The final post

On October 12, 2009, I began writing one post here on the Collegewise blog every day. Today, exactly ten years and 3,653 daily posts in a row later, I write my final post.

I’ll admit to feeling like I’m saying goodbye to an old friend. Every day for the last ten years, good days, bad, and every day in between, the blog has been here through all of it, ready for me to write and share whatever I hoped would be blog-worthy that day. The technology that makes this blog possible might be inanimate, but the words that went into each post were not, and neither are the readers who’ve been here with me to read them. It feels very real to say goodbye to both.

But the emotion I’m feeling most overwhelmingly today is gratitude. What an extraordinary privilege to get to do this, to so easily put thoughts and words out into the internet universe and, over time, find an audience with whom they resonate.

I’ve heard from so many high school counselors over the years who’ve told me they start their workdays with coffee and my blog, professionals with whom I never would have connected were it not for this platform.

I’ve heard from parents who’ve read my posts through their own children’s college process. Some did so with two or three—and for one reader who reached out, four—kids. Some emailed just to say thank you and to tell me that while their family had finally aged out of the need to keep reading about college admissions, they were recommending my blog to their own friends with college-prepping kids still growing in the wings.

My parents, both of whom are in their late seventies, dutifully start each morning with my blog. They’ve forwarded entries to friends whose kids are going through the college process. Now that I’ve become a parent myself, I understand they’ve done this because parenting never really stops no matter how old your kids get. Mom and Pop, most of these posts didn’t have applicability for you. But you’ve been my most loyal fans for a lot longer than the last ten years. I hope you saw your influence as much as I felt it in so many of those posts as I wrote them.

Blogging has been a ten-year journey for me. And the readers who’ve shown up, whether for a single post or for years, arrived here because they were on a journey of their own. They were applying to college. They were the parent of a college applicant. They were a counselor or a teacher or an administrator hoping to make things better for the students or employees they served. None of us are going to play those roles forever. But our respective journeys intersected during this time, and I’m so grateful that they did.

Today, my final lesson learned from daily blogging is the one that’s taken me the longest to learn, and it’s been the most transformative for me. I hope it can be for you, too.

Lesson #31 of my final 31 posts: We’re all on a journey together.

One of the most important life skills we can hone is also one of the most difficult to practice in the moment: to see the distinction between what feels important today and what will actually be important many tomorrows from now. One way to do this is to think of life as a journey, one that each of us is on in our own way.

Students, how many of you recall a day in freshman year when you thought everything was falling apart, only to look back today and smile at your resilience and maybe even at your fourteen-year-old naivety?

Parents, how many times did your kid do something that drove you crazy in the moment but later became just a story, maybe even a funny one, you shared together? As my wise mother-in-law once said about a challenge my wife and I were facing with our then infant, “Someday this will all be just an anecdote.”

That presentation that flopped at work, that test that just didn’t go well, that unconstructive criticism that stung even though the critic didn’t know you or your work well enough to comment–you may have felt the weight of it on day one. But it’s comparatively light when you frame that day as just one tiny step on a much longer journey.

The perpetually disgruntled boss or the irascible neighbor or the student who shows you every day that they care a lot less than you do about whatever you’re trying to help them with, they become easier to manage when you consider that they’re on a journey, too. How did they get to this place? Who or what made them this way? And how can you best continue your own journey for whatever time it intersects with theirs?

The college admissions process is still spinning out of control as much as it was when I started this blog (and maybe even more so). But one of the best antidotes to it for both parents and students is to reframe it as just one comparatively short portion of a much longer journey. Everything from the grades to the test scores to the admissions decisions carries so much weight in the moment, but that weight diminishes over time. These students are in the earliest stages of their lives. They’re not who they’re going to be yet. And almost nothing that’s part of the college admissions process can permanently disrupt their chances for a happy, fulfilling, successful life.

Treating our life like a journey means that we zoom in and try to make the most of each day while also zooming out to see the bigger picture. It means we aren’t surprised when people behave badly or when things don’t go as we’d planned. It means we double down on the things that will matter for the long run and let those things go that ultimately just aren’t that important.

And when we embrace that view, both our days and our journey itself become more enjoyable and fulfilling.

To the students who read this, I hope you’re excited about your journey to and through college. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, and you’re about to take your first truly independent steps. Work hard, treat people right, and trust yourself. Things will work out.

Parents, nobody gave us a manual on day one of this job. We’re all just doing our best. Give yourself the grace to occasionally get it wrong. And give your kids the same. You might struggle with the notion that your kids will soon be out on their own. But experience at Collegewise has shown me repeatedly that the best is yet to come for both you and your kids. When they depart for college, know that saying goodbye to this part of the journey as a parent is just the opportunity to begin the next even more enjoyable portion.

Counselors, you’ve earned the privilege of intersecting your professional journey with the academic and personal journeys of your students. What a gift you bring to them when you honor the path they’re on and try to help them find their way. They may not see and appreciate it today. But that’s only because they aren’t far enough along in their own journey yet.

We’re each on a journey, just doing our best as we go. Make yours better, and as much as you can, do the same for those who are important to you.

As I say goodbye, I have one final parting gift to resource to anyone who’s interested. I’ve bundled my final 31 posts into a free ebook, Work is Personal for the Person Doing the Work. I hope you enjoy it, and more importantly, I hope you share it with anyone who you think might benefit. It took me ten years and 3,653 daily posts to learn these lessons. I’d love to pass them along to people who might want to enhance their own lifelong learning curve.

Our journey together as blogger and reader is coming to an end. I hope you enjoyed this mutual merging of pathways we took together. I certainly know that I did, each and every day, for the last ten years.

Thank you for showing up, for reading and sharing, and most importantly, for letting me join you on this small part of your own journey.

With profound appreciation and gratitude…

Cheers,
Kevin

Forget well-rounded

We’re taught from a young age that we can be great at anything if we put our minds to it. When paired with the pressure surrounding the college admissions process, this thinking leads many families to spend far too much time focusing on what they perceive as the student’s weaknesses. The highest grade on a report card barely catches the eye as a parent is instinctively drawn to the lowest grade. Students abandon activities they enjoy just because they aren’t excelling in a way they believe will resonate on a college application. And the test-preparation industry is the commercial giant that it is not because higher scores make kids smarter, but because lower scores are deemed an imperfection that can be polished with enough time and money.

This thinking often doesn’t stop once teens become adults. How many working professionals have been in a performance review where your boss spends the first 5 minutes reviewing your successes and the remainder of the hour strategizing about how to improve or otherwise change you? Those interactions might be well intentioned. It certainly makes sense to think that defining areas of improvement is predicated on pointing out flaws.

But it’s all predicated on this idea that the best people are well-rounded, that the key to reaching your potential is just to keep addressing weaknesses until you’re good at everything. And that thinking is woefully misguided.

Lesson #30 of my final 31 posts: Your strengths are your best opportunities.

Early in my career at Collegewise, I discovered Marcus Buckingham’s groundbreaking research as part of the Gallup Organization. And his findings can fundamentally impact your potential, success, and personal fulfillment.

Buckingham’s work focuses on three overarching principles:

1. We can’t all be good at everything no matter how determined we may be. But every one of us has unique strengths where we can be great.

2. Our strengths actually improve more with effort than our weaknesses do.

3. If you want to discover your potential, focus less on improving your weaknesses and more on maximizing your strengths.

Buckingham isn’t arguing that we should all ignore our weaknesses entirely or abandon any notion of self-improvement. Failing biology could impact a student’s chances of graduating from high school, much less getting accepted to college. If you’re a terrible listener, you could damage your relationships with the people you care about most. A refusal to address those weaknesses carries a heavy and potentially long-term price that you’d likely rather not pay. So by all means, let the improvement begin. But it might also be worth abandoning any notion that you’ll one day major in biology or become a family therapist. Why not redirect more sustained efforts into developing those areas where you already excel?

It’s important to make the distinction that a strength isn’t simply something you’re good at—it’s also something that energizes you. The fact that you’re really good at meeting and getting to know strangers isn’t a strength if those interactions exhaust you. But if you’re consistently drawn to talk to people you don’t know, you enjoy your time doing it, and you can’t wait to do it again when you’re done, you’ve got yourself a strength. What a wonderful opportunity to consider how you could bring even more of that out to help you become your best, most successful and fulfilled self.

For 20 years, we’ve embraced this notion of strengths at Collegewise. We encourage our students to do more of what they love and to spend less time polishing perceived imperfections. We hire employees who already have the necessary strengths to thrive in their intended role, leaving our training to fill in the gaps of knowledge that don’t rely on innate talents. When we assign people to projects, or conduct performance reviews, or consider someone’s potential for a new role, we start by looking at those areas where they already excel, the parts of their work that they seem to love doing most and consistently do very well. In return, they get to do what they do best every day. They constantly feel the thrill of progressing towards mastery. And we have some of the most engaged, successful employees in our industry.

We should all be defining ourselves by who we are rather than who we’re not. Acknowledge that your weaknesses exist. Manage around them when they get in your way and negatively impact your work or life. But please don’t spend your life fixing, polishing, or otherwise trying to change who you are in pursuit of being well-rounded. Well-rounded is average. Well-rounded is unexceptional. Direct more time into developing your strengths. You’ll bring out more of the very best in yourself. And that’s the surest way to stand out.

If you’d like to learn more about Buckingham’s strengths-based research, his blog is here, and his books are here.

Don’t delay happiness

It seems too many people treat their own happiness like delayed gratification, something they’ll discover once they get or do or find whatever it is they want. We’ve seen this for years at Collegewise with those students who’ve convinced themselves that if they can just get an acceptance from a prestigious college, all their hard work will have been validated and they can finally get on with enjoying their lives. And it’s not just teenagers. Plenty of adults hope that new promotion or house or relationship will provide the missing piece to finally vault them into a state of happiness.

But according to science, that approach is backwards. The secret to getting what you think will make you happy is to start being happier today. And it’s a lot easier to do than it might sound.

Lesson #29 of my final 31 posts: Happiness leads to success, not the other way around.

In 2013, I stumbled on the work of author and positive psychology expert Shawn Achor. Achor’s overarching message is that while most people believe success creates happiness, happiness actually fuels success. The more positive we are, the more engaged, creative, energetic, resilient and productive our brains become. And the results can be life-changing, improving our success at work or school, our health, and our relationships with friends and loved ones.

Achor’s insights resonated with me for several reasons, not the least of which is that they just seemed to make sense. But I also appreciated that he isn’t just a psychological cheerleader recommending that we all simply smile our way to getting everything we want. All of his recommendations are based on neuroscience. The man has spent an inordinate amount of time looking at brain scans and he’s seen the neurological changes that take place just from making small changes.

Here’s one example: Start every day by making a list of three good things that happened the day before. They don’t have to be big. A great meal, a fun interaction with your kid, even a friend’s story that made you laugh—just write three down, small or substantial. When you do this, your brain is forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives. According to Achor, this practice trains your brain not just to notice what’s good in your life, but also to get better at spotting and seizing opportunities. You don’t just become happier. You make more progress towards the things you want the most. The science is there. You can actually change your brain in five minutes a day.

Achor’s TED Talk provides a great overview of his approach and some specific strategies you can use (heads up: I found the tone a little too infomercial-style for my taste, but the content is excellent). And his book dives into all the research with even more strategies you can use right away.

If you need a little nudge, consider this. If someone offered you an FDA-approved pill that would make you happier, with the only side effect that you’d probably get closer to what you want in your life, would you take it?

Don’t delay your own happiness. Start now.

Learn by teaching

In the daily search for interesting blog fodder, I’ve come across a lot of advice about how students can best learn and retain information. But one particular approach stood out. It’s so advanced that it’s named after a Nobel Prize winner in physics. It’s so simple that any student can use it. And it’s so effective that I not only wish I’d known about it back when I was a student, but I also use it today whenever I’m trying to wrap my head around something unfamiliar.

Lesson #28 of my final 31 posts: The best way to learn something is to teach it.

When I think of all the study hours my high school and college-age self spent reviewing, studying, and reviewing again only to have the material a) still not fully sink in, or b) seemingly sink in only to evaporate in the first minute of an exam, I can’t believe I didn’t discover this learning gem sooner.

Whether you’re taking in a new idea for the first time or studying past material to prepare for an exam, the single best way to not just recall, but deeply understand whatever you’re trying to learn is to teach it. Out loud. As if you were standing in front of a class (this technique does not require the use of a live audience).

Named after Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize Winning Physicist, you can find a great explanation of the “Feynman Technique” here from study skills author Scott Young (who learned all the material for MIT’s 4-year computer degree in one year, and did so online). But here are the most important steps if you want this to work.

1. Actively imagine that you’re preparing for a lecture in front of a class full of students who are unfamiliar with the topic. How would you best explain it so they could understand it? That thinking is forcing your mind to work in a way that it doesn’t if you’re just reviewing notes. It’s not necessarily easy to do. And that’s the point. Anything you don’t truly understand, including subtle connections between topics, exposes itself in a way that passive studying does not. You wouldn’t get up in front of the room unless you knew exactly what you were talking about. And this preparation gets the same real result without the real crowd

2. Actually stand up and deliver your lecture, without notes, to an imaginary crowd. You don’t have to project like a crazy person. But if you don’t actually act out the lecture, it’s too easy to accidentally let yourself off the hook in those portions where you haven’t yet made the necessary connections. And once you can nail the lecture, that material is locked away in your memory.

You can spend hours passively reviewing notes and actually not remember any of it. Spending that time actually working through problem sets is a much more active and effective approach. But if you can stand up and teach that material, step-by-step, that’s when you really understand and remember it.

Counselors and other working professionals can use this method, too. Maybe you’re trying to learn how to best pitch your project, or sell a solution, or use a new system? Try explaining it to an imaginary room and you’ll see the learning pick up quickly. I’ve even used it when trying to understand a non-fiction book.

The truth is that my high school self may have rolled his eyes at this suggestion. But students, don’t mock it until you try it. I promise this works.

The magic of “no”

One of the most under-utilized and underrated secrets to doing more and better work in less time is saying “no” more often.

The quest to stand out, to be productive, and to be recognized pushes too many of us to take on too much. High school students who are overscheduled without a moment to breathe. Working professionals who feel compelled to be reachable at all hours. So many of us have somehow embraced the ideas that success is the product of constant busyness. But a growing body of experts, research, and just plain common sense disagrees. Successful people get that way in part because they honor what they’ve committed to by refusing to distract themselves from it.

Lesson #27 of my final 31 posts: Successful people say “no.”

Do you really want or need to add that new commitment to your schedule? That club, meeting, committee, position, etc.—will saying “yes” allow you to give your best work and take some growth, learning, or benefit away from the experience? Or will it simply be yet another thing to say that you’re doing? If it’s the latter, why not say “no” and redouble your efforts to complete what you’ve already said “yes” to?

Saying no doesn’t dilute your ambition. It prevents you from distracting it.

Saying no doesn’t eschew hard work. It honors where you’ve already chosen to do it.

Saying no doesn’t have to be selfish. It can give you more opportunities to be selfless.

Saying no gives you the time, space, and focus to honor what you’ve said yes to.

Here are a few past posts, and some other experts’ takes, on the value of saying no.

My past posts that link to the research and writing on this topic are here, here, and here. Stanford professor Jim Collins calls it a “Stop Doing” list. Study skills author Cal Newport preaches the value of under-scheduling. And author Marcus Buckingham says in his book The One Thing You Need to Know that the key to sustained success and happiness is to “Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it.”

Responsibility sits with the student

Over the last 25 years, earning a college degree has simultaneously gotten more and less important.

The United States has the most robust, open, and accessible system of higher education anywhere in the world. And there’s never been a time when more students have availed themselves of it. Considering how many job postings still list a college degree as a requirement, a person without those credentials has fewer options. And even candidates with a degree in hand often find themselves much deeper in a long line of qualified applicants than they might have been a generation ago. Given that it’s perfectly normal for a 17-year-old to not yet know what they want to do with their life, taking college off the table preemptively removes options that might later appeal to the former teen turned young adult.

But knowledge has never been more widely and cheaply available than it is today. Almost anything that interests you is just a few clicks and searches away. You can save the test-taking, application angst, and student debt of attending MIT and instead take more than 2,000 of their courses for free. The price of attending college has risen so much that the magic to be found by engaging on campus often doesn’t justify the lifelong debt that can accompany it. And while there’s a good reason someone can’t become a YouTube-self-taught heart surgeon, there are hundreds of other disciplines that can be learned and mastered on-the-cheap, and an increasing number of industries and professions that care a lot more about what you can do than if you earned a college degree at all, much less from a famous college.

My take: Going to college is still important. The name-brand prestige of the school is not. And nothing is more important than what the student does while they are there.

Lesson #26 of my final 31 posts: The student owns responsibility for making their college experience worthwhile.

I’ve always said that enrolling in college is like enrolling at a gym. The work and effort you put in, not the expense or reputation or staff around it, ultimately decides whether or not you get the results you want.

But the change I’ve noticed in the last ten years is that a student used to be able to get by in college without extracting much from the experience, yet still somehow be OK on the other side as long as they emerged with a degree in hand. They might later regret not making more of what was available to them at the time, but they’d get their first job and find their way.

That outcome is a lot less certain than it used to be.

Just having a college degree means a lot less than it used to. There are simply too many other people who have the same qualification. And the mounting student debt figures are proof enough that the investment of college carries a lot more risk than it used to. If you’re going to do it, you’d better be ready to do your part to maximize that return.

I’ve seen so many families rigorously evaluate everything about potential colleges—what they offer, who they employ, where their graduates get jobs and for how much pay, etc.—without ever considering what the student will contribute to extract that purported value. Would I rather a student have professors that are engaged than disengaged? Sure. But an engaged student will always find a way to get educated no matter who’s standing in front of the room.

College is not an amusement park ride where you sit back and enjoy the experience until it’s over. It’s a four-year opportunity, almost all of which will be available for the student who wants to drive their desired outcome, almost none of which will be foisted upon any passive rider.

What makes college worthwhile can and should be different for different students (and for any parents who are paying some or all of the bill). But whatever your version is, please say it out loud. Discuss it as a family and with your counselor. Find colleges that can give you the right combination of opportunity and offerings and affordability. And most importantly for the student who will be attending: accept, embrace, and maintain your responsibility for making your college experience worthwhile.

For more advice on how to make your own college experience worthwhile, here are a few posts and resources:

First, a past post of mine with advice from Richard J. Light, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, on how to make the most of college.

Another of my past write-ups, “How to build a remarkable college career,” is here.

A couple posts on using college to prepare you for a job after graduation are here and here.

And finally, computer science professor Cal Newport has authored two fantastic books on college success: (1) How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets from the Country’s Best Students, and (2) How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less.

Real communication is human

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Have you ever felt better when a company or service says that? Has anyone?

What’s the point in sharing those words? What did the person who made the decision behind that messaging think or hope was going to happen to those who read or heard it? And more importantly, why didn’t a real person just communicate like a real human? Imagine the difference between the boilerplate language and, “We know we let you down. There’s just no good excuse. We’re so sorry. We really want to make things better if you’ll let us.”

Lesson #25 of my final 31 posts: Sound like your real human self.

I understood the basis of this lesson long before I started writing this blog—since 1999, we’ve been teaching our students at Collegewise to sound like themselves in their college essays.

But what I didn’t realize ten years ago was how pervasive seemingly non-human communication is.

Banal cover letters from job applicants, canned statements from CEOs, prepared talking points from politicians, bullet pointed presentations (read aloud to audiences) from speakers, emotionless email requests for meetings or information or advice–all of these examples would be dramatically improved if the human composing the message just communicated with the humans on the receiving end.

To improve any of your communication, in an email, in person, on the phone, to a group or an individual, start with these four questions:

  1. What is this communication for?
  2. Who is it for? The more specific, the better.
  3. What change are you trying to create as a result of this interaction?
  4. And most importantly, how would you say it if the person were sitting in front of you?

Lifeless and programmatic is fine if you’re writing code for a computer. But as soon as there’s a human involved, your commutation improves when you sound like your real human self.

Greatness lies in meaningful change made

Too many students approach their academic and extracurricular commitments like a checklist. Take this course, complete community service, take a leadership position—check, check, check. But the most successful applicants don’t just enroll and participate—they make things better as a result of their involvement. The classroom discussion is better with them in the room. The team is better with them on it. The club is better with them in it. The group is more focused, the customers are happier, the orchestra is more enjoyable. There’s a noticeable difference when they’re involved, a clear before-and-after effect. They make an impact, they leave a legacy, and they’re missed when they move on.

But I’ve realized over the last ten years that what these impactful students do is create change. And that’s the lesson that anyone can apply to their work, their project, and their life.

Lesson #24 of my final 31 posts: Greatness lies in meaningful change made.

If you want to make your time, project, or other commitment more impactful, start by asking, “What change am I trying to make?”

The most impactful leaders don’t just chair meetings. They envision a better future and then rally people towards it. They paint a contrast of where the group is today and where they could be tomorrow. The process of getting there is the change a leader strives to create.

The most impactful teachers create change in their students. You understand algebra, or look forward to their class, or find a new academic interest because of them. That’s the change they make.

A great participant in a meeting doesn’t just share their opinion. They ask the hard questions. They seek the thoughts of those who aren’t speaking. They focus the group, elevate the agenda, and move others to take some action. The meeting is better with them in it because of the change they make.

A great speech doesn’t just share information. It changes the audience. They leave the talk knowing, feeling, or thinking something that wasn’t there before they arrived. A great speech changes people.

A great addition to a team can lead the team in scoring. But they can also be the most effective passer. Or they can lead from the bench, bringing enough enthusiasm and commitment that the team changes for the better with them on it even if the game never sees them in it.

My mother taught high school English for 30 years. And she often wrote letters of recommendation for kids who didn’t break the curve in her class, but who found a way to create change anyway. One C student captivated the class during his project. He created a skit in which he and a friend reenacted the sword fight between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Macduff. That one day, that student made the class better. He changed things, and that change showed colleges a glimpse of his potential.

Our counselors at Collegewise focus every day on creating change. We want to send that family away from our meeting feeling better than they did when they arrived. We want the audience at the school that invited us to speak to feel more optimistic about their college process than before we arrived. We want our Common App guide to make a student’s application a lot less common. And everyone at Collegewise tries to leave work a little better than they found it each day.

Change makers don’t have to be the smartest, the fastest, or the best at what they do. They seek the right opportunities, they bring their best selves to them, and they look for opportunities to make their impact. When they apply to college, they communicate how they made things better as a result of their involvement. Big or small, over time or today, for one person or a group or an entire community, meaningful change is at the heart of all of it.

Showing up is just the start. Participating is doing what you’re asked to do once you’re there. But if you want to bring your best self to what you’re doing, if you want to be valued and appreciated, if you want to earn a reputation as someone who’s always a positive addition to a meaningful group, cause, or project, your opportunity for greatness lies in the meaningful change you make.

Find what won’t change

Last week, under pressure from the Department of Justice, the National Association for College Admission Counseling reluctantly voted to make several significant changes to their code of ethics. Broadly speaking, the ethics code used to prevent colleges from doing two things: (1) offering incentives to students who applied under binding early-decision programs, and (2) continuing to recruit a student once he or she has submitted a deposit to another institution. As of last week, those clauses of ethical standards no longer exist. Eric Hoover of The Chronicle of Higher Education does a wonderful job laying out the story behind the changes here, and counselor Patrick O’Connor brings his usual combination of expertise and empathy in his post to fellow counselors about the potential impact on their work.

The scope and impact of this change will likely vary based on a number of factors. Depending on where a student applies to college, many families likely won’t even notice—it will be college-application-business as usual. Some counselors, as O’Connor describes, will see changes not just in the nature of the conversations they have with their students, but also when those conversations take place. And the admissions staff at some colleges will likely see big changes as they assemble—and now will have to work harder to keep—their incoming classes, especially at those schools that have traditionally had to compete with other colleges to attract similar applicants.

But while tomorrow’s lesson will explore the wisdom in embracing change and the opportunity it presents, today’s is just as important.

Lesson #23 of my final 31 posts: Seek opportunities to invest in what won’t change.

Most of us have never lived in a time of greater change than we do today. At work, at school, and even at home, the world and technology and the implications of it all can be dizzying to try to keep up with, much less to look around the corner of tomorrow and anticipate what may be coming next. But there’s a lot of potential opportunity in stepping back, recognizing what won’t change, and then investing in it.

Collegewise has been through repeated substantial changes over the last ten years. We’ve grown exponentially. We’ve been bought and sold. We’ve launched new products and initiatives, some to great success, some not. But through it all, every single day, we’ve stayed focused on what we knew would not change: Collegewise counselors will always be sitting down individually with families and helping them through an important, stressful time. So we invested in finding and training the very best people to join us, and in creating a company where they could do their very best work. We’ve broadened that investment to many roles that didn’t exist here ten years ago. But we knew that if we could consistently invest in and improve on what would never change, we’d be OK no matter what changed around us.

Families experiencing the anxiety of college admissions can regain control and comfort by investing in what won’t change. A student’s work ethic, curiosity, and character will always be central to their success and happiness. Kids will always benefit enormously from supportive parents who love them unconditionally. No grade, test score, or admissions decision from a college will change those truths. And right there is your opportunity to double-down on that investment.

Whether the resulting changes from the NACAC policy shift prove to be subtle or substantial, kids will always benefit from a school counselor who hears them and genuinely wants to help them get where they want to go in life. Counselors will always be even better at their jobs when they make reasonable efforts to provide themselves and their student communities with good college planning information. Colleges will still need to create environments that inspire the right students to say, “Yes—this place feels right for me.” And any professional involved will never have trouble looking at themselves in the mirror at night if they can honestly say that they acted in the best interest of the student(s) that day.

To do this well means differentiating between what won’t change and what you hope won’t change. It’s one thing to say, “My son will always be able to talk to me when he wants to.” It’s another to say, “My son will still talk to me every day when he goes to college.” But once you make that distinction, the investment opportunity becomes clear.

Sometimes the best way forward is to find what won’t change and then invest in it.

The discipline for a new decision

Ten years ago, I made a decision once to write this blog every day. That single decision carried me through more than 3,600 posts without ever missing a day. But circumstances at work and at home have changed. My world isn’t the same as it was in 2009. And it eventually became clear that the original decision had run its course, and it was time to make a new decision.

Lesson #22 of my final 31 posts: When facts, events, or circumstances bring change, have the discipline to make a new decision.

My life and work are very different today than they were in 2009. Ten years ago, I ran Collegewise alone. We had fewer than ten employees and only four locations. I was arguably the most knowledgeable of our counselors and the only Collegewiser who wrote and published advice regularly. I wasn’t married and I didn’t have kids. The decision to start blogging daily made sense as an experiment, one that I would carry on as long as it continued to made sense.

Today, I enjoy sharing Collegewise leadership responsibilities with my partners. I’ve forged new expertise around managing, leading, hiring, and training, all of which I get to use here every day. There are dozens of counselors here who are more in touch with the most recent trends in admission than I am. And my work hours are more defined now that I have a family at home. I still enjoy blogging, but the decision that made sense ten years ago doesn’t make as much sense today, and it was time to make a new one.

Sometimes we attach ourselves to a past decision because it’s too hard to give it up. We don’t want to acknowledge what’s different today. We worry we’ve invested too much to change direction now. We’re afraid of the change in ourselves or our work or our life. It feels safer and easier to just stay the course.

But part of good decision-making means confronting the facts, no matter how brutal they may be. It means ignoring the sunk costs and viewing a decision like a bet where the decision and the outcome are separate entities. And sometimes it means having the discipline to make a new decision that improves our odds of getting where we’re trying to go.

That decision you made long ago to play the piano or apply to Duke or major in business, does it still make sense today? Or have facts, circumstances, or events presented the need to make a new decision?

There’s a lot of value in sticking with something and working through the difficult part. Most successful people get that way in large part because they don’t bail out just because the going gets tough. But they also don’t keep going just to say they kept going. They’re willing to strip emotion out and compare their world of yesterday to that of today. And when it improves their odds to do so, they have the discipline to make a new decision.