7 Signs You May Be Micromanaging Your Teens

May 31, 2014

happy familyFor most parents, raising children well is a high priority. We long to be the best parents possible, and we want to make the very best decisions regarding the particular children the Lord has entrusted to us. There is no one-size-fits-all way to parent, but is it possible to do too much for our children once they are old enough to do for themselves?

What used to be called helicopter parenting, the constant hovering of parents over their child, obsessing over both small and large details of the child’s daily life, is now called overparenting. Since doing my own research on parenting over the past eight years, I’ve come to use the term micromanaging to best describe what it is that we parents often end up doing, especially home-educating parents, when we do things for our teens that may be best left for them to work through on their own.

Often we fear that if we don’t do everything just right, if we don’t hover and observe our teenagers diligently, if we don’t ensure that they have multiple activities, the best curriculum, the best books, and the best of everything that money can buy, we are not doing enough, and we risk failing them.

If we insist on being meticulously involved in every aspect of our teens’ lives, we may actually be demotivating our kids and inadvertently causing them to be dependent on us when they should be flexing their muscles and growing more and more independent.

Don’t we want to raise strong and courageous young adults who shine their lights boldly?

Strength comes from personal exercise, courage from taking calculated risks, knowing God goes before AND walks alongside. Independence doesn’t come overnight; it is a process of letting go. For most of us moms, letting go doesn’t come naturally.

Have you ever been in a job where you were micromanaged? I worked in a customer service environment for several years, and even though my fellow employees and I proved to be intelligent and competent at our jobs, we still were monitored minute by minute by a little box on our desks. Lunch and break times, number of calls taken per hour, actual product sales, potty breaks, average daily handle time of calls—all of these things and many more were tracked and recorded. Middle management dictated how our conversations with customers should flow, down to the minutest of details.

The result of such micromanagement was a revolving door of quality employees because they were not trusted to use the skills and abilities for which they were hired to meet the needs of the customers who were calling in with problems. Employees were not given credit for being trustworthy without being overseen every second of their work day. The result was unnecessary stress, burnout, and high turnover.

Simply put, micromanagement kills motivation. Micromanagement eventually kills the motivation of even the most motivated! If you’ve ever been micromanaged as an adult, you know this well.

In the home education realm, micromanagement leads to burnout for both parents and students. Perhaps it’s time to become underwhelmed again! The first step is to realize there is a problem.

In the event that you think you may be a micromanager, here are 7 signs to look for:

1. You have to repeat yourself over and over. Teens will rise to meet our expectations. We are the parents; we get to set the expectations. I expect my teens to help keep the house clean and in order. I expect that we will talk kindly to each other. I expect that they will do their work—be it school work or work around the house—with excellence, and I expect them to do it without me telling them over and over.

These expectations were set when they were young children, but if you haven’t set standards in the past, you still have the right AND the authority to do so now. The catch is that we as parents have to model the behavior that we expect our children to exhibit. Yeah, I know. That is the hard part.

Oftentimes parents unconsciously set low expectations because they are afraid they will stress their children, or they are afraid that their children may not be capable of performing at a higher level. Sadly, some parents do not respect their position as parents and don’t feel they may rightfully expect their children to do what they are asked to do with a cheerful attitude.

Respectfully submit the expectations to your kids via a family meeting, preferably with Dad laying out the rules, emphasizing that you expect them to follow through without repeated reminders. Ask them what they think should happen if the expectations aren’t met. Get the kids’ input on setting consequences. Make sure the consequences are as clear as the expectations, and be sure to follow through with them. When the expectations are met, follow through with a sincere word of thanks! It may take a little bit of reminding at first, but gently ease back on those reminders. Eventually, no reminders should be necessary.

2. You help your teen without being asked. While it is always nice to do things for our teens, be careful of overdoing things for them. “Oh, Mom will do it if I don’t,” is the outcome of overdoing. Teens are growing into adulthood; they won’t wake up one day and suddenly be responsible adults. Having definite responsibilities in the home with the expectation of excellence is preparing them for responsible independence down the road. Helping with your student with her biology project by going out and finding leaves for her collection is a general no-no.

3. You step in before your teen makes a mistake. When a young child is ready for the training wheels to come off his bike, chances are good he doesn’t think he is going to fall. Chances are good he will take a tumble or two as he learns to balance on two wheels. Allowing our children to make mistakes or take a tumble is necessary in order for them to learn how to strike a balance in their own lives. Natural consequences are sometimes the best teachers.

Of course we wouldn’t let our young child ride out into traffic, so use your judgment when making the decision of when to step in and when to allow natural consequences to teach your teen. Often we don’t want our teen to look bad or be embarrassed because we may look bad or be embarrassed, so we make sure a crisis is averted which means the behavior that caused the crisis is apt to be repeated.

4. You make excuses for your teen. When a young child doesn’t get a nap, he is likely to be grumpy, right? However, when a teenager is grumpy from not getting enough sleep, he has to learn what acceptable behavior is when one is grumpy, because in the real world, lack of sleep is going to be an issue from time to time.

“Well, James didn’t get enough rest, y’all,” is not the proper response from Mom when James has just been ugly to his siblings. If you have a tendency to make excuses for your young adult, he will be in for a rude awakening when out in the real world. Being honest with our teens about their crummy attitudes or behaviors is often easier than being honest with ourselves about our teen’s shortcomings. It’s our job to assist them in overcoming their weaknesses while at home, and making excuses just prolongs and feeds the behavior.

5. You run your teen’s daily schedule of activities. This is often fueled by a parent’s need for control. No surprise there. A 17 year old should be able to set his own schedule and order his day so that he accomplishes what needs to be accomplished; a 13 year old may need a little help to get started. School work is one of those things that teens should be able to accomplish independently. While some assistance may be needed from time to time, relying on Mom to tell him when to do what subject, or needing Mom to make him get his work done is an indicator of immaturity.

What happens when parents continue to schedule their teens’ lives for them is they inadvertently prohibit them from developing the skill sets necessary to foster problem-solving and self-confidence down the road. If a student is college bound, knowing how to prioritize study time and free time is an important skill!

Many students drop out of college due to the inability to function without someone telling them what to do. Home-schooled students should be experts in this area due to the practice they had at home organizing themselves on a daily basis during the high school years.

6. Your teen has no privacy. A teenager deserves some privacy. Respecting our teens’ privacy is imperative to a healthy relationship with our young adults. If we have a suspicion regarding something that may be happening that should not be happening, then asking questions and delving deeper is warranted, but enabling our teens to earn privacy as they demonstrate responsible behavior is part of growing up.

Once they are out on their own, they will have complete privacy whether we like it or not. As we observe them developing godly morals and values when they are young, we can trust them to carry those values over into their personal lives bit by bit without our direct supervision.

7. Your teen is afraid to make a decision without you. The key word here is afraid. Of course a healthy relationship with our young adults includes them seeking out our opinions before making some types of decisions. However, by the time a student is in high school, he is capable of making daily decisions especially where school work is concerned.

My high schoolers all know my expectations for their school work—to master each day’s material—and I give them as much control over it as I possibly can. My job is simply to monitor their progress on a semi-regular basis. They have a formula they use that dictates what they should be doing each day, and if they want to work ahead, I am cool with that.

If something comes up and they don’t complete something as planned, I don’t have to stress because the onus is on them to ultimately finish their work. They know they are working for themselves, not for me. I don’t need another high school diploma, so I’m not doing their work with them or for them. I’m there if needed, but they are calling the shots within the parameters of excellence.

The best way to demotivate our children educationally is to micromanage them.

I could write a book on this topic. Wait. I did. It’s called The Self-Propelled Advantage, and if you need some direction in the area of raising motivated kiddos who work independently in all areas of life, especially academics, you’ll find practical how-to’s within its pages.

Attitude truly is everything, and when we are willing to let go and allow our teens freedom to succeed and yes—to occasionally fail—we give them the gift of a yes-I-can attitude. We help them develop confidence and independence. We raise young adults who are strong and courageous.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

 


Promises

November 16, 2013

???????There are so many voices out there today that offer parenting advice. When we are growing and developing as parents, how do we know who to listen to?

I don’t really know the answer to that question. That is kind of why I posed it, but I’d like to trace over some familiar words from Scripture that give us valuable parenting advice. Scripture is always a trusted source, and there is a ton of parenting advice found therein.

Proverbs 22: 6 advises parents to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

When you think about it, there is quite a distance between childhood and old age, right? A lot happens between those two points in life. I think there is a reason why we aren’t given a specific date and time in this passage.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and by the time he is married and has his own children, he will not depart from it.”

Ha. No, that’s not what it said, right? Proverbs gives even more of a time differential! Proverbs literally is saying when your young child is into the realm of old age, he will not venture from the basics he was taught as a child.

I think that means God in His grace gives us as human beings a lot of leeway. He knows we are but dust. Our human state means some of us will wander as some sheep wander, but as our Shepherd, He will find and care for roaming sheep.

As the father of prodigal kids, He awaits those who go off in their own wisdom, looking for success only to be batted around by a cruel, cold world. Our young-adult children will probably make some bad decisions apart from us! Did you make bad decisions apart from your parents?

As parents, we can rest in the knowledge that no matter how things look for our children once they leave home and are beyond our physical reach, the teaching we’ve given them while trying our best to instill in them skillful and godly Wisdom will pay off. In some instances, the payoff may not come until late in their lives; perhaps we won’t even be around to see it!

To me, this verse in Proverbs is a verse of promise, a verse of sweet rest for us as parents of teens and young adults. We do our best, then we can let go in the knowledge of three specific things:

1. God knows we are not perfect parents.
2. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect parents.
2. God loves our children even more than we do.
3. God keeps His promises.

Yeah, I know that was four. God is much more trustworthy than I. <3


Real Parents Don’t Beg

January 30, 2013

spoiled boyRecently on Facebook, I asked folks what is up with the shootings in schools. Why do shootings happen so frequently? Here in our local school district, teachers may soon be licensed to pack heat in the classroom!

Then there is the whole national conversation we’re having about bullying. It’s an epidemic among school children today.

What happened to the apparently-bygone era of students getting spanked by the principal for hard core stuff like passing notes during class or running in the halls?

I remember in third grade being sent out to stand in the hallway facing the wall because I was laughing during music class. (I’ll never forget Mrs. Smith, the Autoharp-Playing Wonder, God rest her soul. She didn’t like happiness.)

I mean, kids used to be much better behaved, with all due respect to Gen X, Y, and Z.

Ah, but perhaps the problem is the PARENTS of said Gen X, Y, an Z.

Today on The Underwhelmed Mom Show I began a six-part series of episodes examining the first element of the Self-Propelled Advantage ~ Self-Mastery. Yep, six episodes totaling three hours of discussion, laying out how and why parents can teach self-mastery to their children. Self control and self-discipline are mandatory for success in life. So is learning how to respect family and friends. So is respecting authority.

But when and how is a parent to begin instilling morals and values into a young child? Here is the direct link to listen to the replay of the first episode on self-mastery, if you are interested: Episode 14: Self-Mastery.

From the CircleofMoms.com website comes some really, really interesting stuff. I recommend subscribing to their updates for interesting, informative, but often humanistic analysis of kids, parenting, and what ~ in general ~ makes children tick. Or sick. Or etc.

Think about this age of bullying, the age of “feel-good” parenting, and the lack of respect in both kids and grown-ups these days, as I list for you 10 Signs Your Child Could Be SPOILED, per CircleofMoms.com.

Here we go.

1. She throws tantrums, often. Both in public and at home.

2. She isn’t ever satisfied with what she has. She wants what she sees someone else has.

3. He isn’t helpful.

4. He tries to control adults.

5. He frequently embarrasses you in public.

6. She won’t share.

7. You have to beg him to do what he’s asked to do.

8. He ignores you.

9. She won’t play alone.

10. You have to bribe him.

Okay. I’m going to go out on a parental limb here and say that if any of these behaviors are exhibited regularly by one of my children, my child is not SPOILED. Spoiled is way too pleasant of a word for any of the behaviors listed above with the possible exception of #2 and #6. Spoiled kids don’t share and are never satisfied.

The rest of the behaviors listed do not fall into the spoiled category. They fall into the disobedient and disrespectful category. What parent BEGS a child to do what’s asked of him? That isn’t parenting!

I’m sounding as though I’ve got my feet firmly planted on a soapbox here.

Teaching self-mastery means giving our children specific expectations for behavior and then reinforcing their behavior positively, or perhaps ~ gasp! ~with a bit of old-fashioned discipline when behavior purposely doesn’t meet standards and it IS A GOOD THING.

It is our responsibility as parents to be the ones in control, to set standards, and to enforce those standards on a daily basis until these behaviors become good habits formed in our children.

Real parents don’t beg.

Real parents model proper behavior themselves, and they expect their children to do the same.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Respect: It Ain’t Just a One-Way Street

January 28, 2013

PortraitParents can hurt their children unlike any other type of humankind on the planet can. Parents of adult children often don’t realize that their offspring never outgrow the need for respect from their parents. And vice versa. But the onus is on parents to be mindful of this truth in the first place.

I know I mess up with my kids and give them lots of reasons to feel less than respected at times. I hate when I do that!

So this post is written as a reminder to ME of how I should treat my still-at-home children as well as my grown-up children if I want to maintain a healthy and vibrant relationship with them.

Respect means:

1. Giving my full attention (by putting down hand-held devices such as smart phones, looking away from the blog post I’m typing and making eye contact, removing ear buds and turning off loud, rockin’ country music, opening eyes when I’m almost asleep…finally…after a long day, and etc.).

2. Did I mention making eye contact without ear buds in?

3. Respect means not interrupting unless it’s with interjections such as Wow! That’s Awesome! Woo-hoo!

Avoid interrupting by using interjections such as Hush! Wait a minute! Dude! Can’t you see I’m busy?

4. Respect means speaking to my kids like I’d speak to an adult. Three-year-old kids don’t need a sing-songy voice, and neither do teens. Neither does my 80-year-old Dad.

5. Respect means saying please and thank you even for stuff that is “expected” such as chores.

6. Respect means not deliberately embarrassing my kids in front of others, including siblings. In this day and age, it means asking permission before posting something concerning them on Instagram or Facebook. Or even in a blog post.

I would never deliberately embarrass my kids in front of anyone, just fyi. The thought makes me cringe, actually.

7. Respect means apologizing when I need to….like when I forget to ask permission before posting something concerning them on Instagram or Facebook. Or even in a blog post. Asking forgiveness, too, is essential.

8. Respect means knocking on a door before entering their rooms. (It also means not hiding behind the door to scare the life outta your poor mom. Just sayin’.)

9. Respect means not asking my kiddos to do something I’m not willing to do.

The exception would be asking my skinny little daughter to reach something that fell under my bed…like an earring that I shall never see again unless she slithers under there and kindly retrieves it for me. Heh heh.

10. Respect means communicating, not commanding.

The exception to this rule lies in safety-related issues. Sometimes there isn’t time to communicate why not to run out into the open field during a thunderstorm in order to retrieve a kite that’s stuck in a tree.

Fortunately, Benjamin Franklin’s mom failed at this particular safety command, and we now how electricity with which to power all these things we need to put aside when our dear children are communicating with us. So yeah, there are always exceptions to exceptions.

11. Allowing my kids to have their own opinions without telling them why they are freakishly wrong is another way I can show respect.

This is especially relevant when you have adult children. Not that my adult children have opinions that I think are freakishly wrong….well…there is that one particular offspring….! JUST kidding.

12. Listen well. Listening is always respectful. So is nodding and otherwise acting interested. “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh…” gets awfully annoying after a very short while.

Uh-huh.

Okay. I see you have a call coming in, so I’ll bow out now. Respectfully.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Humble Homeschool Beginnings

January 25, 2013

IM000689Many moons ago, when I started home educating my first child, I didn’t even know I was doing it. Nicky just naturally gravitated to books and floor puzzles and mazes and all sorts of logic-related stuff, and that’s the kind of thing we had around the house for him to fill his days with. (This was way before the Computer Age, y’all.)

And by the time Nicky turned three, I was expecting child number three. I laid around and read to those first little critters an awful lot in the early days.

Before long, the card-carrying, diploma-waving teacher in me decided I needed to set some goals and add some structure to my oldest child’s day.

Here is a short list of the personal goals I had when I “officially” began home educating my first child, Nicholas, at age four:

1.   Present new information in various forms: workbooks, readers, texts, etc.

2.   Test when necessary to make sure information is learned to an A level.

3.   Move on to the next thing, letting my child’s readiness be the guide.

Because I had that degree in elementary education and had taught school before having my own children, it never dawned on me that children would enjoy learning if left to themselves. I was prepared to entice and cajole my son into formal learning.

Isn’t that a strange thing to say? But it’s true. My experience in the classroom had taught me that children had to be pushed and pulled along, for the most part.

In my experience as a mom who was home educating her child, however, I found that Nicholas moved very, very quickly through his lessons because he could go at his own speed. He didn’t need to wait for the class to finish up; he was the class!

Nor did he know that he should not be enjoying this thing called school. Ah! But that was the difference! It was not school; it was learning at home. We weren’t up at the crack of dawn, gulping down breakfast, scrambling to find matching shoes, and running out the door to catch the school bus, separated from everything related to family.

Instead, learning was a natural thing done in the comfort of our own home along with family, on a schedule that worked well for us, not for an entire school system. What a cool thing it was to be able to tailor learning to my student! What an improvement over group learning!

I wasn’t just providing the opportunity for learning; I was there to ensure that learning took place, the learning of all the subject matter, not just 75 or 88 percent of it, but all of it. And then we moved on, directed solely by my son’s desire to learn—a desire which was surprisingly voracious.

Why would I want to send my child to a school when he could have such fun learning at home and could move at his own speed? And hang out with his sibs? And eat real food?

I simply did not want to miss out on time spent with him either. If I put him on a school bus, that meant forty fewer hours per week I would have to spend with him, times thirty-six weeks in a year. That equals 1,440 hours apart per year. Multiply that times twelve years, not counting kindergarten, and that comes out to 17,280 hours—roughly three full years of his life spent elsewhere.  Yikes! Why did I have a child only to entrust him to someone else to influence, mold, and shape? That didn’t make any sense to me.

I knew my son could learn better at home than he could anywhere else. For now, home education was for us. We’d worry about high school later.

Additionally, at age four, Nicky had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This was quite a shock, of course. And years ago, there was no way to accurately test blood sugar at home as there is now.

Another reason we decided to keep Nicky at home was that we knew we could keep a better eye on his health challenges than any school nurse could.

If your child has chronic health issues, learning at home is certainly a wonderful option to explore.

Thus began our home-education adventure. Home-education adventures all have unique beginnings. What did yours look like?

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Help! I’m a Self-Learner, and I Can’t Figure This Out!

January 22, 2013

Questions curriculum questions picWith the advent of the Internet and search engines like Google, many of us have become self-learners simply because information is literally at the tips of our fingers.

It’s AWESOME, isn’t it?

Yes! It’s so awesome that my daughter Lilienne, who will be 11 on Saturday, deduced recently that school really wasn’t necessary once you learned to read because you can now look up everything you want to know on Google as you need to know it.

I concur with her….to a degree. Nowadays we have no excuse not to know the answer to a question (that actually has an answer) aside from lack of time to research or laziness or lack of motivation or something lame along those lines.

I’m not a Webhead, but I enjoy playing around with my websites and junk online. I can usually figure stuff out on my own with a little persistence, sometimes accompanied by tears and frustration. Recently I ran into a situation where I needed to figure out how to put an RSS feed both here and on my Author Page on Amazon.com.

Step one: I googled something about RSS feeds. Well, after going here and there ~ info specifically for wordpress blogs, etc. ~ I wasn’t getting it. (Perhaps a mental block because I was born about the time color television hit the American scene.) Google really wasn’t helpful. Not because I was lazy, but because I was kinda overwhelmed with the lingo.

What is a self-learner to do when stumped?

Step two: Ask someone else who might know the answer to the question at hand.

I asked my fabulous son-in-law, Brandon, but he couldn’t help me right that minute. I asked my daughter Lauren, who is a whiz at setting up Websites (www.beadboxbargains.com) but she had something else going on at the time, so she couldn’t help me either.

So I did what I do best: I moved onto another project and forgot all about it.

Until this week during a conference call with my publisher who asked me if I had put my RSS feed from this very blog up on my amazon.com author page. Heh heh. Oopsie. No, I hadn’t done that yet.

After the call, I mentioned to my husband that the RSS feed thing was driving me nuts, and I was fixin’ to cuss (not that I would actually ever DO that. no way. not me.)

Yesterday Tim came over to my desk (one of them, anyway. I have desks all over the house) and he told me how to add the widget and what to put in the URL. I knew how to do the widget thing, but the URL is what had stumped me.

Isn’t widget the cutest word EVER?

Tim had done a little research for me and figured out the missing piece to the whole thing! Wasn’t that nice of him? Yes. It was. Thank you, Tim. And now I will make him salisbury steak and smashed potatoes for dinner tonight. :)

So now I have an RSS feed!! AND I’m still a self-learner because I learned how to do the RSS feed thing. I know you think I’m not a self-learner because I had to ask around, right? I can read your doubting mind.

Self-learning simply requires knowing where to go to find out what it is that you don’t know.

I had to ask someone else ~ multiple people, in fact ~ before I found someone who was able to help me learn what I needed to learn. I now know how to set up an RSS feed.

Self-learners tend to think they shouldn’t ask for help; they should be able to figure things out on their own. That is not always true. Asking for assistance is a really good way to learn at times, although seeking out the answer yourself first is kind of the rule of thumb in our home school.

But if you’re stumped, don’t be too proud to ask for help.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Now This is a Graduation Speech!

January 12, 2013

female graduation portraitStressed for Success?

By David Brooks

(Joanne’s note: This high school graduation speech was NOT given to home-educated students, but I have kept this as encouragement, and I’ve put in bold those aspects of Mr. Brooks’ speech that speak to the beauty of home education.)

“Many of you high school seniors are in a panic at this time of year, coping with your college acceptance or rejection letters. Since the
admissions process has gone totally insane, it’s worth reminding yourself that this is not a particularly important moment in your life.

You are being judged according to criteria that you would never use to judge another person and which will never again be applied to you
once you leave higher ed.

For example, colleges are taking a hard look at your SAT scores. But if at any moment in your later life you so much as mention your SAT
scores in conversation, you will be considered a total jerk. If at age 40 you are still proud of your scores, you may want to contemplate a major
life makeover.

More than anything else, colleges are taking a hard look at your grades. To achieve that marvelous G.P.A., you will have had to demonstrate excellence across a broad range of subjects: math, science, English, languages etc.

This will never be necessary again. Once you reach adulthood, the key to success will not be demonstrating teacher-pleasing competence
across fields; it will be finding a few things you love, and then committing yourself passionately to them.

The traits you used getting good grades might actually hold you back. To get those high marks, while doing all the extracurricular activities colleges are also looking for, you were encouraged to develop a prudential attitude toward learning.

You had to calculate which reading was essential and which was not. You could not allow yourself to be obsessed by one subject because if you did, your marks in the other subjects would suffer. You could not take outrageous risks because you might fail.

You learned to study subjects that are intrinsically boring to you; slowly, you may have stopped thinking about which subjects are boring and which exciting. You just knew that each class was a hoop you must jump through on your way to a first-class university. You learned to thrive in adult-supervised settings.

If you have done all these things and you are still an interesting person, congratulations, because the system has been trying to whittle you down into a bland, complacent achievement machine.

But in adulthood, you’ll find that a talent for regurgitating what superiors want to hear will take you only halfway up the ladder, and then you’ll stop there. The people who succeed most spectacularly, on the other hand, often had low grades. They are not prudential. They venture out and thrive where there is no supervision, where there are no preset requirements.

Those admissions officers may know what office you held in school government, but they can make only the vaguest surmises about what
matters, even to your worldly success: your perseverance, imagination, and trustworthiness. Odds are you don’t even know these things
about yourself yet, and you are around you a lot more.

Even if the admissions criteria are dubious, isn’t it still really important to get into a top school? I wonder. I spend a lot of time meeting with students on college campuses. If you put me in a room with 15 students from any of the top 100 schools in this country and asked me at the end of an hour whether these were Harvard kids or Penn State kids, I would not be able to tell you.

There are a lot of smart, lively young people in this country, and you will find them at whatever school you go to. The students at the really elite schools may have more social confidence, but students at less prestigious schools may learn not to let their lives be guided by other people’s status rules – a lesson that is worth the tuition all by itself.

As for the quality of education, that’s a matter of your actually wanting to learn and being fortunate enough to meet a professor who electrifies your interest in a subject. That can happen at any school because good teachers are spread around, too.

So remember, the letters you get over the next few weeks don’t determine anything. Picking a college is like picking a spouse. You don’t pick the “top ranked” one, because that has no meaning. You pick the one with the personality and character that complements your own.

You may have been preparing for these letters half your life. All I can say is welcome to adulthood, land of the anticlimaxes.”


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