lessons learned from middle schoolers

This summer, I was blessed to work with middle schoolers as a tour leader with school groups heading to Washington D.C.. I was nervous about this age group — Would they like me? Would they make fun of me? Would they turn me into a meme? I was so nervous…. but after my first tour, I knew that this age group had something profoundly wonderful. A perfect mix of childlike innocence and teenage sass.

I would typically drive all day or the previous day and greet the group in the dark of night. We’d drive through the night to arrive before the airport opened. We’d get situated and get to the gate (sometimes, just in the knick of time) and be on our way to the nation’s capital.

After just four short (and very, very long) days with 7 different groups of amazing individuals, I learned hundreds of lessons and shared many laughs, tears, Pinstripes cookies, and sweaty steps throughout D.C..

I learned so many things this summer. In no particular order, here’s some wonderful things I learned from many wonderful students who won my heart.


Seize the opportunity. • Sometimes, you have to roll with the unexpected. Sometimes, the unexpected actually turns out better than you ever would have planned for.

“I’m going to miss you when we all go back home to Wisconsin, but I will always remember this trip because of you.”

Abbie

Your attitude is contagious. • The students would always ask me, “How are you so excited this early in the morning?” and I would reply that there were so many things to be excited about in the day. Later, when I’d be dragging after walking 15,000+ steps, their excitement to see the Lincoln Memorial as the sun set (even on my seventh time this summer) made me forget about my achy legs and tired eyes.

Kindness makes you memorable. • I don’t remember the names of the students who made me want to pull my hair out. I do, however, remember the names of the students whose kindness and love impacted me.

“You were o.k”

unknown student in anonymous note

Monkey see, monkey do. • There was one particular group of parents and adults that left an impact me as someone who aspires to be a mother someday. These parents and adults were from a community where they didn’t necessarily know one another, but on the trip they were close-knit, loving, and inclusive of one another throughout the experience. It was beautiful to then see their sons and daughters doing the same, following the example set by their parents.

Be yourself & love yourself. • I will never forget when a student purchased a pride flag and twirled around with a smile that no one could take away. If a middle school student can happily live their truth in a world that may not be kind about it, I surely can too.

“You are such a girl boss and seeing a confident woman like you is very comforting.”

Nadia

You may be different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends. • This was a present theme — unlikely pairs that appeared on my tours, yet made the trip so much better for one another. Don’t judge a book by its cover, because it may turn out to be your absolute favorite.

The world is wide and we are small — we should encourage one another to explore. • I had many students who had their first experience on an airplane on the way to Washington, D.C. with me this summer. I felt privileged to be a part of their journey at such a pivotal moment, hopefully creating a love of travel in them the way I have had the same love ignited in me. It was extraordinary to see the way the students take care of one another, laugh together, and hold each others’ hands while taking off and landing.

Appreciate the people who invest in you. • At the end of each tour, I’d offer many thanks to my students and remind them to thank the MVPs both with us and at home for making the trip possible for them. I believe this stands as a good reminder for us all to understand that others make investments in us and a thank you goes a long way.

A quiet person can be amazing if you allow them space to be. • One of my students comes to mind when discussing this lesson. He was a quiet student, very close with his dad on the trip. I knew I wanted to be his friend and open his shell. It all started with a nickname and kind smiles, and ended with an award at the end of the week and big smiles that melted my heart. He reminded me that while everyone isn’t like me, they still can surprise you with their warmth that happens even without words.

“I will never forget about you. You really touched my heart.”

Emma

Giving is a learned behavior. • As any of my students could tell you by the end of our four days together, my favorite memorial in Washington D.C. is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial – sometimes referred to as the Nurses’ Memorial. Often, young women place hairties at the feet of these women (nicknamed Hope, Faith, and Charity) to honor their sacrifice and women in service. The girls did so nearly instinctually — giving is a learned behavior in their lives, even if it may seem like just a little ponytail. (All things left behind at the Vietnam Memorials are collected and will likely someday be put on display in a Museum.)

“I wish I had more women like you in my life. In just these four days you have showed me what a real woman looks like and how she acts. You made me want to live my life in a more positive way.”

Sophia

Life may not be easy, but respect will get you places. • On one of my tours, I mistakenly thought an adult that accompanied a student was his grandmother. She forgave me for my mistake, she stated that she was the boy’s aunt. She then told me of his rough childhood and home life and the fact that a few years prior she had taken full custody of him to give him a stable and loving home. This student was one of the most thoughtful and respectful boys I had all summer. I will always remember him.

Work really, really hard for what you want. • There was a student on my tour who had worked her tail off for nearly two years to afford the trip of a lifetime to our nation’s capital. She proudly wore a sweatshirt on the trip — a sweatshirt her employer had gifted her just before the trip because they understood that her time and dedication was paying for this trip and wanted to give her a little something extra. She was a terrified flyer and was very ready to get home by the end of the four days… but I have a feeling that it’s a trip she won’t forget. I won’t forget her and her dedication to making sure she got what she wanted.

Don’t stand for something unless you know what it means. • While this summer had amazing highlights, you can also learn lessons from the moments that hurt your heart a little bit. It was hard for me to see young, impressionable minds symbolically standing for something that they don’t even have the capacity to understand fully. It is a reminder for us all to be informed in order to have educated and fully developed opinions.

Your smile can light up a room. • One particular student comes to mind… when he smiled, we all smiled.

“I love how much you show your true self and make us all feel worthy.”

Paige

Sometimes, you just need a hug. • I’m a hugger to begin with — but sometimes, words just can’t even begin to say what a hug can mean. Hug it out.

Memories are worth more than money. • I didn’t make a whole lot of cash this summer. What I did make felt like it disappeared quickly with personal travel and school expenses. However, the memories I made this summer will last a lifetime and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make these students smile, share important pieces of American history with them, and have a plethora of dance parties and bus karaoke. (Some days, I miss this summer a lot and I watch all of these videos!!!!)

“Bust down.”

Rylan

You make a bigger impact than you realize. • I could recount tons of stories here. Text messages, photo captions, a birthday card, handwritten notes, a postcard… my students showed me love in ways that made me laugh and ways that made me cry. I really never thought about how this job would open a door for me to impact young people and be impacted by them at the same time — but it absolutely did. I could quote their words and speak of the gifts I was given, but it’s better to just say that I have the utmost gratitude for each of my students, their parents and adults, and the teachers that made my summer trips possible.

“You have made a difference.”

Katie

If you ever have the chance, hang out with a middle schooler.

You may just learn a few things along the way.

I know I did, and I am a better woman because of my experiences this summer.

“You weren’t just our tour leader, you are our friend.”

Colson

No words could be enough — but I’m a graduate student now, so it’s back to the homework grind. I just needed to make sure to document these thoughts before the summer fades.

always,

Alex

P.S. If you went to D.C. this summer with me & you’re reading this — I love you, and I hope you loved your trip with me.

hey, little sis • lessons to share with younger women

I was so blessed to be the youngest of three — I have two older brothers. Let me just get that out there: I have no biological sisters. My brothers were never really the ‘rough and tough’ on me because they’re 5 and 7 years older than me… for this, I’m thankful too. I’m as girly-girl, non-tomboy as they get. They did teach me many things… like how to teach yourself to not be ticklish, how to have a thick skin and sense of humor, and that I should marry a man who is tall enough to give me hugs like they can (I mean, they’re 6’3″ and 6’6″… c’mon!) I love them dearly.

While I wasn’t given any sisters at birth, I’ve acquired quite a few along the way. The picture that’s at the top of this blog post is a letter that a “little sister” of mine wrote me during some of my dark days. It includes the 10 favorite things she had learned from me (so far). This letter hangs above my desk, so right now as I write I am inspired by her words. I have a friendship bracelet nearby that a very special 14-year-old gave me because she was a little sister to me. Nearly every month, I get Indian food with my mentorship family and it feels like a family reunion of four real sisters.

From foreign exchange sisters to college best friends, girls who are older and girls who are younger, girls I’ve traveled the world or the country with, girls I rarely talk to but shoot me DMs when they need some love or want to give me some… these are the girls that I’m so thankful to call my sisters.

And if you know me, you know… I believe in girl power so much. I think sisterhood can transcend the gals that truly feel like family and embody the greater network of women working together and championing one another. I believe in friendship and mentorships between women. I’m currently reading “Own Your Everyday” by Jordan Lee Dooley (it comes out on May 14, I got early access!) and Jordan discusses the idea of comparison between women and learning to cheer others on rather than compete with them:

“Her success is not your failure.”

Jordan Lee Dooley, Own Your Everyday

I believe that my ‘failures’ can lead to wisdom for someone younger than I. It’s happened to me! I know the women I look up to that I could always lean on to act like bigger sisters have provided me with wisdom, tools, resources, verses, quotes, songs, and advice to propel me through a tough time or encouragement and love to fuel me through the good! My mom, for example, is my biggest cheerleader, advocate, listening ear, constructive criticism provider, and best friend. She leads by example that you can use your experiences to allow younger women to benefit.

So here’s a little letter for the little sisters in your life:

hey, little sis.

There’s so many things I wish I could share with you, but the first is that I hope you always know my heart is open for you… whenever you need me, I will share my words with you and squeeze you so tight.

☆ I am thankful for all that I get to learn from you. This friendship, this sisterhood, goes both ways. I am grateful for the lessons you teach me and ways you remind me of the good.

☆ I wish I could tell you not to worry, but instead I will tell you to have faith always and that fear is a liar. Worry does not add a moment to your life, so do not allow it to hold you down for longer than a moment. Your life WILL work out exactly as it supposed to, even when you believe you can no longer go on. You can, babygirl.

☆ Confidence is sexy. Own it. Own who you are. Thrive in it.

Your purpose begins with being 100 percent you — you showing up every single day in spite of the things you believe disqualify you from trying.

Jordan Lee Dooley, Own Your Everyday

☆ Self love will take you further than being the smartest gal in the room. Self love will take you further than being the fittest gal in the room. Self love will take you further than being the prettiest gal in the room. Self love will take you further than being the funniest gal in the room. Self love makes you untouchable by unkind words, unmet expectations, societal pressures, and bad attitudes. Self love is powerful. When you love yourself, you can CELEBRATE the other women in the room because you recognize that you are also worth celebrating. Master the art, sister friend.

☆ My long-lasting piece of advice for college students applies to you as well. “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” Know your limits — challenge them — but never push yourself past them to the point of harming your mental or physical health.

☆ A good outfit = a good day. Baby girl… wear your favorite outfit on a day when you know you will be tested or are afraid of what may unfold. Remember your power! You are fabulous.

Sometimes it takes more guts to say the kind thing than the opposite. Rise above. This will pay back ten-fold. I have been told by women, “You may not be my favorite person, but I respect you so much for how you handled that situation.” I’m okay with people not liking me. Not everyone is meant to hold hands and sing kumbaya. If my kindness allows people to respect me, that means a lot more than if my words are poison.

☆ Falling in love is amazing. Falling out of love hurts like you’ll never feel whole again. Do not be afraid of love. Love will change you… perhaps for the best or perhaps otherwise. This is a part of your journey.

“I owe it to the person I’m going to be with to keep going and keep fighting for love, because at the end of the day that’s the only thing that will get me closer to my person.”

Katy Bellotte, Thick & Thin Podcast, Ep. 8

☆ Take care of your body: nourish it with exercise, nutrients, and sunshine. Your body is a shell for your soul. Make your soul beautiful, sweet sister, and it will shine right through your skin… but also know that YOUR BODY IS BEAUTIFUL. Never let anyone — girls, guys, the media, society — tell you that your body is anything less than a masterpiece. Treasure your body for what it CAN DO, not what it looks like.

Sis, your body is a temple, not a trophy. And only you get to decide what lens you’ll look through. To be truly free of an unhealthy mindset and harmful behaviors, you have to look at fitness and health as a part of your self-care, not a part of your self-worth.

Jordan Lee Dooley, Own Your Everyday

☆ Candles, fresh sheets, wine, good music, ice cream, gal pals, dance parties, pizza, a good cry, a sweaty workout…. all of these things can solve a lot of problems.

☆ Real talk — don’t settle for less than you deserve. If a man (yes, a man. no boys allowed) finds it in his heart to treat you like the QUEEN you are, that means he is willing to put in the work. Love is work. Marriage (from what people have told me) is work. You deserve to be loved for each and every tiny piece of your beautiful soul, sis. Your tears will not make him better. Your worth is not defined by his opinions.

Common sense told her that begging someone to stay was often the same as begging someone to love you, and she was wise enough to know that never worked.

Nicholas Sparks, Every Breath

You can be sad that it’s ending without being sad it’s not continuing. Cry it out. Then move forward.

Sometimes, choosing to walk away, even if it means breaking your own heart, is the greatest act of self love you have access to.

Rachel Hollis, Girl, Wash Your Face

☆ Lean on other people. You cannot fight against the world by yourself. Find people that believe in you, inspire you, grow you, support you, challenge you.

Look at your circle. Do you feel you have to change how you look to fit in? Is it a life-giving situation or a constant comparison game, full of drama and one-upping one another? They say you begin to look like the five people you spend the most time with. Who are your top five?”

Jordan Lee Dooley, Own Your Everyday

I looked to amazing women in my life — women that exemplify friendship and sisterhood to share their sentiments. It’s important to know that I am not wise enough as one person to provide you with all that could benefit you. Here’s some of what they shared:

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Loving yourself is one of the most important things you’ll ever do.

High school and college are each only 4 years of your life. You will move on to bigger and better things, so don’t stress the things you can’t control.

If you are going to do something with a guy, make sure you are comfortable and feel safe.

You are more than the narrative life gave you. You get to decide what defines you, nothing else.

Feel the fear and do it anyway. Growth doesn’t come from comfort zones and it definitely doesn’t come from second guessing yourself.

Don’t dress up for a boy who wouldn’t dress up for you.

I spent so much time worrying about what everyone thought of me. Fuck everyone that thinks I’m not enough me. There’s only one me. There’s only one you, little sis. Don’t change yourself to fit in.

Disconnect and live your life.

Saying no to obligations doesn’t mean you’re missing out. It allows you to focus on what’s really important in your life.

Always be 100% honest with yourself. Can you really afford that thing? Save money for the important things.

Surround yourself with good people. It’s important to surround yourself with good people — people that are supportive and life-giving. Also understand that it’s okay to remove yourself from toxic friendships. Sometimes God puts people in our lives for only a temporary amount of time and that’s okay.

Buy generic brand drugs. They work the same and save you money. Don’t buy generic brand condoms.

Some people won’t like you, no matter how hard you try. Put that effort in to bettering yourself and growing prosperous relationships.

Don’t sleep in! Get up, go eat breakfast outside, go for a bike ride with friends, watch your favorite show… you’ll feel better the rest of the day and probably set up good habits for life.

Take some time to act your age.

Get to know your own body before anyone else’s. Your thoughts, emotions, cycle, hormones, etc. Knowing yourself is so important.

Plans change. This isn’t a bad thing, just a different path. So many things will happen in your lifetime that will change the course of your life in the best way. You will lose friends, and you will gain friends. You will lose opportunities, and you will gain them. So many things in your life are subject to change so don’t expect everything to happen in the fashion you expect it to. You’ll be happier for it.

Wearing makeup is only to make YOU feel good, NOT for anyone else. It’s never required!

Don’t measure your successes based on the girl next to you. We all move at our own pace!

Loyalty is important.

Have courage and be kind. It’s amazing what unfolds. 

So, there ya have it little sister. I can’t say all the words I could hope to share with you. I just hope you know that you are loved and that you have a network of sisters who hope for your life to be even more than you can possibly imagine… and when it seems like you can’t go on, I am here.

I love you.

always,

alex.

☆☆☆

If you feel so inclined, share this with someone you view as a little sister.

and as always, I’m on instagram @alexfarbie.