Be Who You Needed When You Were Younger

Hello and welcome back to our newsletter! Last time I was writing about how a practice of gratitude helps us make better decisions for our future self. Basically, you should try to make daily choices in the interest of Future You. It’s sounds obvious, but you can read more here about why it’s hard to do.

This week I’m featuring a conversation with the fabulous Brook Raney, founder of One Trusted Adult. We were in the studio yesterday recording content for a brand new online course Mindscaling is building for them. We got into a discussion about how to become the kind of person we needed when we were younger. Once the course is done, we’ll send along some snippets of the beautiful course. In the meantime enjoy a brief interview with Brook!

Shawn: Brook, so grateful to work with you. You wrote a book called One Trusted Adult, and then you started a company called One Trusted Adult. What brought you to this work?

Brook: Well, my mission began one afternoon as I sat in an auditorium filled with students and educators and listened to the third prevention program in a month—suicide prevention, substance abuse prevention, and bullying  prevention. All of them ended with the same sound advice: If students had a worry, concern, or question, they should seek out a trusted adult.  After hearing this message for the third time, I had to stop and wonder: Did the students in that auditorium see me and my fellow educators as the trusted adults these programs advertised? And did the adults in the room, me included, embrace this role and do all we could to build relationships of trust with our students?

Even if we do view ourselves in this role, are we adults trained and prepared to be the trusted adult our young people need? Do WE have the skills and the capacity to support what these prevention programs are prescribing? Since that moment, I’ve learned through my research that young people who can name a trusted adult INSIDE their home as well as a trusted adult OUTSIDE of their home are LESS LIKELY TO bully or be bullied, suffer from depression, or abuse substances, and MORE LIKELY TO be able to turn toxic stress into tolerable stress, and remain calm in the face of challenges. They also build key capacities, such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate behavior, complete tasks they start, show interest in new things, volunteer in their community, participate in physical activities, and engage in school and be available for learning. 

Shawn: In your work, you emphasize the importance of creating healthy boundaries with youth, and that sometimes these boundaries can get blurry. What do you mean by that?

Brook: Yes, building healthy boundaries creates opportunities for everyone to grow. But sometimes adults can blur those lines even with the best intentions. Here’s an example – at a summer camp I run we have a rule where at meals campers sit at designated tables and camp counselors at other tables. This is so that each can have time to process, chat, catch up, and so counselors can get some important details on the schedule. This was a shared and declared boundary and all of the staff worked together to uphold it.  One summer, a new counselor didn’t see the importance of the rule, and chose not to uphold it. She allowed her campers to come over to the counselor table and braid her hair, put stickers on her hands, and give her pictures they drew. As they did this she looked at me and mouthed the words, “look…they love me!”  I then asked to speak to her privately. I shared my observation that she had centered herself in the experience of the campers. Instead of being on the outside, facilitating their experience, she had made herself so integral that they couldn’t operate without her for even 20 minutes. She immediately recognized that her desire for their admiration had clouded the important work of educating, empowering, and supporting them that she was there to do.  It’s a small simple example of how sometimes leaders can have the best intentions, but instead hinder the growth of the youth they are working with. We have found that those who are fueled by the admiration of young people (being liked and loved rather than trusted and respected) are far more susceptible to boundary blur than those who name sources of strength and affirmation from their personal lives. In other words, when we seek to gain, heal, or be affirmed by and through our interactions with young people, we have lost our way. From here it is easy to slip into unhealthy power dynamics, inappropriate relationships, oversharing, or savior syndrome. 

Shawn: Other than go out and buy your book, what’s one thing people can do now to start on the path of becoming a trusted adult?

Brook: Well, one of the first things we can do is change our assumptions. Don’t assume young people have Trusted Adults in their lives. Instead, ask them to name them. I met a teacher once who was really struggling with a student who sat in class every day with his hood pulled up and his head facing down. When I asked her if she thought he could name a trusted adult at school she said, “Of course he can! He has me, his advisor, his coach, the school psychologist… he is surrounded by trusted adults!” I said, “Great! But why don’t you ask him?” The next day she did… and he answered, flatly, “No.” He told her he couldn’t name anyone who he’d describe as a trusted adult. Join me on this mission, and let’s ensure that every young person on this planet can name an accessible, boundaried, and caring trusted adult. And when in doubt, just try to…. Be who you need and Be who you needed.


Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences to drive the human change that propels your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. And if you want to learn to apply some of these ideas and be an effective coach for your team, we wrote a course on that too. It’s called Coaching for Managers available over at UDEMY for Business.