Deb Canja is an attorney and success coach on a mission to make creating a success mindset the most important goal for anyone raising boys to men. With powerful strategies and gentle insight, she helps caring parents and teachers learn and apply the simple steps that transform the lives of the children they love–and their lives, too.
In her new book, Swim the Lake Before You Row the Boat, Deb introduces time-tested principles that lead to children’s success and specifically those that embed a success mindset in young boys.
For many years Bridges4Kids also operated the state of Michigan’s Early On! phone bank and referral system helping children from birth to 3 get a great start in life.
Protecting the public… As a Michigan Assistant Attorney General and later a Deputy General Counsel for Michigan’s Department of Insurance and Financial Services, she protected the public by regulating insurance, lending, and mortgage services and handled complex insurance rate cases and defended Michigan laws that protect consumers.
A life of service… As a volunteer, elected trustee of Michigan’s third largest community college, over nine years Deb served as Chair of the Board and Vice-Chair and championed programs to make education affordable and accessible for all.
A personal quest… With an open mind, Deb has spent years studying many spiritual masters and healers and has come to know that “the key to realizing a life of joy, abundance and success is already within each of us and with guidance, understanding and a few simple strategies, we can remove the blocks in the way of our happiness and the life of our dreams.” At 15 she was led to the decision to become a lawyer dedicated to working within government to bring about positive change from the inside out.
Now, through her unique blend of these teachings, she helps others find their path to success and happiness and build a bridge to inner wisdom and connection to the truth of who they are.
Her first book, written with her mother Tess, is about helping children tap into their inner wisdom by helping adults understand how to embed a success mindset in young boys. Swim the Lake Before You Row the Boat describes how to awaken a boy’s success identity, unleash his confidence and give him the foundation for a great life. At the same time, it encourages parents, teachers, grandparents, coaches and mentors to lighten up on themselves, embrace do-overs, and focus their efforts where it really matters.
Life lessons from summer camp… The lessons came from Camp Flying Eagle, the very successful summer boys camp owned and operated for twenty-seven years by Deb’s parents, Tess and her husband, Alex. It was there that the Flying Eagle Formula was created, put to work and produced its many stories of success.
Deb grew up at the boys camp as a tomboy catching frogs and snakes and playing mumblety-peg with jackknives. She was good with a bow and arrow, good at building forts out of sticks and ferns, and good at swimming with the fishes. Tess and Alex eventually decided that a girl competing with the boys wasn’t good for business and when she was nine they sent her away to a girls camp, trading her for the sons of other camp owners. Because she loved horses they next sent her to riding camps and then gymnastics camp. She later became a camp counselor and taught waterskiing and crafts.
Now Deb loves spending time with Tess, her two sons: Scott – a dentist, and Brian – a systems analyst and fusion expert, and a new grandson!
INTERVIEW WITH DEB
If you had to explain the book Swim the Lake Before You Row the Boat, in one sentence, what would you say?
What, exactly, is a “success mindset.”
succeed at whatever I put my mind to.” It also includes these additional beliefs:
- people like and respect me,
- I can be responsible for myself,
- other people believe I can be responsible for myself,
- I bring happiness to others,
- my life matters and there is a purpose for my being here.
These core beliefs are the greatest gift we can give to our kids (and to ourselves, for that matter).
Think about it…How many of us are carrying around beliefs we picked up from somewhere that we’re not ok? How many times have we worried that someone doesn’t like us or that maybe we don’t have what it takes to follow our dreams? Ask yourself: who would you be if you never had those limiting beliefs? How would your life have been different?
By specifically nurturing a boy’s success mindset we create better outcomes for him now and we lay a solid foundation for his future success. In the process, we become the most effective parent, teacher or mentor we can be.
How or why does it work?
There are probably two schools of thought on how and why it works. One theory is that when we focus our mind on a goal, we naturally begin to prepare ourselves to reach that goal by doing things that will move us closer to it. We are also programming ourselves to look for the opportunities that will help us get there. A famous saying attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca puts it this way: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” It simply means that we make our success by focusing on it and working at it.
The other school of thought says that everything in the world is made of vibrating energy, and that this energy is shaped into physical matter by our individual and collective thoughts. These thoughts vibrate at different frequencies and similar frequencies “find each other” to be in harmony. This theory says that the deepest beliefs we hold about ourselves are thoughts that have electrical energy and vibrate and attract the thoughts and actions of other people that are of the same frequency. Some people call that The Law of Attraction. The Bible says, “You reap what you sow.” And it was Henry Ford who said, “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Another way of putting it is your thoughts create the reality you live in.
That principle is at the heart of books like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Or the movie The Secret. Or the success of elite athletes. Or that passage in the Bible that says, If ye have faith as a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible unto you.
So, to answer your question, while both of the theories about how and why this works have merit, we believe the most important of these is the second. Once you hold powerful core beliefs about who you are, they attract situations to you that validate what you already believe about yourself. It is at that point that your focus on a goal and your preparation will create success of the opportunities that come to you. However, without those powerful core beliefs, nothing really turns out as it should, as you hoped it would.
That’s why the Formula focuses on what a boy believes about himself. It’s based on the premise that what we believe about ourselves, good or bad, attracts future experiences that validate that belief. It brings “law of attraction” principles to parenting and the “think and grow rich” mindset to children.
And to take it one step further, it means you are creating the future right now in the present. Whatever beliefs and feelings you hold right now about yourself, the future will bring you more of the same. The people might change, the situations might change, but the feelings you get will be the same. When you apply this understanding to parenting, or coaching, or teaching, or any endeavor in which you are raising or guiding kids, it changes everything.
We know that some may find these ideas difficult to believe and that’s ok. It’s not necessary to believe what we believe about why the Formula works. We are simply asking that people apply it. America’s most successful people, from millionaires and billionaires to spiritual masters, have used this same approach to bring happiness, meaning, money and fulfillment into their lives. The Formula provides an easy way to apply it to help a boy break through to an extraordinary and fulfilling life.
How do you know this particular Formula works?
This seems like an approach that’s a little bit different than some others. How is this book different from other books about raising boys?
Others believe that it’s the parent’s problem behavior that causes a kid’s problem behavior and suggest that the adults need to first understand and heal their own past hurts before they can become amazing and effective and launch a boy on a path of future success. And even though that’s a great thing to do, our approach doesn’t require it. Our approach isn’t focused on adult problem behavior.
Other books on raising boys start with the belief that boys are different and need particular things to flourish–like outdoor activity and male mentors and that they need to be talked to in a certain way. Some books talk about a boy crisis and describe the problems facing boys as a whole. As a solution both types of books often propose sweeping policy or societal changes to solve the issues, such as boy-specific schools and encouraging more two-parent families. We believe there IS a boy crisis, but sending a boy to a gender-specific school isn’t an option for most and suggesting that single-moms find a man isn’t always realistic. Our solution can be implemented by anyone at any time under any circumstance.
Finally, some of the things we did which produced such good results are things that current research confirms are linked to good results. But we want to make it clear that the results do not come about from doing those things. The good results do not come because of WHAT you do. Instead, the good results come from the beliefs being formed by a child from what you do. With that in mind, the Formula is designed to teach parents, teachers and other adults how to send the right messages with simple, practical things that anyone can do at any time to focus their efforts on the one thing that produces future success: what a boy believes about himself. We also help adults identify when their well-intended efforts might be sending the wrong message and producing unhelpful results.
How did you come up with the Formula?
Picture this…you are a young boy of 11. It’s 1932 and the country is in the middle of the Great Depression. In Flint, Michigan times are tough, people are out of work and food is scarce. Your dad is gone; he left when you were three. And now your mom decides to go back to Europe to take care of some family business. She leaves you and your younger sister with older half-siblings. But weeks and months go by… and she never comes back. I’m not exactly sure what happened next, but at some point, someone decided they couldn’t support another child and sent my dad to live at the YMCA.
Imagine being a young boy of 11 or 12 sent to live with adults at the Y. I know it was very difficult because he never, ever talked about. I realize now that not dwelling on past difficult situations was the way he moved forward. It’s the same reason he never talked about his WWII experience, even though he landed on Omaha Beach on the second day of the D-Day invasion. We know that was a horrific experience with dead bodies everywhere and the troops still under attack. I think it’s also the same reason he never wanted us to make a fuss over his birthday. When he was growing up he didn’t have a family to celebrate his birthday or to include him at holidays.
One story he did tell me gave me a small glimpse into his life. When he lived at the Y he sold newspapers to earn a penny a paper so that he could buy a 5 cent candy bar. I think that was often a meal. One day he said he stood outside all day selling papers for 12 hours and only made 3 cents. He never forgot that. Life was tough.
But there was one thing the Y did have. It had a swimming pool and a competitive swim team and when he was in high school my dad became a diver and started winning competitions.
It takes a certain inner strength and discipline to be on your own and to motivate yourself to put in the hours and hours of difficult practice to become a top diver. But he did it. His discipline and dedication won him an athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan where he went on to become captain of the swim team and an All-American diver. And then he went on to become a teacher and a top education administrator.
And there’s more to his success story, but the real question is, where did his inner strength come from? Plenty of people end up in sink or swim situations and too many of them don’t make it. Sometimes I wondered how he was able to keep going. But now I know…
I know because it was his dream to share what he knew about what a boy needs in order to have a successful life and he did that by creating Camp Flying Eagle, a summer boys’ camp, in Northern Michigan. Over a 27 year period over 3,000 young boys went through the camp and experienced his unique “Flying Eagle Formula.”
What’s really interesting is what happened in the years after the boys experienced the Formula. They became successful businessmen, community leaders, teachers, and also great husbands and fathers. And they said the camp experience was instrumental to their success.
Isn’t that just the result of going away to a summer camp and being on your own?
However, there IS a certain magic that comes from being away from your parents and responsible for yourself. I sent my own sons away to summer camp when they were 8 and 9. Camp Flying Eagle had campers as young as 7 and we even had some 6 year olds who came with older brothers. My parents sent me away to other camps when I turned 9. The type of summer camp experience that we describe in our book is extremely beneficial and we are HUGE supporters of summer camp.
How did you come up with the title for the book? What does “swim the lake before you row the boat” mean?
That’s another question we hear a lot! People will say, “I really like that title…what’s it mean?” Here’s the story behind it…
Because the camp was on a lake, we had to be absolutely certain that the boys would be safe in or on the water. In order to be allowed to go out in a boat by himself, a boy had to be able to swim across the lake. If he could swim the width of the lake, we knew and he knew he could make it to shore.
“Swim the lake before you row the boat” is how confidence becomes part of a success mindset. A boy might not have the skill in the beginning to swim across the lake or even the certainty that he will make it, but by first deciding, on his own, that he wants to do it and then actually getting out there and trying, and finally succeeding, he knows himself to be a success.
“Row the boat” is life. When you give young people a chance to swim a lake (meaning a challenging opportunity to accomplish something in an area where they want to succeed and they can succeed with your support and encouragement), you give them what they need to get in a boat and start rowing.
What about girls?
Plus, let’s acknowledge that, collectively speaking, our boys are in crisis. Last year, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Michael Ian Black called “The Boys Are Not All Right.” He wrote, “America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us.” The rate of boys graduating high school and going on to college is now 50% that of young women. Teen male suicides are six times the rate of girls. Young millennial males “failing to launch” is an actual trend. Yet, as I mentioned before, most books that focus on raising boys or addressing the boy crisis, primarily do so as a means of addressing problem behavior, or sweeping policy changes, or seem to require a “super parent” or wonderfully trained male mentors (which would be great, but they aren’t always available). This book takes a new approach
Why do we need a new approach?
You know, I have a one-year-old grandson, so this hits home. The truth is, in spite of everything we are doing, everything we are trying, something’s not working, is it? In terms of the big picture of the peer group that today’s boys are now in and that my grandson will grow up with, the statistics are very sobering. Let’s talk about the obvious one first:
- School shooters are overwhelmingly male. Since 1982, 111 mass shootings (defined as a single attack in a public place where four or more victims were killed) have been carried out in the United States by male shooters and only 3 by women. If a more liberal definition of “mass shootings” is used (3 or 4 people shot, but not necessarily killed), by August 31, 2019, there had already been 283 mass shootings in just 8 months, all overwhelmingly carried out by males.Why? What’s going on? And there’s more…
- Boys are more than 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and put on powerful stimulant medication than girls. By high school, nearly 20% of all boys will have been diagnosed with ADHD – a 37% increase since 2003.
- Worldwide, boys are 50% less likely than girls to meet proficiency standards in reading, math and science and in the United States, by eighth grade only 20% of boys are proficient in writing compared to 42% of girls.
- Boys are expelled from school three times as often as girls.
- Fewer boys are now going on to higher education – the percentage recently dropped recent from 61% to 39% while girls did the opposite and climbed to over 60%.
- A young man’s ability to find a mate and raise a family is tied to his economic health and three of four women say they will not date an unemployed man.
- Over the last 40 years, the median annual earnings of a boy with just a high school diploma dropped 26%.
- As the economy transitions away from traditional “male” jobs that don’t require a college degree, such as manufacturing, truck driving, and construction, young men are increasingly left behind.
- Instead of living with a partner, young men between 25-31 are now 66% more likely to be living at home with their parents than are young women.
- 93% of our jail and prison population are young males.
- The suicide rate for boys between the ages of 10-14 is twice the rate of girls; between the ages of 15-19 it is 3.3 times the rate for girls; and between the ages of 20-24 it is 5-6 times more. In 2017 the youth suicide rate became the highest on record with young males between 15-19 registering a 21% increase over the previous year.
(Sources: The Boy Crisis by Warren Farrell, PhD and John Gray, PhD; Journal of the American Medical Association: Suicide Rate Among Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States, 2000-2007; Gun Violence Archive.)
What about video games. Isn’t that a cause of a lot of the trouble?
“Video game addiction” is actually just a symptom of a larger problem. Recently the New York Times Magazine ran a very thoughtful, in-depth article called “Can You Really Be Addicted to Video Games” by Ferris Jabr in which he pointed out some interesting, and kind of depressing, correlations. He said:
“The economic and cultural ascendency of video games has collided with a social crisis that we are only beginning to understand: the isolation, emotional stagnation and profound loneliness of American men.
From 2014 to 2017, American men in their 20s worked 1.8 fewer hours per week than they had in the three-year period 10 years earlier; in tandem, they increased the time they spent playing video games by the exact same amount.”
“Why suffer in a world that has no place for you when you can slip so easily into one that is designed to keep you happy and is more than happy to keep you?”
That belief, that “the world has no place for you” is the kind of belief that attracts situations and opportunities that validate it – that “prove” it. It’s a vicious, self-fulfilling prophecy. A success mindset can keep that belief from ever taking root. It’s one reason I’m so passionate about sharing how it works and what we know about how to create it.
In fact, we believe that chasing other solutions is, in a way, like spending all of your time, energy and resources trying drug after expensive drug to cure an unknown illness. Could it work? Maybe. But if stimulating the body’s own immune system to defeat an intruder illness is a sure-fire cure, doesn’t it make more sense to do that? What if we had a way to stimulate a boy’s own “immune system” to fight off loneliness, low self-esteem, and helpless feelings and instead empower him to take responsibility for himself and create opportunities that bring joy, happiness, respect, friendship and satisfaction?
We do have that way. Does this approach or this book claim to solve all problems? No, and it’s not a quick fix even if certain things do bring about fast results. But here’s the thing… no matter what age a boy is now, from babies to toddlers to teens, what he believes about himself is the single greatest factor determining his happiness, his confidence, his ability to make friends, his willingness to try new things and to take responsibility for himself. Don’t we want to do all we can now?
What will people discover in the book?
- A clear vision of where we, the reader, want to go with our parenting or teaching – that’s the destination
- How to create a custom itinerary for getting there
- How to empower a boy to drive his own life
- Ten steps to strategically and deliberately create his success mindset
- Real-life examples and testimonials.
- Practical strategies to put to work immediately.
- Further resources and support.
- Your time with a child, no matter how brief, can have a lasting positive effect that leads to success—as long as you use the right interventions.
- Why rules can lead to failure.
- What you do is not as important as why you are doing it.
- You do not need to be perfect or to first understand and heal your past hurts before you can become amazing and effective and launch a boy on a path of future success.
- You can do this now and feel confident that you are on the right track.
We also share some surprising insights, like:
Will this book help teachers?
Absolutely! In fact, many teachers have told us that it gave them a different way of thinking about teaching and mentoring by focusing on the one thing that truly makes the difference. Let’s face it, in today’s world we expect teachers to do more and more with less and less support. This is a way to empower kids to be responsible for themselves, to take the initiative to set personal learning goals and achieve them, and to get along with others because they feel good about themselves. We think that’s a worthy outcome!
This book is for:
- Busy teachers who want to make the best use of time by focusing on the one thing that produces the best results.
- Busy parents on that hamster wheel of life who need an effective game plan to create the foundation for a boy’s happy, confident and successful future.
- Anyone who worries about how outside influences are impacting our boys.
- Parents of kids with disabilities who want them to identify with their abilities and not their disability.
- High performers and leaders who are personally committed to success principles and want to instill them in their sons.
- Grandparents who know their time to influence a boy’s development may be intermittent or short and want to do what they can to pass along a lifetime advantage.
- Caring coaches and mentors who are committed to giving boys a chance to bring out the best in themselves.
- And really anyone and everyone who understands that transformational opportunities for our own personal growth often come through our interactions with children.
You’ve talked about your dad, but what about your co-author – your mom?
My mom is amazing. A little dynamo. She started writing this book when she was 83 and now, at 92, she’s a published author! But it’s just one more chapter in a life of many interesting and different chapters.
At our summer camp, my dad was the personality of the camp, but it was my mom who kept it running. She managed all of the paperwork, the finances, the food, the menus, and the logistics. At the same time she was a surrogate mom to 140 boys every summer. People would say, “Your dad is so amazing. He knows everyone!” What they didn’t know is that every time a person drove into the camp that Dad didn’t recognize, his secret strategy was to yell out, “Tess! Look who’s here!!” And she always knew who it was.
During the winter months when the camp was closed, she put her degree in journalism to work writing books and manuals for 4H programs. And she’s very creative. For a while she took up oil painting and she went through one phase where she made incredible stained glass windows.
But in the 1970’s she turned her attention to improving life for Michigan’s senior citizens. That was when she was hired to be the Director of Michigan’s Area Agencies on Aging Association. For eight years she led legislative advocacy efforts and helped seniors learn how to advocate for themselves. The highlight was her creation of “Senior Power Day” where over 6,000 seniors came to the state capitol on big tour busses from all over the state to lobby their legislators, department heads and the Governor. It was very effective. When she retired, the Michigan Legislature passed a resolution saying she had “played a major role in every significant piece of legislation affecting older persons during the past 10 years.”
After the camp closed, she and my dad moved to Florida, but she wasn’t retired for long. She was appointed by Florida’s Governor to lead the effort to create a new Florida Department of Elder Affairs. That was successful and she served five years as the Chair of its Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
Next she joined the American Association of Retired Persons (now it’s just called AARP) and soon became the Florida State President. She was then elected to the AARP National Board of Directors and then elected to be the National Vice President. That was a big role. AARP has 38 million members.
She went on to become the AARP National President and represented its members around the nation and the world. One day I turned on the TV and did a double-take when I thought I saw someone I knew. I did. It was my mom walking into a room with the President of the United States. Another time I saw her on C-SPAN testifying before Congress.
I remember when she first became the AARP Vice President and was appointed to represent the organization on the board of a large insurance company that was handling the AARP insurance and investment plans that were offered to members. Back then, there were very few women on national boards and speaking up was not an easy thing to do. She told me a story about sitting quietly on that board for a few meetings, kind of intimidated by all of the powerful men there. But as she listened and started to analyze the investment returns that AARP members were getting and compare them to the returns that other companies were producing, she didn’t think the members were getting a good deal. In one of those big board meetings she spoke up and she kept talking about it until things changed. “I was afraid to speak up,” she told me, “but I did it because it our members needed me to.” That kind of dedication to service and to helping others has defined her life.
She brought that same dedication to the writing of this book. She wants to share information she knows can help others. So, at 83 she decided to sit down and start writing. That summer, all through the summer days, she sat at her desk overlooking the lake in Northern Michigan where the summer camp once stood, and pecked away at her computer–day after day for nearly three months. At the end of summer she returned home to Florida where everyday activities interrupted the flow of the book writing. But when the next summer arrived, she came back to the lake and kept pecking away at the computer.
The book began as a memoir, as a way to remember an important, sweet and meaningful time where time seemed to stand still in beautiful summers in the woods, water and sunshine. But it soon turned into two books–a memoir and a book of lessons learned. And as we began to truly understand why the Flying Eagle Formula was so successful, her desire to write a book of lessons learned became a mission to share what we knew could work for all kids.
And now, nine years later, it just shows it’s never too late to follow your dreams.
Mom has been especially thrilled that grandparents want to pass it along to help their grandchildren. One grandparent told us:
“I couldn’t help but think, as we watched the news about yet another school shooting, that if the Flying Eagle Formula were instituted in the schools it would make a world of real difference and save lives far beyond the other measures they want to take.”
Others have called the book ”a masterclass” and a “literary life compass.”
I’m really proud of her.
What about you? Why did you decide to help write it?
And what’s so ironic is that I was a parenting advice junkie. I was consciously trying to be the best parent I could be. I read everything I could get my hands on and tried to follow the advice that experts said would lead to great outcomes, but I was missing the most important piece. And here’s the thing: if you get that most important piece, the mindset piece, all the rest of what you are doing kind of doesn’t matter. And if you don’t get the most important piece, all of the rest of what you are doing kind of doesn’t matter. It’s like having a nice car with no wheels.
I’ll give you some examples of things I did that are like having a nice car without wheels. Because I’d read all the research that shows that tiny kids are like super computers and we learn more in the first six months of life than any other time, I did “bits of knowledge” with my sons. These are a kind of a flash card. They work because they grow the brain’s synapses and connections. They increase the capacity of our brains. And they worked! I sent my boys to the best preschool I could and moved into the best school district. We visited every museum and space center I could find.
I got involved with the schools. When they started elementary school I began an after-school program to give them fun experiences like dissecting frogs, and learning different languages and how to draw cartoons. I became the PTA president and a Cub Scout Den Mother and a soccer mom. I made elaborate Halloween costumes and put notes in their lunch boxes. I hosted an “algebra math club” at our house when they were in 4th grade and they started college math classes in 7th grade. I sent them to summer camp, and NASA Space Camp. In middle school I started a Science Olympiad team and coached it for three years. They had chores, they had jobs. I had us eat dinner together. And on and on…
Let’s be clear. The boys turned into fine young men despite mistakes I made. And I did do a lot of things my boys will say they appreciate. But I also really did miss the most important piece. Now I’m on a mission to share what I know. I don’t want others to spend years trying to do the right things only to find out later that they missed the most important ones.
I believe every boy can have a success mindset. Their circumstances might be different, their challenges might be different, but they can all have, do, and be amazing. That’s why I want to share the Formula. I believe we can reverse the trend of ever the increasing numbers of disillusioned, depressed, and unmotivated boys by focusing, while they are young, on the one thing that matters – what they believe about themselves.
This is what we share in the book. We are teaching a boy who he is–the truth about himself–that he is respected, interesting, successful, resourceful, that he can tackle new things and master them, that people like him, that his opinions count, and that he has value and worth. When these beliefs are embedded in a boy’s mind, he becomes all of that–just as the mustard seed knows what it is and becomes the plant, the boy knows who he is and becomes it. There is a magic to it, an alchemy, which is greater than the sum of the steps you take and the things you do. We show how to make that happen.
It’s my mission to make creating a success mindset the most important goal of parenting and the most important goal for anyone who is helping to raise boys to men. Our big goal is to help 1 million parents and teachers learn this simple and effective Formula that produces the one thing that creates all other results. I want help create happy, empowered kids, knowing that it will create a better world for all of us.