Search Results for: potential

Not-so-harmless embarrassment

I worked with a student years ago who told me that when her father drove her to middle school every day, he’d roll down the windows and purposely blare his “old-time music” as he approached the school’s curbside. Then he’d yell, “Go get ‘em honey—another day to excel!” as she exited the car. She still rolled her eyes about it at age 17, but there was also a touch of love for Dear Old Dad as she retold the story.

I’ll admit that I usually find it endearing when a parent does something that exasperates their teen to the point of venting, “You’re embarrassing me!” They’re usually harmless acts with no lasting damage done, even to the most fragile of teen psyches.

But last week, an admissions officer from a selective college posted a description to a private social media group of some recent parent behavior during the school’s tours, none of which seemed endearing.

One parent demanded to sit face-to-face with the admissions representative responsible for their territory. The current admissions officer who was slated to speak with interested families? Not an acceptable option, apparently.

Another berated the tour guide, who was unable to immediately fulfill the parent’s request to speak with a mechanical engineering professor.

And yet another showed up outside the scheduled group tour times, was unhappy that they would not immediately do a tour just for her family, and then not only inserted herself into a private tour organized for a specific high school, but also dominated the Q and A portion at the end.

What’s most troubling is that it wasn’t just one parent, and the incidents weren’t isolated. These kinds of behaviors are showing up regularly from parents of potential incoming freshmen.

That post included an acknowledgement that not all parents are like this. But it concluded with a reminder of just how important it is for students to speak for themselves.

Parents, there’s nothing wrong with you being an engaged participant in your student’s college search. It’s your child, after all, and you deserve to be included and heard, especially if you’ll be paying the bill.

But if your behavior—on a tour, at a college event, on the phone with the admissions office, etc.—demonstrates that you’re demanding and difficult, that you expect concierge-like service, and most troublingly, that you do not allow your student to ask their own questions and make their own collegiate discoveries, you’re embarrassing your student, potentially in a not-so-harmless way.

Seek good certainty

I always remind seniors who are weighing their college options that some amount of uncertainty is normal. That’s the way that big decisions like a job offer to accept, a new city in which to live, and yes, a college to attend, work. You do as much research, thinking, and soul searching as you can. Then you just have to listen to your gut and make the leap. Don’t assume that you necessarily have to be sure of this choice when you make it. In fact, that uncertainty is often the best part.

But here’s one thing you can be absolutely certain of–if you take on student debt to attend college, you’re going to have to pay it back.

Whether you’ve already identified your post-college career or haven’t even chosen a major yet, life will always offer uncertainties. You may fall in love with a career option that just doesn’t pay very well. You may not get into the graduate school that you hoped to attend. You may land–but then be laid off from–your dream job. These things happen even to smart, successful people. And if they happen to you, you’ll need to be flexible and resilient to keep going.

But your student loan lenders will not care how your plans changed or what unforeseen circumstances you’re facing. They’ll want to be paid on time. That’s a certainty.

This is not an argument that you shouldn’t take on student debt. I think that’s a decision that each student needs to make with their family. And there are certainly adults who are not only thankful that they took on the debt required to attend the college they did, but also very proud that they responsibly paid off what they owed.

But the more debt you assume when you start college, the bigger role that debt will play in your post-college plans. The less debt you owe, student loan or otherwise, the more freedom you’ll have to make decisions based on what’s best for you, not best for your creditor, and the more flexible you’ll be able to be when life has different plans. And nobody ever lost sleep at night because they just didn’t owe enough people more money.

The more uncertainty you have about your college and your future career, the more cautious you should be taking on a potentially large debt to attend. If the only thing you can be sure of today is that the school you’re about to choose won’t leave you with hefty student loans when you graduate, that’s a pretty good certainty to carry with you to college.

Writing before meeting

If you’re an executive at Amazon and you want to pitch a new idea to your colleagues, you’ll have some writing—and they’ll have some reading—to do.

Here’s what often happens in your typical meeting. Someone has an idea, maybe one they haven’t taken all that much time to think through, and they share it with the group. Or they might bring a PowerPoint deck that includes bulleted facts to support their vision. Discussions, questions, objections, etc. ensue. But in the end, nobody feels ready to say yes to the idea. There are too many questions, too many unknowns, and not a clear enough picture of what the idea would actually look like in practice. And the only decision reached is to discuss the idea—again—at a future meeting.

Amazon avoids this version of new idea limbo with “narratives.”

Anyone with a new idea must first lay out their argument in a memo of no longer than six pages. It’s not just a description; they address the assertions, assumptions, benefits, risks, and suggested next steps. And the idea is not shared in advance—it’s shared at the beginning of the meeting. At the start of the meeting, everyone reads the memo and makes notes in the margins. When everyone is finished reading, they ask the writer questions for 30-45 minutes. And best of all, at the end of the meeting, a decision is reached—yes, no, or a next step like gathering missing information.

Here are the benefits to this approach:

1. It makes ideas stronger.

It’s harder to write a convincing argument than it is to float a half-formed idea in a meeting. That’s intentional. The narrative forces people to really think about their idea, to consider not just the potential benefits but also the risks and the reasons it might not work (because you know you’ll need to answer those questions). As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos describes it in this article:

“Full sentences are harder to write [than bullets in a PowerPoint presentation]… They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

Most of us would not voluntarily listen to a presentation if the speaker told us, “I haven’t prepared exactly what I want to say today, so I’m just going to start talking and see where it goes.” So why should we allow it in a meeting? The narrative imposes discipline before discussion.

2. It respects colleagues’ time.
Too often, a group’s approach to getting things done is “Let’s have a meeting.” But time is a precious commodity. And group meetings—especially when they include meandering discussions about half-formed ideas that ultimately don’t lead to decisions—are often gigantic time-wasters. The narrative means that if you don’t feel ready to present your pitch in writing, if you’re not ready to defend it in front of the group, then you don’t call the meeting. You can use that time to prepare. And you’ve respected your colleagues’ time by letting them do their work in the meantime.

3. It leads to faster, better decisions.
How many meetings have you sat through that were all talk and no follow-up action? The point of discussing just about anything in a group meeting is to make a decision of some kind. Sometimes the decision is a no. But that’s still a decision, a much more definitive one than the standard, “Let’s continue this discussion next week (at which point many of us will simply repeat what we said this week).”

You don’t have to adopt Amazon’s narrative to make your meetings more productive. In fact, you could improve most meetings with just a few simple steps.

  • Remember that any meeting is taking time from all the participants. 5-10 people spending an hour together is actually 5-10 hours of time that could have been spent doing something else. If you’re going to have meetings, make your meetings count.
  • Don’t have standing meetings that happen whether or not there’s anything worth discussing. Have a meeting only when you need to have a meeting.
  • Are you meeting just to get a group update on what everyone has been doing? Why not have colleagues just write a paragraph or two (not an Amazon narrative-style argument, just a simple description) and share it ahead of time?
  • If you want to share an idea just to get feedback, share it with a few key people first. Get their thoughts, objections, and concerns. This is like doing a focus group. You’ll have a chance to refine your idea before you bring it to the meeting. In fact, you might be able to line those key people up as supporters before then.
  • Measure your meetings by the decisions made. If the only decision made is to have another meeting, that’s not a decision. Decisions are yes, no, or a specific step to gather whatever is preventing you from making the decision today.

Do your kids know what’s expected of them?

I may preach that kids need to take charge of their college admissions process. But parents, especially those paying the bill, have every right to voice their opinions, including what you expect from your kids when it comes to their education. But are those expectations clear to your kids? That’s a different question than, “Have you made your expectations clear?” You might think that your words and actions communicate clearly to your teen. But what’s clear to you may not be clear to them. And given how much stress can surround the process for the entire family, it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’re on the same page.

For example, you might expect nothing more than their best effort. You might expect that they choose whatever path makes them happy. You might expect that they get admitted to the most competitive college possible, that they take over the family business, or that they make the family proud by becoming the first member to graduate from a four-year college.

But whatever the expectations, the first step to your kids potentially embracing them is to make sure they really understand just what those expectations are.

Here are two past posts, one with my recommended parents’ pledge to high school kids, and a second about the potential value of high expectations when combined with unconditional love.

Just stop doing it

I enjoyed Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. But to me, something about one early passage in particular just didn’t sit right. In 1962 when Knight was first getting the tiny company off the ground, he recalls having this realization while on a run:

“So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea [about starting a shoe company] crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop. That’s the precocious, prescient, urgent advice I managed to give myself, out of the blue, and somehow managed to take. Half a century later, I believe it’s the best advice—maybe the only advice—any of us should ever give.”

And he kept coming back to that theme repeatedly, pointing to it as the guiding principle, the secret to his success.

We’ve all heard the mantra, “Never give up.” We’re taught not to be quitters, that sheer determination is what separates the people who achieve their goals and those who get left behind.

But here’s the thing that became clear as Knight recounted his story: Nike was successful in large part because Knight was willing to stop.

He stopped working a job as an accountant. Twice.

He stopped working as a professor at Portland State University.

In fact, Knight originally started his shoe company as the American distributor of Tiger brand running shoes manufactured in Japan. The Nike that we all know today only exists because Knight stopped selling the Tiger shoes and began manufacturing his own.

When you’re almost 80 years old, as Knight is, and you look back over your proudest and most significant accomplishments, from entrepreneurship to marriage, you’ll inevitably see a refusal to give up when things were difficult as an important ingredient in the success.

But achieving those milestones will mean letting go of other things that ultimately prove to mean less. Knight was focused, driven, and committed to the work that mattered the most. But he was also a quitter. A smart, tactical quitter. And it helped him and Nike get where they are today.

That’s what kept nagging at me with each passing chapter.

Then, in the final pages of the book, as Knight looks back and ponders the unlikely story of his “crazy idea” growing into Nike, a tale with all the successes enjoyed and the failures overcome, he reflects:

“And those who urge entrepreneurs to never give up? Charlatans. Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop.”

There it is. It’s not necessarily wrong to stop one thing. Sometimes stopping something is the key to succeeding in something else. Just don’t stop permanently.

“Just do it” was a great Nike slogan. But it turns out that “Just stop doing it” can be a pretty effective strategy, too.

Here are a few past posts, here and here, for high school students on the potential value of quitting. And a final one to make sure that you don’t end up punishing the people staying behind when you decide to move on.

Start with an audience of one

That email you’re writing…
That website you’re building…
That flyer you’re creating…
That brochure copy you’re penning…
That t-shirt you’re designing…

Who’s it for?

It’s a good question to ask, and a good person to envision, as you’re making it.

When I sit down to write a blog post, I try to envision exactly who it’s for. Not “parents,” or “students,” or “counselors”—that’s too broad. I want to imagine the one person out there who’s most likely to read and share it.

The parent of a nice B student who’d like some reassurance that there are plenty of great colleges out there for her child, too.

The over-achieving student who needs a reminder that the work will pay off no matter which colleges say yes.

The high school counselor who wants to alert her large caseload of families about upcoming changes in the financial aid process.

Of course, each of those posts will probably appeal to more than one person. But they won’t appeal to everyone, and that’s OK. If it’s good enough, the person each post is written for will share it with people in their tribe who think and act similarly.

It’s impossible to make something that everyone will like. But pleasing one specific person is an attainable goal.

And if your answer to “Who’s it for?” is, “This isn’t for anyone—it’s just for me,” then you’ve got a willing audience of one—yourself! So go make yourself happy with your art, writing, music, reading, learning, etc. and let all the other potential audiences go.

The path to the most receptive audience starts with an audience of one.

Prove the yes’s right

We’re hiring for a number of positions at Collegewise right now, all of which have generated dozens (and dozens) of applications of interest. Some are easy no’s, especially for those people who don’t read our post all the way through, don’t follow directions, and don’t seem to care enough to do more than send the same recycled cover letter and resume. But many more come from highly qualified, interesting, compelling people who could almost certainly make great contributions here. They took the time to get to know us. They cared enough to put together personal materials to show us how and why they’d be a good fit here. They gave thoughtful, honest answers to our interview questions, and asked equally good questions in return.

If we had 5, 10, or 20 positions open, I’d hire many of them. But given the comparatively small number of available positions, in the end, we have to say no to most qualified people who apply. It’s one of the few parts of my job I don’t like.

We’re very good at hiring at Collegewise. We’ve built a process that, from the first read of our “help wanted” ad, all the way to the formal job offer, tends to attract the best fits and repel those who just wouldn’t like working here. We’ve learned how to evaluate materials, how to ask questions that reveal someone’s talents, motivations, and personalities, and how to go with our guts to pick people who will do great things here and make everyone proud to work with them. We’re almost always right about who we pick.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t wrong about the people we don’t pick.

A decision to hire one person is also many decisions not to hire other people. The answer to whether or not we made a good “yes” choice reveals itself. Working with them, watching them in action, seeing them fulfill all the potential we saw in them—it’s a confirmation that we made a good choice.

But we don’t get to confirm those choices we made about people we didn’t hire. We know they’re going to go on to do great things someplace else. But we’ll never know just how great they could have been here.

People are complex. That’s why selecting them—for jobs, for dating, and yes, for college admissions, is not an exact, infallible science. You can look for the right things. You can evaluate thoroughly and thoughtfully. You can give yourself the best chance of making a “yes” choice you’ll be happy about. But even the best systems don’t guarantee you’ll be right about who you pick, or who you don’t pick.

Most admissions offices do a very good job of evaluating their applicants. They’re as thorough as time and opportunity allows them to be. They try to be reasonable and fair with every application. They genuinely want to admit not just the students who are qualified, but also those who are most likely to be happy and to thrive in that college’s particular environment. And they’re usually proven right about who they pick.

But that doesn’t mean they’re right about who they don’t pick. Selective colleges can’t take everyone who applies. Many yes’s will be right, and many no’s will be wrong. The only difference is that the colleges each get to see how their yes’s play out. The no’s will play out somewhere else, likely at another college that had the good fortune and good sense to say yes.

For seniors who are receiving decisions from your colleges, remember that a no doesn’t necessarily mean they made the right choice with you (or the wrong choice with one of their yes’s). It just means that they made a series of difficult choices they had to make.

It might not always seem fair. It might not always seem to make sense. But remember that one college’s decision to say no is also your opportunity to prove one of your yes’s right.

Guidelines for emailing colleges

As juniors begin their college searches in earnest, it’s likely that you’ll have questions as you explore potential schools. And given that many (if not most) colleges will share an email address (usually monitored by the admissions office) where you can send questions, it’s important to remember that there are real people reading your inquiries so that you don’t inadvertently annoy the same people who may later read your application. So here are a few guidelines to start—and keep—you on the right email footing.

Please start with this past post about how to write a good email message. The advice applies to pretty much any email you write to someone who isn’t necessarily a friend or family member.

Then read this one with some more specific advice for emailing colleges.

Those two posts will tell you just about everything you need to know to write what will likely be a refreshingly good email message, and to avoid common mistakes.

But here’s one more tip—please respect their time.

Don’t ask a long list of 10, 12, or 20 questions. I often receive emails like this from people who are considering applying for a job at Collegewise, and it feels like I’m being asked to complete a homework assignment. If you have a question—or two, or maybe even three—ask them. But don’t turn your email into a written interrogation.

Also, try to ask questions that a person who has likely never met you could feasibly answer. Admissions officers know a lot about their colleges, but they likely know nothing about you. That’s why “Would it be better for me to major in biology or physics?” will likely be almost impossible for an admissions officer to answer responsibly. But, “If I would like to double major in biology and physics, would it be appropriate to indicate that on my application?” is a question that’s right in their wheelhouse.

My intention here is not to scare any student off from emailing a college. Don’t worry—you’d have to write something pretty inappropriate, offensive, or scary to actually damage your chances of admission with one or two emails.

But a student who (1) ignores these guidelines, and (2) does so over and over and over again will start to make a bad name for him or herself in the admissions office.

Transparency

I needed to reserve a meeting room for a training I’ll be holding for Collegewisers in Seattle. So I went online and tried to use a popular workspace rental company. Before I clicked “Get a Quote,” I decided to click on the “Terms and Conditions” just to see what I was agreeing to.

Among other things, just asking how much a room costs meant that I was agreeing to:

  • receive telephone calls and text messages, even if I’m on a Do-Not-Call list
  • receive telephone calls for the purpose of marketing
  • receive e-mails
  • receive phone calls placed by an automatic telephone number dialing system
  • receive telephone communications containing pre-recorded messages
  • receive calls from contractors and third-party companies

I can’t imagine someone willingly agreeing to that arrangement, which is exactly why the company hides it, makes it the potential customer’s responsibility to unearth it, and then tricks people into agreeing to it.

Imagine how absurd this would be in our personal lives.

Thanks for asking me to go out on a date with you. If you had taken the time to learn about my terms and conditions, you’d know that you’ve now given me permission to call, text, or email you whenever I feel like it even if you start dating someone else. You’ve also agreed to let my friends, relatives, and even a computer call you on my behalf. And sometimes it won’t even be a real person calling—just a recording of something I, not you, think is important. And you’ve agreed to let me keep doing those things until you fill out a form expressly telling me to stop (at which point I’ll gladly comply in 5-7 business days).

Sound ridiculous? Maybe even a little underhanded and creepy? Yes, and that’s the point.

Spam has become so rampant that too many businesses, colleges, and organizations seem to just accept that it’s OK to engage it. But that’s the classic “Everybody’s doing it!” argument. Your customers deserve better than this. You deserve better than this. Any campaign or tactic that tricks people into doing something is only going to make it harder for them to trust you in the future.

“Transparency” is one of those business clichés that’s completely lost its oomph. But the sentiment is still a good one. Would your business, school, or organization be proud to stand up and say publicly, “Here’s what we’re doing, and here’s why we’re doing it”? If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track. But if the answer is no, and even worse, if it’s something you’d feel compelled to hide, that’s a good reason to reconsider.

Look for the teaching moments

One of a parent’s most important goals during the high school years should be to prepare their student for life on his or her own, without managing every decision, challenge, and uncertainty. It’s not that you’ll ever stop being a parent—it’s a lifetime gig and your kids won’t ever stop needing you. But unless you plan on moving into the dorm next door (not a good idea), the roles, both yours and your student’s, are going to change. The high school years are the perfect opportunity to prepare by looking for the teaching moments.

“Can you take care of this?”
The first step is to look for opportunities to stop doing for your kids those things that they could do for themselves. That’s the teaching moment. Start by asking them more questions and to describe what they’re facing. If they’re having trouble in a class and want you to talk to their teacher for them, ask them to tell you more about what kind of trouble they’re having, how long it’s been a problem, and what they’ve tried so far. Questions like these move kids from dropping a situation on your plate–and waiting for you to fix it–to examining what’s facing them. They can’t find the answers if they don’t first learn how to examine the problems.

“What do you think I should do?”
As kids get better at assessing what’s facing them, they’ll move to seeking your advice. “Can you take care of this?” will become, “What do you think I should do?” Instead of just answering the question, use it as a teaching moment. Ask if they’ve tried anything to solve it themselves, and if not, what they’ve considered. Help them think through their options, and explain your thinking, too, as you come up with an answer together. The goal is to move them from asking you for a solution to presenting you with one they found themselves.

“Here’s what I’m going to do.”
As their confidence builds, kids will begin coming to you to share not just a problem, but also their intended solution. It’s a way of checking in to make sure they’re not missing a better option or making an irreversible mistake. The teaching moment presented here is to highlight what they’re doing right, even if you don’t entirely agree with the course of action. If they’re examining the challenge, considering solutions, and showing the initiative to make a choice, they’re on the right path. Remember, the goal isn’t necessarily for them to do everything perfectly the first time. It’s to learn from these experiences, and that means that some lessons will sting more than others. Have faith that while you’re not protecting them from every potential disappointment, you’re setting them up for independence, success, and happiness.

“Here’s what I did.”
Eventually, one of two things will happen. Your kids will either begin coming to you to share how they’ve handled what’s faced them, or they’ll stop sharing updates at all because they’ve learned to take care of those things that formerly resided on your docket. Both scenarios are parental victories. When you do learn of these instances, praise the effort and thinking even if the outcome wasn’t perfect. That’s your teaching moment, and it will only increase their confidence in themselves and their trust that you’re still looking out for them even if you’re no longer their manager, assistant, and publicist.

It’s a process, one that takes faith in your parenting and in your own son or daughter. And like most parts of parenting, there’s no short class to take to learn exactly how to do it. But the good news is that while there may not always be a right answer, there will be plenty of available teaching moments.