Four Steps to Choosing Your College Major and Career

Can you imagine working at a job you hate? Spending most of your waking hours bored, frustrated, or totally stressed out, working with people or for an employer you don’t care for?

On the other hand, imagine working for a company you admire, where your skills are fully utilized, where you can build life-long friendships, where you’re given opportunities to grow professionally, and where you’re rewarded and recognized for a job well done.

I think we’d all prefer the second scenario, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, many don’t experience it because they don’t do the proper homework. Choosing your major and career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life. But, is it?

Unfortunately, far too many grads are disenchanted with their major and career. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll of some 90,000 college grads, 36% regret choosing the major they did! Yes, 36% have buyer’s remorse! This is a shocking statistic given the amount of money poured into our college educations and the importance of actually liking (and succeeding in) a career that fits. I believe this major/career regret stems from the following:

  1. Insufficient research by students on their career options. They are either struggling to find a job in their major or discovering it wasn’t a fit after all.
  2. Insufficient guidance and preparation by colleges provided to students. I speak with far too many college grads who are still uncertain about their careers or are clueless as to how to land a job. This is a travesty.
  3. Too many college majors with limited career connections. Shouldn’t colleges provide students with the percentage of their graduates landing a job in each available major? Many students simply major in what they like (with full support from their counselors) without realizing the challenges in actually finding work.

 

Now that summer is here and many students have college and career on their minds, it’s the perfect time to do some assessing, research, and hands-on learning to get a good grasp of what your future can look like.

The first step is to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. This involves taking an honest and objective inventory of your:

  • Interests and passions
  • Skills and aptitudes (Be honest with yourself here. Don’t say you’re good with numbers when you’ve nearly failed all your math classes!)
  • Lifestyle and workplace preferences (are you laid back? Orderly? Type A? Do you hope to work remotely, travel a lot, etc.? Like working solo or in teams? Thrive on pressure…or not? People or task oriented?)
  • Ability to obtain the necessary qualifications (Degrees, certifications, continued education)

The second step is to develop a list of potential careers that captures your interests, skills, and personal preferences. Learn about the qualifications for each career possibility and consider whether you have the skills and/or are willing to acquire them. Meet with admissions counselors and professors. Attend career fairs. Review the recommendations from any aptitude tests you’ve completed. Meet with actual practitioners in each career area to learn what the job is like. Speak with others who know you best to gain their perspectives.

The third step involves investigating the demand outlook for the careers you’re considering. Do your research to discover which careers are experiencing strong job growth and which majors will qualify you. This step is more crucial than you realize. For every major you’re considering, thoroughly evaluate its employment prospects. Your return on college investment may be at stake!

Finally, seek out work-study, internship, and job shadowing opportunities to get a taste of what the career is like. This will provide a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your preliminary conclusions.

Once you complete this process, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   

A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to the education and training you’ll need to qualify for them. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website.  It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests. Another good option is www.careercruising.com.

 Parents, youth mentors, and educators: Please consider sharing this email with the career-bound students in your life. Use it as a bridge to opening conversations about life direction, career options, and preparation for life as an adult. Then feel free to share your comments and testimonials with our online community; we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Take Responsibility; Don’t Dodge It

 

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible
for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

 Ah, the blame game. We’ve all played it. Most of the time, it simply doesn’t feel good to accept responsibility when we’ve fallen short, so we cast the blame on others (e.g., “If my teacher wasn’t so rude, I wouldn’t have failed the class.” “I know I got a speeding ticket, but my friend made me late!” “My teammates cost us the win.”).

However, we’re all human, so we make mistakes.  Every single one of us. Sometimes those mistakes are completely innocent and happen by accident, and sometimes they stem from a bad decision, a character flaw, or selfish motives. But no matter what, mistakes and shortfalls are part of life. While no one keeps track, they number well into the thousands in a lifetime. That being the case, one has to wonder why it’s so difficult for us to admit our mistakes and accept responsibility.

Is it because the words “I’m sorry” don’t come easily? In such cases, it’s sometimes easier (and feels less shameful) to blame others and make excuses. Our pride gets in the way.

Or, maybe we fear how others will react. For people who have been victims of abuse, this is a natural response.

Is there a better way to handle our mistakes?

People who are prone to blame others first are actually reflecting their own insecurities. Implicitly, they assume their relationships can’t withstand an acknowledgement of a mistake or shortfall. However, it’s a false assumption, especially since most people appreciate it when someone admits a mistake and asks for forgiveness.

When you make a mistake or your best efforts fall short of the goal, you can do one of two things:

  1. You can TAKE responsibility, apologize if appropriate, do what you can to make things right, and commit to doing better the next time around.
  2. You can DODGE responsibility, blame someone else (or the circumstances), and walk away from the situation – leaving others (and yourself!) with the problem you created.

Choice #1 will gain you the respect of your family, peers, and colleagues and help you learn from your mistake. It’s an act of integrity. Choice #2, on the other hand, will damage your reputation and deprive you of a valuable opportunity for personal growth.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that might cause us to miss out on great opportunities to learn and grow! That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor. The coach you were convinced benched you every game because “he didn’t like you?” He could have been a great trainer and helped you up your game. That “jealous” classmate? She could have helped you become a better friend.

The long and short of it is this: Accepting responsibility is a hallmark of a true leader and a sign of maturity. The next time you’re tempted to blame first, swallow your pride and admit that you fell short. You’ll be respected and admired by others when you do… and you might be surprised by the grace they extend to you in return!

Do you find it difficult to admit your mistakes and accept that you aren’t perfect? Why? How do you develop the value of taking responsibility for mistakes in your teens or students?

To Land Your Dream Job, Build Your Edge

One important key to success is self confidence.

An important key to self confidence is preparation.

~Arthur Ashe

 

So, you’ve buckled down and identified several candidate careers (or majors) that could be your perfect match. Now, it’s time to turn this vision into a reality! It’s a highly competitive job market out there, so you’ll need a solid plan to acquire the necessary qualifications to win. That means building your competitive edge—the next step to becoming career ready.

It’s difficult to generalize the qualification process because it varies so much by career choice. Do you prefer to dive right into the job market? Are you willing to get your Bachelor’s, Master’s, Ph.D, or more? Often, it’s the qualifications that help us narrow our career options to ones that are realistic and achievable.

When entering the workforce, chances are the basic qualifications will be in the following areas:

  • Education: degree, areas of specialization, GPA, certifications, specific courses
  • Work experience: minimum years and particular positions; internships and apprenticeships; training and professional certifications
  • Skills: technical proficiencies, physical requirements, familiarity with systems, relational and soft skills, etc.
  • References: they had better be good!

In last week’s newsletter, we identified several websites that show the various qualification requirements for different careers. Familiarize yourself with them and use this information to narrow your choices. Be realistic.

Now, in order to position yourself to land the job, you’ll want to go far beyond the minimum qualifications cited above. Employers are looking for special evidences of leadership, initiative, and accomplishment. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you speak with actual practitioners who hold your desired career position. Seek out advice and wisdom from the pros, especially to discover ways you can set yourself apart from the competition. They will be able to offer far deeper insights in building your edge than your high school or college career counselor/recruiter whose knowledge is more general. What leadership skills, internships, experiences, and trainings can you undertake that will stand out? Summer jobs? Camps? Job shadows? Extra courses?

We also encourage you to review the results of the state of Virginia’s workplace readiness survey of employers. You can access it here. You’ll notice that many of the top 21 skills are soft skills. Yes, today’s employers are looking far beyond your degrees and GPAs… they want people with great attitudes and leadership skills.

Great references are another necessity. Many times, they can overcome average academic performance with great stories about you. Whether they’re professors, teachers, coaches, mentors, or supervisors, all of them are prized potential references on your behalf. What have you done to deserve the highest praise among people who can potentially become your ambassadors?

So, what’s your story, from a prospective employer’s perspective? Remember, you’re competing against other worthy candidates, and the more you can demonstrate passion, initiative, and real life examples of your leadership skills, the more an employer will want you! Make yours a great story.

Educators and parents, be sure that your career readiness training incorporates these vital components. They will help your students build the edge they’ll need to win.

 

 

 

Finding a Career That Fits YOU

Life is filled with important decisions, but few are as critical as selecting a well-matched career. Not only is it our primary income source, but it also is the most direct way we apply our skills and talents in life. With all of the time we spend in our careers, it pays to make this one of the most well researched decisions in life. That means inventorying our skills, interests, and personal preferences, and researching different career options that play to our strengths, are realistically accessible, and will offer fulfillment and sufficient income.

Many high schoolers feel inordinate pressure to know NOW what career they should pursue, but we believe this is premature and speculative. Students are still discovering themselves, they haven’t been exposed to a variety of career options, and they haven’t even taken advanced courses. Accordingly, we believe it’s more appropriate to train our teens on the process of career exploration rather than placing undue pressure on them to decide on specifics at this time. For most, it’s far too soon.

Educators and parents, you play an important role in facilitating a career exploration process that promotes research and discovery, rather than forcing a definitive conclusion. In this spirit, we offer these suggestions to you:

  1. Build career awareness and curiosity. Encourage students to become career conscious and to connect with people who have potentially interesting careers. Parents, you can take a leadership role in making the introductions.
  2. Take career assessment surveys. Many sites (e.g., careercruising.com and careerbridge.wa.gov) offer excellent information and assessments to assist with career exploration. Often, they include both potential careers and industries to help students channel their interests and skills. They also provide valuable information regarding demand, qualifications, and marketing tips (resume writing, interviewing, etc.). Importantly, students should consider why particular career areas rose to the top of their list and why others were at the bottom. It’s a great self discovery exercise.
  3. Consider all key career selection factors. Selecting a career match is a multi-faceted decision. Key considerations include: 1) skills and aptitudes, 2) interests, 3) ability to obtain the necessary qualifications, 4) personal preferences (e.g., personality compatibility, workplace environment, stress level, relational vs. task orientation, work hours, flexibility), 5) demand, 6) income requirements/potential, and 7) location.
  4. Determine whether it’s a career, hobby, or volunteer opportunity. Many students are majoring in areas where actual job opportunities are scarce. In such cases, it may be wise to pursue these interests in their free time rather than enduring a fruitless and frustrating job search.
  5. Parents, remember it’s about them, not you. We often observe high school students planning to pursue the same career as their parent(s). Some of this comes through osmosis (fine), but other times, it is coming from parents who are actively steering (or even directing) this decision (not fine).
  6. Educators, be sure to invite recruiters into your classroom. Classroom visits from recruiters, as well as career fairs, are great opportunities for students to broaden their career horizons and gain real world perspectives from practitioners.
  7. Encourage multiple options. It’s common for students to change their minds regarding their career or college major. It’s also common for students to be so narrowly focused on a specific career that they become discouraged and stagnant when that exact job isn’t available. It always helps to have a Plan B and C to get in the game. Perfection isn’t always possible when you begin your career.

Your students will be well served by taking a rigorous and thoughtful approach to career selection. We invite you to explore our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources to support their efforts.

Growing Signs of College Unreadiness

university-graduatesHave you experienced something like the following? You’re invited to a high school graduation party brimming with pride and promise. In a few short months, he/she will be heading off to college to fulfill his/her dreams, so it’s a festive occasion. Then, after a semester, a year, or maybe two, we hear the disheartening news: in an unexpected turn of events, our friend/relative/son/daughter just dropped out. That upbeat graduation party seemed like only yesterday, didn’t it? Now what?

By all accounts, stories like this are becoming more common. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • The US college completion ranking among 28 nations has fallen from first in 1995 to 19th in 2012, according to OECD. That’s a substantial shift in a mere 17 years.
  • Many colleges are reporting significant increases in student demand for mental health counseling services. Nearly 10 percent of students are receiving such treatment. (Note: some of this increase may be due to efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and seeing a counselor. This is a positive)

Clearly, though, these are worrisome trends. Why are so many students struggling? Are they unready?

Peeling the Onion

According to the 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors Survey1 of 380 colleges, here are the top 10 reasons cited for student visits with counselors over the 2012-2013 period: Anxiety (46%), Depression (39%), Relationship Issues (35%), Psychotropic Medication (25%), Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors (18%), Extensive Treatment History (14%), Alcohol Abuse (11%), Self Injury (10%), ADHD (8%), and Drug Abuse (8%). All of these are concerning, but number five is downright alarming.

That anxiety ranks number one shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the college years are inherently stressful, with students facing new environments, responsibilities, competition, and career decisions. That’s a lot to absorb, as many of us may remember all too well!  Among the most commonly cited student stressors are: relationships and loneliness, competitive academic and social pressure, time management/workload/balance, career/major choice, finances, poor eating/sleeping habits, roommate incompatibility, and handling newfound freedom responsibly. Whew!

Contributors

Obviously, each individual situation is unique, and preparing students for success in this major transition is no easy feat. That said, we believe the following are some of the main causes of college unreadiness and student struggles:

  1. Helicoptering and performance parenting: many of today’s parenting methods, often well intended, are producing students who are ill equipped for adulthood and the performance pressures imposed by their parents.
  2. “College for all” mentality: in recent decades, college has been loudly messaged as the ticket to success. Many students would have been better served choosing a different path.
  3. Inadequate commitment to independent living preparation and soft skill development in high schools: schools vary widely in course offerings involving independent living, college/career preparation, leadership, and soft skills (e.g., resilience). In most cases, these valuable courses, if offered at all, are considered electives. Further, there isn’t formal accountability for success after
  4. Insufficient college onboarding programs: arriving on a college campus can be a “deer in the headlights” experience! First year students could benefit from stronger student transition management programs, including how to handle the most common challenges and “derailers.”
  5. Extended period of adolescence: research is showing that the adolescent stage is lasting longer than before. This suggests that today’s college entrant, on average, may be less mature than in year’s past.
  6. Susceptible age: the years from 18-22 often reveal genetic predispositions to mental health issues. Further, at this time of major decisions and transitioning, the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development. This is a massive amount of change to endure in a short period.

 

We all have a stake in improving this situation. Next week, I’ll share some parenting strategies to help prepare your teens for a successful college experience.

1”Top Reasons Students Seek College Counseling Centers,” Matters of the Mind, http://www.themillennialminds.com

From Dreamer to Achiever: Making Your 2017 Vision a Reality

So, what grade would you give yourself regarding your 2016 resolutions? If you’re like most of us, you succeeded with a few, but fell short on more. Sometimes our goals get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t turn our goals into specific plans and actions (i.e., we stayed in dream land). And, sometimes we weren’t that serious about them in the first place.

In last week’s blog, we encouraged you to develop an aspirational vision for 2017, and we hope you’re off to a great start. Your next and greatest challenge is turning your vision into a reality. Depending on how you’re wired, this may come naturally or not. Regardless, one surefire method is to adopt the Plan, Do, and Review approach that is common in the business world. Yes, it works just as well for us as individuals and families and hopefully for you, too!

Planning

Your first step is to prioritize your vision and aspirations. If your list of desires is a mile long, you’ll become disillusioned and lose interest within months. A better approach is to limit your focus areas to no more than three to five (depending on how involved they are). With such busy lives, there’s only so much we can realistically accomplish. If you achieve yours ahead of schedule, by all means go back to your list and add some more!

How should you narrow your list to a manageable number? First, prioritize them in order of potential value and impact. Some will be a bigger deal than others. Also consider the time required for each goal to the best of your ability, and build in the necessary margin. Finally, pay attention to urgency. Some goals may need to be addressed immediately while others can wait. Be especially mindful of goals with set deadlines (e.g., college applications) and plan with a buffer, in case you fall behind.

Once you’ve settled on your top vision areas, develop specific plans and goals to achieve them. Your goals should include target completion dates and specific, measurable outcomes to help assess your progress. And, be sure they’re realistic and achievable. If they’re not, you will lose interest. Been there, done that!

Doing

Now, it’s do time. You’ve set your course, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each of your diverse goals will require different action steps and time frames for completion. Daily and weekly to do lists will help keep you on track and build momentum as you progress. These are especially important for larger goals that require lots of steps. If you’re like me, you love crossing off to do list items! Oh, and remember that whatever you do, do it with excellence and, ideally, on time.

Reviewing

Your final step is reviewing your performance. Ideally, you will have shared your goals with the appropriate party (e.g., your supervisor, parents, spouse/partner, friend, or mentor) and set dates to review your progress. Trust me, accountability works just as effectively in our personal lives as it does in a job review! It adds incentive and motivation and helps keep us on track. If you’re falling behind on any of your goals, these conversations can help you make any mid-course corrections. If you’ve achieved them, be sure to celebrate! You deserve it.

Application for Families and Educators

Goal setting and implementation are essential leadership skills to build in our children, and it’s never too soon to begin. Spend time early in the year as a family to set both individual and family goals (e.g., more harmony, less technology distractions, a community service project). Have each family member select a character quality he/she would like to improve, with other members providing encouragement and accountability. Then, perhaps quarterly, enjoy a family night to review your progress and celebrate with your favorite game or activity.

Educators can also have students develop and record their goals at the beginning of the semester, draft a mid-term progress report, and write a concluding paper at the end of the semester summarizing their performance. It’s a great exercise to build vision and intentionality in our young leaders. Based on my many conversations with young adults, there’s a lot of dreaming out there, but nowhere near enough planning and doing. Together, we can turn this around.

 

 

Win Some, Lose Some

Coke or Pepsi

Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise

Big Mac or Whopper

iPhone or Galaxy

Rap or Country

Republican or Democrat or ______

We all have our tastes and preferences, and we make our choices accordingly. Sometimes we like our options. Other times, we choose what we dislike least.

And so it goes with our elections—especially last week’s. Like you, I “won” some and “lost” some. (Thankfully, my life goes on because I don’t define my hopes and dreams or faith in America by which person or party is in office. That would be giving them way too much credit.)

But, after observing the aftermath of this election, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts to help us keep things in perspective:

  1. Our nation is clearly divided, but this shouldn’t be news to anyone. In most of my voting years, the Presidential election is always pretty close. Usually, only a few percentage points separate the winner from the loser. So, you should expect half the people will disagree with you! And, yes, they did their homework, too.
  2. Knowing this, the question is how we deal with our victories and losses. Are we constructive or destructive in the aftermath? Do the winners rub it in? Or, do they respond with humility and kindness, knowing that the losers may be struggling with fear, anger, or disappointment? Do the losers resort to whining, blaming, name calling, protesting, and shaming to make the winners feel guilty or stupid? Do they really believe these misguided efforts to “enlighten” will change minds? No, they reinforce!
  3. Let’s remember that citizens consider many different factors when casting votes. What tips the scales one way or the other may be the candidate’s person, specific policies (of which there are many), party loyalty, or other factors. Our decisions are not only influenced by the candidates’ philosophies and positions, but also in how we uniquely weigh their importance. I might emphasize economic policy and someone else foreign policy or social issues, and that’s okay. For these reasons, it is highly presumptuous (not to mention silly, useless, arrogant, and obnoxious) to judge another’s votes. Please, let’s stop this.
  4. There is a tremendous disconnect between the worldview composition of the “mainstream” media and college complexes with the people of the United States. In other words, our population is much more philosophically and politically diverse than are our primary news sources and the educators teaching our young adults. This imbalance is a concern. Judging by our governorships, congressional memberships, and the White House, our nation’s political offices (and our general elections) are quite balanced between Republicans and Democrats. Therefore, so long as our primary media outlets and college educators’ worldviews are skewed (presently Leftward) rather than balanced, there are significant implications:
    1. We are more subject to bias and alarm (intended or otherwise) and less likely to understand different points of view and election outcomes we may not like. If our news and opinion sources are primarily Left-or Right-leaning, we are more apt to consider their information as unbiased truth, when it’s often opinion. In contrast, when we pursue a variety of information sources with differing worldviews, we develop more complete, objective, and informed arguments.
    2. We become more polarized and intolerant of differing views, considering people who disagree with us as uninformed, misguided, or worse. We argue rather than respectfully seek mutual understanding and new perspectives. Or, sadly, as is becoming more prevalent on college campuses, we simply shut others down. Ironically, we often agree on the ends, but simply differ about the means to achieve them! A good example of this is the use of tax cuts or government spending to stimulate the economy. Reasonable and really smart people disagree!
    3. We lose friendships. Now, this is just dumb.

The bottom line is that, politically, we are pretty much a 50/50 nation because of legitimate differences of opinion. So, let’s be respectful and resilient. When elections don’t go our way, let’s spend a little more time respecting the judgments of others, accepting that we don’t hold a monopoly on truth, learning more about opposing views, diversifying our friendship circles and information sources, and finding constructive ways to advocate for our positions the next time around.

And, yes, there will be a next time. After all, we Americans are a fickle bunch.

Making the Best Decision in the Heat of the Moment

Can you remember a time that you were scared, sad, angry, or hurt and made a rash decision based on emotion or said something you later regretted? We’ve all done it. And most likely, these situations never worked out very well.

As we grow older and wiser, we eventually learn that it’s never smart to make important decisions abruptly or in a highly emotional state. Simply put, there’s too much distraction and it’s nearly impossible to think objectively or clearly. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because I’ve had more to consider the pros and cons and potential consequences by then. It’s amazing how often I change my mind!

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress or filled with emotion? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Stress messes with your brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities. A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we are stressed out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity and regret, don’t you?) As I consider my own decisions (and those of our elected officials!), I would argue that failure to consider adverse, unintended consequences, is one of our biggest mistakes. It’s all too common, especially with relationships.

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can. Think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. If you don’t have the time to physically go to sleep and make your decision the next day, here are some tips to help you clear your mind and avoid making a rash decision based on emotion:

  • Learn to recognize and release your stress
  • Consult with a trusted friend and ask for honest advice
  • Science proves that exercise actually can calm our nerves.
  • If you are religious, seek spiritual counsel
  • Go to a place you consider beautiful (a park, a beach, a walking trail) and spend some enjoying nature and breathing in the fresh air. It will be good for your body and soul, and will most likely calm you down.
  • Develop a pro/con list to ensure you’re looking at all sides of a decision
  • Be sure to consider your conscience and intuition. I’ve learned to never disregard my gut feeling about something. Pay attention to yours, too.

As we enter our teen and young adult years, our decisions often have life-altering consequences. So, it pays to evaluate each one as comprehensively and objectively as possible while we’re calm and our thinking is clear. Not only will these tips help you make better ones (especially under stress), but they’ll also help limit your life regrets. That’s huge.

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? How can this lesson be good for young people who may find themselves in stressful situations—do you see how they can be influenced to make potentially life-altering decisions when they’re in the wrong frame of mind? Share your thoughts by commenting below; we’d love to hear your perspective and experiences.

The Value of Values: Part 3

What do you value most in life? Is it your collector’s hot rod? Your job? Your beach house? Your iPhone? Or, is it something less tangible, like integrity, family togetherness, spirituality, respect, or serving others? Hopefully, it’s one of the latter.

In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been talking a lot about values around here lately, and stressing the importance of instilling strong values in the young people we parent, coach, mentor, and teach. As ethics, morals, manners, and values have become de-emphasized in the public square, political arena, entertainment industry, and corporate boardrooms, we’re witnessing a downward slide in our nation’s character. When character is disregarded or devalued, relativism, “meism,” and chaos fills the vacuum. There’s just no getting around it.

In this last part in our series, I’d like to discuss three more elemental values that are instrumental in creating virtuous and admirable character. Upholding (and believing in) these values not only benefits the upholder, but also his or her family, friends, employer, classmates, coworkers, and beyond. By restoring our societal commitment to character and values, it would truly be a world changer.

  1. Patience. Have you ever lost your patience while waiting in an endless line, or dealing with a finicky customer? Have you ever thrown out some not-so-nice hand gestures in a fit of road rage? Or, how about when you throw a tantrum with your family or friends when things don’t go your way or people disappoint you? The fact is, losing your patience usually does more harm than good in almost every situation. Learning to be patient in all circumstances makes us more pleasant people to be around and allows us to handle stressful situations and conflict in a more level-headed manner. Taking a deep breath and counting to 20 before responding is wise medicine. After all, today’s impatience is often tomorrow’s apology.
  2. Courage. Do you handle tough situations with bravery, or are you more inclined to backing down or withdrawing? Of course, there’s a time and a place for walking away, but sometimes, courage is key. Courage means never letting your fears drive your life, and instead, stepping out of your comfort zone and always doing the right thing and standing up for yourself (respectfully), no matter how un-cool it may seem.
  3. Self-control. This is likely a tough one for many of us. Self-control can be related to our outward behavior (for example, how we impulsively react when we are annoyed or angry), as well as our internal motivations (for example, our relationship with food). When you practice self control, it means that you are able to manage your impulses and respond to temptation in a way that benefits yourself and others. Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, you’re able to reel yourself in and think about your choices before you actually make them. This is a big one, friends. Consider taking a moment to self-check and see if there are any areas where you could use greater self control.

In case you missed the last two parts in this series, you can catch up on them here and here. For our comprehensive positive traits and values list, click here. We encourage you to discuss them with your families and students as a great self-awareness project. Which ones are we modeling well? Where could we up our game? Are any of them outdated? What others might you add to the list?

Thank you for being a part of this series! Have a great school year!

Avoid College De-Railers for Optimum Success

The United States has a respectable college enrollment rate—in fact, it’s whopping 70 percent. We can be proud of that. But here’s a startling fact: more than 30 percent of those students will drop out after their first year. That means one third of the people who start on their post-secondary education don’t make it to their sophomore year. We should be concerned about that.

What do these statistics tell us? I interpret it this way: Our society does a great job of encouraging young people to enroll in college or university after high school. It’s of high importance, or else so many people wouldn’t choose this path. However, somewhere, somehow, something is going awry. Are students not receiving the preparation they need to succeed at independent living? Is the “college or bust” message dissuading students from better fitting alternatives? Is school too expensive? Do students feel unimportant and unvalued in their larger classes (small fish in a big pond effect)? Are students making choices that derail their educational career?

It’s likely a combination of all of the above, but today I want to talk about choices—specifically, those that prematurely end college careers. Derailers come in many forms, so we encourage you to discuss these with your student(s) before they land on campus:

  1. So much freedom, so soon! Although academics and a future career are the core reasons for attending college, other (more) appealing activities abound! Use your newfound freedom to become a wise manager of your time and priorities. Sure, it’s great to stay up as late as you want,, but remember the choices you make with your recent autonomy will affect your class attendance, your overall academic experience, and even your financial aid package. Put simply: Don’t skip class! Similarly, be wise when making your social, recreational, and activity choices. The party scene and all it’s trappings can easily be the beginning of a very slippery slope. Remember, studies are the top priority—your “job” so to speak. The rest is frosting on the cake.

 

  1. Financial irresponsibility. I’ll never forget what it felt like to check my bank account when I was in college. It wasn’t unheard of to only have 50, 25, or even 10 dollars in there. Frivolous spending on unnecessary eating-out, coffee, clothes, or entertainment could have seriously de-railed my entire college education. If you’re in a similar boat, keep your end goal in mind to help you curb the temptation to spend. Remember, if you save now and focus on school, you’ll reap the benefits later. Budgeting and self discipline make all the difference.

 

  1. Poor study habits. College is harder and more competitive than high school. There are longer papers, more intense exams, and higher expectations. Discipline and focus are key if you want to succeed (and make it to graduation!). Manage your time wisely, create a study planner, and don’t participate in “extra” activities until all of your homework and studying are complete. (If you’re looking for more advice on creating good study disciplines, we devote an entire chapter to it in What I Wish I Knew at 18. You can buy the book here.)

 

  1. Surrounding yourself with the wrong people. It’s crucial that you surround yourself with positive influences during this time in your life. Hanging out with the wrong crowd can hinder your success in a variety of ways (and just because you’re not in high school anymore doesn’t mean you’re immune to peer-pressure!). Creating lasting friendships with like-minded people can take time and effort, so be patient and know you may need to put yourself in new environments in order to make new friends. Think “positivity” in everything you do and everyone you are with!

I hope this advice—coming from someone not too far removed from the college experience—can help you prepare your student for what’s ahead. And, if you need one more statistic to show what’s at stake, I’ll leave you with this: college dropouts make one million dollars less over the span of their careers than individuals with degrees!*

Success in college comes from knowing what to do and what de-railers to avoid. By discussing these before the fact, we can improve our graduation rates and the futures of our next generation.

*Source: “The Economic Value of College Majors,” by Georgetown University Center on Education and The Workforce. https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Exec-Summary-web-B.pdf