Put your name on it

Homework assignments, exams, and yes, college applications—you can’t submit them without attaching your name. You’re claiming ownership and saying, “I did this.” And there will be a record of your work that you’ll have to stand beside no matter the outcome.

What if you had to do that with everything?

Your boss asks you to organize the stockroom at your part-time job. What if you had to put your name on the finished product?

You approach your teacher after class to ask for extra help, guidance on a project, or a letter of recommendation–what if you had to put your name on the request?

The server at the coffee shop gets your order wrong. What if you had to put your name on the way you respond?

College admissions pressure can chip away at perspective. Some families give way too much attention and gravity to elements that are on your permanent record and not enough to those that aren’t. If you care a lot more about getting your desired number of community service hours signed off than you do about actually contributing and doing a good job, that’s the loss of perspective I’m talking about. The same can be said about the kid who’s off the charts with qualifications but who’s also an arrogant jerk to his counselor, his teachers, and his fellow students. He’s putting plenty of energy into places where he’ll need to sign his name, but forgetting that his name remains attached to his behaviors outside of those records, too.

The message here is not that kids must be perfect human beings all the time. Nobody pulls that off, and colleges really don’t expect it.
But it’s worth considering—not just for kids, but for adults, too—how we might change our behavior if we had to sign our names to it.

The most well-liked, respected, successful kids I’ve had the pleasure of knowing don’t reserve their best selves for official documents. They understand that their reputation is more than a resume and that day-to-day actions add up over time. They act like everything they do will have their name on it.

Whatever you’re doing today, would you do it any differently if you had to put your name on it?

The case for self-driven kids

There’s a lot that resonates with me in The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, but nothing more so than these three false assumptions they invite parents to confront.

False assumption #1 is that there is one narrow pathway to success in life and that kids need to be competitive at all times or be left behind. This assumption places the responsibility on parents to push, control, and manage their kids’ journey along that one defined path.

False assumption #2 is that it is critical to do well in school if you want to do well in life. There are “some winners and many losers,” and parents better make sure their kids fall into the winning segment.

False assumption #3 is that the more parents push, the more likely their kids will become accomplished and successful adults.

For parents who read those false assumptions and find them anything but false, the book probably isn’t for you. But if you’re a parent who’s tired of being made to feel that your kids need to be top-of-the-class, curve-busting, standardized-test-taking, gold-medal-winning leaders and inventors and rocket scientists just to have any chance of making it in the world today, I think you’ll find the book both refreshing and reassuring.

And here’s an NPR interview with the authors that includes the transcript so you can either listen or read.

I’m speaking in Seattle on September 13

I’ll be presenting this session in Seattle at the 2018 TINYcon, a conference about improving the employee experience:

Humans Are Not “Resources”: Little Things That Make the Biggest Difference For Your Best People

Presenter: Kevin McMullin

Employees are people first, and real people care about more than mission statements on the walls, elaborate benefits packages, and ping pong tables at the office. Collegewise doesn’t have nap pods or on-site laundry, but they do have hundreds of applications for every opening, a staff widely recognized as the best in their industry, and almost no employee turnover. Best of all, many of their best people-practices cost only a little time and attention. Join Collegewise founder and managing partner Kevin McMullin and you’ll leave this session with concrete ideas to make your real people feel like they’ve found their professional place to call home.

The conference runs from September 12-14 and isn’t cheap, but if its theme and agenda pique your interest enough to attend, I hope you’ll come say hi at my session on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. All the information is here.

Tips to help kids thrive

The “Parenting” section of the Challenge Success blog has a downloadable flyer, “Tips to Help Your Child Thrive,” and they include a contact person to get in touch with for counselors, schools, or parent leaders who’d like to order bulk copies. Don’t let the reference to children throw you, as the advice has broad applicability for both younger children and for teens in high school.

Does the apology make it better, or worse?

While traveling last week, I checked into my hotel, headed to my assigned room, swiped my key and opened the door to find the room was still occupied by the previous guest, who was still clad in her pajamas. In my state of shock and embarrassment, I managed to blurt out something to the effect of, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” before retreating in haste.

Once back at the front desk, the clerk gave me an explanation to the effect of the computer system inexplicably showing that she had checked out. After giving me my new key, he sent me on my way with a half-hearted, “Sorry about that.”

It struck me that my apology to the guest I’d just walked in on was a lot more sincere and emotive than the one I’d just gotten from the clerk. And I’m guessing he didn’t think to call and apologize to the woman I’d walked in on, either (he really should have because she deserved to hear it).

I’m not one of those cantankerous patrons who needs a staff to trip over themselves to make me happy. But really, this mistake wasn’t just inconvenient and a little embarrassing for me. It was probably pretty unnerving for the shocked guest, too. And a sincere apology could have turned the entire thing around for both of us.

Mistakes happen, for students, for parents, for colleges, for high schools, etc. Not even the most conscientious of us is going to get it right every time.

But a good apology, one that’s sincere and that both acknowledges and owns the mistake, is enough to make up for all but the most egregious errors. Experience has taught me that most people are predisposed to forgive, but a good apology is the invitation to do so. Even the guest I barged in on was pretty gracious about it (she just laughed and said, “That’s OK” as I was retreating out the door).

Whatever the setting, don’t say you’re sorry just to say it. And don’t give the literal or figurative version of, “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.” Do it like you mean it.

When the mistake has already been made, the opportunity for a good apology is still available.

When you need a break

Nobody can churn out great work without taking an occasional breather. Dan Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, has read the research and distilled the science into his latest short video, “These are the 5 ways to make your breaks more replenishing.”

And here are a few past posts preaching the powers of the well-timed and well-executed break, one from study skills author Cal Newport, the other from Brad Stulberg, who wrote a book about achieving peak performance.

Telling your story vs. searching for it

The University of Virginia comes through yet again with great advice on their blog, this time with tips for writing the UVA essays. I’m sharing it here because, as is often the case with their shared wisdom, applicants to many if not most colleges could benefit from their tips. Especially the first, “Don’t overthink the topic.” My only addition would be that it’s just as important not to under-think the topic.

Here’s the difference.

Overthinking a college essay topic means that an applicant spends an inordinate amount of time agonizing, seeking advice, or flat out researching in search of a perfect response. This is a misguided approach because it presumes the college is testing applicants to see who can come up with the supposed right answer to the essay prompt. But as I—and UVA—have written before, there’s rarely a specific essay-related answer to the question, “What is the college looking for?” Whatever your honest answer is, one that helps the college get to know you in a way they couldn’t from your application alone is the best approach. And that’s why, done right, a hundred applicants could feasibly write a hundred strong but completely different responses to the same essay prompt. Think more about what you want to say than you do about what the college supposedly wants to hear.

But it’s also possible to under-think the topic.

If you casually reuse an essay from another application, or simply force feed a story you really want to tell but that comes nowhere close to answering the question, you’re not showing the thought necessary to accomplish your essay objectives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with recycling an essay you wrote for another application. Strong stories do have a way of offering you applicability to many other responses, and our Collegewise students frequently reuse essays (often with some minor changes) when the answers overlap with other prompts. But recycling an essay that ignores the new prompt just creates waste—a wasted opportunity for you, and wasted attention from a reader who really was interested in reading what you had to say in response to the prompt they and their colleagues had chosen.

So yes, read the prompts carefully. Thoughtfully consider your potential responses, not with the goal to impress, but rather to engage, your reader. But then shift your priorities to telling—rather than searching for—the right story for you.

First, find the funny

sThere’s a lot in this snippet Cal Newport shares of an interview Jerry Seinfeld did in 2014.

“Let me tell you why my TV series in the 90s was so good, besides just an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune. In most TV series, 50 percent of the time is spent working on the show, 50 percent of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99 percent of our time writing. Me and Larry [David]. The two of us. The door was closed. It’s closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”

For Seinfeld and co-creator Larry David, if the show wasn’t funny, none of the extraneous stuff was going to matter. Before anything else, their most important job was to create episodes that would make people laugh. And the best way to do that was to just close the door and focus first on finding the funny.

Whatever it is you’re working on, what matters more than anything else? Whether the goal is to be funny, clear, useful, motivating, change-inducing, etc., close the door (literal and virtual—turn the phone off) and then get to work on finding it.

Three interviewing tips

Marcus Buckingham, author of several best-selling books about developing personal strengths, spent 10 years at the Gallup Organization helping companies design better interviewing processes. In this short video, he shares three tips for those being interviewed. It’s pitched to those applying for jobs, but the tips work just as well for students applying to college.