Steve Jobs on great work

A follow-up to yesterday’s post about doing great work wherever you are.  From this Business Insider article about Steve Jobs:

Jobs’s perspective (at least, as interpreted by Isaacson) frees you from a self-centered obsession with figuring out exactly what you want out of your job. This type of thinking almost always creates anxiety and confusion because most people aren’t pre-wired with a true calling, and most jobs aren’t that fun at first (you need to get good at what you do before you get to do cool things). Jobs flips this mindset. Instead of asking what the world can offer you, he suggests, you should instead ask what you can offer the world. The goal is not to love every minute of your job, or to identify your one true passion, but is instead to put a dent in the universe (to use another famous quote from Jobs).”

Some people might remember Jobs’s 2005 Stanford commencement address where he advised graduates to find what they love and not to settle. But “find what you love” is very different advice from “First, figure out what you love. Then go get a job doing it.”

Focus on the work first

This college student wants “the perfect unpaid internship”–a governmental summer fellowship. According to the article, she’s got reason to be stressed because, “summer internships are the new Harvard: prestigious, costly, insanely competitive and the presumed key to all future success.”

I’m not sure what she’s so worried about.

I’m all for college kids showing initiative and using their summers to get good work experience. But why does she need an impressive-sounding internship that seems nearly impossible to get? What she needs is a place to do great work. And great work can be done in lots of places besides the “perfect internship.”

On and off campus, there are hundreds of summer opportunities for college students that would involve more challenges, responsibility, and learning than most fancy-sounding internships. The under-resourced non-profit down the street needs you a lot more than the government fellowship does. And if you’re willing to work hard enough, to take initiative, and to seek responsibility, you’ll probably get to do more than just file. You might court donors, plan events, evaluate budgets, or build a social media strategy. You’ll learn, you’ll make a difference in your community, and you’ll have an employer, one who actually knows you well, who can serve as a reference and maybe even as a mentor. Sounds like the perfect internship for the right student.

Employers (and colleges) care about the quality of your work as much or more than they care about where that work is taking place.  Yes, some opportunities are much better than others. But you don’t always control where–from which class, to which college, to which internship or job–you get to do things. But you do control your effort to do great work wherever you are.

Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity.  Focus on the work first and the opportunities will follow.

Here are a few past posts on this topic:

Five ways to thrive at your part-time job
If you want to make sure you get a job after college
Turn college into career prep
How to build a remarkable college career

When the teacher is great

Some students make excuses for under-performing in a class by blaming the teacher.

“I only work hard if I like the teacher.”

“The teacher and I had a personality conflict.”

“It’s because the teacher didn’t like me.”

I’ve written before about whether or not colleges accept those excuses (they don’t).  Great students find a way to make it work no matter who the teacher is. But here’s an even more constructive approach–show colleges what you can do when the situation is reversed.  Show your favorite teacher just how great you can be.

What are you capable of when the conditions are right and you really like a teacher? Do you push yourself, engage in class discussions, and show that teacher your very best work all the time?

It’s reasonable for a student to like some teachers and classes more than others. And certain teachers, because of their personality or technique or subject matter, can really bring out the best in you.  What do you do when given those opportunities?

If your answer is that you don’t have any great teachers, maybe your teachers aren’t the problem?

For counselors: combating confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to continuously find reasons to believe what you want to be true, no matter what argument or evidence is presented to contradict that desire. We all do it from time to time. But it can be particularly rampant in college admissions.

I’ve met families who spent their student’s entire high school career searching for a magic formula for admission to an Ivy League school.

I’ve met parents who insisted on forwarding letters of recommendation from multiple alumni who barely knew the student.

I’ve met students who insisted on applying to 20 highly-selective colleges (and nowhere else).

That’s college admission confirmation bias.  It doesn’t matter to them that everyone from counselors to the admissions officers themselves will say that there is no magic formula. It doesn’t matter if the application instructions specifically ask for one letter of rec and that it be from a teacher.  It doesn’t matter that both data and unassailable math prove that applying to 20 highly-selective schools is most likely to lead to 20 notices of bad news.  They want a formula to exist that they can follow. They want the letters to boost their student’s chances. They want more applications to improve the chances that one will hit home. And they’ll cling to anything from outliers to unsubstantiated rumor to support those desires.

For counselors trying to guide these families, confirmation bias is inherently tough to crack. You’ll never eliminate it entirely for some people. But one way to get them to at least consider a different course of action is to ask,

“If what you want to happen doesn’t happen, will you wish you’d done something differently?’

It won’t work for every family every time, and it likely won’t change their fundamental desire that they’re working so hard to believe is actually true.

But it might convince them not to spend thousands of dollars on the summer program the student doesn’t actually want to attend. It might convince them to ask the alum if her letters have actually been successful for other applicants. It might convince them to apply to at least a couple schools where their chances of admission are stronger.

You likely won’t convince them to want different things.  But you might be able to convince them to make better, and less risky, choices in pursuit of those desires.

What should a college admissions consultant do?

From a recent blog post by Parke Muth, current admissions consultant and former Associate Dean of Admission at the University of Virginia:

“I think anyone looking for a consultant should understand that there is not magic to the process. Consultants cannot get a less than great kid into an elite school…The most important things consultants do is to emphasize fit instead of name. There are thousands of colleges and universities and there are thousands of places a student can be transformed by the classes, the students and faculty, and the overall atmosphere. Our world is so focused on rankings and names, when most of us don’t really live at the top, don’t really show up on twitter or Huffington or the evening news. To find a way of learning that will enrich students for the rest of their lives is the job of a consultant.”


Just ask them

Collegewise is now 37 full-timers strong, spread out over 23 offices in 11 states. One of the advantages of having such a large team is that we can always turn to our hive mind when we need help. No single counselor could anticipate everything we might face counseling students, working with families, and growing our offices. But with 37 Collegewisers pooling our collective interests, talents, and experiences together, someone in our crew can usually jump in and help out a teammate with advice, encouragement, or a helpful resource.

Amy in our Westport office recently put together an internal database for us that describes each counselor’s formal credentials like where we went to college, what we studied, and what admissions or counseling-related experience we bring to the table. But the part of the database I enjoyed the most was the section that asked us to describe what other talents or skills we thought we had that might occasionally be helpful to a Collegewise co-worker.

We didn’t submit our entries with the intent to share them with anyone but ourselves, so nobody was trying to inject too much marketing oomph into their descriptions. We were simply telling our colleagues, “Here are a few things I think I’m good at. If you have a question or need help, I’d be happy to pitch in.”

The responses made me feel even prouder of the talented, driven, interesting people I get to work with every day.  And it reminded me that sometimes the best way to learn more about your co-workers, co-members, or employees might be just to ask them.

Here are some of the responses:

  • Making friends with anyone and everyone, any/all Collegewise training, tough counseling situations
  • Licensed school guidance counselor, newsletters, special needs
  • Punctuation/proofing, making anything that ALREADY exists just a bit or a lot better. I was social chair in my fraternity. I know good design and college football. Traveling cheap.
  • Marketing, branding, business development, design
  • Finding the appropriate gift for all occasions, design- including PowerPoint, Spanish (though I’d need to brush up before I do a seminar…), editor, Googler/researcher
  • Photoshop and various film editing software, good understanding of CA public school systems
  •  I maintain a file of all of the things that I read with regard to higher education (also research), PowerPoint decks (but this is also keyed to my presentation style). Also not giving boring presentations? Generally familiar with putting together conference presentations/proposals/abstracts, published an article in the Journal of College Admission (NACAC journal)
  • Grammar zealot, strong writing background, ordering supplies, arranging travel, event planning, I designed and write a vegan food blog
  • Finance
  • I worked in a high-achieving high school, presentations in high schools
  • Any/all trainings, customer service issues, stuff that involves color coding and/or type A skills, office decoration and organization
  • Mental health counseling, skills in stress management, relaxation techniques, de-escalation, promoting positivity, conflict resolution, working with different types of students and families (difficult parents, traumatic experiences that come up in essay brainstorming, etc.)
  • Public speaking, writing, marketing, running a business people will talk about, and teaching others how to do those things, too.
  • I like creative writing and I speak an obscure/dying Eastern European language
  • BNEA grant administrator, filmmaker and advertising producer, interior design
  • Editing, graduate school humanities admissions
  • Powerpoint, grammar, school counseling certification so I have received training in related areas – personal counseling, crisis management, a little bit of group facilitation and career counseling
  • Athletic recruiting
  • Research, help with public speaking
  • Copywriting, course development, editing and proofreading, mentoring.
  • Business development/PR
  • Grammar Nerd (Oxford Comma Task Force Rules!), willingness to try new things
  • Financial aid officer at Harvard for 4 years and calculated hundreds of financial aid awards
  • Marketing, branding, product development, PowerPoint
  • Understand parent perspective, marketing background, love to brainstorm ideas for just about anything, aiming to reach for grammar freak status
  • Pre-Law advising, study skills coaching
  • Graphic design (and own Adobe Creative Suite at home), Numbers/finance/excel, enrollment management geek
  • Grammar freak
  • Wrote and edited speeches and congressional testimony, experience scheduling and running international travel, organizing conferences and running meetings, yoga and meditation teacher
  • American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Office
  • Writer and editor for a national magazine, I can pull out a great pun (if there is such a thing) at a moment’s notice.
  • Former head of enrollment for three independent/private high schools

How to build rapport with teachers and counselors

Part of being successful in high school is developing good working relationships with teachers and counselors.  Here are some past posts on how to do just that:

The power of positive thinking

I’m typing this entry on my phone. It’s not the easiest way to write a blog, and it might even lead to a typo or two. But my laptop is in someone else’s possession now. Yesterday, someone broke into my house in broad daylight and made off with a few good items.

I remembered reading about a concept in Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, called “falling up,” which describes the very real psychological and professional advantages of positive thinking even in negative situations.

Achor presents this scenario. Imagine you are in a bank with 50 other customers. The bank is robbed and you are shot in the arm. Do you lament your bad luck to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, to have been the only person hurt out of 50? Or do you find relief in your good fortune that you weren’t more severely wounded, and that nobody else was hurt? One way or another, your brain is going to process this experience, and how it does so affects you in the future.

I may not have all the details exactly correct (I read the book on my Kindle, which was also stolen).  But I do remember Achor’s message that happier, more successful, and even just luckier people are those who can find the positive path out of a negative situation instead of becoming helpless bystanders to their misfortune.

Things really could have been much worse. My wife, infant son and I could have been home. They could have taken a lot more than a few computers and some jewelry. They left the watch that’s been in my family since the 60’s and is irreplaceable. I still have a house to live in. We have insurance. We’re all healthy. We’re fortunate. What is there to complain about?

I’ve written about this concept before for families going through the college process, but it bears repeating–there are very few, if any, tragedies in college admissions. One grade, test score, or admission denial from a college (even from your dream school) won’t ruin your life. It’s a temporary, minor setback at worst.  You still live in a country with the most open, accessible, coveted system of higher education in the world. Hundreds of schools admit the vast majority of their applicants, and any one of them will give you opportunities to learn, grow, and have fun.  You’re almost certainly going to one of them. The only question is which one.

It all looks a lot better when you focus on the positive.


A helpful college search tool

For students doing their college searches or for the counselors who are helping them, Katie Konrad Moore in our Bellevue, Washington office shared this with our Collegewise counselors yesterday: a tool from The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Who Does Your College Think Its Peers Are?

You select a college, and it tells you not only which schools that college considers its collegiate peers, but also which colleges listed your selection as a peer. For example, if a student is interested in Colgate and wants to know what other colleges might be similar, select Colgate in the peer tool, and Bowdoin, Hamilton, Bucknell, Connecticut College, etc. come up.

It’s not meant to be used as a precise college search tool, and students shouldn’t assume that just because a school is listed as a peer necessarily means it should be added to your list. But the similarity hit-to-miss ratio is good enough that we find the tool helpful. Use it as a way to suggest schools that might be like the one you like—then do your own research to verify the findings.