That College Scandal

When I applied to college, I didn’t really understand it was a matter of them choosing me. I thought I chose them. I remember being in awe of my friends who paid the exorbitant $25 application fee to several schools. I decided UNC-CH would be my “winner”, filled in my application…..by hand, got a check for $25 from my parents for UNC Admissions, sent it in and waited for my acceptance. Not anxiously…..because like I said….I had no clue they could turn me down.

And I did receive that acceptance…..pretty quickly. Before some friends who had applied “early decision.” Once again, I hadn’t. It seemed really binding and as this was really my decision, it was as though they were unnecessarily forcing me into a marriage. Because what if I changed my mind? (Not that I planned to pay another application fee.) Remember I don’t like people telling me what to do.

I remember I received the acceptance before the early decision friends because at least one got mad at me because I was accepted before they were. I didn’t understand their problem. Why did it matter when you got the letter? We were all getting in.

And then some friends did not get in, and my innocence waned. Soon I was on pins and needles for my friends, and I understood why people applied to multiple colleges. I understood why they went early decision when they knew that was where they wanted to go. And I finally understood how fortunate I was……Carolina certainly does turn people down. A lot of them.

I remember very little about the application. It was long. I filled it out myself. In ink. My parents didn’t help, and I don’t think they even read it before I sent it in. I’m sure the thought was that I was applying, and therefore it needed to be my work. And I probably didn’t want to hear that I should have been more careful with my handwriting.

But as tough as I now know it was for students to get in college then, it has gotten far crazier since then. I helped both my niece and my goddaughter with their applications to UNC (and incidentally both got in, though my goddaughter chose another school.) The application process is easier in many ways than it was when I was applying…..the common app helps so much when applying to multiple schools. But then there are the many extra questions, which varied by school, and out of control. Wish I could remember them now. One of Maggie’s was “Who is your most favorite and least favorite superhero and why?” From my memory, my two or three questions were all related to why I wanted to go to Carolina and why I was qualified to be a student there. I’m sure the superhero question got a far better quality of student. Progress. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)

Note that while I did help my niece and goddaughter (and a few others) with college applications. I will say it was grueling for them and I made them come up with their own answers. But I was like Chuck Barris and kept pulling out the gong when their answers didn’t cut it. I kept saying “No, no, no!”, “The people reviewing these are probably going to be people my age”, and “Read what they say they are looking for and tell me how that answer will sway them.” They hated me for a time during the process….this I know. But it was a necessary time of torture. I suspect some parents are outright writing their kids applications for them…..but Aunt Kim felt like it needed to be their work. With a bit of coaching.

It’s a competitive world out there for college these days. When I took the SAF, I did not study for it beforehand. It didn’t occur to me you could. Taking it even once was horrendous for someone like me who has a short attention span. And it was a Saturday morning! The first hour I was good. The second my attention was sketchy. By the third hour I was making designs down the answer sheet and not reading most of the questions. Somehow my scores were still enough and sufficient to get me in a good school. But now there are SAT prep classes and students are taking it many times. It blows my mind. And the number of schools they apply to. Phenomenal. And the application fee is more than $25. Mind blowing the money that goes into that process.

More and more students feel the need to attend colleges be successful. And a 4-year degree is not enough. Most believe they need graduate school for most careers. And yet it still doesn’t seem enough. Many still struggle to find good jobs and once they begin, the jobs take over their lives. I loved my 20s. I made some of my best friends then. We worked, but nights and weekends were ours for fun. A lot of “kids” today are working 12 hours a day. And weekends. Companies reward this. I find it insane.

But then we have my young heroes. Those who eschew convention and decide they can’t be locked up in an office. They are the vagabonds. They travel the world on a shoestring. They work to live an adventurous lifestyle. As much fun as my life has been, I have never been able to toss away convention to the degree they do. But they tempt me. I try to live vicariously through them. I closely follow the son of friends of a friend of a Facebook friend of mine. Yep, you got it. Makes me laugh too. But in a random conversation my friend started he came up with regard to my comment in this discussion. So yes….,I stalk him. (He does a vlog. He doesn’t mind.) It’s a weird world.

But a few young folks are realizing another secret we had somehow forgotten. They don’t need college. There are many, many occupations for which they just need skills and they are working towards building those. Some with parental support, some defying everything their parents wanted for them. But they are earning a good living. Not spending money on college tuition. And strategizing as to how they can build it better. They may take a class if it will teach them a new skill. But a degree? To them it is a piece of paper that doesn’t translate into cash. They aren’t wrong

So back to my original subject. These Hollywood parents. I have some sympathy for them. They have lots of things excess money can buy, and kids that are probably normal rebellious high school students who have never had to work too hard or make their own goals. I suspect these parents were desperate. Embarrassed that their kids would not do what they felt needed to be done to be a success, as they were. So they do what they can….crazy things to those of us looking in….to hopefully get them to the next step. But it blew up in their faces. As it should have. But how many other students have passed through college already in the same way? We’ll never know.I know those types were in school way back when with me.

But yet….I am glad I got into college on my own. I would have liked a guidance counselor who helped me a bit more and shown me how to apply for scholarships. I had no clue and we did not have that then. My parents sacrificed financially to send me to UNC. I still am amazed they did it. I only had one student loan for my time there, my senior year. Which took forever to pay off and taught me a great lesson. Renting money is expensive. There were no semesters abroad, no spring break trips. I worked my summers and any other time I could (though not during school my first three years.) But I was so fortunate with what I had. I always knew that. And I wanted to be there. Very much.

Did college make me a better employee? No, I don’t think so. A strong work ethic and co-workers at my first job who were great trainers did that. I already had decent basic readings writing, and math skills, which also have helped. But college did make me a better human being. I learned how to live with others….some different culturally and economically, some just brats and prima donnas. But many superstar human beings.

The world opened up to me….I was able to see history being made up close and personal and hear lectures by some of the finest and most provocative speakers around. I had professors who were celebrities in themselves….Walter Cronkite’s head writer, the former head of UNESCO, a couple of famous authors, experts in subjects far and wide. Interesting and compelling human beings. I debated issues of importance…..really debated, in real life situations and challenging and being challenged on ideas I thought to be incontestable. They weren’t. That confused and delighted me. I learned. Just not always in the classroom. These were my selfish years…..and I am so grateful.

Don’t force your children into college if they don’t want to go. There are many paths to a happy and successful life. Don’t try to make them live your dreams. Encourage them to live their passions. At the end of life, doesn’t happy and purposeful trump everything? And remind them they can always change directions. Remind you of that, too. It’s not too late. We forget that sometimes.

Yeah, I’m not a fan of lying and cheating and throwing around large sums of money to get your way. I have major issues with the entitled. Parents on a mission for the flesh of their flesh can become monsters….but I suspect they’re really caught up in a warped idea of what will make for a good life for them and feel it is their responsibility to give that to them. Misplaced love.

Love your child enough to give them wings. Teach them how to be humble and happy…,and chart their own course. Yes, they could have heartbreak ahead. But maybe God’s plan for their purpose is something glorious you never considered. Be there when they need you….but push them out of the nest and wait for them to fly. That’s the purpose for which they were designed.

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What’s That in the Mirror? Oh, My Own Advice Slapping Me in the Face!

Mirrors are really amazing things.  They reflect our image back to us.  Sometimes it is a surprise….like when you look in the mirror and realize that at some point you gained weight and had not noticed.  Or gained a few wrinkles.  Or are most often sporting a frown.  The images can be curious and discouraging.  At other times you look in the mirror and notice you are smiling and are happy….and it lifts your heart and makes you smile even more.

Start to give advice to someone, and sometimes you find that a mirror appears.  As you speak, it reflects that advice back to you.  Sometimes the image that you see, isn’t quite what you expected.

I know what I believe, I know how I want to live, but sometimes I find that I forget to live in a way that is consistent with that framework.  I’ve had a couple of ah-ha moments with regard to that lately.  One time I had a friend who wanted some advice on a struggle they were having.  I started telling them what I thought about the issue, started telling them how I thought they should approach the problem, and all of a sudden a voice inside my head said “Kim, listen to yourself.” 

When I did, it almost knocked me over.  What I was telling them was exactly what I needed to be applying to my own life.  It was almost embarrassing!  It didn’t change what I told them….I still felt it was true and good advice.  But it made me think about my own problem and realize that I wasn’t living in a way that was consistent with advice I would give to a friend. I needed to befriend myself and consider that advice.

I’d like to tell you it made me run out and change everything!  No, that didn’t happen.  Well, in some ways it did.  I changed the way I was addressing my problem over all.  Nothing that would completely change my life overnight, but something that will lead to a solution in the long  run.  It wasn’t something that could only be handled one-dimensionally.  I needed a plan that encompassed several different directions.  And I needed a personal attitude change. I was obsessing over the problem….wondering who was to blame and feeling quite sorry for myself because I didn’t think I was at fault.  Yeah OK….human….but it kept me working toward a solution and started bring out character flaws in me I would prefer to die.

Another incident happened a few days ago that also reflected my own advice back to me, but from a different angle.  I was catching up with another young friend through Instant Message, one of the college guys that was part of our chase crew at a balloon festival I attended in Mexico in November. He had been struggling with several difficult issues the last time I had seen him.  Back then we talked  a lot then about making decisions for your life that would lead you to a happy life for the long term.  Of course, that was advice I was giving him as a college student who was making some pretty big changes at a critical juncture.  Not being at that point in my life, I didn’t think about any sort of self-application.

During the course of our catch-up conversation he asked how my life was.  I told him it was good overall, but I was struggling in one particular area.  The young whippersnapper reminded me of what I told him when we talked in Mexico.  That you should be happy in all areas of your life, and if not happy you needed to make changes.  He was right….and I had to laugh.  He had listened to what I said and remembered and had applied it to his own life.  Now he was turning the mirror back to me so I would do the same.

Often we think life-changing advice is for the young; but we never reach an age where it stops.  A retirement from life, coasting through, is never appropriate (regardless of what our culture tells us.) We should always be purposeful people who live our lives well and with intention.  We should be doing more than taking up space.  In fact, the older we are the more responsibility we have to others, I think…..to help those who are younger make good decisions and learn from our own history.  To encourage those of all ages.  To make our mark on the world based on the wisdom we have gained.  The life decisions we make are still important.  The experience we have gained is important.  And having the guts and the heart to offer advice is part of our purpose.

Recently I saw a series of answers to the question “When do you give advice?”  Most people said “Only when asked.”  I am grateful that, if answered truthfully, this would not be the answer of most of my friends and family members.  Their answer would be more on the level of constantly!  I don’t always take the advice given (as many of you know), but often I do.  And I always (OK…often) consider it and appreciate it.  We shouldn’t take it personally if people don’t take our advice and it shouldn’t keep us from giving it.  It’s an odd kind of gift, but one that we shouldn’t force people to take.  We do our part when we give people alternatives….options for solving life’s problems.  I LOVE free will, and thank God for the ability to make my own decisions, but it’s also good to not have to figure out life all on your own.  It’s good to have people who care enough to lend us their brains. 

Mirrors are more than things that show our reflection.  I remember when I was young using them to make things burn.   (OK, maybe I have also done it since I have been older and it is still fun!)  I don’t want to live a life that is lukewarm.  I want one that is full and on fire.  So as the reflection of my own words, ideas and beliefs come back for me to review, I need to take my own advice. 

I used the word happy to describe how our life should be when I gave advice to my friend. I don’t actually think that is the best word to use.  Things on the outside can impact happy.  When I am more careful in my word choices, I think my advice to him and me and all of you is that as we make choices in our life we need to strive for joy.  That thing that comes from inside out, regardless of our circumstances, fills us up like a cup of hot chocolate and warms us like a blanket.  It is the contentment that comes from knowing that you have a purpose, and are fulfilling that purpose.  Or looking in the mirror and seeing the face of God.