Category Archives: Students & Student Development


Letter to Adults

Every day, I hear of adults failing the young people and teenagers in their lives. This is my letter to those adults:

Dear parents who told their daughter that she simply could not go away to college:

At this impressionable age, your daughter is bubbling over with ideas and ambitions, hope and dreams. One dream that she had was to go away to college. To be on her own, for the first time, and prove to herself, that she can make it. On her own. She wanted to go away to college, not as some sort of slight against you. But to better herself. Your decision to rid her of that college dream did more than just temporarily remove her desire to go to college. It also told her that she should not even dare to dream. She did not tell you, but you left her a broken mess. She no longer believes that she has the ability to pursue something greater than herself. You shattered that vision by insinuating it was okay to have low expectations and reach for mediocrity. Unbeknownst to you, you instilled in your daughter all sorts of self-doubt. You may as well have told her that she could not accomplish her goals, or that she did not have the capability to achieve all those aspirations she had been dreaming of since she was a little girl, or that she should not even dare to dream. Your message of mediocrity will not only affect your academic aspirations, it will also affect the relationships she makes, the people she choose to date, the career that she pursues. It will impact her life in all of these ways, and so much more. Please consider a change of heart. More than, please consider letting your little girl dream again.

Signed,

The counselor who had to pick up the pieces.

If that girl were to write a letter to her parents, this is how I imagine it would read:

Dear mom and dad:

Growing up, your parental voices were seldom nurturing, and were more time authoritative screams – leaving your ears deaf to my cries. Your verbal scorchings have scarred my soul, and left me devoid of spirit, hope, or ambition. You turned your back and blockaded my every attempt at capturing your attention, when I only wanted your approval. My hopes began whole and were crushed into cubes, and then used to cool your ever distracting glass of lemonade. You became my adversarial force, incessantly ordering me to and fro, stop and go. And by ignoring me, you became parentally ignorant.

I grew lonely, and then became fed up with feeling all alone.

Your ignorance again reared its ugly head when you ignored me, taking little interest in my days at school, the teachers who belittled me in front of my classmates, and the sugary candy that made my teeth rot and my tummy ache. You sat me in front of the TV, VCR, video games, and other new technological advances, and wondered why I fell sullen and melancholic. And when I didn’t respond, I was assaulted with further tongue lashings and then, the back of your hand or your thick leather strap.

I used to fight with my brothers and sisters: the mythical standards you’ve set for us had caused me to grow ashamed, and in the process of masking my imperfections, I had in turn shamed others; both your biases and prejudices singed my soul, and left me afraid to love. But, I no longer feel alone. In my peers I now confide – though we are both as green as budding stems. I would have rather learn from their experiences than sip from your tainted glass. My soul was on the verge of dying, just as yours has already. Yet the passion and zeal of my youth just will not let me go gentle into that good night. That’s from a poem I read in English class. You know, the class I told you I loved so much and wanted to study in college. Only to hear you laugh in my face at how I would never become a writer or be able to support myself by majoring in English. Thanks for the encouragement.

This latest fiasco dealt me a major blow. By telling me that I could not go to college, you may as well have told me that I shouldn’t even dare to dream.

Sincerely,

Your daughter who’s gone to pieces

Reflections from a Student Rally – A Message to my Friends

I attended a powerful student event, yesterday. A group of students organized a rally, of sorts. Whereby all members of the campus community where invited to a forum, where students shared their experiences of discrimination or discomfort, feelings of shame and self-hatred, as related to being a part of the campus community. One student shared an experienced he’d had where a faculty member questioned him, to his face, as to whether he was an engineering major. As if students in the engineering program couldn’t be black. Another student shared her feelings of not belonging – for, although she identifies as Korean, she does not identify with the culture and experiences and expectations of other Korean students. How she has no place to call home. How she doesn’t even know who she is.

These stories resonated with me, loud and clear. Bringing me back to my college experience. I had decided to join the Black Student Union after attending the first meeting where one of the members shared an ugly experience where a fellow student had called her a nigger. It was then that I made it my personal mission to stamp out every discriminatory act I encountered. More than that, I made up my mind that this was my fight. Fighting for equal treatment of those who were marginalized, although I wouldn’t have used that term at the time. I probably would have said second-class citizens. Because that’s what it felt like – all the students of a certain race, or sexual orientation, or religion were of first class, and here we were, the second class. Three-fifths of a person. Looked over, like we were not even there sometimes. Not treated with respect. Not not because we were different – the guy with the tattoo and the girl with the Boston accent were different – but because we were them, those people, their kind, the Others.

And I thought back to friends I’d made in college. Most of whom were surface-level. Non-threatening conversations such as I’m having a party toorrow, you should come by. Then there were a few that were deep and meaningful friendships, where we shared experiences shared of abusive fathers, tumultuous families, even cancer. The drug addictions that rocked my family, being broke as a joke (when it seemed that everyone around me had money to burn), raised by a single mom. With my closest of friends whenever we discussed these matters, I remember feeling comforted knowing that even though my friends who were White didn’t know what it was like to be black, and thus, marginalized or second-class, they never downplayed my experiences. That even if they were ignorant about certain matters dealing with unequal treatment of Black and Brown people, at the very least, they were willing to listen and learn about those experiences. Even though I could not connect with most of my friends on a racial level, I connected with them over shared experiences of feeling like an outcast (for different reasons). I remember my friends allowing me to be myself: “I talk like I walk, with a fucked up pivot”, a line from a song I’d listened to a thousand times describes it pretty well.

But probably the one sentiment that stuck with me the most from that student event, is the sense of not being able to put down my weight not for any kind of brief reprieve, not even for a second. I can’t undo the color of my skin, nor would I want to. I can’t undo the unjust treatment of my ancestors, no matter how much I wish I could. Similarly, I can’t stop myself from thinking, breathing, and seeing the world through a lens that tells me I am an Other, no matter how clearly the Declaration of Independence reads all men are treated equal.

From a pragmatic perspective, this means I can’t not help but feel the stares and glares I receive in certain communities, when I’m just trying to buy a pack of gum. I can’t not express frustration over the senseless killing of Black and Brown folks, not only by police officers, but also by other Black and Brown folk. I can’t not speak up about president candidates who fail to recognize the systematic discriminatory treatment of people of color, women, and our LGBT brothers and sisters, and how their slogans may as well be, Working for a Whiter America. I can’t not do all of those things, and countless others, because I live them, on a daily basis. See, every day I’m reminding that I’m black, and that I don’t quite belong, and that is part of the pressure, or weight, that I feel.

So I thank my college friends for letting me be me, and listening to my stories and for sharing their journeys with me. For accepting and celebrating my plight, just I accepted and celebrated theirs. For standing by me (and even sticking up for me when necessary), and all of my Blackness, just as I stood beside them.

But like a game of tennis, I can’t help but go back and forth. I can’t help think how I might react if some punk assaults my daughter. Rage. Or how I might respond if some coward with a gun shoots my son, for no other reason than being a Black man. Fire. Or how I might spiral out of control if some cop throws my daughter across a classroom. Wrath.

I wish I didn’t think about these things, but I do. The reality is… no, my reality is these instances could happen to me because of the color of my skin. But, they may not happen to someone else for that same reason. Which, on the one hand, is great. It’s utterly fantastic and progressive that someone can go to school, be disobedient, and even disrespectful, and not have to worry about being Tased, or thrown, or killed. On the other than, as a responsible parent, I have to have those conversations with my children. About how the mere color of their skin will determine the unjust treatment they receive.

No, I don’t want to think about how I might react if someone harms my children, or my wife, or my family simply because they are one of the Others. But I do. It’s become part of my weight. That which fills my conscious, casting aside happier thoughts I could have about vacationing in Hawaii, on a beach, under the blue skies, on a perfect day.

It’s my weight, and it means when I speak with my realtor about finding a place to live, we have to talk about diversity. While I can’t protect my family from all the evils of life, I’ll be damned if I live in a community where neighbors bear, wave, or otherwise celebrate the Confederate flag. My weight also means nurturing those friendships that are deep and meaningful, and include tough conversations like one I had with my best friend – the double whammy I felt years ago when I was jobless. Being Black AND unemployed. All the rhetoric of country says that you should be able to get a job. But, for the life of me, for a six month period of time, I could not. The rhetoric also says that Black folks who can’t find work are lazy parasites, mooching of the system. No matter how hard I tried to shake those thoughts, I could not. They reminded me daily that I was a failure.

But that’s my weight, and I accept it.  Like the students who organized the event, I am not searching for someone with a magic pill to take the weight away, or even shoulder it from me while I catch my breath. Instead, I’m hoping that when I struggle from the weight of the weight, that my friends will ask how I’m doing, and not demand that I just need to catch up. Because it’s my weight. And if we’re going to be friends, I need more from you.

There’s nothing wrong with having Facebook friends – those people you rarely see, and even when you do, it’s surface level, how are you, knowing you really don’t want to know. But for my friends who want to really be friends with me – that is, a deep, meaningful connection – you can’t be scared to conversations simply because they are tough. Whether it’s about my drug-dealing step-father who was murdered, the terror and anger I feel every time another Black man is killed by a White cop, or even about how I am struggling, on a daily basis, to become more aware of my own male privileges. No, we must have those conversations if we are to be friends. Those are the thoughts running through my mind. I’m not asking that you agree with them. But, what I am asking, is that you learn to understand why it rocks me on my heels and shakes me to my core whenever another black man if killed by a White cop, or another teenage girl is sent home from the prom because her dress is too distracting, or another presidential candidate talks about deportation, or the woman who wouldn’t grant marriage licenses to LGBT couples. These are my realities. They’re weight that I cannot put down. Not even for a moment.

If you ever hit a point where you couldn’t walk, our friendship would mean sitting on your couch. If you ever hit a point where you couldn’t drink alcohol, our friendship would center around diet cokes and limes. Similarly, if we’re going to be friends, and I hope that we will be, I want you to know that you have to become comfortable letting my Blackness play out in whatever way that feels organic to me, comfortable discussing things that most people don’t want to talk about, and comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because that’s what I live, on a daily basis.

The Trouble With the Bystander Approach

I’m going to risk being in the minority here – in more ways than one – but for all of my dear friends and colleagues, passionately working to end sexual violence, clinging to bystander intervention principals, I am issuing the following challenge:

Is bystander intervention really the best method with which we ought to be addressing this issues of preventing sexual and dating violence?

Not to expose our own dirty laundry, but let’s get down with it and examine how we teach about bystander intervention.

Do we educate, in in-depth manners, the meaning of the word, bystander. Do we discuss, in the amount of time necessary, how the term bystander came to be in our social consciousness? Do we analyze Kitty Genovese, and the seemingly ever-changing details of her murder? Or, do we, sloppily play videos of “What Would You Do”, and ask audiences to react…as if, after seeing how people did not react, anyone in our audience will be honest enough to say they would not intervene, in some way.

Next, how many of us use the same sloppy, if not stereotypical scenario – College party. Soberish guy giving girl drink after drink until she can barely stand up. At which point, guy attempts to take girl someplace secluded – upstairs, downstairs, outside. Anywhere where they can be alone. At this point, the bystander is supposed to notice this incident and step up. Seems pretty standard, from damn near every training, lecture, webinar, and conference I’ve attended. This scenario has begun to irritate me for two reasons. First, it gives audiences a faulty perception of what the set-up of a sexual assault looks like. It leaves students thinking they should be on the look-out for guys feeding girls drinks, only. Never mind the fact that – from the research done on college rapists – his friend are usually in on the plan, and are aiding and abetting him in the process. It doesn’t take into account the rapes that happen between same-sex couples; boyfriend-girlfriends, behind closed doors; or when there is no alcohol present. No party, no booming music, no one around to act as a bystander. Secondly, from all of the advocacy work I’ve done with survivors, this scenario makes up a fraction of sexual assault scenarios. Using this scenario could actually be doing more harm than good, but we’ve clung to it, as the best way to teach bystander intervention.

Lastly, and let’s just for argument’s sake, say the previous two points play out in the affirmative. If we educate and empower bystander to intervene when they see that exact high-risk situation happening, have we truly prevention sexual violence? Of course, in that instant, we have. So there’s a MAJOR win. (I will not deny that preventing at least one person from victimization is worth the battle!) But, that’s certainly not how we’re educating students. We’re telling students that intervening in those moments prevent rape, as a whole. That it will stop that would-be rapist from raping, in that moment, and ever again. And that’s what we need to dig through. If we stop one would-be rapist, in one moment in time, who’s to say that the rapist won’t target another victim, at the same party, later than evening? Or that the rapist won’t devise another scheme where they are no bystanders to assist? If we empower students to thwart one rape, can we say that we truly have changed how that would-be rapist behaves, overall? As Time Wise notes in White Like Me, “telling someone not to engage in racist commentary in front of you isn’t the same as getting them to stop practicing racism.” Similarly, getting one would-be rapist to stop one act isn’t the same as getting that person to change their beliefs, and thus their actions, on their own.

What’s more – and we ought to do some critical thinking here, too – if we operate under the assumption that survivors are in our audiences, and thus, we deliver content sensitively and appropriately, we must also accept the fact that people who have already committed rape, as well as those who will go on to commit rape, will be in our audiences, as well. Giving them our models on bystander theory can certainly motivate them to create alternative ways of carrying out sexual assaults.

Now I’m not calling for educators and preventionists to stop using bystander approaches. What I am challenging my friends and colleagues to do is – some thorough analysis and critical thinking. Let’s stop feeding audiences the rhetoric. Let’s spend time unpacking these very complicated issues and let’s stop being lazy and haphazardly reviewing concepts during the last few minutes we have, just to say we met some measure. Let’s stop making things so goddamn simplistic. Sure it sounds good to say to people “we can prevent rape, if bystanders will step up!” When we do that, though, are we really, truly preventing rapists from valuing, contemplating, planning, and carrying out rape? Or are we just displacing the blame, yet again, because the alternative seems too damn difficult?

To my friends and colleagues, and those who openly discuss bystander theory, let’s give the theory the respect it deserves, and analyze it, fully, as another tool to help prevent sexual violence. It’s not the tool that will end sexual violence on its own. Let’s give the complexities of rape the respect it deserves, as well. It’s not some simple entity that can be stopped by someone checking in, or saying, “I have to go to the bathroom, can you come with me”. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Let’s also give survivors the respect they deserve, and stop regurgitating the “if only there was a bystander” talk. How might that make survivors feel, to reanalyze their assaults, yet again, wondering why someone didn’t step up? Or that, as a field, we hold the bystanders just as culpable as we hold the rapists. I’m calling bullshit on that, and I challenge my friends and colleagues to do the same.

Responding to a Woman Wanting to Help Boys Become Men

"The Mask You Live In" Panel

“The Mask You Live In” Panel

It was a simple question, really. A woman sitting near the back of the dimly-let theater, in the center of a row full of young men, had asked how she, as a woman, could get through to the young men with whom she worked. The entire panel paused and the moderator scanned our faces, as the Jeopardy music – that seems to make time stand still – sounded as though it were playing in the background.

Who’s going to answer this one, I could see the audience thinking.

After taking a breath, and getting the go-ahead from my fellow panelists, I reached out and grabbed the microphone. My answer went something like this:

It’s tough, right, to be a woman teaching teenage boys how to become young men. So on the one hand, you certainly want to acknowledge your woman-ness going into a male space. It doesn’t mean that you cannot permeate that space, though. But that you definitely want to acknowledge the barriers and challenges that will come along with, as a woman, trying to teach teenage boys how to become men.

On the other hand, you can’t let being a woman stop you from working with young men, and teaching them about masculinity.

Again, this is a complicated issue, with no magical, quick-fix, singular type of solution. So I’ll try to break it down into a few specific, concrete steps – First, as a woman you have to build trust and (much like the my fellow panelist articulated in a previous answer) show the young men that you love them. That you have their backs.  This isn’t easy, and you will encounter challenges along the way. But, I worked with one school counselor, who tells me how she had developed such a close relationships with her male students that they would disclose all of their sexual escapades to her. Using the same profane, colorful language they would use as if she were male. In this respect, trust and love are the foundation for building and leading men.

Secondly, as a woman, you can introduce young men to men who can serve as mentors. This isn’t to take away from the many lessons you will teach these young men. But, it means connecting them to men who have certain areas of expertise, like fixing cars or managing stock options. Guys who coach sports or play musical instruments. In our collective effort to remove the shackles of macho, misogynistic, violent definitions of masculinity from our teenage boys, it would behoove us to connect our youth with men from different backgrounds, who represent the many forms of masculinity and who are outside of the Man Box. Not just so our young men can determine the versions of masculinity they want to emulate, but so they will develop networks, and support systems of men, from which to learn and draw wisdom.

Finally, as a woman, you want help young men build skills and competencies that they will carry with themselves for the rest of their lives. Skills and competencies that will help him carve out who they are, versus who everyone else wants them to be. When you encourage the young man who has a strong interest in dance and choreography, to pursue his passion, you are teaching him to embrace what makes him unique, and not follow the crowd. When you suggest that another young man plays sports when he shows athletic inclinations, you introduce him to the concept of teamwork and being a part of something that is greater than himself. But probably the best way to help instill in young men life skills and competencies, is to role model these traits yourself. The single mom who works 3 jobs, teaches her son just as much, if not more, about work ethic, sacrifice, and perseverance than that young man could ever learn from anyone. (Parenthetically, which is why athletes who are recognized at the highest levels will thank and recognize the contributions their mothers have made, in helping them become the men they are today.) So keep on doing the great job that you’re doing; just know there is a payoff at the end.

In putting this all together, a class or course on masculinity could be really valuable. Just like students learn about English, math, Spanish, and history, so too should we encourage and steer our young men to examine what does it mean to be a man, in structured spaces, using purposeful methods. That could look like young men having a weekly masculinity group. Or participating in recreational activities, and then journaling about what that sport or activity is teaching them, about life. Or connecting with male mentors, and identifying the versions of masculinity they would like to emulate. This could also be taking young men to museums and aquariums, arranging for tours on college campuses, having them volunteer (or do internships) with businesses and non-profit agencies. The young man who is cultured will have more opportunities from which to draw, and carve out, the type of man he wants to become, and not succumb to the stereotypical Man Box.

In the end, though, what you really want to look for in the young men that you work with, is conflict. That strife or ambivalence. That thing inside of a young man that is struggling with the machismo, violent, misogynistic versions of masculinity that he sees, compared the type of man that he wants to become. For, if we can get our young men to that tipping point, we can show them the greener pastures, and have them choose versions of masculinity that are healthier,  more empathetic, less violent, more accepting of women as equals, less likely to need to prove one’s own masculinity, and take the road less travelled.

All of these things, and many others, you can teach the young men that you work with. I know what it’s like. I grew up in a household full of women, and I am the man I am today because of it!

A Different Take on Masculinity

A few days ago, I sat on a panel that discussed the idea of masculinity, and how the idea of masculinity is hindering adolescent boys from blossoming into their authentic, non-violent, non-misogynistic, non-abusive selves. Anyone who doesn’t see how masculinity, or hyper-masculinity, is harming our adolescent boys, they ought to watch the trailer for “The Mask You Live In”. Or, consider data out of New Jersey, that 75% of domestic violence incidents are perpetrated by men. Or that most of the school shootings are carried out by men. Or that, from another study, 99% of people who purchased sex, were men. Or how nearly all sexual assaults are perpetrated by, you guessed it, men.

So, what we have in our society is not only a problem with violence, but it’s a problem with men using violence to abuse, stalk, rape, exploit, demean, force, and purchase women, girls, and, other (presumably, weaker), men. How can I say that? Women are brought up our country, but women don’t have nearly the same infatuation with aggression and violence. Women aren’t carrying guns and doing drive by shootings. Women aren’t lighting up schools with bullets, out of some misguided vengeance.

But, simply looking at the boys and young men of today, and waving a finger, as if to say, what’s your problem, isn’t taking into account the full scope of the issue. Sure, boys and young men are committing some of these horrific acts. But where are they learning these behaviors? We can’t simply say society, because you, me, we all make up society. Nor can we simply say, that’s the way it is, because we make it the way it is. Just like we use our voting power to put a president into office, or our financial power to drive up a company’s profits, we use our social power to instill in boys and young men certain traits that we deem valuable. Like using violence against women.

So this idea of masculinity that so desperately needs changing stands at the footsteps of men. Adult men, more so than teenage boys learning how to become men. When we, as men, demean and hurt the women in our lives, our sons are watching. When we make comments about how a girl put herself in that situation – referring to sexual assault – our young men are listening. When we criticize men for not being man enough, our boys are paying attention.

We can tell our boys all the reasons to step outside of the man box, but when boys see (adult) men being praised and worshipped, earning street cred, or at the very least, not being held accountable for their abusive actions, why would adolescent boys dare step outside of the man box? What’s their incentive?

This issue – of helping the younger generation of boys and young men – redefine masculinity is complex. There is no singular answer that will solve the entirety of this dilemma. But one area that we must look at, that we must hold accountable for its influence, is adult men, and how we give adult men a pass when they reinforce violent, misogynistic, and stereotypical definitions of masculinity.

When we turn a blind eye to Chris Brown and his violent outbursts towards his then girlfriend, we send one message. When we demonize Jay-Z for his attempts to de-escalate and remove himself from a physical encounter with his sister-in-law, we send a supporting message. A message that says It’s okay to abuse a woman if she gets out of line, and that real men don’t take shit from women. That she, somehow, deserved or warranted it. That message is real. It’s one that adolescent boys and young men are trying to unlearn. But, it’s us, the adult men that keep reinforcing it, every time we demand that boys man up. In both our words, and in our actions.

Certainly, I don’t absolve teenage boys and young men from the violence and aggression they enact in our world. But, let’s not kid ourselves, and pretend boys aren’t learning those behaviors. It’s men, who need to change if we ever care to see the young men of future generations dare to step outside of the confines of the man box.

Redefining, the Redefinition of Career

It was an epiphany, if I ever had one. I was in a bar, recently, with a bunch of college friends, most of whom not seen each other in over ten years. As I was catching up with one such friend, it hit me out of nowhere. The ever-elusive definition of career, or, what most people think of, when they attempt to answer the question, what do you want to be when you grow up.

See, I had thought I had a definition. As a teenager, I’d had an interest in art – writing and film, specifically – and I wanted to be a screen writer, so I went to school and studied Communications – video editing and production. During my college career, I had gotten a taste of counseling – helping my peers through their problems. Boyfriend issues, homesickness, problems with roommates. So I redefined career, and set out on a new path, pursuing a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. I worked on college campuses – counseling, supervising, and motivating students – and loved it. But the counseling part of things was just okay, as I soon learned that I preferred working with groups of people educating them in classroom settings, instead of in one-on-one environments. So I took that newfound interest and began searching for jobs that would allow me to train and educate. After landing a job in the training and development field, jettisoning the college environment for the corporate world, I found myself, six months later…

I would go on, but I think you get the idea. I had defined, and then redefined my definition of career, not once, or twice, or even three times. I had set out on several different career paths, thinking that with each one, I had found the elusive element I was looking for – the career that completed me.

In graduate school, I read about a career development expert, Donald Super, who theorized that any combination of qualities – passion, interest, skill, ability, family background, etc. – would lead one to a career. I thought Super’s theory was the best thing I had ever heard. Reflecting on passion and interest had worked for me, that was one way to define career.

When I taught freshman seminar at a community college, I had convinced my students they would find a career that fit them by trying different possibilities. Taking classes from different disciplines, volunteering, talking to professors, learning from professionals in the workforce. Essentially, taking an active approach to their career. That was another way to define career.

During my time as a counselor, the colleagues I had worked with were big into career inventories (like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), which are essentially career personality tests – Read several scenarios. Fill in bubbles. A list of careers emerge. I thought those inventories were too limiting, but the students I taught loved them. Still yet, another way to define career.

So there I had been, with two degrees, a vast amount of education, counseling and teaching students, but still with relatively no idea of what I wanted to do, when I grew up.

Until the reunion.

My friend Sarah and I had been catching up. The music was so loud that her words were barely audible. But I felt everything she was saying. Sarah and I were in the same place. Like me, Sarah had two degrees. Like me, Sarah had well-laid out career paths, just knowing that when she got there, she would be happy. Like me, Sarah was stuck.

Career had evaded us both.

The more Sarah and I spoke about our careers – jobs we’d had, career interests that’d changed, the frustration from it all – the more career felt within our grasps.

What I discovered, with Sarah’s help, is that career isn’t the most important thing in my life. My family is. My wife, son, daughter, and even our pet dog. And since family is the apex of my world, my career should be something that allows me to maximize my time and energy with my family, instead of serving as a distraction from my family. This isn’t to suggest that I should consider working part-time, or not at all. Or not having career-related goals and interests. Rather, instead of worrying myself with finding a career to complete me, it dawned on me – in that bar, music blaring, basking in the smiles and laughter of friends I hadn’t seen in forever – that perhaps my preoccupation should be with, what Sarah referred to as, work-life balance.

In generations past, adults worked long, grueling hours, saving money to allow them to do things with their families. Overworked, fatigued, and much too stressed. On a never-ending quest for personal fulfill. Spending all of one’s time working, yet not being able to live. That lifestyle isn’t for me. I want to be present at my children’s games, matches, and rehearsals, and be there when they look into the audience, seeing I’m their biggest cheerleader. I want to teach my daughter how to ride a bike, and be there for her when she falls and scrapes her knee. I want to show my son how to throw ball and mow the lawn, yet instill in him that these are not necessarily men’s roles or jobs, that women can do anything men can, sometimes even better. I want to take my wife on all those vacations we swore we’d take, before we had kids and life became chaotic.

Work-life balance.

After chatting with Sarah, I made a promise to myself – to not worry myself sick, trying desperately to find a career to complete me. For the college student, this isn’t to suggest that you cannot, or should not, have, and seek to develop, career goals. My wife was introduced to occupational therapy as a teenager. She went to college to study occupational therapy. And she has been an OT for several years. In all likelihood, occupational therapy will be the career she has for the remainder of her life.

What this does suggest, however, is that changing majors, or switching career goals, or not being satisfied with a current occupation does not define who you are. You define who you are. A career doesn’t have to feel like the boogey man, making you afraid or ashamed to admit you don’t have your dream job. Nor does it have to feel like another person’s lofty accomplishments that you are always trying to measure yourself against, and failing miserably.

Work-life balance. For many of today’s students, that’s what career will mean. No longer is a career a place where you have to spend all of your time and energies, trying to make as money as you can, just hoping to get through the day. Where it feels like your job owns you, and you can never quite get out from under its grasp. That definition of career is outdated and passé. Like the tyrant sports coach, who yells and shouts, and berates his players in hopes of getting them to play harder.

Just as there’s a different way of coaching today’s athletes, there’s a different, better, more holistic way today’s employees are approaching career. An approach that says – As long as my job provides the financial means that allows me to travel, or has a generous PTO package that allows me to spend time writing my novel, or offers flexible hours that allows me to be there for my kids, whenever they need, and allows me to do something that makes me happy and satisfied on some level, that is the career for me. No longer do today’s students need to feel like prisoners to the idea of having a career. For many of today’s students, career isn’t going to be what makes them feel alive, work-life balance is.

That night in that bar, I said good-bye to the antiquated definition of career, and I took back the power I once gave it. No longer will I allow the idea of having a career to control and dictate my life. After all, career doesn’t define me. Rather, it’s just one of the many parts, that is me. Should I decide to change careers, it won’t make me any less of a person, less educated, or less talented. I’ve reframed my thinking. Putting my family in the center of my life – where they belong – and placing career on the perimeter, as supplemental tool that will allow me to do what I love most, spend time with my family. Because, in the end, the only entity that will ever give me ultimate fulfillment, in the way I am seeking, is my family.

Take that career.

Letter to a Student about Leisure and Work

I’ve been lucky enough to keep in contact with a few students that I used to teach. This is part of a letter I wrote to a former student, recently. I wanted to share it, as college students prepare for the Spring semester, and look towards post-college days. As professionals, many of us have the idea of “work” wrong. We sometimes can be more productive, by taking better care of ourselves. If we can pass this message on to college students, perhaps they’ll learn to practice better self-care and become more productive employees.

I tell ya, the working world never ends! I read this article today about work and the need for leisure time…and it’s completely opposite of how the workforce operates. Take your time in college…hell, even stay for a 5th year (if you keep up being debt free!!!) and take advantage of the myriad of opportunities, which I know that you will. You can spend a semester, sipping wine in Italy or eating croissants in France or perfecting your Espanol in Costa Rica.

And you’d get college credit for it!

Now if I can only find a similar deal, in Hawaii! I can dream!

Talk soon!

A

 

Not Just the Academics

I’m writing this, still on a cloud nine. I was interviewed by the alumni magazine of my Alma Mater – Quinnipiac University. Yes, that small school in Connecticut, with the hard-to-pronounce name. That’s where I had my magical, transformational college experience. And of all the places I’ve lived, it’s the place I still consider home.

Being interviewed by “Quinnipiac Magazine” has definitely been a highlight in my short tenure as an author. I’ll share details and information on where you can find the write up as soon as it’s available. (The premise of the article is the importance of college) But, I wanted to give you a sneak peak of what you will find is the article, and share my full (and unabridged) response to one of the questions that was posed to me during the interview. A response I’m hoping will shed some light on the age-old question what is college really about?

Here is the question I was asked: Getting a job/having an income seems immediately important to the student and their parents. What is also important to keep in mind?

And here is my response – which is based on three factors: Research from employers’ feedback of the skills they seek in recent-college grads; the interviews I conducted for “A Matter of Semantics”; and my experience working with high school and college students. I will warn you. Brace yourself, the purpose of college may not actually be what you think.

College is not just about the academics. Of course the academics are the essence, or backbone, of the college experience. But there is far more to college than studying, going to the library, and taking exams. After students have returned from classes, and completed all of their projects and assignments, and spent a million hours reading, writing papers, doing research, re-organizing their notes, contacting professors, making study cards, and reviewing PowerPoint slides, they will still have an inordinate amount of free time leftover in the day. Parents may preach that students should go back and study longer, read more, and devote all of their free time to enriching your academic selves. But, to do so would be impossible, or at least, unimaginable. (To spend every waking moment focused solely on academics would leave students like that one kid in high school that was extremely book smart, but was socially awkward to the point that he couldn’t even hold a conversation, without stuttering, twitching nervously, and breaking out in a sweat.) Hold onto your seats, parents — college is not just about the academics.

So, why is college about? College is about each student, and the unique path they create, to help them get where they want to be in life. College is about finding purpose and creating success (however students define success).

But, specifically, college is about developing the social, emotional, and psychological self. Not in the I want to find myself sort of way. But, in the sense of exploring life’s philosophies – such as who am I versus who does everyone else expect me to be­ – so students develop their own outlook on life. College is about creating a social network – of friends who will go on to become colleagues and professors who will go on to become mentors; both of which are crucial to succeeding in the working world. College is about giving students the platform to develop their brand. (When people think of branding, they usually think of Bills Gates or Oprah Winfrey. But each of us had a brand. We might call is style or swagger, but it’s the thing about us that says, who we are, and who we are not) Academics helps students determine what type of career path they will take. But the outside of the classroom experiences help students to solidify what type of professional they will be once they land their first job. That is what college is about.

But, parents should consider others factors of the college experience, as to how college can help students grow and mature and become more competent professionals. For, college is also about students enhancing their skills and abilities; having once in a lifetime opportunities (like studying in other countries); applying concepts learned inside of the classroom and bringing those concepts to life outside of the classroom (like the psychology major who does social experiments with friends, to test theories she’s learning about); and even taking risks – not in terms of jumping off a roof, but in terms of exploring a class they never thought they would or going ziplining when they are scared of heights (as part of leadership training, for instance). College is about students experimenting with their sexuality, when they are still trying to define their own sexual orientation; or even asking someone out on a date, someone who’s of a different race or nationality, not know how they will response or what they will say.

Not only that, but college is  about gaining and acquiring skills that you can’t physically touch, but you can sure quantify on your resume; skills and abilities such as developing a work ethic, managing time, and becoming culturally competent. More than anything, college is about the experiences students learn that will help mold and shape them into becoming a better brother or sister, son or daughter, teammate and colleague, teacher or engineer, student and pupil, colleague, coworker, and ultimate, manager, sportsman or sportswoman, friend and significant other; experiences that will make students better versions of themselves than they are at this very moment; experiences that will go on to become life lessons.

Most of these experiences will occur outside of the classroom, yet, they will not be mere ancillary benefits of the college experience. They will have real substance and value – the research tells us that between 70 and 80% of what you college students learn takes place outside of the classroom. Even though academic and career development will be students’ primary reasons for going to go to college, it is their social, emotional, and psychological development that will be the areas that have the greatest impact during your college experience.

So go ahead to college for the academics; but don’t be surprised if you learn a lot more outside of the classroom, than you do inside those walls.

Don’t Force Students to Choose a Major

The college major is important. For the college graduate, it says this is what I studied…this is where my competencies lie…this is why I am employable. But, is the college major really a testament of all those things? Or is it just another box we push students into, telling them to check here, sign here, go here, shepherding them around, as if they are merely cattle.

As with most things, the actuality falls somewhere in the middle. The academic major is important, but it’s not all-encompassing.

While presenting a teacher’s convention recently, a handful of high school educators seemed shocked to find out that the academic major is also, just a matter of semantics.

Consider this body of research done by The Chronicle of Higher Education, where we find that 93% of the employers surveyed said that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major. They were not saying that a student’s major does not matter, but that, overwhelmingly, the thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills a job candidate has acquired in college are more important than the specific field in which the applicant earned a degree.”

Students who want to become lawyers will study law. Students who want to become nurses will study nursing. But, the student who studies law can go on to become a nurse, just as the student who studies English can go on to become a lawyer. Choosing an academic major, in many respects, has just as much to do with students’ occupational aspirations as it has to do with students’ passions. Yes, their passions. If a student loves to write, perhaps they should major in English or creative writing. Similarly, if a student absolutely loves math, perhaps they should major in math or accounting. It doesn’t mean these students will only be suited to be English teachers or accountants, respectively. They can also be doctors, legal advocates, or entrepreneurs.

In that same article, 95% employers surveyed said it was important that job candidates “demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.”

Those traits aren’t germane to specific majors or academic programs. So instead of forcing, steering, or nudging students to declare majors, instead, we should be helping them explore their passions and then challenge students to utilize their passions to develop integrity, cultural sensitivity, interpersonal communication skills, and a host of other traits employers seek in new employees. If students can successfully acquire those skills, the name of their academic major will become just a matter of semantics.

Pappa Don’t Preach

The calendar may read almost-February, but it still feels like New Year’s to me. We still see vivid, inspiring pictures of the possibilities that lie ahead, and not those dark, uninspiring portraits of opportunities lost.

So in honor of the year still feeling new, I wanted to share a short clip of something I find inspirational – the work that I do with high school and college students. I can already see some people cringing at how they would rather work with any population than a bunch of kids who think they have the world figured out, yet can’t get out of their own way. I’ve heard it before. I’ve seen the eye rolls when I tell people that I love working with high school and college students. During those conversations, I bring up one of my co-workers…

She wears so much makeup that she kind of resembles the Joker from The Dark Knight. Lipstick running up to her cheeks, eye shadow extending to her ears. She rarely has anything pleasant to say. When I offer “good morning”, she responds with, “yeah, what’s so good about it.” And, when I say, “at least it’s Friday”, she looks at my blankly and says, “I have so much to do this weekend, I don’t even know if I’ll have time to breathe”. She is the complete antithesis of what high school and college students are about – She sees a world that has already passed her by. Students see a world where possibilities are endless. She emits negative energy just riding the elevator with her. Students exude positive energy, even when they’re having a silly conversation about their favorite concerts. She goes through life as if she’d rather be alone. Students want to experience life with everyone around them.

Maybe you know my ornery, jaded co-worker. Or maybe you have one of your own. It might even be a friend or family member, who sucks the life right out of you, whenever you cross paths.

So, yes, I’d rather work with high school and college students, and even though it’s a different kind of a challenge than working with adult populations, here is how I approach the work I do with this fun-loving bunch! This is what has worked for me. Feel free to adapt it, and see if it can work for you! Just remember, don’t preach.

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