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.

 

Shattering Ceilings

    Among the many areas for which I feel somewhat ill-qualified in guiding my students is when I attempt to push them into a business world which I’ve successfully shunned for most of my life. It isn’t that I don’t understand where they’re going. I get corporate America. I understand resumes and interviews. I know the rules of the game.

    It’s just that from my vantage point, the game often is not worth playing.

   broken glass ceiling And young women can be at a particular disadvantage. Even when they’re heading into PR and communications (no shock that my students would be of that ilk), fields well full of the fairer sex, they seem to face some pretty daunting hurdles. The most formidable barriers of which may be the gatekeepers themselves: other women.

    Last semester, when one of my students found herself in a back-and-forth volley of snippy emails with a would-be internship employer, I offered what I considered a commonsense approach. Apologize for missing the meeting and move on. In her defense, the girl was trying to fit an above-and-beyond internship into a full-course curriculum and a 25 mile commute. Car problems and finals week pushed her just over the edge. The woman answering her email mea culpa couldn’t be bothered.

    Was I missing something here? I must have been.

    So I asked a friend who has steadily climbed the business world ladder for the last 20+ years. She got it immediately. She painted a few scenarios. One –the woman had brought the girl onboard and the student’s missed meeting was already reflecting badly upon the woman. Two –she was threatened by a younger, perhaps better polished version of herself. And three, she was just a bitch.

    At the last of her offered explanations, I balked.

    I could hear the shoulder shrug through the telephone line. Regardless of any offense I might take at the stereotypical notion of what defines a successful businesswoman, she seemed to be saying -it was what it was. She implied that Meryl Streep had captured more than good comedy in The Devil Wears Prada; Meryl’s Miranda Priestly was, in fact, pretty representative of women-and-younger-women workforce relationships.

    My apparently naïve vision of an upturned hand offering guidance was slapped away pretty quickly in the world my friend sketched.

    “Girls suck,” she said.

    God, I hate that word. (okay, I get the hypocrisy –let’s not go there)

    And also I don’t believe it.

    Because if I did, I’d have to revisit every lesson I’ve passed along to my kids. I’d have to rethink my personal history. And I’d have to ignore some pretty powerful women in my own life, starting with my mom, my grandmothers and my aunts but enveloping also my cousins, my sister-in-law, my friends and my own supervisor at work.

    It isn’t that I haven’t seen the women to whom my friend refers. I know they’re out there. It’s just that what gets forgotten in all that condemnation and cut-throat imagery are the other women in our lives.

    So because I believe we are bountiful, here’s to the girls who’ve lent a hand, a shoulder, an ear.  The girls who’ve held ponytails after too much partying, wiped tears away after breakups, calmed one trembling hand with another. The girls who’ve offered high fives and fist bumps, but also honest assessments of our outfits, our weight, our boyfriends.

    I believe in all of us because I know that at the close of that horrible news telephone call, the one that usually follows is placed to another woman. And that the in-sickness-and-in-health vow may extend more befittingly to the woman who is bringing food and taxiing children, or sizing her friend for a wig before shuttling her to chemo. I know that at the end of a man’s betrayal, there is a woman pulling her friend from the wreckage of a broken marriage. And that at the depths of her self-esteem, it isn’t a man, but rather a woman telling her that she’s beautiful and worthy and loved. And when the kids are making her crazy, it’s another woman showing up at the doorstep with a bottle of wine and a contributing curse.

    Sure, it’s about venting and raging, but it’s also about crying and consoling. Sometimes its words, like “I’m sorry,” or “I get it,” and sometimes it’s complete silence, a hand on a knee, a hug. It’s reassurance and affirmation and pride. It’s simple understanding, or utter irreverence. It’s being there –good times and bad- in a way that supplants geographic location; it’s the kind of touch that transcends physical contact.

    Perhaps because I’ve been tested with bad times, I doubly believe in the good.  I’ve cried crippling tears of loss, but more often streaming tears of laughter. And sharing them both with me is always a woman.

    So if my young friend will trust it, I’ll continue to pass along my naiveté. Because for every woman shattering glass ceilings with disregard for raining debris and collateral damage, I’d like to believe there are at least as many pulling the littered shards from hair and clothes and leading with helping hands. My vision ignores the nasty emails and focuses instead on the one my student received which sincerely thanked her for joining the team, assured her that she’d always have a home in their workplace and signed it with Xs and Os. The email’s author is the type of woman I wish to be in her life –a woman who isn’t threatened or spiteful, but rather a guide up the ladder of a success that isn’t measured solely by titles and paychecks. And one who willingly passes along the feminist torch with a light that doesn’t burn, but rather bolsters and warms, instead.

Angels in Odd Places

    We got Michael an angel.


    It’s a good thing, too. Because he really needed one.


    They’re not easy to come by, either.


    I’ve been looking for years, to no avail.


    But I think this one is going to stick.


    It doesn’t hurt that Michael’s angel bears a pretty close resemblance to Dennis Franz’s Nathaniel Messinger character from City of Angels.


    Both Michael’s angel and Franz’s do some real-world preaching. I don’t remember Messinger’s message, but Michael’s angel seems hell-bent on teaching him a thing or two about where Michael could go wrong or do right.


    Okay, so maybe the guy’s not an actual angel, but he is that other thing Michael’s been craving: a mentor.


    For all the reasons that adults are reluctant to take on such roles, I’d counter that in spite of its work-to-pay ratio, there are many more reasons to say yes. In fact, maybe because of its pay scale. That is, as long as you don’t measure reward solely in dollars and cents.


    Part of my job description is to be a mentor to my students.


    Seriously.


    It’s actually written down on a to-do list for tutors.


    While I can’t speak fully to my qualifications as such, I certainly know the level of commitment the role can require.
 
    
Because I am fully committed. In ways I don’t have to be. But, at the same time, can’t help but be.


    At its barest minimum, for a kid to have a mentor in his life is a plus; it has to be a good thing to know someone else believes in your success. Not in the way of family and friends or even teachers and coaches. 


    But in another way.


    My students do fairly well, academically. Last semester I cared enough for a nano-second to tabulate the average of their GPAs -3.33- not bad.


    But I don’t really care about their grades. At least, not in the way they think I do. Or maybe not even in a way I’m supposed to. See, I’d opt out of the A in exchange for a sense that they actually cared about a subject, or caught a flicker of contagion curiosity, a spark to learning.


    Sometimes  I give it the ‘ol college try 
(yawn -theirs, not mine) and offer an explanation about why their professors might be saying what they are. I defend an occasional assignment as not “useless” and try to connect it to the real world, even their world.  


    Most often, it falls upon deaf ears, I know.


    Still, I try.
    
    
But away from academia, I try harder still. Because way more than I care about the grades or the subjects or the learning or even that spark I hope to see, I just care about them.


    Even if he didn’t know it, Michael had been on a search for someone like that.


    Someone who gets him. Who thinks he’s a good person. Who sees potential.


    And who’s willing to put in some time and effort on his behalf.


    Because Michael’s mentor is a businessman, I
ve suggested to Michael that he’s being looked upon as an investment. His mentor is willing to commit, but he needs to believe that the end result will be a good one. Certainly, he’s not expecting the same return on his investment as he does in the financial world, but he’ll expect a positive return, nonetheless. And he’ll make a demand or two, expect Michael to hold up his end of the deal.


    When the man stepped away when Michael wasn’t stepping up, I think Michael got the message.


    The mentor is back onboard. And so is Michael.


    Michael has a mentor, not an angel.


    I know this.


    Still, I’ll be on the lookout for wings.


Freudian Foreshadowing



    They make it to the blog frequently enough so you probably get that I work with college kids (oops, I chastised one just the other day for using that term; I mean adults). And also that I like what I do. And that I like them (most of them, most of the time).

    
What may not be clear, however, is that I haven’t really been working with them all that long. In fact, my first batch of babies (adults) will be leaving this spring. Flying out of the nest, so to speak, off into the great beyond.




    And I have mixed feelings about their noteworthy transition.




    Many of my own friendships are older than these students I tutor, so I get that four years can be but a blimp in a relationship’s foundation. On the other hand, I’ve spent some serious “quality time” with these young adults. They’ve shared much with me. Way more than you’d think. Way more than I ever imagined they would.




    When I recently found out that a student of mine had cut class before she’d had a chance to fess up to me, I asked her if she would have been forthcoming with the info.




    “I tell you everything,” she said.




    And she just might.




    Not in the every-detail-of-every-day sort of tell, but in a kind that matters a whole lot more. She’s been through a lot in these past four years. And the thing is, I’ve been through most of it with her.

    
Now, she’s at the threshold of the other side -where she should be, where she deserves to be.




    She’s arrived with grace and resilience and I’m proud of her and who she is today. I am proud of my other students, as well. They’ve turned from teenagers to adults, and as they graduate, they seem to be truly prepared for the next phase of their lives.




    I’m happy for them.




    I’ll also be sad to see them go.




    Changing the subject (not really).




    I’ve been, on occasion, technically challenged. The combination of an utter lack of knowledge about what it exactly is that runs the computers that run most of our lives and a sometimes senseless sense of speed are  often a poor mix. 

    
Case in point.




    I don’t delete the emails and text messages most normal people might. There’s a history here which I won’t go into. Anyway, among the non-deleted text messages on my cell phone were a few (several) from my students.

    
The messages weren’t left merely to clutter the inbox; they’d been intentionally undeleted.




    And then, in a too quick moment of parsing the list, I said yes when I didn’t mean to and every message was gone.




    Poof!




    I wonder how long they would have remained, had I not make the mistake.




    I don’t know. But now they’re gone –for good.
    
    
And soon too, will be the kids who texted them.




    Because they are ready, perhaps even more than I am, to separate. From their school, from their roommates and college friends -and from me.




An Internship in Life



    Musing upon the what-ifs that lottery jackpots often spawn, someone recently asked me what I would do if money wasn’t a factor. I can’t remember who. That’s an issue lately, but I digress. I do that too -again, another issue.

    
Back to the windfall that grants dreams, though.




    My answer was too quick, too honest, too sappy. But it explains a lot.




    Like why I work with kids (okay, technically they’re adults) and love it even though it was never part of the plan.




    And why I can sit for hours tweaking writing for which I don’t get paid and spend much less time on the kind of writing that pays (little, tiny) bills.

    
If I could do anything at all for work, I’d do exactly what I’m doing right now. 

    
In different proportions, perhaps. Squeezed in-between travels around the world. But –I’d still work. I’d still write. I’d still hang around college kids.

    
Which brings me to the ill-titled blog which generates an unexpected number of monthly hits.




    This week marks Kidssuck’s one year anniversary.




    I didn’t know what it was going to be when I started it. Most days, I still don’t. But I’m still having fun with it. And you’re still reading it.

    
Thanks for that.




    Thanks also for allowing me to be less of a hypocrite when I advise my kids and my students to choose a job to do because they love it.




    With the certainty one might observe that the tide will rise, Kelley once told me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing –this writing thing. It took me decades to put my work out there, longer still to call myself “writer” when someone asked what I do. Odd, really. Because it’s as much a part of who I am as is my heritage, the color of my eyes. I can’t change it.

    
I tell everyone of the next generation who will listen: Do what you love. Don’t worry about the money.

    
It wasn’t the advice I received as a kid.




    Doesn’t matter. 




    I pretend I’m not as old as I am and I’m finally following my own advice. 

    
It’s like I’m on internship now, trying on pieces of a profession or two for size, adjusting their fit as I go. Every new job, new client, new story seems to produce another; they’re self-propagating. 

    
Instead of following a traditional path for someone my age, I’m forging one of my own. 

    
Maybe that’s why I get along so well with the college kids. On many days, I still feel like I’m just starting out. I make mistakes, ignore reality a lot, think about what-ifs far removed from lottery winnings.

    
And write.




    So, thank you. For being with me on the site’s anniversary. For joining me in these stream-of-consciousness jottings. And for giving me someone for whom to write -besides just me.