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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

(Most of the Building a Better Student columns are intended for parents and teachers, but this one was written for students. If there’s a young person in your sphere who could benefit from this, please share.)

Imagine taking just one single puff from a cigarette and immediately falling over dead. If you knew that would be the result, you wouldn’t touch the thing. Or suppose you knew that just one large meal of a cheeseburger, fries, and soda would kill you an hour later. I’m guessing you’d order something else.

The truth is, if all you do is eat burgers and fries – especially with no exercise thrown in – the odds are you’ll die an early death. If you start smoking, and develop a nicotine habit, you’re probably signing up for a long, slow, agonizing death.

But people start smoking because they don’t see instant results. Looking down the road and weighing the consequences? Well, that’s something that we’d rather not do. “I’ll worry about that later” is the usual thinking.

If you’re a student in middle school or high school let me paint a similar picture for you. I know that you’re constantly urged to study more, to read more, to strive for better results in class, etc. And in your mind you’re saying, what’s the big deal?

The big deal involves future consequences, just like the cigarettes and the fattening foods. You don’t see the results today, so in your mind they don’t exist. If you could see that blowing off your school work today meant that you’d live a life of poverty or despair, you’d take a new approach.

But it doesn’t work that way. You probably think: “I’ve got years before I have to worry about this.”

You don’t. The decisions you make today regarding your education have a long, slow cumulative effect on the rest of your life. Smokers have no problem lighting up today because – besides foul breath and smelly clothes – they don’t see immediate results. But inside the results are starting to affect their bodies, setting up a foundation for disease and early death.

With education, you don’t see the results until you’re out of school, wondering why you can’t land a good job, and wondering how you’re going to pay the rent.

We live in a society that demands instant everything: instant food, instant access, instant communication, instant results. Some things, however, have to simmer for a long time, and the outcome isn’t always what you imagined.

I’ll tell you right now: don’t smoke. I’ll also tell you to mix in some healthy food and a sizable dose of exercise with your occasional burger and fries.

And please, make a solid education one of the priorities in your life. Don’t put it off, because your window of opportunity closes a little more with each passing month. You don’t want to look up one day and realize that you’ve blown it.

You can avoid the long, slow, agonizing death of brain cells starting today.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty-three years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people embrace the idea that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for kids who need to see the big picture with regard to education.