I speak with high school students daily who are trying to decide whether to go to college and, if they do, where they should go. Everyone talks about choosing a “good school,” but I encourage them to choose the “right” school. So, what exactly is the difference?
Ask anyone to name a “good” college and you’re likely to hear answers like, “Princeton,” “Harvard,” “Penn,” etc., and with good reason. These types of schools are recognized as the top academic institutions here at home and abroad. But does that make them the “right” college for you?
The “right” school is one that teaches you what you need to know for your chosen career, and it’s one you can afford. So, if you want to become a high school teacher, going to Harvard would probably be overkill. And if you want to become a plumber, then a 2-year trade school would make more sense. And if you’re not sure what you want to do, go to community college to take a few general education courses and get a feel for college life and college-level assignments. Gone are the days when you could spend a few thousand dollars to go to college, try different courses, and “find yourself.”
I went to school in the late 70’s and early 80’s with guys who worked full-time manual labor summer jobs and delivered pizzas during school months and were able to fully pay for their college education. That’s just not realistic anymore. Today, a post-secondary education can cost $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 or more per year, and many students have to borrow most (if not all) of the money to make it through (whether they graduate or not).
In their 2015 book, “Student Loans and the Dynamics of Debt,” editors Brad Hershbein and Kevin Hollenbeck reported several disconcerting facts about student debt:
- Between 2004-2012, total education debt tripled, and it was the only major debt source (among mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and home equity lines of credit) that increased during the Great Recession.
- The average balance per borrow grew unabated during this same time, partly due to interest accumulation from low repayment and high delinquency rates.
- At the end of 2012, 17% of borrowers were behind 90 days or more, surpassing credit card debt as the highest delinquency rate. This difficulty in repaying student loans may have also prevented access to other forms of credit (i.e., mortgages fell sharply from 2005-2012 for student loan borrowers).
When asked, I try to counsel and educate students and their families about choosing the “right” school to prepare them for their chosen career, and to help them minimize the impact of student loans when they leave school. I also stay in touch with several students after they graduate, and try to help them stay in school, transfer schools, or just stay sane during finals week.
My role as an educator doesn’t end when my students graduate. It ends when they stop seeking my help.
“So, What Do You Do?”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked that, as I’ve reconnected with old friends, old business associates and, well, at my age everyone is old! And while I’ve always been quick to offer a response, in hindsight I don’t think I’ve adequately answered the question.
I used to have my “elevator speech” down cold. You know, that quick intro you give someone when you’re trapped and riding between floors. Back in the day I travelled for business; for a while I was a tech support guy and, except for weekends, never went to sleep in the same city I woke up in. My answer then was company-centric. Now, those of you who know me know that companies changed often. So it’s no surprise when I reconnect with people they ask me,
“So, what do you do?”
Some people can answer that question very succinctly, usually in 3-4 words: “I’m a mailman,” “I’m a teacher,” “I’m a doctor,” “I’m in sales,” “I’m a union carpenter,” “I’m a master electrician,” etc. Typically their answers represent reputable occupations, and the list can be as varied as the people asked.
I, on the other hand, struggled with how to define what I do. And this is important, because society – either fairly or unfairly – often defines who we are by what we do and how well we do it.
So I looked back over the jobs and careers I’ve had (and they are two different things), and I searched for a common denominator. I knew there had to be something, some characteristic, which ran through them all and allowed me to be successful. And I think I found it.
If I answered strictly in only three or four words, I could tell people that I am (was): a newspaper reporter, a magazine managing editor, a freelance graphic/web designer, a business owner, a college professor, a high school teacher, a high school baseball coach, a high school football coach, a software salesman, a technical support manager, a printing prepress technician, a technical trainer, and an entrepreneur. (Sounds a lot like what Emilie Wapnick calls a “Multipotentialite”)
The one common skill required in all of these: the ability to explain topics and processes to people in a way they understand. So if you ask me what I do, I now answer,
“I provide people with information to improve their lives.”
OK, I know that sounds “pie-in-the-sky”-ish, and even pompous. But I’m comfortable it adequately describes what I do. Whether it’s in the classroom, on an athletic field, helping publishers bring their publications and websites to life, or helping business owners be successful, I have the ability to explain things – some of which are very technical – in ways that my audience understands and can make decisions that are best for them.
What I’m not good at, honestly, is persuading people to take action when they’re not ready. I can research and share information and explain why something would be beneficial to them, but I haven’t been able to create the need for immediate action by them. I can tell students why education is important, tell athletes why training and nutrition are critical to their performance, or why Product A will make a business owner’s business more profitable, but I can’t make them want to move forward. It’s like the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink!” I can’t make them want to improve in the classroom, on the field, or in business. They have to want it. They have to be at a place in their lives where the decision is important to them. Then, and only then, will they take action.
For my part I’ll continue to be here as a source of information, sharing what I’ve learned with an interested audience, and ready to move forward with them when they’re ready…. but only when they’re ready.
~ ~ ~
NOTE: This blog first appeared in October, 2016. It has been slightly updated to include new things in my life.
Photo courtesy of Jenny Zhang, Director, Recruitment at London School of Business and Finance LSBF. Follow her on LinkedIn.
It took two snow days, two unexpected days off (when I couldn’t schedule anything ahead of time), but I’m finally at the point where I can sit back and collect my thoughts about 2017 and 2018. I typically do this during the winter break from school, but I’ve needed the past few weeks to recover from the flu and the holidays, so here goes…
My 2017 will be remembered primarily for several family milestones:
- My twin granddaughters turned 2 and are becoming their own little people with their own attitudes and personalities.
- We were blessed with another granddaughter, a happy little soul whose wide-eyed smile lights up the world.
- My youngest — my son — got married to a great girl from a great family.
- My beautiful wife and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary, and a total of 39 years of being together.
I know this is my business website and I should be posting about business successes, but everything I’ve done in my career pales next to my family.
I want to wish everyone — in my family and my businesses — a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2018.