CEDAR GROVE, NJ – Jeff Yalden doesn’t look like a motivational speaker with tattoos down his arms and piercings in both ears, but his message of courage and personal responsibility resonated with Cedar Grove High School students when he spoke to them on Thursday.
“I want you to know that I don’t come here to speak at you. I’ve come here to speak with you,” Yalden said. “Even though I probably look like the type of guy your parents tell you not to talk to.”
With CGHS’ prom and graduation just around the corner, the coach from MTV’s show “Made” talked to the students about responsibility, self-esteem and embracing their future.
“People judge me every day. You get to a point where you just don’t care anymore,” he said. “There will be people that don't like you. There will be people that want to make fun of you. There are going to be people that say things about you, but we have to be willing to accept that. Tigers don’t lose sleep to the opinions of sheep.”
Yalden urged students to live their lives with courage and purpose. He encouraged students to write their goals down in order to achieve them. “If you want things to come true, write it down,” he emphasized. “You can have all the goals and dreams that you want. If it’s not written down it’s a fantasy.”
Speaking for about 90 minutes, Yalden shared life experiences and stories about his family to relate to the crowd and motivate them to make positive choices and not give up. He also shared his struggles with bipolar disorder, depression and PTSD. “It’s OK to think of suicide, but when it becomes not OK is when you are thinking of hurting yourself or of hurting someone else,” he noted. “I asked for help.”
Yalden related how he was kicked out of anger management counseling and had to figure things out on his own. He wears a bracelet bearing the words “Take time to think” as reminder to stay in control.
“My anger was in control of me. Now when I’m angry I ask myself ‘will this bother me tomorrow as much as it does now,’” he commented. “Anger is like peeing your pants. Everyone can see it, but only you can feel it.”
When things get tough, go to someone you trust he said. He reminded the students of all of the people they have in their corner – parents, teachers and friends. “Choose to lose your ego and open your heart to people you trust, to people whose opinion you value. Go to them, talk to them. They may be tough on you, but life is tough,” Yalden added.
Through the years Yalden explained he has adjusted his vision of happiness and encouraged the students to do the same. He also emphasized personal responsibility. “If your life sucks, that may be because your behavior, your attitude or your choices suck,” he stated. “Stop holding yourself back by being afraid of what’s out there. Go for it!”
Yalden noted that happiness doesn't come without work.
"You know what the work has been for me? It's been 25 years of counseling. It's been learning to take responsibility. It's about when I get knocked down it's about picking myself back up."
Yalden suggested students ask themselves three questions everyday: Is my life meaningful? Is my life fulfilling? Are you serving a purpose that is bigger than you?”
“I want you to wake up every day and be passionate about something and wake up with enthusiasm,” he said. “I promise you, if you have passion and enthusiasm you will be successful.”
Yalden’s visit to CGHS was sponsored by the Cedar Grove Municipal Alliance.