Giving Up

San Fransicso FlowerI have a difficult time giving up on people. It’s a quality but also a bit of a curse. There are times when it’s just right to walk away. But for my students, my persistence may be just what they need.

I’ve had an assortment of challenging students over the years who’ve made giving up on themselves a regular habit. At some point in their past they bought into the notion that they weren’t good writers, or readers, or mathematicians or students –or people.

The advantage to getting to know these kiddos as fully formed adults is that they have no past with me. I get to draw my own conclusions as to their abilities, qualities and faults. It’s interesting that my assessment often doesn’t align with their own versions of themselves. Like the girl who told me she was an awesome writer –not so much. Or the boy who looked at me with astonishment when I told that him he was a good writer. No one’s ever told me that.

I had a student who had a particular talent for manipulation. I never called her out on it but when she’d again gotten away with something she shouldn’t have, I said that her intelligence wasn’t serving her well. She ignored the negative part of the message to say that she liked being called smart, that she wasn’t used to it, except for hearing it from you.

I was never a high school cheerleader and my long-time friends wouldn’t ever call me warm-and-fuzzy. On the other hand, I’ve always been a more-than-half-full kind of person. That means that in marketing I can spin a simple story of success into something bigger than it may appear at first glance. And it means that when my kids at the college do something wrong, I can also look at what they did right.

We start from here.

It’s my go-to bromide, but its triteness doesn’t diminish the genuineness with which I deliver it. Some students hear it way more frequently than others. Not a good thing. Still, it’s the only way I know how to approach the mess-ups that they sometimes consider catastrophic. I can’t magically fix their screw ups or take back the bad decisions they’ve made. What I can do is tell them to move forward.

I try to make that first step in the right direction start with an honest acknowledgement of what they did—or more likely, didn’t do—and look for a way to make bad things better, turn something wrong into something right. We work out a plan to accomplish whatever the tasks or goals they need to, and I nudge them forward with a pep talk.

While they steadfastly hold on to all they can’t do, I remind them of what they can do. And they buy in. Every time. Regardless of how many times we’ve been down this same road or how formidable the obstacles in their path.

We don’t always get the results they want. Sometime it doesn’t work. Some of their stuff really is too big for either of us to handle. Still, they seem to like the idea that someone believes in them –even if they don’t always believe in themselves.

No Plan B

Julia head shot2   One of the perks of a private prep school is that the on-staff academic counselors do a pretty good job of plotting clear paths to college for their students. As antithetical as it may be to most incoming freshmen, the counselors start early on asking their young charges to think long-term.

  So Julia’s advisor may have missed a key point in their recent meeting. Julia was thinking long-term; just because that long-term vista didn’t neatly align with the square peg dictates of the woman’s role doesn’t mean Julia doesn’t have a plan. On the contrary, she does.

    My guess is that those incoming meetings generally last a good 20 to 30 minutes. Jules was outta there in five.

    So what career do you hope to pursue someday? What are you plans?

    I’m going to be a supermodel.

    Fly-on-the-wall –can’t you just picture the juxtaposition? The slightly cynical stare of a parochial pedagogue, sans even a trace of makeup, being full-frontally faced with the wide-eyed certainty of youth.

   From behind her desk, perhaps there was a knowing nod, a hidden eye roll, a stifled chuckle.

Well, what about your Plan B? In case that supermodel thing doesn’t work out for you?

    I don’t need a Plan B.

    And the thing is –Julia doesn’t.

    In the wake of Steve Job’s passing, there’s been a small flood of his life’s philosophy via writings and speeches he gave. When he rejoined the company he founded, he set in motion the Think Different campaign with a letter to the public reminding the masses, among other things, that “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

    Perhaps also then it is the people with no Plan B who possess the perseverance to bring their first choice lives to fruition.

    Jump out into the great unknown without a safety net and you damn well better make sure your first choice plan works.

    Michael doesn’t have a Plan B, either.

    Which would be fine but for the probability that he may not have a Plan A.

    That’s not to say he doesn’t have a vision or even a goal. I just haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence that he has an actual plan on how to reach it.

    I could be wrong here. Communication is sparse.

    In a trickle of words last year, he informed me that just because he wasn’t going about things in a way with which I might be familiar didn’t mean that he wouldn’t get to where he wanted to be.

    I can’t argue with that. Partly because, truth is, I don’t really know the path he should take.

    I only know the level of frustration I feel when I watch him close doors which I think are better left open.

    And he looks at me as if I haven’t a clue; as if I don’t want him to pursue a dream.

    But I do.

    And that’s why I’d like him to have a plan.

    Not a Plan B, but a single, missile-focused Plan A.

    The kind he can pursue, without a parachute, to the sacrifice of most everything else. Because it’s his passion, his dream, his calling.

    I’m all for not having a Plan B.

    I’d just feel a whole lot better if there were at least a Plan A.