In just a one-minute video, Challenge Success co-founder Madeline Levine shares her recommendation that parents embrace the “30-year parenting plan” over the “CEO model.” The former aims to raise a future 30-year-old who’s happy, caring, engaged, etc. The latter focuses on last quarter’s numbers.
Students who are planning on using college to prepare for a specific career might consider asking: Will that job still exist ten years after I graduate?
There’s nothing wrong with using college as career prep. But the time, money, and energy you expend in college is an investment. And no savvy investor would put money into a business that’s about to become obsolete.
If a machine can—or could one day—do it, chances are there won’t be many job openings. But the human stuff, the ability to sell, to listen, to lead, to communicate, etc.—that’s never going to go out of career style.
Everyone should leave college qualified to do something. And the more timeless your investment, the more somethings you’ll be qualified to do.
Jason Fried is the CEO of Basecamp and the author of the recently released It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work (which I highly recommend). I just finished listening to a podcast interview with him where he shared this gem:
“Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way.”
The real measure of your work is what you have to show for it, not how many hours you worked for it. Fried isn’t advocating relaxing on the job. In fact, he’s relentless about putting the quality of the finished work first. He eliminates distractions for himself and his employees, gives them the time and quiet space to get work done, and then sends everyone home after a good day’s work so they can be fresh, rested, and ready to produce more great work the next day.
Celebrating how busy you are just invites more busyness. And busyness almost never leads to great work.
Students, think of an adult—famous, not famous, someone you know personally, it’s up to you—who’s achieved a level of success that you admire. It might be a famous athlete, writer, or musician. It might be your boss at your part-time job. It might be a teacher, your parent, or a coach. Someone you respect and might strive to emulate.
Now ask yourself: Did they get where they are today by being good at everything?
They might be good at everything within their chosen domain, like the musician who can play different styles, the athlete without weaknesses in her game, the coworker who seems to know how to do everything well when he’s on the clock, etc.
But they couldn’t easily swap areas of greatness with your other heroes. That athlete might not play the cello at the same level she can play her best game. That author might not write computer code with the same ease and results as he can write fiction. That philanthropist who’s improving lives might not make the same impact as a personal trainer or therapist or financial planner.
Sure, not everyone is reducible to just one area of greatness. But nobody is capable of universal greatness.
So why spend all of your time trying to be good at everything in high school?
This is one of the worst symptoms of the obsession with highly selective colleges. Perfection-on-paper does exist in the college application population. It’s a tiny percentage, but they’re out there– those kids who somehow found a way to get perfect grades and perfect test scores and all the other off-the-charts accolades that make them stand out on a college application at 17. And most of them apply to the same prestigious colleges. There’s just no way around it. If you want to compete with them for a coveted spot, you’ll need to find a way to be perfect-on-paper, too.
Or you could take a different approach.
You emulate the way people become successful in the real world, not by trying to be great at everything, but by combining your natural interests and strengths with the right attitude and qualities, like curiosity, character, and work ethic.
You could reject the idea that GPAs, test scores, and summaries on a resume encapsulate you and instead focus on doing, earning, and emulating things that make you feel both happy and proud.
You could pick colleges that are predisposed to appreciate you for who you are and what you’ve done in high school, places where you could continue to learn, grow, and make discoveries about your talents and your potential.
Even the greats aren’t great at everything. And that’s something worth emulating.
Here’s a list of my favorite reads for 2018. Your mileage may vary, but I honestly don’t see one book that wouldn’t offer useful insight for a student, parent, or counselor.
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
Michael Bungay Stanier
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
Chip and Dan Heath
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
This week, a 17-year-old kid made a decision he’ll probably regret one day. He dramatically quit his part-time job at Walmart using the store intercom system, laced his message with profanity, and then posted a video to his Facebook page.
There is absolutely nothing unusual or wrong about an employee of any age quitting a job. If he really had been treated poorly by management, good for him for refusing to put up with it. You might even chalk it up to the kind of teenage decision making we all recall getting wrong at least once during those years of our lives.
But he probably wasn’t anticipating that the video would be picked up by the press, and that the articles would include his name. And now whenever anyone in the future Googles him—including colleges and potential employers—this is what Google is going to serve up.
Students, nobody expects you to be perfect. You get to make mistakes. In fact, you should make mistakes. That’s part of maturing. You learn the consequences of behaviors and actions and adjust if the outcomes don’t work for you. The teenage years should include some actions that make you shake your head later in life. Be a kid, because you are one.
But please remember that unlike any generation before, you’re living much of your life out loud, with photos and posts and other digital snapshots that will live on. I don’t have to answer for a single thing I ever did when I was 17. But whenever you bring something to the internet, you lose control of that story.
If I was him, I’d write an apology post. Not for quitting, and not one that excuses any mistreatment he believes he was subject to. Just something that acknowledges that he could have made the decision and expressed his complaints in a more appropriate way.
I don’t think what he did is so terrible, and I don’t want to muzzle the kid. I just wish he wouldn’t have to live with this story longer than he might like to.
I’ve never seen private college counseling as a competition between businesses. There are plenty of kids applying to college, and for those who want to pay for assistance, the more good options they have, the better. That’s why Collegewise doesn’t try to stop competitors from joining our free webinars, attending our sessions at conferences, or downloading our free materials. We can all learn, share, and work together to make our profession better.
And sometimes making the profession better means pointing out areas where those in the profession need to be better.
This week, my colleagues and a number of counselors and admissions officers in our industry were chagrined to see a competitor charging $2500 for a “Postmortem Evaluation.” The email, which appears to have been sent to a potential customer who then shared it with the headline, “Um, no thanks,” promises the buyer will “…come away with a firm understanding of why you didn’t get in early and what needs to be changed the regular decision round so you’ll have a better result to earn admission to the best school possible” (worth noting that I cleaned up several punctuation and capitalization issues in the email).
Can a qualified counselor review a previously submitted application and point out areas of potential improvement for future submissions? Yes. Collegewise works with families who approach us for that kind of feedback. But “postmortem” seems extreme. Let’s not compare a college denial with death.
More troublingly, this competitor can’t tell any student why they weren’t admitted to a college. And neither can we. We can hypothesize. We can make educated guesses based on years of experience. Your high school counselor can almost certainly give you the same feedback, and in fact, they often have even more insight because they can talk to the college. But I’m not sure any of us can offer a “firm understanding” of the specific reasons for the denial.
The only people who can tell you with certainty why you weren’t admitted to a college are the admissions officers who read the file, who were part of the discussion, and who were in the room when the decision was made. And even if they were available for hire to tell you, they often would not be able to point to specific shortcomings that can be fixed. The applicant pools at some schools are so competitive that you can be turned away having done nothing wrong, and even having done everything right.
It wouldn’t have been that hard to tell this student something like:
“If you’d like to engage our services for some feedback on your application, especially the kind that you might be able to use for your remaining apps, we’d be happy to help. But I should tell you that the fact you got deferred doesn’t necessarily mean that you did anything wrong. At competitive schools like this, students often get deferred when their application and essays really were the best reflections of them. If that’s the case, we’d tell you so, and we’d give you your money back. I’d hate to see you make changes if what you have is already great.”
Fellow counselors, let’s all remember that we’re dealing with teenagers who are immersed in a process that has become unnecessarily high-stakes and infused with pressure. Let’s remember that we owe it to them to know what we’re talking about and to be honest when we don’t have the knowledge they’re seeking. And most importantly, let’s try to leave those families we engage with better off than when they arrived, whether or not they decide to hire us.
It would be easy, particularly for a new reader to this blog, to get the sense that I’m encouraging kids to be less engaged with their college planning.
Don’t overschedule yourself. Get enough sleep. Stop obsessing over famous colleges. Don’t polish every perceived weakness. Your GPA and test scores don’t define you. It’s all going to be OK.
But there’s a big difference between the student who puts forth care and effort and feels good about it regardless of the outcome and the student who didn’t care enough to put in any effort at all.
There’s a big difference between “Math is not my best subject, so I’m thrilled with a B” and “I don’t try in my math class because I hate that subject.”
There’s a big difference between a student who gets excited about all the opportunities available at a non-famous college that admits most of its applicants and a student who chooses their colleges based on which have the easiest applications to complete.
It’s your future, and it deserves to be thoughtfully considered as you make both small and large choices, from how you spend your time today, to where you go to college, to what you do while you’re there.
But it’s also important to remember that your future hasn’t happened yet. It’s a constant work in progress, rarely defined or even heavily impacted by one event for a high school student. It will construct itself through the choices, learning, and experiences that add up as a sum total from your days, months, and years. If you don’t engage at all, you’ll have some ground to make up later.
If you can treat today like just one step in many, you’ll make the appropriate efforts without all the unnecessary pressure. That’s the best way to engage without worry.
Parkinson’s Law states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” For students with college applications that still need to be completed over the holiday break, I recommend you skirt that law.
Time (real or perceived) in front of you can chip away at your sense of urgency for a project. Even worse, it opens the door to too many excuses that slow or outright halt your progress.
“This can wait until tomorrow.”
“I don’t have any good ideas for this essay.”
“I’ll spend today just getting organized (but not doing any of the actual work).”
As those excuses add up, the work completed does not. And eventually, you’re up against the deadlines, stressed and scrambling to complete work you only recently had seemingly enough time to complete. And your holiday break transforms into no break at all.
Don’t let that happen to you.
Imagine your dream college guaranteed you admission provided you: (1) submitted all your applications one week from today, and (2) ensured every application reflected your best effort.
What would you do for the next seven days? You’d find a way. You’d finish applications that were as good as they could possibly be, applications that made you proud, and you’d still have plenty of holiday left.
Why not do that right now?
Imagine the relief you’d feel. Imagine the peace of mind of meeting that artificial deadline, sleeping on it, and coming back the next day for one more review, one last bonus time. Imagine how much better your applications would be if you put that much focus and effort into them for the next seven days.
And best of all, imagine the relief of pushing “Submit” with time left to enjoy a chunk of your holiday break.
Work expands to fit the space allotted to complete it. Skirt that law by giving yourself less space.
Many high school students received their early admission decisions this week. And to encourage those who got news that wasn’t what they’d hoped, CNN anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper tweeted some reassuring words. But what I really appreciated were the responses from successful people who’d experienced their own college rejections as high school students. And two in particular stood out (links take you to past posts I’ve written about them).