Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Harlan Cohen, New York Times bestselling author and syndicated advice columnist, also known for his TEDx talk "Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable” which touches on raising resilient children. Cohen is the author of six books, including “The Naked Roommate.” Cohen will be speaking at The Main Event for the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley on Nov. 9, 2017.
What will you be discussing at The Main Event?
It’s going to be a lot about transition ... It’s an event that every parent, regardless of whether their child is in kindergarten or a teenager, can really appreciate, because the fundamentals, the framework of transition, is something all of us can relate to in our lives as parents and as individuals. Life is constantly changing, and what I’ve discovered over the years is that we don’t teach our kids – and no one teaches us – how to go from one place to another and navigate the big changes, whether they are social, emotional, physical, financial or academic. Those are the five big changes, and I’m going to help parents, their kids and everybody who’s there really get comfortable with the uncomfortable that’s part of change.
This is going to be such a fun night; it’s going to be incredibly interactive. People get to text me questions live during the event, and then I also am always interacting with people who are there and learning as much about them as they get to know about me, and using real-life examples and real issues that are affecting your community as the focal point of what I get to deliver.
It’s funny, too. It’s light but it’s powerful, and people leave with insight into their own lives. It really helps us to be better parents, better partners and more in alignment with who we are and what we want. I love doing it.
How did you start grappling with these ideas?
I had a really difficult transition to life in college, and I ended up transferring. I had an internship at the Tonight Show with Jay Leno one summer, and that’s when I came up with the idea to write an advice column. I went back to Indiana University and started writing the column, and it was during that time that real students started to write to me sharing their challenges and life issues. This is when I started to realize that so many students struggle when it comes to navigating all of these big changes.
Two of the most shocking statistics are, nationally, 47 percent of first-year college students have felt hopeless over the previous 12 months, and over a third were so depressed that it was hard to get their work done. It doesn’t have to be this way. My mission is to change how we look at transition and navigating change so that we can be equipped to work through the uncomfortable without it becoming all-consuming. It was only after researching and writing “The Naked Roommate and 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College” that it became even clearer to me that this isn’t a me issue, this is an epidemic. It’s something we all experience.
Keeping those statistics in mind, do you see your methods as a way to challenge a negative mindset?
I look at these statistics and I see students who don’t know what’s coming, who are unequipped to navigate the normal changes that are part of transition, and they panic. They’re not resilient and gritty enough to get through the normal “tough stuff,” and as a result, we see these statistics of students who really struggle. One of my goals is to give parents deeper insight and tools so that they can help their children to be better at navigating change, anticipating the challenges ahead and to be empowered to be self-advocates and work through the “tough stuff” that so many students struggle with.
What applications do you see for parents and other members of the community?
What I’m sharing can be applied to anyone at any time in their life. From birth to death, and everything in-between, we are constantly dealing with change. Birth, marriage, divorce, loss, professional changes – it is a constant change, and the framework I introduce is relevant to everyone.
I was at one event for kindergarten through 5th grade parents, and one of the moms left and the first thing she did was call her mom and say, “Hey Mom, here’s a way that you can look at the changes you’re going through.” Her mom was retired, had recently lost her spouse and was dealing with big life issues. She took exactly what we talked about at a K-5 event and took the message and was able to be the person in her mom’s corner to help her mom to navigate these big life changes she was facing.
At the event, I’ll touch a lot on college, but I’ll also touch on all aspects of our lives. To give you a larger perspective, my expertise is in helping people to navigate change. I have my “Naked Roommate” books for students and parents, a book called “Dads Expecting Too,” which is a book about pregnancy, a book called “Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober),” which navigates the change from being single to being in a relationship. There’s a constant theme of going from one place to another. How to navigate those changes is universal. I call what I share transition framework; that can help with any stage of life.
Personally, I’m married with three kids, and being a parent has really also given me even more insight into what so many families are dealing with. I’m able to draw on professional expertise and personal challenges that we’ve faced.
The Jewish stuff, this is an event that’s really for everyone, but I feel that being Jewish and being someone who is part of a larger community has always been a source of strength, and a powerful connection that’s something I take a lot of pride in.
I talk a lot about people, places, and patience, that’s a very important theme that I’ll be sharing more about at the event, but my connection to the Jewish community has always been important. Judaism has always been a place with people that has helped me to be comfortable and grounded. I’m really grateful to be able to do something with your community.
What do you want people to know before the event?
I’m so grateful to be able to share this because I know that it’s a really powerful message that has a history of leaving a lasting impact.
I’m so excited to meet everybody. With me it’s not hello and goodbye, it’s hello and so nice to meet you, I’m in your corner, let’s continue this relationship.