girls to further the cause of feminism (gaining self-esteem in the process). Check the Yellow Pages for the nearest NOW chapter (there are 600 in the ) and ask if it has a young feminist group.
  • Girl Scouts of isn't just for little kids (girls aged 5 to 17 can join for just six bucks, plus uniform) and its primary mission is to foster female leaders. (Check the Yellow Pages for the nearest chapter.)

Reprinted from TEEN Magazine, () February 1997.

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