Send it today, answer for it tomorrow?

In this interview with Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant, Mark Cuban, entrepreneur, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and Shark, demonstrated how to pitch a product. But what stuck with me (which I suppose makes it a good pitch) was this:

“Whatever text you send tonight or any day, whatever email you send tonight or any day, the minute you hit ‘Send,’ you no longer own that message. But you are still completely responsible for it for the rest of your life. How scary is that?”

I’ve never used the app that he’s pitching and this post isn’t an endorsement—it’s a reminder. That email, that text, that photo, etc.? You may feel perfectly comfortable sending it today. But remember that you might also have to answer for it tomorrow. So send—or don’t send—accordingly.

Once more into the weeds

For families navigating the college admissions process, especially those doing so for the first time, financial aid can be one of the most confusing and, frankly, intimidating subjects to wrap your head around. Sometimes even the most reputable experts and sources for guidance exacerbate the complexity. There’s a time and place to dive into topics like the financial aid impact of a home-based business or the income calculation metrics used for divorced parents. But there’s no sense wading into the financial aid weeds just yet if you’re a family just trying to learn the basics, like what’s available, how to apply, and when to do so.

If you’ve been hesitant to dip your toe into the topic, consider starting with this 1-hour video Kaplan Test Prep recently hosted with financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz (even just reading the included short summary of tips is a good place to start).

You won’t be an expert yourself after this hour. But you’ll know the terms and the timeline. You’ll know what to do and when. And most importantly, when you need to venture into the weeds to get the information most applicable to your family, you’ll no longer be an intimidated novice.

One per day

It’s difficult to dramatically improve your college admissibility in one day. But there are roughly 180 days of school in an academic year. What if you committed to doing one simple but effective thing each one of those days? By the end of the year, you’ll have a lot to show for your daily small efforts.

Here are a few suggestions.

  • Send a personal thank you email to your counselor, teacher, tutor, friend, parent, or anyone else who helped you when you needed it.
  • Commit to turning off (and tuning out) all distractions for at least one hour of focused studying or homework.
  • Teach someone how to do something.
  • Be nice to a fellow student people usually aren’t so nice to.
  • Congratulate, encourage, or otherwise acknowledge someone at your school who deserves it.
  • Help a local charity or non-profit.
  • Take responsibility for something that will impact one of your activities.
  • Learn about a college that you aren’t currently familiar with.
  • Go the extra mile in one class even if no extra credit policy exists.
  • Cut out all the time wasting during the day and reallocate it to an extra hour or two of sleep that night.
  • Abstain from the gossip and other high school drama that makes life harder than it needs to be.
  • Take 30 minutes and write down as many ideas as you can about how to do more of what you really enjoy and are good at.
  • Write a blog post about a topic that you care about.

Don’t try to do them all on one day. One per day is all it takes to make a difference.

Phone risk and regret

PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Brian Cullinan is having a rough week. One of two accountants entrusted with overseeing the ballot process at the Oscars, he’s been identified as the man responsible for handing the wrong envelope to the best picture presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, which led to the now infamous Oscar debacle for the ages.

As if the mistake itself wasn’t bad enough, Cullinan’s Twitter account revealed that he was tweeting photos of the event just moments before the grand gaffe. As described in this Washington Post article:

“He [Cullinan] acknowledged both the simplicity and paramount importance of his role during the show itself: ‘It doesn’t sound very complicated,’ Cullinan said, ‘but you have to make sure you’re giving the presenter the right envelope.’ But that obviously didn’t happen, and some swiftly suggested that Cullinan’s attention wasn’t solely focused on the task at hand: Just moments before he handed the wrong envelope to Beatty, Cullinan tweeted a photo of best actress winner Emma Stone clutching her statuette backstage. The tweet has since been deleted, and PricewaterhouseCoopers has not commented on Cullinan’s social media use.”

We’ve all experienced the regret that can come when you don’t have (or won’t allow yourself to have) immediate access to your phone. You might miss a great photo opportunity. You might miss a text. You might even miss a call you really needed to take. It’s understandable why so many of us, not just teenagers, can be reluctant to redirect our attention from the phone in our hand to the world in our view. Nobody likes missing out.

But the regret of “I wish I hadn’t been so focused on my phone” can be so much worse. If you’re doing work that matters to you, if you’re having an important conversation, if you’re reading or studying or especially if you’re driving, the effect of diverting your attention can harm your work, your relationships, and in the most severe cases, your life.

How much do you think Brian Cullinan regrets using his phone in that vital moment? How much better would his life be this week if he had just focused on the important, live-televised task at hand? Was that tweet worth the lifetime association his name will carry with the biggest mistake in Oscar history (Google will never forget even when the rest of us have long since moved on)?

The next time you divert your attention away from something important to focus on your phone, stop and ask yourself if it’s worth the risk. And more importantly, can you live with the regret if things go wrong?

No laughing matter

I’ve watched several interviews with famous stand-up comedians who reference a comedic habit of obsessing over that one person in the audience who won’t laugh. A comedian can be delivering an uproarious set and getting great laughs all around. But many comics will ignore 99% of the laughing crowd to focus on the 1% sitting stoically. And most admit that it’s not only a fruitless effort, but also one that ends up excluding the very people who were enjoying the show most.

Comedians might make this mistake often. But most teachers do not.

Of course, great teachers will obsess over that one student who’s struggling to learn. The best teachers even enjoy being doubted—it’s their chance to demonstrate how great teaching can open a student’s eyes and mind.

But a student who’s completely disengaged, who refuses to pay attention, who makes no effort to hide just how much they despise being in class? Most great teachers know that to make the comedian’s mistake of obsessing over that one student, of redirecting their classroom energy and focus in an attempt to bring that kid back to life, could mean ignoring those students who want to be there and are eager to learn. And that’s not a fair teacher-student trade.

Yes, your classroom performance is measured in large part by your grade. But the way you handle yourself in class each day is also a performance, one that your teacher will notice. Some students bring their best, most attuned, engaged selves to that performance. And other students miss that opportunity.

Which students do you think are more likely to get help when they need it?

Which students do you think are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt come grading time?

Which students do you think will ultimately earn stronger letters of recommendation?

Here’s a past post, Things teachers notice about you in class, to give you some idea of those visual cues teachers can’t help but notice, or ignore, depending on whether or not you choose to display them.

You’re giving a performance either way. Might as well give one that deserves attention.

Getting in, and getting by

The Washington Post’s The key life skills parents should be teaching their children highlights that the emphasis on getting into college has left many of today’s students arriving as college freshmen unable to do their own laundry, cook a meal, manage their finances, or perform many of the other basic tasks they’ll need to do on their own. Thankfully, the piece also features some great suggestions for life skills that parents should be developing with their elementary, middle school, and high school kids.

Remember that once they get in, they’ll also need to get by.

Turn your organization’s line into a platform

For many businesses, clubs, and other organizations, there are two groups—leaders and followers. The leaders decide what gets done and how to do it; the followers perform the work. There’s nothing wrong with qualified leaders describing a clear vision and saying, “Follow me.” But relegating the rest of the organization to following alone is like forcing all of them to stand in a line. When you’re stuck in a line, you can’t do anything but wait your turn. Any initiative or non-directed movement just means you’ll lose your place. The only option is to stand there, await further instructions, and inch forward when directed.

Instead of a long line, what if your organization became a large platform?

A platform is a stage, a place where people don’t just stand—they perform. A long line just means a lot of waiting around. But when your organization is a platform, every member has an equal chance to stand up (on the platform) and say:

I’ll do…
I want to try…
I’ll take responsibility for…
I can help…
I know how to…
I’ll pitch in to…
I can make a difference doing…
I’ll fix…
I’ll change…
I’ll experiment with…
It might work if I…
I will make sure…

Imagine how much more your organization could accomplish, how much further your people could go, how much good you could do if you made the change from a place of waiting to a place of performing.

Leaders, to make the change, use the platform as both an invitation and expectation. Everyone is invited to step up. Nobody gets to sit back and wait to be told what to do. Assume that most people want to contribute and make a difference (most really do). And acknowledge that once the platform is in place, the best thing a leader can do is help everyone stand up and offer their best performance.

Once you let people stop waiting in line, those who care the most, who are willing to take responsibility and do the work, will rise to the top. Anyone who doesn’t will be left back in the line.

It’s better for the organization. It’s better for the people. And it’s a much better way for everyone involved to stand out to colleges.

First steps

You might already have some vision for what you want to learn, do, or experience during or after college:

  • Become an engineer
  • Be a doctor
  • Dive into classic literature
  • Become a titan of technology or another industry
  • Create positive change in politics
  • Help those who need it the most
  • Teach kids
  • Express yourself with your art or music or dance
  • Discover your underlying talents and passions
  • Learn more about Eastern European history or math or philosophy

Whatever your vision is, consider what steps you can take now to start down that path.

There are plenty of books, YouTube videos, cheap in-person or online classes, internships, volunteer opportunities, apprenticeships, and other ways to get a taste of whatever interests you. And while I don’t think teenagers should be in a hurry to grow up (you’re only a teenager once, after all), initiative and curiosity are an appealing pair to colleges. Admissions officers know that the student who has not only the desire to learn and experience new things, but also the initiative to seek out and find opportunities to scratch those itches, is more likely to be successful in college.

You don’t have to become an engineer, perform surgery, or take your first company public to impress colleges (if you knew everything you need to know to achieve all your dreams, what would you need college for?). But the sooner you take your first steps, the closer you’ll be to your goal. And the sooner you’ll realize whether or not you’re stepping in the right direction.

Old message, new source

One of my recurring themes on this blog is that it actually isn’t that hard to get into college–that all the bad news about fierce competition, declining acceptance rates, and other angst-inducing stats is true for only a comparatively short list of schools from the over 2,000 colleges available.

Here’s an article from financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, who seems to be expanding his topic touch now that he’s doing so for Cappex: Myth: Getting into College is Really Hard.

Among the most salient stats:

  • Only 70 colleges have a less than 25 percent chance of admission.
  • Only 6 percent of colleges admit less than a third of their applicants.
  • There are only 14 colleges where less than 10 percent of applicants are admitted.
  • On average, students apply to six colleges and are admitted by three to four colleges.

Bottom line: there’s a college out there for you even if you aren’t in the top, or even close to the top, of your class. You just have to be willing to look for it.

Sometimes the best way to get an old message across is to send it from a new source.

Better for you and those you sell to

There’s a lot of selling that goes on in college admissions. Private counselors and test prep tutors sell their advice. Colleges sell the features and benefits of their schools. Financial aid advisors sell their value. And all that selling frequently feels wrong in a process that’s supposed to be about educating kids.

But while there will always be some professionals in education who behave like the negative stereotype of a salesperson who’s just out for the quick money grab, many more are honest folks who genuinely want to help families. If you’re in the latter camp, if selling is not your favorite (or maybe even your least favorite) part of your job, if you wish that just being honest and treating people like you would want to be treated should be enough, take 25 minutes and listen to this interview between Seth Godin and the author of To Sell is Human. They agree with you, but Seth’s advice will help you do an even better job…for yourself and for the people you’re selling to.