You gotta have more cowbell

If you're going to do something, don't just phone it in.  Bring some energy.  Bring a little oomph.  Whether you're doing an in-class presentation, volunteering at a fundraiser, or running a meeting of the French Club, don't bother if you're just going to do it like you're checking an item off a list.  Make the effort or don't do it at all.

Gene Frenkle and his legendary record producer, Bruce Dickinson, understood this.  Don't just play the cowbell.  Really explore the space.  More cowbell.

More Cowbell! – watch more funny videos



What is your online legacy?

Before you share anything in an electronic format—an email, a photo, a blog post, etc.—ask yourself if you would be comfortable with it showing up whenever anyone Googles your name.  Forever.  Potential viewers include the colleges you’ll apply to, friends, your family, future employers, and people you haven’t met yet but will one day want to date.

Last Friday, a Whole Foods worker who was at best disgruntled and at worst, well, a little deranged, penned a 2000-word resignation letter loaded with anger, personal insults, and gems like,

“Oh, you actually think being 20 minutes late matters? You know Whole Foods Market is just a grocery store, right?”

At some point, someone will unearth the author’s name.  And that means that for the rest of his/her life, there will be no escaping it.  That letter will be his/her online legacy.  Google will never forget, even when other people do. 

Can you even imagine the long term damage that’s going to carry for the writer?   How long will that person have to regret hitting “Send”?

I’m not suggesting that a 2000-word tirade is the same as one Tweet or a Facebook photo.  But today’s high school students are the digital generation.  You live in a reality where people have been humiliated, fired, divorced, sued, and even prosecuted because of things they or other people have posted online. 

Be protective of your online legacy.  I don’t have to answer for anything I said or did way back when I was sixteen.  Today’s students won’t necessarily have the same luxury.

Ever wonder why you procrastinate?

If you’re the kind of procrastinator who waits until the last minute to study or start projects, and you'd like to understand the science behind it so you can stop doing it, here’s my attempt to summarize Cal Newport's scientific explanation.

Human beings are special because we can do “complex planning.”  We can consider future steps and decide for ourselves if those steps are actually a good idea.  The part of your brain that does that evaluation knows that waiting to study until the night before an exam is a bad idea that won’t work.  So it tells you not to take that course of action.  It doesn’t necessarily tell you that the better alternative is to start sooner.  It just tells you not to do what you were planning to do.  So your brain screams, “Waiting until the last minute to study for a big exam is bad.   Don’t do it.  Watch movies and eat ice cream instead!”  

So the solution might not be to just force yourself to study.  The solution is to have a better plan in the first place. 

I've found that our students who ignore our warnings and write cliché stories in their college essays are almost always the ones who still haven’t done their first drafts as the application deadlines approach.  And those students who insist on applying to ten reach schools are always doing their applications at the last minute. 

Maybe they know deep down that their plans aren’t good?

Your successful college career starts now

You will never have as much time and opportunity available to you as you will during your four years of college.  And while there are plenty of things you can do to make that time as productive and fun as possible, here are my top five college to-do’s that will help you become a successful and employable college graduate. 

1. Major in a subject that fascinates you.  Too many college students study what they think they should study.  Or they pick a major for all the wrong reasons.  (Do you know how many college students major biology or political science because they mistakenly think those are the pre-med and pre-law majors?)  You should major in something that you actually want to learn about, something where studying doesn’t feel like work.  The benefit here is obvious—the more you enjoy what you’re learning, the better you’ll perform academically and the more engaged you'll be.

2. Discover and develop a talent.   Coaching intramural volleyball, doing scientific research, painting, translating Spanish, writing, peer counseling, public speaking—all of them are talents that could be put to use in a successful career.  College is your opportunity to figure out what you’re good at and then get better at it.  But you can’t just sit by passively waiting for your talents to reveal and perfect themselves.  You’ll need to work every day to find and develop them.

3. Find at least one activity that you love, and commit yourself deeply to it.  You should try lots of things in college.  But successful students eventually find one activity where they dedicate substantial time.  It’s the resident advisor who works as an RA for two years, then gets promoted to help hire and train new advisors.   It’s the fraternity member who holds several offices and eventually becomes the president, who can proudly talk about the improvements he initiated and why the chapter is bigger and stronger than ever now.  It’s the social science major who starts working with a professor to do research and is eventually invited to TA the class.  Those students won’t just list their primary activity on a resume.  They can talk about the impact they made, what they learned, and how they could bring those experiences to a new job.   

4. Cultivate mentors.  You will be surrounded by smart, dedicated people in college—professors, faculty, internship directors, advisors, etc.  Successful students graduate with one or more mentors who have taken a personal interest in them, who can give them advise, serve as references, or write letters of recommendation.  But this is a question of effort.  How hard are you willing to work to learn from them?  What are you willing to give back in terms of time and effort for them to take a personal interest in your development and success?  The best way to do this is to follow suggestions 1-3 and be willing to ask for help or advice while you’re doing them. 

5. Don’t be afraid to fail.  You can have a safe college career with a safe major and a safe list of activities that don’t challenge you.  Or you could take smart risks.  You could enroll in one class every semester that looked interesting but also very difficult.  You could apply for internships that would force you to learn new skills, try new activities that push you, and contribute to class discussions even though you don’t feel confident.  The students who are willing to do those things are the ones who will trasnform during their time in college.  They’ll be smarter, more talented, more confident and better supported by smart people than those who played it safe.

Now, here’s the surprise—you don’t have to be in college to do these things.  The students who get accepted to college are already doing them.  So if you’re in high school, what are you waiting for?  Your successful college career can start now.

College prep

Are you really preparing for college?  Not just taking classes labeled "college prep," but also developing the important skills you'll need?

Getting ready for college means getting ready for life.  Here are a few skills you can start developing now if you wan to be a successful college student (and a successful college graduate).

•    Learn to do things for yourself, without relying on your parents to take care of them for you. (If your parents email your teachers and counselor on your behalf, you're not preparing for college like you should be.)

•    Find the confidence to ask for help or guidance when you need it.

•    Develop the skill to thoughtfully consider an idea or opinion very different from your own.

•    Gain an appreciation of differences and the ability to get along with people very different from you.

•    Learn how to take lessons from failure or disappointment and then move on. 

•    Develop the curiosity to find a subject or idea that interests you and dive in to learn more.

Getting ready for college means more than just taking the right classes.  In fact, that's why so many colleges' applications require multiple essays, letters of recommendation and interviews–to look for evidence that you've developed some of these skills. 

They could easily just look at your GPA alone, but colleges know that you're preparing for life, too.

How much time do you spend really focusing?

Here's a study experiment to try.

Next week, promise yourself that you'll spend one hour a day studying or doing homework with absolutely no interruptions, totally and completely focused on your work.  When you do it, set a timer to go off in one hour.  Then turn your phone off, turn your computer off, close the door and don't pick your head up from the work for an hour.  Then reward yourselves with some email, text, music and Facebook time for 10-15 minutes.

When you turn everything else off and turn your focus on, I'll bet you spend less time studying, you'll be done with your homework earlier, and you'll remember more of what you learned.  Wouldn't it be worth it?

The power of just being nice

There's no place to list "I'm a nice kid" on a college application.  But that doesn't mean that nice kids don't get a lot of benefits.

Nice kids get extra help from teachers and counselors when they ask for it.  They get more effusive letters of recommendation.  They'll make a better impression on college interviewers and have a better chance of being taken off wait lists.  They're more likely to have people in their corners, ready to work and lobby and fight on their behalf.  They've earned those benefits by just being good to other people.

Being nice is free and easy.  It puts you in line for karma points.  And I have never once seen a nice kid who worked hard end up without colleges to choose from.  You might not be able to list it on a college application, but don't underestimate the power of just being a nice kid.

Where to find study guides for final exams

If you're studying for finals and want a good study guide, one that pretty much comes out and tells you everything your teacher thinks is important and is most likely to test you on again, check your past exams from the course.  They'll be the best study guides you can find.

Tests are teachers' way of measuring what they think is most important.  And that's not something most teachers change their minds about later.  Unless they tell you otherwise, if it was important enough to put on a test before, it's important enough to ask you about again.

Go back through all your tests first.  Deconstruct everything you got wrong and re-do it. Review and remember everything that you did right.  Make sure you'd get a 100% if you had to take the test again because there's a good chance it will look familiar when you sit for the final.  And if you didn't keep your tests, you've now got a new study skill to try next semester.

Start by impressing yourself

It's hard to guess what might impress someone else.  It's easier to just be the person you'd be impressed with.

If you're building a college counseling business, build the one you'd want to send your own children to.

If want to run for president of the Key Club someday, start by being the member you'd want in the club if you were already in charge.

Be the player you'd want on the team if you were the coach.  Be the student you'd want in class if you were the teacher.  Be the musician you'd want in the first chair if you directed the jazz band, the worker you'd hire if you were the boss, or the volunteer you'd want dedicating time if you ran the non-profit.

If you can be the person who'd impress yourself, chances are you'll impress colleges, too.