I love watching Hard Knocks, the HBO series that follows one NFL team through training camp. It’s a fascinating look at what goes on behind the scenes of a professional football team. And I’ve noticed that in each of the seven seasons, the coaching staff begins training camp with the same message:
We’re here to win a Super Bowl. Anything less is unacceptable.
It makes sense when you’re in the NFL. Teams spend millions of dollars in pursuit of that one goal. No team gets a victory parade for finding joy in the game, or working well as a team, or for winning just a few more games than they did last year. This is the NFL. If you don’t win the Super Bowl, you lost. And there are some NFL legends who still regret never achieving that goal with their teams.
Unfortunately, that’s also how a lot of families approach the college admissions process.
Some families pick a short list of prestigious colleges and spend the high school years pursuing that goal with the same competitive, win-at-all-costs mentality that it takes to win a Super Bowl. And while I have absolutely no problem with students dedicating the same focus to their educations that NFL players apply to their jobs, the problem with the Super Bowl mentality is that too many high school students believe if they don’t get accepted to the prestigious college of their dreams, they’ve lost, and all their hard work didn’t pay off.
That's not healthy, sane, or even true.
When you work hard in high school, you get smarter. You learn how to take responsibility for your education. You develop a work ethic, curiosity and an ability to deal with occasional stress. All of those things are going to serve you well no matter where you go to—and graduate from—college.
Unlike the NFL player who comes up short of a Super Bowl, your dream doesn’t die just because a particular college says no. You can go someplace else, have a wonderful college experience, and enjoy a successful, happy life.
It’s not unusual for a retired NFL player to lament the fact that he never won the Lombardi trophy on Super Bowl Sunday. But I have never once met an adult who’s still smarting from a college denial they got when they were in high school.
Commit to your high school years like your future depends on it. But remember that this is not the Super Bowl. As long as you put the work in, you can’t lose.