Read the room

Seniors, as your college decisions roll in, it’s natural to want to share the news and how you feel about it. But when you do, please remember to read the room.

Your safety school that you openly dismiss is someone else’s dream school.

Your elation over admission can make someone who got different news feel even worse.

While you’re in despair over the one school that said no, someone else is worried they won’t be able to pay for any college that says yes.

Your hard work may have paid off the way you’d hoped, but someone else’s didn’t.

That student you’re sure did not deserve their admission may have brought something to the committee readers that would make you feel differently.

Of course, your college admissions experience is your own. You get to experience it and react authentically. Nobody can take that away from you.

But with the arrival of decisions, discussions and public sharing of experiences often turn from the process to the results. When you say, post, or otherwise share something, do your best to read the room. Ask yourself if your success or good fortune might make someone else feel worse. Ask yourself if your disappointment might pale when compared to what someone else is experiencing. Ask yourself if the audience with whom you’re sharing can really handle the presentation.

There’s never been a time in the history of college admissions when those going through it have shared and compared so openly. Sometimes it’s nice to have comradery and to know that you’re not going through it alone. But as the results arrive, please remember that there’s no law preventing you from sharing only with the audience closest to you–those who have a sincere interest in your success and won’t be negatively affected by your reactions.

You’ll get the best reception if you read the room.

Sometimes the old-fashioned way is best

If you’re hoping to get the most out of a class, a meeting, and other interactions, you’re better off relying on a good old pen and paper than you are your laptop.

From the New York Times:

“The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces…. The best evidence available now suggests that students should avoid laptops during lectures and just pick up their pens. It’s not a leap to think that the same holds for middle and high school classrooms, as well as for workplace meetings.”

Pick three

Need a simple, generous, and free gift to give people who matter to you? Here’s one that they will almost certainly appreciate, and will also boost your own happiness. And yes (because things always seem to go back to this theme here), it might even help you get into college.

  1. Pick three people who have helped, supported, or otherwise positively impacted you this year. You can certainly pick more than three if you’re inspired, but I’m competing against end-of-the-year burnout.
  2. Write them a note not just thanking them, but specifically telling them how they’ve made a difference and why you appreciate them.

Naturally, they’ll appreciate it. But I promise you’ll also be genuinely surprised by how good you feel after doing so.

Is distraction harming your work?

Just how much do interruptions like phone calls and emails negatively affect you and your work? Quite a bit, according to The Economist’s recent “Are digital distractions harming labour productivity?”:

“Conducting tasks while receiving e-mails and phone calls reduces a worker’s IQ by about ten points relative to working in uninterrupted quiet. That is equivalent to losing a night’s sleep, and twice as debilitating as using marijuana. By one estimate, it takes nearly half an hour to recover focus fully for the task at hand after an interruption.”

Why I take a blogging break (without missing a day)

I’ve posted one blog entry every day since October 2009 without ever missing a day. But every year in December, I take two weeks off from blogging. I write all the entries ahead of time and queue them up to post automatically on the desired days. It’s a heavy lift getting all of those done before my winter break. But every December when I write and schedule my last post for the year, there’s a sense of mental relief knowing I’m officially blog-free for two weeks.

Blogging has never been a chore—I do it because I enjoy it. But it’s also a daily to-do that’s never completely done. There’s another day, another blank blogging page, always there waiting. The first day of my annual blogging break means that, for the first time that year, my to-do becomes an already-done.

Blogging, working, exercising, studying–you can’t do it every single day without taking a break. The quality suffers. You start to break down. What once lit you up starts to burn you out. It’s important to schedule time to rest and recharge.

My annual blogging break starts after this post today, and I’ll be back live on January 3, 2018. Until then, I hope you all choose one thing to intentionally take a break from during the holidays. Whatever you temporarily say goodbye to will inevitably be back when you’re ready. And putting it in the “done” category will free up some space to do something (or nothing) else.

Enjoy your break, and thanks for reading.

What happens to Tiger Moms’ cubs?

I remember the hubbub—and the ensuing press coverage—when Yale law professor Amy Chua released her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in 2011. She not only shared her parenting style that pushed her daughters towards academic perfection, restricted their extracurricular activities, and essentially forbid socializing, but also held up their academic and college admissions results as proof that tiger parenting works. But what I remember even more clearly was that while many parents I heard from via this blog or at seminars expressed their disagreement and even outright horror at raising children the tiger mom way, plenty of others proudly embraced the label. To them, “I’m a tiger mom/dad” was a badge of honor, a sign that they were doing their job and raising kids with the fortitude to compete and the work ethic to excel. And while one of the criticisms of Chua’s book was that it stereotyped Chinese parenting in the United States, I found that the parents embracing the label came from all backgrounds.

It turns out, however, that the results Chua depicted might have been an exception. In the first major study released on the topic, children of tiger parents have worse grades, they are more depressed, and they feel alienated from their parents.

Now that I am a parent, I’m more aware of and sensitive to the reality that there is no one approved method of raising happy, fulfilled, successful kids. But I can say that Collegewise has helped over 10,000 families navigate the college admissions process. And I can tell you that if any version of tiger parenting consistently produced more successful kids, we’d have recommended that approach, especially considering how many students seem driven to achieve those outcomes, with or without a tiger parent.

Keep the collegiate faith

For seniors who applied to college via an early application program, the arrival of your admission decision(s) this month will likely feel like anything but just another day. There is so much pressure and drama inserted into these announcements, it’s difficult to maintain your perspective no matter how grounded you and your family may be.

If you get the news you were hoping for, congratulations. As much as I try to remind people that it’s a mistake to treat any admissions decision as a measure of your success or failure as a student (and even less so as a person), you certainly deserve to feel proud, relieved, and excited about this news. Celebrate with your family. Be grateful for your circumstance. Start envisioning yourself in college, because you’ve just received confirmation of that outcome, even if you applied in a non-binding program and intend to wait for your future acceptances before accepting an offer.

But if your news was not so bright, I hope you’ll read and embrace this when you’re ready.

Like breakups, championship game defeats, and any number of outcomes that qualify as heartbreaking but not tragic, this news and the accompanying disappointment will pass. Not today, not tomorrow. But it will happen, probably sooner than you think. This will not be your last disappointment in life. Striving means occasionally coming up empty, even when you did everything you could possibly have done. It’s important to maintain your perspective during those times, to be grateful for the life and opportunities that still lay in front of you.

Nobody is crying themselves to sleep in a freshman dorm because another school said no a year ago, and neither will you. Excitement over a school that said yes will replace disappointment over the school that said no. The work you’ve done, the care you put into your application, the ownership you took of your college process–they’ll pay off tomorrow even if they don’t feel like they paid off today.

Parents, cultivate that long-term perspective in your house. Seniors, fast forward to next year and start envisioning yourself taking advantage of all that your new college will have to offer, whatever that college eventually turns out to be. And keep the collegiate faith, no matter what your impending news reveals.

Recruiting vs. hiring at Collegewise

When I ask my colleagues what they like most about working at Collegewise, most of us agree that it’s the people.  We love looking around the room at our annual retreat and being reminded once again just how many amazing folks are here that we’re proud to call coworkers. Why do so many great people, most of whom likely had plenty of other employment options, end up here? The truth is that while there is no substitute for creating a great place to work that’s worthy of great people joining it, the way we treat the process of finding and securing an employee sets a tone that draws in the kind of people who thrive here and repels those who just won’t. The best way to describe our secret is that we don’t actually hire people. We recruit people.

Hiring vs. recruiting
Hiring is a means to an end. Hiring says, “We have an open position, we need to fill it quickly, so let’s find someone who needs a job and seems like they can do this one.” Hiring is faster and easier than recruiting. You can run a help wanted ad that reads like all the others. You can post it in as many places as possible. You can make it easy to apply—just send us your existing resume and cover letter; no need to do any extra work to be considered. You can churn all those people through a formulaic process that treats applicants like numbers.

If your goal is to fill open spots quickly with people who need a job and have the skills to do this one, hiring works! But you don’t build the kind of remarkable team we’ve assembled here by hiring. To do that, you have to recruit.

Recruiting is a thoughtful, slow, and deliberate effort to find the very best person for each role.

Recruiting doesn’t just look for someone who can do the job—it also looks for the right attitude and fit. Recruiting requires that someone invest their own time, thought, and energy to apply. It weeds out people who are interested in a job more than they are in this job. Recruiting can get the right person to stop what they’re doing today and come join us.

Recruiting also recognizes that a candidate isn’t just evaluating the potential job that waits on the other side; they’re also evaluating the company they’d potentially be working for. So recruiting demands that we treat every interaction as if we’re on stage.

How do our employment ads read? How do we communicate with people once they’ve applied? How do we interact with them during the interview process? How do we treat them when we make a decision? Do we leave those that we offer a job feeling like they’ve found a home? Do we leave those that we didn’t offer a job feeling like we’re a good company who treated them with respect? Hiring doesn’t care about any of those things. But recruiting does.

The price of recruiting is that it takes more effort, more energy, and more time. It also means that we’ll pass on good but not great people, and positions can go unfilled longer than we’d like them to. But the patience almost always pays off with hires who thrive at Collegewise.

Is it worth it?
The stakes are very high when you offer someone a job. When you make a bad hire, it doesn’t just affect you. It affects your team, it affects the trainers, it affects the managers, it affects the customers, it affects the coworkers, it affects the company, and it affects the person you hired. That’s a hefty long-term price that a lot of people have to pay.

But if we take the time to find, attract, and invest in the very best people, then we’ll end up with a larger version of the team we have now—a group of a passionate, talented, remarkable folks who are enrolled in the journey we’re on together. It’s a lot harder to recruit, but a lot more likely we’ll build something even more extraordinary if we do.

If you’re in a hurry to assemble a group of people who can do the work, then you should hire. But you won’t attract remarkable people with an unremarkable process. Hiring gets faster short-term results, but recruiting gets more remarkable long-term results.

Care to join us?
This January, we’ll be in recruiting mode again and looking to add great new additions to our work family in a variety of roles. If you’d like us to reach out and tell you when those positions are officially posted, first, take a look at what life at Collegewise looks like. And if that piques your interest, just fill out this short form. We’ll send you an email in early January with a link where you can view our open positions and apply if you choose. I hope we’ll hear from you.

Unplug, relax, recharge

The research just keeps showing that working longer and harder produces inferior results not just in terms of quality, but also quantity. In fact, active rest—intentionally carving out downtime to relax and recharge—is a secret weapon of some of the most prolific producers.

As quoted in the BBC’s “The compelling case for working a lot less,” author Josh Davis points out:

“Even US founding father, Benjamin Franklin, a model of industriousness, devoted large swathes of his time to being idle. Every day he had a two-hour lunch break, free evenings and a full night’s sleep. Instead of working non-stop at his career as a printer, which paid the bills, he spent ‘huge amounts of time’ on hobbies and socializing. ‘In fact, the very interests that took him away from his primary profession led to so many of the wonderful things he’s known for, like inventing the Franklin stove and the lightning rod,’ writes Davis.”

You can’t be on all the time. Unplug. Relax. Recharge.