Thursday, October 21, 2010

The crystalize your vision BEFORE college (or grad school, or anything) adventure

I was sitting in a session at a conference on the various techniques for storing, manipulating and retrieving data from multiple data sources.  I had chosen sessions that would help me focus my thoughts on a possible thesis topic.  I also wanted to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers in the computer science/engineering academic world.  I tried to focus on what the presenter was saying, but honestly, it sounded like 'Wah, wah, wah, wah'.   Sometime later, as I was speaking to one of my grad. school professors about the possibility of being his student, I had that same strange feeling, like I didn't really care what he said,... what did he say?  I nodded and answered appropriately and made my way back home.  A question nagged at me for several weeks, maybe even months after.  Truth be told, the question had probably been trying to get my attention way before that: What was I doing here?  Why was I doing this?

Some soul searching led to uncomfortable answers.  I was pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science because it was the next logical step in my career path.  If I did not pursue the Ph.D, I would not be able to keep my job.  I wasn't interested in anything Computer Science related enough to endure what I had been enduring.  I was now interested in human behavior, psychology, learning and motivation, adult education, none of which I had ever formally studied.   I decided that I wanted to stay home with my son.

Teflon commented recently that  college was wasted on the young. "Would I rather invest $200K in an eighteen-year-old who's going to college because that's the next step, or a twenty-four-year-old who's knocked around for a bit and finally come to clarity regarding what he really wants from life?"  I vote for the latter.

I'm not sure that any educational program beyond 9th grade that is done simply because it's the 'next step' will help the participant to know what he or she really wants.  Even if it does, it's an expensive way to do it.  There are so many creative and enriching ways to learn new things, acquire new skills and try them out in the real world.  Let's not mention that these enriching, wonderful ways are also cheaper than college tuition. So many people have student loans for degrees that they don't even use.  We can help our young people have a clear vision for their lives, encourage them to see it in amazing detail, and facilitate their thinking around how to get where they want to go. 

So I propose a 1-4 year self-created, self-directed program after high school that could transform that vague 18 year old into a 19 - 22 year old that has a wonderfully clear vision for his or her life.  I'm plagiarizing Teflon's idea of helping them align their desire with the real world experiences when those desires are implemented.  I'm going to propose a game plan to creating this program.  Here's the pre-game step:

  • Ask the almost high school graduate (this can start at any age, as early as age 10 or 11) to pretend that you are Oprah (or Trump, or someone very monied) and that you are giving them $250M to create something or do something that they really want to do and that they think could benefit their community.  They have to have this project completed in 5 years.  Write down all the thoughts as they come.  Encourage them to describe in detail what they would do with their time and their money.  Note the roles they assign to themselves, the things they seem to want to do more.  How do they spend their days?  Are they gravitating towards people, or are they working alone?  This could be a great discussion on who they would be if they thought there wasn't much of a money limit.

  • Ask them if they found they had inherited $250M (or won the lottery) but also were bound by a strange clause that insisted the money be used in 5 years, what would they do?  Do the scribe's job as above.  It can help with their own creativity if someone else is writing.

  • Ask them what they would do with the next 5 years if they knew failure was impossible and that they had ALL the money they wanted.
As I think about these questions, I realize that it may be easier to help someone think through those answers if you have already started to answer them for yourself.  So I think I'll pause here and give some homework!  I know, I really don't agree with homework... but if you are saying, "Homework??!" then you aren't yet ready to answer these questions, the homework isn't for you.  Your homework is to interview yourself.  Choose one or more of the questions and answer it in as much detail as you can.  You know you are getting there when your answers paint a picture, create a movie with sound effects, in living color that you can see in your mind, and others see when they hear you.  Record your answer somehow.  Write it down or record your voice as you speak out loud.  When you are done, share your story with someone who you think is a kindred spirit.

I'd love to hear what you come up with.  By the way, are you currently doing the things you wrote/spoke about?  If not, why not?  What one thing could you change to take you closer to that picture?

Next time, we'll finish the pre-game and come up with a game plan for this 1 to 4 year adventure!  Have a wonderful day of crystal clear vision.


  1. Faith, Love it!
    What a great exercise to do with each of your kids once a year (and the keep the transcriptions.) How wonderful to look back from twenty (or fifty) to see what your ten- thirteen- or eighteen-year-old self had planned.

    Your questions address one of the biggest challenges people face with planning which is to let the "how" get in the way of the "what". Your questions free the answer to stick with the "what" of what they want to do.

    Playing with my own answers I realize that I am doing "what" I want to do, but in a more limited way than I would were I to have the resources you describe. Maybe it's time to raise some capital or find some partners. Even as I write this, I realize that I've been hesitant to raise "real" capital because of my previous experience of the company it kept. Of course, that's a pretty ridiculous assumption. Hmmm...

    Thank you!

  2. Hi Faith
    I'm planning an almost workfree weekend and I will take time to answer those questions - they are great

  3. "Would I rather invest $200K in an eighteen-year-old who's going to college because that's the next step, or a twenty-four-year-old who's knocked around for a bit and finally come to clarity regarding what he really wants from life?"

    I'm not sure that this works IRL. In my country we used to encourrage young people to take a break before university. - until some statistics showed that the students who did that was less likely to graduate... but then again maybe graduation is not a sign of which usefull skills we have acuried...

  4. Hi Joy, that's interesting. Is the real world experience affecting the perception of the road to a college degree? On the one hand, clearer vision may mean a clearer sense of what's the next step. On the other hand, blurry vision make the relevance of college difficult to determine. I think we are afraid that our kids will decide it's irrelevant, so we rush them into it.

  5. I'm not sure if those questions are the right one if the goal is to stop being afraid that your kids will decide that college is not a good thing.

    I believe that it's usefull for some kids to go to college at 18, some at 25, some never.

    I would go for exploring what they like, why they like it - and help them explore in which areas those skills would be usefull.

    You could also help them explore areas they do not yet know off.

    If they want to work a few years - I would encourrage then to have fun.

    I believe that the best skill you get in college is to learn to learn.

    And by the way: why continue to a phd - you could go for a new degree in something which is now your interest?

  6. I definitely could study something else. I became really comfortable with my ability to teach myself anything, and enjoy creating my own course of study. At 18 I didn't know going to college was a choice. It was presented as the only way to not be poor and taken advantage of.

    I felt the fear from the adults around me when I was deciding to go to college and grad. school. So many people have a 'get it out of the way' thought process, before 'real life' hits and the prospective college student gets distracted from finishing school. Real life has some real 'distractions'. Getting clear on what we really want can help navigate those distractions.

    I wish more colleges focussed on helping students learn to learn, but it seems as if that is becoming less and less of a focus and more and more kids are coming out of college with bits of information about things, but aren't yet able to think about it in different ways, and apply the learning experience to learning other things.

    Thanks Joy! I have at least 9 years before anyone in here is ready for college. I'm happy to be playing with these ideas now, while there isn't any sense of urgency.



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