Yalden delivers positive, hopeful message at Crestwood


CRESCO - Motivational Speaker and Mental Health Professional Jeff Yalden is not the kind of guy who will happily tell you everything in your life is going to be great every day, but he will encourage you to assist yourself and live a purposeful life.
Students, faculty and staff learned this message first-hand when he presented a hopeful speech Friday at Crestwood High School. Yalden spoke on the topics of teen depression and suicide. He was invited to speak at Crestwood at the request of Mike and Becky Bina, whose son, Kyler, died by suicide on April 17, 2017.
Yalden began his speech Friday by skipping the formal introduction and diving right into his heartfelt message.
“Folks, I’m excited to be with you on a Friday afternoon,” Yalden said. “We’re going to have fun today. I said to the principal that I didn’t want to do an introduction because I’m an informal guy. Kids don’t care about what I’ve done (in the past), they just think, ‘Dude, you better be funny,’ but I don’t think I’m a funny guy.
“I’ve been working with young people for 25 years all over the world, and I’m at the point of my life where I don’t care about being funny. Ladies and gentlemen, lives are going to change this afternoon. I know some people might think that’s a strong statement for someone who doesn’t know you, but I want to accept the challenge.
“I’m not coming here to speak at you; I’m coming here to speak with you. I’m no different than your teachers, parents or coaches. I’m a simple guy. I want to acknowledge what we all know - we are here today because of Mike and Becky Bina and their family. Their son Kyler took his life on April 17. Mike and Becky have the courage to  give back to the community, the school and Kyler’s friends. I want to thank them and give them a round of applause,” Yalden said.
He noted that dealing with Kyler’s suicide has been emotionally draining for all of his family, friends and peers.
“I don’t want to be insensitive, but I think we’ve all experienced trauma,” Yalden said. “We understand that life happens. We know that Kyler or anyone who makes that decision (suicide) is not walking through the door anymore. I don’t think young people want to necessarily die. I think a lot of young people don’t know how to ask for help, and I understand that.
“I want to ask everyone here a question, and I don’t want you to answer but think about it to yourself. Who is the hardest person to get to know? I ask that question every day to people in high school, middle school, athletes, celebrities or anyone. People ask me, ‘What is the number one thing we need to give young people?’ Without hesitation, I say self-esteem.
“When I ask who is the hardest person to get to know, most people are thinking, ourselves, us, me. You will continue to have the same answer until you start to make changes in your life. Today, that opportunity is going to be right here in front of you,” Yalden said.
He then shared some personal information.
“I have four kids I like most of the time,” Yalden noted. “I have two biological daughters, which means I did work (for them to be here). I have two boys who I inherited through a relationship. We have a blended family.
“Five years ago, I went through one of the hardest experiences of my life. I don’t wish it on anyone, but it turned out to be the greatest thing I’ve been through. My wife and I, who had been married 17 years, went through a divorce. It would have been easy to blame it on this or that. But my first message to you is that we have to take responsibility (for our actions).
“Some people might say, ‘Well, this happened but it’s not my fault,’ and you’re right. But just because something happened and it’s not your fault, that doesn’t mean that it is not now your responsibility.
“We have responsibilities every day. When some situations happen, that might not be your fault, but our responsibility is our attitude and how we move forward. Our responsibility is the choices we make and our behavior. After the divorce, I looked in the mirror and I asked myself, ‘What did I have to do with this?’ At that point, I wanted to take responsibility. 
“When we’re young, we go home and our parents might say, ‘I thought you were doing better in math.’ You say, ‘Mom, you don’t understand. My teacher is stupid.’ Right away, you don’t think that you don’t prepare for class, show up late or don’t do your homework. When you are young, it is never your fault,” Yalden said.
Telling it straight
He added that he doesn’t sugar-coat his message for anyone.
“I’m not a unicorn or rainbow-type of speaker,” Yalden said. “I’m going to challenge you and be hard on you, and I hope you are mature enough to accept that. The world owes you nothing. If you want something, you have to go and get it.
“When I was looking in the mirror, I realized that my mental illness is greater than I expected it to be. I stand here as a proud man who lives with mental illness. I have major depression, bi-polar type two and post-tramatic stress.
“Here’s the point I’m trying to make: Because I have major depression, I can’t use that as an excuse. You might have situations to deal with, but you are not a victim. You can’t play the victim card. I want everyone here to chose to be a victor. When life happens, I don’t want you to be bitter and angry. I want you to make the choice to become better. When situations happen, we have a choice. That situation can expose wounds, or we can walk through it and build muscles.
“As a coach, I like losing. I also like to win, but I don’t think you can learn how to win until you lose. When things aren’t going right in my life, I go right to the mirror. Has the reflection in the mirror ever been not very favorable? Yeah, it has. The next time you look in the mirror and don’t like the reflection, don’t blame it on the mirror. I challenge you look in the mirror and change the quality of your questions.
“If you ask yourself, ‘Why doesn’t the basketball coach play me during games? He’s stupid.’ The coach is not stupid. Maybe you should learn that when you play basketball, you don’t wear cleats. It doesn’t have anything to do with the coach. It has to do with your attitude, effort, and your resiliency. 
“Life has a lot to do with what you put into it. You need to change your questions from why to how. How can I be a better student or athlete? How can I be a man with a mental illness and still live a healthy and fulfilling life? How can I be a better leader? How can I improve my grades? Once you ask yourself these questions, you can come up with an answer, take action and get results.
“From now on, when anything happens in your life, whether it is bad or good, you have a responsibility. It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. I want you to learn to say thank you. You can be a victim and live in misery, or you can choose to say that time is very precious. You can choose rise up and realize that relationships matter. You can tell yourself that you are going to be a better friend and more supportive. It is OK that I’m going to ask for help.
“Whenever something is not right, I say thank you. Here’s why: Life does not happen to us because you’re not a victim. Life happens every day for us. You realize that everything you go through in life shapes you. It makes us the people we become. It defines our character, courage, and our resiliency. It makes us more compassionate. We can say either thank you or my life sucks,” Yalden said.
Family background
Yalden shared a few personal stories about his family.
“I have a son, Devin, who graduated number two in his high school in Hilton Head, South Carolina,” Yalden said. “He got a full, four-year academic scholarship to go to Clemson University. Devin got a Master’s Degree in Mathematics and a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science.
“During his last year of school, the school sent out an e-mail saying it will have a job fair. You might think that by going to the job fair, there might be someone who will offer you a job. Devin doesn’t think that way. We might have common sense, but Devin doesn’t. He calls me about the job fair and asks me what he should do. I tell him, ‘Go!’
“I drive five hours to go to Clemson to get him ready (for the job fair). We spend an hour going over first impressions. I tell him to say please, thank you and you’re welcome. One week later, he got a phone call from NASA. They leave a message with Devin to set up a phone interview. He doesn’t understand he needs to call them back, so I have to spell this out for him.
“NASA calls Devin back to invite him down to Florida for a job interview. Devin asks me what to do and I say ‘Go!’ I find myself being a helicopter parent to a kid who is going to graduate from college.
“Devin gets the job and he is set for life (financially), but that is not what impresses me about him. What impresses me is that he has never been afraid to ask for help.
“The two things I am most proud of in my life are these. Number one, I have never been afraid to ask for help when I needed it. Number two, I served my country as a United States Marine. Without that first one, I wouldn’t be here today. The second one you will never take away from me,” Yalden said.
He noted his other son, Colin, went to Charleston and realized after four years that he didn’t want to be an engineer, which was his major. 
“I asked him why he went to college for four years to be an engineer, and he said that everyone told him to be an engineer,” Yalden said. “He said he wants to be a history teacher. He is about to graduate, but he takes two steps back and adds an extra year of school, but that’s OK.
“You think life is a race, but in reality, we’re all on our own journey. As we are all trying to figure out this thing called life, we are all searching for meaning and understanding. We’re looking for direction and pushing away the messengers. Relax. We’re all comparing ourselves to others.
“Part of the problem is that after graduating from college, some people get jobs in fields that have nothing to do with their degree. Your responsibility for yourself starts today,” Yalden noted.
He shared information about his oldest daughter, who he said is different.
“Everyone is different,” he said. “But being different is OK. After completing high school she told me she is not college-material, and I said, ‘I know.’ But just because you don’t go to college, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a purpose in life.
“She told me she wants to be a dancer on Broadway (in New York), so we found a place for her to live in New York. She goes on many auditions, but gets rejected. So she goes home and cries. She thought because she was a good dancer (at home), she would be good on Broadway.
“Let me tell you something, you might be the best linebacker in Cresco, but then you go to the University of Iowa, and you are among  the best linebackers from all the cities where the players come from (to go to Iowa). The world doesn’t owe you anything. You have to work every day.
“After my daughter’s fourth rejection (from Broadway), she asked me, ‘When am I going to get my break?’ Overnight success takes 15 to 20 years. Are you willing to do the little things others won’t do? Are you willing to show up early and stay late?
“After five years (of going on auditions), my daughter takes a step back, gets her Real Estate license, and now she sells Real Estate in New York. I’m proud of her,” Yalden said.
His younger daughter, Taylor, is an athlete and is very motivated.
“When she was in ninth grade, she told me, ‘Next year, I’m going to Chile as an exchange student,” Yalden said. “I said, ‘No you aren’t.’ But as a sophomore, she goes to Chile. Was she scared? Yes, but she had courage to go somewhere she’s never been. Sometimes we let fear hold us back. 
“Self-esteem comes from the fork in the road. When you see an obstacle and you face it, that’s self-esteem. When you have a task that needs to be done, you ask yourself what you can do yourself and what will you need to ask for help with.
“Everyone here has 100 percent potential, but if we are unwilling to ask for help, that potential goes down to 50 percent. Not everyone has mental illness, but we all go home where life is not perfect. That’s what we all have in common.
“I want to challenge every student to do what my daughter, Taylor, did. She went after something she loved, and not what her dad wanted her to do,” Yalden said.
Factors to success
“There are three things that have contributed to my success in life,” he noted. “Number one is value yourself more than any person, place or thing. You need to invest in yourself, but first you need to believe in yourself. If I tell you this, but you don’t believe in yourself, my words don’t mean anything.
“The second thing is attitude. I used to hate talking about attitude until I realized I lived with a mental illness. Attitude is a little thing, but it makes a big difference.
“The third thing is taking the time to think about the choices you make. I have an anger problem. Without therapy, if someone cuts me off in traffic, I might kick that person. You need to take the time to think.
“If you ask your teachers and coaches, they will say that the foundations of success are believing in yourself, having a good attitude and making good choices.
“When I was 18, I had a chip on my shoulder. Sometimes (as students), we push away our teachers, parents and coaches. We say to people, ‘Who are you to judge me?’ What I want from everyone here is to check your ego at the door. Walk out the doors and open your heart. If you have adults that you trust and respect, go to those people.
“Do you know what I think is sexy? Confidence. You can walk through the halls at school and tell yourself that you are kind, respective, smart and that you value yourself,” Yalden said.
He praised the Bina family for wanting to help Kyler’s classmates at Crestwood.
“We have a family (the Binas) that is going through the grieving process,” Yalden said. “When they come to acceptance, they want to give back to the school and Kyler’s friends. They don’t want you to feel sorry for them. It is about how they can teach you that it’s OK to ask for help. I want you to think about the significance you have in your school and your community,” Yalden said.
When discussing suicide, he noted there are three reasons why people take their own lives.
“The first reason is that person feels like they are alone. The second is they feel abandoned. The third is that person has a desire to take his or her life. No one should ever feel like they are alone, and no one should feel they are a liability,” he noted. 

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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