By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Once they got past Jeff Yalden’s scruffy appearance from head-to-toe, accompanied by tattoos and ear piercings, Larned and Pawnee Heights middle school and high school students heard his message. His first message was that appearances can be deceiving.
Yalden encouraged students to rely on their parents and grandparents for advice and focus on pursuing their goals in life. He said it was valuable time he spent with his grandfather that gave him perspective and helped turn his life in a positive direction.
He said grandparents are a perfect fit for grandchildren since the parents are caught in the middle as a “common enemy,” for both children and grandparents.
“Grandparents have wisdom and experience,” he said.
Yalden said their goal should be to make their lives meaningful, fulfilling and rewarding. Yalden says setting goals is a constructive and proactive approach to life. But achieving those goals is never easy.
“Life is hard and it will always be hard,” he said.
Larned High School junior Janae Woods invited Yalden as her “Do Hard Things” English class assignment.
Yalden said former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano is his best example of someone who exemplified living life to its fullest. The Jimmy V Foundation was founded in Valvano’s name after he was afflicted with cancer, which claimed his life. The Jimmy V Foundation’s motto is “Don’t Give Up . . . Don’t Ever Give Up.”
Valvano, Yalden believes, delivered the most passionate speech he’s ever heard.
“There are three things we all should do every day of our lives,” Valvano said. “No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. And No. 3 is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”
Yalden achieved all three of Valvano’s goals by bringing students and adults to tears and laughter while forcing them to think about their future choices.
His heartfelt stories about seeing his grandfather die and losing his beloved dog Chase brought the audience to tears.
Two lessons his grandfather taught him were to say “I love you,” and “I’m sorry,” to the people you care for.
His dog taught him the lesson of unconditional love and he asked the students who had pets, “Who is the first one to greet you when you get home?”
Controlling one’s emotions and thinking about consequences to actions are crucial to leading a proper life.
“Take time to think when you make your choices,” he said. “Every choice you make takes you to a different place.”
A positive attitude on life provides another bonus.
“I’m grateful for all the little things in life,” he said. “I like where my life is going and I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.”
He said lowering expectations and focusing on the objectives of life is critical.
“If I show respect to everyone, I’m more likely to get that respect returned,” he said. “I call it objective living. You need to focus on the objective.”
He wants students to build confidence in themselves so they can develop into the best person they can be.
“Are you as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside?” he asked.
Yalden has worked with teenagers for 20 years as a motivational speaker and a life coach. His passion and caring for teens comes through, and his stories encourage, inspire, and empower both teens and adults.
By the time he was 23, Yalden had fathered two children, gotten married and divorced. He’s remarried and enjoys his career as a motivational speaker.