Being rich, famous, and at the top of your field is awesome. But it doesn’t absolve anyone from self-doubt and anxiety.

Just ask Samantha Ponder. At 31, she’s been a successful sideline reporter and "College GameDay" host, and she's a mom to two beautiful kids. Most recently in 2017, she became the first female host of ESPN’s "Sunday NFL Countdown," shattering the concept that women can’t talk sports from the desk.  

Picture day at my new school. 👍🏼


A post shared by Sam Ponder (@samanthaponder) on

Despite a decade of hard-earned experience under her belt, she still felt insecure at times. “Every job I’ve had I’ve wondered, 'holy crap, I don’t know if I’m good enough,'” she says.

Like many of us, she struggled to define her self-worth at work. She often passed salary and contract negotiations off to an agent. Early in her career, Ponder found it difficult to manage criticism and negativity from social media trolls.

"I used to call my dad to ask what I was doing wrong," she recalls. "He usually responded with 'consider the source.'"

But even with a great support network, it's difficult not to let that type of criticism affect your self-image. It wasn't until she gave birth to her daughter that Ponder gained new perspective.

My favorite time of day. "Mama les snuggle an watch basitball." ❤🏀

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Ponder started thinking about what she would advise her daughter to do. Then she started to act on it herself.

Instead of handing difficult conversations off to her agent, she took her seat at the table.

"Talking about money makes me so uncomfortable, but this time around, I was much more involved," she says, referring to the contract negotiations for her new job at ESPN. She fought the doubting voice inside her saying, “What if they don’t want me? What if they say you should just be glad we gave you a job.” And replaced it with "What would I tell my daughter to do?"

It's this philosophy that's carried Ponder to the top of her field and in proving her worth — to herself and others. In reflecting on her career so far, Ponder highlights three key truths that continue to motivate her.

1. Don’t bluff.

Women frequently undervalue themselves in the workplace, which can lead to lower pay and ultimately less upward mobility into executive roles. Ponder says success in negotiating requires balance: be confident and honest in estimating your worth. Having specific examples and honest reasons to back it up not only strengthens your case but also allows you to be OK (truly OK) with walking away if your employer decides not to negotiate.

2. Maintain an identity separate from your job.

It’s easy to let the power dynamics of a job negotiation cloud your vision of yourself. "If you need the offer to feel happy, then they control you," she says.

If the job means everything to you, you no longer have negotiating power. No job is more important that your happiness. Whether it's family, friends, faith, a hobby, or a side hustle, it's important to find ways to maintain your happiness outside of work.

Never a dull moment with this chick. Today she told me she needed a purse because she had a business meeting 😏

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3. Know your boundaries.

"At the end of the day, everybody’s got to feed their family," Ponder says. Know your boundaries and what walking away means for you, she advises.

It’s all part of an effort to change her own learned behaviors now so that when her daughter’s generation confronts the same issues, it’s less uncomfortable. Whether it’s salary negotiations, setting an example for your child, or simply finding peace in a new position, Ponder reiterates the importance of cutting yourself some slack.

“I think can we all just admit that we’re insecure. All of us,” she said.

Knowing this, and owning it, allows you to take the pressure off and get down to real business.

For more from our I’ll Just Say it series, read on here.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

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There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

Screenshot taken from a live video of the trial.

A recent (and fairly insensitive) sketch from “Saturday Night Live” said it best regarding the widespread fixation many have on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial:

“It’s not the most pertinent story of the moment, but with all the problems in the world, isn’t it nice to have a news story we can all collectively watch and say ‘glad it ain't me?’”

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

Schadenfreude, celebrity fascination and previously inaccessible information now being at our fingertips is a potent combination in this trial, making amateur lawyers and psychologists of all who feel compelled to unleash their hot takes. And though the right to converse and speculate exists, is it always in our best interests to do so? Especially when it means potentially spreading misinformation, or at the cost of empathy and compassion?

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Photo from Upworthy Library

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