Why I Resist The Coalition Ambition

Getting young ones launched in life is a noble mission and my life’s work and I’m happy to report that I’ve been more successful than ever as I hone my skills and take on even greater challenges.  The trick is keeping up with the accelerating chaos created by well-intentioned college admissions folk who are utterly clueless about their applicants’ reality, and either don’t know that or are not willing to go there.

Is that ignorance or arrogance?  Hmmm…probably a shade of each.

The recent Coalition commotion has caused a minor stir in the everyday world but a major one in the world of guidance counselors.  No one describes this better than my esteemed colleague, Will Dix, who has kept up a steady stream of superb pieces aimed at reaching the hearts and minds of our former colleagues in college admissions.  Will understands the needs of both cohorts well and is doing his best to stop the generational meltdown that will surely come as a result of the silly Coalition expectations.  GCs everywhere are near apoplectic over these expectations since they can easily anticipate the unintended consequences that will ensue.  Yet, oddly, they have never been included in the Coalition’s planning, which is where the ignorance and arrogance come in.

Admissions officers and guidance counselors have long seen themselves as partners in the launching of young adults, but this decision to change the college admissions process without consulting their GC partners and then dissing their protests over same has revealed just how broken the process is.

Anyone who every worked as a college admissions officer will feel their Bravo Sierra barometer engage as they read the Coalition’s plans since this proposal doesn’t pass the smell test, meaning that even the most experienced among us can’t imagine how creating an online ‘locker’ for 9th graders to post their work for review by college admissions officers years later could possibly lead to more underprivileged Black and Hispanic kids being admitted to top tier schools, which is supposedly the point of the whole exercise.  It doesn’t take an MIT PhD to see that this scenario will just spawn a new cottage industry of consultants eager to help advantaged 9th graders produce admissions worthy documents from the get go, thereby throwing the advantage to the wealthy once again while increasing the stress levels of young teenagers who are already medicated in unprecedented numbers to get through their days, courtesy of our helpful medical community in bed with the pharmaceutical industry.  No matter that data shows these meds are counter-indicated for teenagers.  No matter they actually trigger suicidal behaviors in growing brains.

Who cares?  At least those advantaged teenagers will have a better shot at getting into an Ivy school.  And isn’t that what life is all about?

Let’s face it. Underprivileged minority students are not in the Ivy + schools’ applicant pools, but not because they just need to plan earlier by putting 9th grade assignments in a Time Capsule Locker.  They aren’t there for a million different reasons and here’s where the cognitive dissonance comes in.  These schools know that, but at the same time they are looking for that one diamond-in-the-rough kid who pulled himself up by his boot straps and earned all As and at least a 2100 on the SATs.  In the real world, this is an urban legend, but that myth has kept those admissions officers hooked in its illusion.

For the past 30 years these schools could have taken minority students with mixed grades and/or low scores and leveled the playing field but they haven’t.  Know why?   Do you think for one minute that Harvard will let its SAT mean score drop and lose the coveted top place in the USNWR ranking system, just to bring social justice in the admissions process that is stacked against certain populations of kids?  Nah.  It won’t happen, folks.  We’re talking Big Business, Big Egos here, not education.

Look at what these schools DO, not at what they SAY.

Bottom line: the Coalition’s big ambition will only widen the access gap by creating a system that the wealthy know how to play very well and, count on it, they will win the day, leaving another generation of disadvantaged kids locked out of the American dream.  And over time, the difference between the haves and the have nots will wreck all that’s good about America.

So here’s a big shout out to Will Dix, a champion for children and a true hero to the rest of us in this fight to rescue education from the corrupt clutches of Big Business.  You aren’t alone, Will.

There are many of us out here calling Bravo Sierra on this idea because nothing short of the future of our Republic is at stake.

Yeah, it’s that important.

Toddlers With Hormones

I actually saw a commercial on TV in the wee hours one morning a month ago that made me stop in my tracks and watch, it was so compelling.  It featured a young toddler (you know, the ones who struggle for balance and walk like Godzilla), teetering from side to side in slightly slow motion as he walks down his home’s long corridor toward the glass paneled door.  The ad is for Air B&B and though many thought it creepy, I love it.

That little human, so proud to be up on two legs, struggling to hold his balance as he moves towards the object of his desire (what’s out there in the big world?) reminds me of teenagers getting ready to apply to college.

They say that human development is one big spiral, repeating over and over as we age. Teenagers go through toddlerhood (you’re not the boss of me!) but in a more sophisticated way. They share the same biological imperative to move on up, albeit with much more fear than they had when they were two and learning to literally keep up with the others around them.

When they were two and fell one hundred times learning to stand upright, modern teenagers were greeted by smiles and loving encouragement from the adults around them.  No adult would think of criticizing a little cruiser trying to walk.

But God help them if the same Big Toddlers fall when they are in high school.  All hell rains down on them.  They are most often medicated to adjust their attitude.

I’ve had several students call me in a panic over the past month.  They were over-committed in their senior year and their grades went down this spring after their college acceptance because “I was hurrying to get all I could from my high school experience”, meaning “I was struggling to meet everyone’s expectations of me.”  The colleges they committed to on May 1 were suddenly not as committed to them.

It used to be that seniors’ grades slipped due to ‘senioritis‘, as they blew off school to do nothing.

Now their grades drop as they try to finish the many commitments they developed in order to please the adults in their world and get admitted to college.

Sorry, college admissions colleagues, but you guys are culpable here.  You can’t expect teenagers to be perfect over-achievers in order to give you bragging rights when you admit them and then cut them off when they struggle to keep up at the end.  Kids live in the real world where things are complicated and genuinely unforgiving.

Admissions officers live in a vicarious one, making decisions on applications – not real humans – and think they understand KidWorld because they read so many essays.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Kids will always tell admissions officers what they think they want to hear.  They inflate their applications and have many other adults write their essays.  I’ve experienced applicants one way as an admissions officer and a completely different way as an educational consultant in the trenches with them.  All admissions officers should spend a year or two as an independent consultant before becoming Gatekeepers again so they can get rooted in the reality of applicants’ lives.

The focus on pleasing the Gatekeepers (admissions officers) supercedes everything because in this era, it’s about spin.

Kids just want to keep moving and are doing what adults tell them is necessary to get in.  Admissions officers want to admit “the best” to leverage their position on USNWR and to brag to their board of trustees, alumni and specific audiences.  Gone are the days of the real and true ‘match’.  It looks to me that all of the nations’ best universities, maybe even including my own beloved MIT, have been usurped by a business model and so are driving down the wrong road, however well-intentioned.

If all of us adults involved in college admissions would see applicants as Big Toddlers (or better yet, Toddlers with Hormones), we would be more likely to do things right and train the next generation of human beings to revel in their authenticity.

And their authenticity is why they have come.

Don’t Let the News Affect Your Joy

I know the deaths of so many children in CT is unbelievable.  It’s even worse than unbelievable.  It’s heinous, heartbreaking, horrifying.

As the news of this is breaking, so many are being admitted early to the college of their choice.  They are in hog heaven and should be, since they’ve worked so hard for this moment.

As awful as this sounds, this is how life is…it goes on.

I have lost many loved ones in my life.  And each time someone close dies, it’s a shock when the world goes on, as if my parent or sibling or loved one didn’t matter in the most existential way…when my world has come to a complete halt.  Or at least that’s how it seems.

If your child was admitted somewhere early, please make an effort not to talk about this awful tragedy.  Let them enjoy the moment without guilt or disappointment.  Let them have their day.   It’s OK for your family to rejoice even as other families are experiencing the worst news possible.

I send the families involved Light and love, and every Sacred Being I can muster, to carry the families through.  I have been through a few worst moments but nothing can compare to the pain of the parent of a 6 yr old who was murdered.   Unbelievable.  Unspeakable.

The Power and Destruction of MSU*

We’ve all been there, finding ourselves in a situation that didn’t make sense, without a full set of real data, leaving us confused and worried.  To regain a sense of control, we start connecting the pieces of info we do know, filling in the gaps with our imaginations.  In other words, we Make Sh*t Up (MSU), creating the reason for this situation that’s confusing us.  Believing that we now know what is going on, we proceed to act on the story we just MSU’d.  And we make our own weather.  And it’s always wrong.  We screw it up and make the situation worse.

MSU is the basis for soap operas, failed love affairs, international relations and college admissions ranking systems.

MSU brought that Malaysian Airliner down over Ukraine.  MSU makes Israel and Hamas launch bombs at each other and kill children and completely innocent citizens who would actually like each other if they were allowed to mingle and connect as human beings.  MSU shatters half of the nation’s marriages.  MSU is the reason why the average private college applicant applies to 12 schools now, sending the entire college admissions process into imbalance, leading to more MSU.

Making Sh*t Up always leads to heartache because when we’re left to figure out what the other party is thinking and doing, we’ll always default to the fear factor.

Examples?  How about:

Why didn’t they text me back? (MSU= I knew they didn’t like me.)  Why did they walk right by me when I said hello?  (MSU= they’re a snob.) Why did that school put me on the wait list? (MSU= they just rejected me because I’m not good enough. )

In reality, they didn’t text you back because they were in meetings all day and haven’t gotten the chance to get back to you.  They walked by you because they are myopic and don’t like to wear glasses in public.  They put you on the wait list because they want to take you after May 1 if they have the space because wait list is “admitted pending space” and not a “soft rejection” as urban legend would have it.

Our culture trains us into the MSU mind set, asking us to vote online to judge people and situations we know nothing about.  It encourages opinions at the end of news articles and allows the anonymity of haters.  It has raised celebrity gossip to a high art, dishing the dirt over the air waves about the perceived foibles of public people.  We make sh*t up about strangers and friends alike, judging them with great emotion.  Feeling all righteous and right.

But MSU is stupid.  It always leads to the wrong conclusion, bringing misunderstanding and pain.  Worse, it reinforces the notion that there are good people and bad people in the world, instead of the real truth that there are just people, each of us wired to be both good and bad.

It makes imperfection a sin when, in fact, imperfection is the genesis of creativity.

So the next time you find yourself making sh*t up (you can substitute ‘stuff’ if you aren’t vulgar like I am), stop and ask yourself what you actually know to be true.  Do you know that they didn’t text you back because they don’t like you?  Do you know for a fact that they are a snob?  Do you know that you were just rejected when in fact you were actually waitlisted?

Time to use our gray matter.  Clarify instead of MSU.

Caveat Emptor – College Admissions Edition

I’ve been crazy busy with many different constituencies since the beginning of the year and though the spirit was willing and eager to write every few days, the flesh was too exhausted.  Today is another snow day in NYC, though (YAY!!! I think I must be the only person in this City who loves snow except for personal trainers who live for skiing on the weekends), so I finally have the bandwidth to put some words out into the ether.

Here’s another lesson in College Admissions Is A Business.  I share this with you because I want you to know the rules of the game you are about to play so you and your child have a better chance of making good decisions.

Colleges are sending their Search mailings now and it’s worth a column or two because it’s where the college admissions process begins and where truth begins to go off the rails.  Wonder why your child is beginning to get mail from colleges?  Here’s the skinny: colleges buy the names of students based on the PSAT score ranges and other demographic information desired by those individual schools (a process called Search).  A selective liberal arts college in the NorthEast, for example, might buy the names of males (under-represented in liberal arts colleges) with PSAT scores of 60+ in Critical Reading, 65+ in Math, 60+ in Writing.  That school might target students on the West Coast if it wants to bring in more Californians or target certain zip codes if it wants to reach out to more full-pay applicants.  Colleges can parse these parameters in many ways to fill or balance up their needs because this is the first big net they cast to scoop up lots of potential applicants.

The Search mailing is very important and is a large line item in the admissions office budget.

Once the names are purchased, the mailings are sent.  Yes, mailings.  As in, brochures and viewbooks large and small.  Colorful.  Glossy.  You might wonder in this age of virtual everything why colleges would continue to invest in paper (and such costly paper at that) when an email or tweet might do.  The simple answer is – parents.  If colleges did their Search outreach to students at this point, most of their efforts would be wasted because communicating with a teenager is notoriously difficult – kids have these nasty habits of ignoring email and most social media, actually.  They live in their own worlds and they rarely come up for air.  The point of sending a colorful publication through the US mail is for the parents to see it – get the full visual hit – and feel warm, happy and appreciative that this college has reached out to their child and thinks their child is special.  The parent will take it from there, nudging the poor kid to look at that school and maybe even apply.  Sadly, this is where parents begin to develop unrealistic expectations about their child’s chances of admission to some of these colleges because colleges know they’ll end up admitting just a fraction of the students who respond to the mailings.

Rule 1:  Just because it sent your child a seductive mailing out of the blue and is encouraging them to apply, doesn’t mean that college wants to admit them.

The whole point of the mailing is to encourage the application because that college lives and dies by its application numbers.  Remember the Holy Trinity of the college admissions business:  high number of applications, low number of admits (called the admit rate), high number of enrollees (called the yield).  These are 3 of the 4 aspects of the 17 aspect algorithm of the USNWR ranking system that the admissions office has control over and these three numbers matter.  A lot.  (oh, BTW, did you know that 25% of the algorithm is based on the opinions of peer institutions, utterly and completely subjective?)

So when the mailings come in by the boxload, remember that what the schools are really looking for is an application, not you or your child.  With this filter in mind, now go read through the material and see how it feels.  Fore-warned is fore-armed.

Never let your child fall in love with a college that won’t love them back… that’s called unrequited love and it hurts.

Could Your Child Be a Surfer Dog?

I love this short video because it reminds me of parents and how we so often try to create a child in our image and likeness.  But kids have this confounding way of being themselves, of being quite different from what we’d expected.

Watch this video and then look at your child again.  It will help you see them for who they really are.

And this is an homage to assistance dogs everywhere.

I once raised an assistance dog for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).  Huntington started school in a class of 19 other service-dog wannabes.  After 9 months, most were released from the program and returned to their puppy raisers.  He graduated with the remaining 6 others who made it, one of only 2 to make it as both a service dog and a social dog.  A two-fer!  I was so proud of my boy (OK, I was living vicariously through him, back before I even understood that concept).  And then, drama!

At graduation, as I stood on the stage behind him and his new owner/partner Gary, who was wheel-chair bound at 19 from a motorcycle accident, Huntie turned his back to the audience and sat facing me, staring directly up into my eyes.  I spoke with him telepathically, urging him to settle down and turn around to Gary, but as usual he insisted on his own way (Huntie was a highly non-compliant dog by nature, which is why it was so surprising that he graduated at all) and continued to stare directly into my eyes.  He was clearly telling me something.  It sure seemed like he wanted to come home to us in Concord, running in the fields behind our house, eating raw corn and horse manure (hey, he was a dog), chasing birds and horses.  We did raise him in a dog-heaven environment.  It seemed as if that charming rascal dog was changing his mind about a life of service.  My heart was breaking.

Tears streamed down my face and I struggled to keep from sobbing because I wanted him to come home more than anything in the world…he was my dog first, after all.

I’d raised him from the age of 7 weeks until almost 2 years before returning him to service school.  He went everywhere with me, including MIT.  At the end of each of those 9 months of training, I’d call to see how he was doing and heard the same thing, “I don’t know about this dog.  He’s too independent and smart.  I don’t think he’s going to make it.”  While I was disappointed, deep down I was thrilled because we’d get him back upon his release.  It sure looked like he was going to flunk out when at the last second, his last month there, he seemed to change his mind, get it in gear and did what he needed to do to pass.  Huntie picked Gary (the dogs pick their new partners) and they bonded for 2 weeks before graduation.

At this last moment, at graduation, Huntie was wavering and I knew what to do.

With the heaviest of hearts, like one of those mother birds, I kicked him out of the nest on stage that night by breaking off all eye-contact and telepathy.  It seemed like forever (really only about 10 minutes), but Huntington finally gave up trying to reach me, turned around to face the audience and leaned into Gary’s wheelchair.  He stopped connecting with me completely.  The transfer was made and they left together without so much as a backwards glance from him. I was nearly inconsolable all the way home and am crying now as I recall those powerful emotions filled with deep, deep love, devotion and right action.  And even in the midst of my grief over having lost him forever, I was so proud of my dog and of the conscious choice he made to be of service.

Huntington lived with Gary 7 years and gave him a life.  Together, my golden retriever and his energetic paraplegic partner went swimming, white water rafting, wheelchair hiking and any outdoor thing Gary could think up.  They went to work together each day.  Gary was a counselor for vets suffering from PTSD at a VA Hospital down South and took Huntie along because “you know, those Southern boys love their dogs.”  Huntie’s presence brought about deep healing for so many wounded hearts.

They adored each other and were never separated.  Years later, when Gary came to Boston for a special treatment at MGH, he insisted on leaving Huntington with us overnight, his gift to his partner’s family. Very quickly that working dog reverted to a puppy again, jumping on the beds with Nora like he used to, running around chasing our cat and his old friend Harry, racing into the back fields for some serious dog foraging. He slept with us that night.  It was heaven.  But early the next morning, Huntie was up and waiting at the front door, urgently pacing, eager to get back to Gary, his vacation over and heeding the call to service once again.  He knew full well that Gary needed him and he got very impatient to get back to business.  Their reunion at a local motel was beyond touching.

When Huntie died, after a life of primo service, Gary sent me his ashes.  How’s that for love given and for love’s return?

The “I Didn’t Even Know You Had a Diagnosis” Kind of Teacher

I was talking with my beautiful friend and EFT instructor extraordinaire Jondi Whitis about education the other day.  We were talking about beloved teachers from back in the day when she said in her soft Southern way, “You know the kind.  The ‘I didn’t even know you had a diagnosis’ kind of teacher.“

My head about exploded with this concept and it reminded me that the last era was about stereotyping.  This era is about diagnosis.  Apples and apples.

When we judge books by their covers, we miss great works of art.  But when we do this with human beings, we don’t just miss them.  We can derail them.

Educators, Heads Up…

True story.  Years ago when I was Dean at MIT, a renown professor, well known for his grumpiness and temper, came roaring into my office demanding to know why I had admitted a particular student.   Pacing back and forth in front of me, Prof. X shouted how the student consistently walked into his class late, “shuffles slowly” to the front row and “slumps down” dramatically in his seat.  “And his pants are half way down his butt.  This is a disgrace.  Why are you admitting these affirmative action cases who can’t do the work?  It’s half-way through the semester and his grades are going down to a D.  I’m sure I’m going to fail him.  He’s insulting me and wasting my precious time.”

I pulled the case and we sat together at my desk, reviewing all the details of this student’s high school record.  This “affirmative action case” had scores above 750 in each section of the SAT, ‘5’s in all six of his AP exams and straight A+ grades in everything.  He had graduated from an unremarkable high school after being homeschooled through 10th grade.  This student held 2 patents and liked to build things.  Here was a natural engineer.

Prof. X stood up, all red-faced, and slammed the file down on the desk, shouting, “What the BLEEP is with this guy?  He’s SMART.  Why didn’t I know that?”

I went into family counselor mode and respectfully suggested that both parties were misunderstanding each other.  “Maybe this kid got intimidated by being at MIT and the-showing-up-late-in-your-face thing is his defense…maybe you scare him”, I told ScaryAss Professor.   “WHAAAT?  I don’t scare anybody.  I’m just a pussy cat at heart.”  Hmm, I said, “Maybe he thinks that you think he doesn’t belong here and feels ashamed.  He was homeschooled, after all, and might not have the classroom confidence you expect.”

We sat together that day and put together a plan to save this student, and Professor X (God love him) followed it to the letter.  The next time the student came in late, Prof. X gruffly asked to see him after class.  The student stayed and must’ve been stunned when Prof. X offered him a place in his lab starting that afternoon.  He told him that he wasn’t going to let him get away with bad behavior anymore, that he had seen his record and knew how good the student really was.   “No more crap.  Deal?”  “Deal.”

And this student delivered.  He blossomed under that faculty member’s critical eye and last I knew, he was excelling in a doctoral program.  All because that professor found the humility to drop his own diagnosis/stereotype of this amazing talent.

Prof. X brought me a great lesson that day too.  That’s the challenge – to see each person for who they actually are instead of as a perceived diagnosis or stereotype. I learned that people generally live up to your expectations of them.  How completely counter-culture in this age of “disabilities”.

Are You In the Rafters or Are You In The Arena?

Having always loved Theodore Roosevelt, I’m thrilled that this quote from his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech from 1910 has gotten so much air time lately, mostly thanks to my favorite mentor, Brene Brown.  It goes like this:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face in marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Don’t you just love that?  Doesn’t it make your heart pound with excitement and inspiration?  The first time I read this quote, I cried.  I’ve long known that I tear up in the presence of truth and the Sacred. To me, this paragraph carries both qualities because it’s a call for all of us to stop sitting on the sidelines saying witty and snarky things about the perceived failings of others when we wouldn’t dare expose our true selves in the world.  (Are you listening, my favorite Talk Show Host?)

In my opinion, this land of the free and home of the brave has become a nation of critics, too paralyzed with fear to risk failure.  We’re bringing our kids up this way too.  The price of failure is too great – college admissions is culpable here – so healthy risk-taking has all but dried up in schools everywhere.

We’re going in exactly the wrong direction.

Since the beginning, America’s #1 strength has been our ability to innovate and create, to build that better mousetrap.  We’ve always been a dissenting lot, choosing independence over the suffocation of convention.  (Just read the Bill of Rights again, written to “design a more perfect union”.)  But in the past 2.5 decades, first seduced by Big Wealth in the go-go ’90s and then paralyzed with fear of terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001, we have become something different… scared to show up and play.

We’re scared to let our kids fail.  We’re scared to challenge the crazy lies we’re getting from government, from both sides of the aisle.  Now we know that our own government is keeping copies of our every phone call, email and text with no explanation.  Google hands over our internet search data to the Feds and also probably sells it to companies so they can track our search patterns and sell us stuff, you know, for our ‘convenience’.  And we’re too scared or overwhelmed or asleep to jump into the arena and deal, to question what is going on.

If I were a primary or secondary teacher or principal, I would use this quote as a mantra for myself and my students.

I’d encourage risk taking and especially failure, in order to stoke up resilience, competence and the mother of all skills, confidence.  I’d encourage inquiry, not right answers.  I’d get my students down into the arena where they could go for it and get plenty dirty in the process.  It’s way more fun than mastering the one-trick-pony of the snarky insult of others who risk, or the paralysis of perfectionism.

Reading TR’s ‘Man in the Arena’ quote has inspired me to get real about who I am and what I am here to offer the world.  I’ve been criticized plenty – still am – and that had a suppressing effect on me until this paragraph lit me up inside.  I know many good people, people I love, who would rather sit up in the rafters and make fun of those in the arena.  I no longer join them.

For me, I’ll take my destiny standing up.  There’s plenty of room down here for us all and everyone is welcome.

Judgment or Discernment?

I’m hate to admit this, but I have always been harshly judgmental.  I was raised that way and had this skill finely honed through a career in college admissions (did you know that judgment is an occupational hazard of admissions?).  Mostly I was unconscious about its toxicity.  But in all honesty, it did serve me by keeping others who might hurt me at bay.  Ah, judgment is such a great defense…

Judgment seemed to be my friend and ally until I fell and was exposed publically to the judgment of others.  As you can imagine, it doesn’t feel good to have strangers judge you.  It feels so unfair.  Ah, karma…

Once I experienced the destructive power of judgment, I made a promise to change and I have.

I’m careful now to hold my tongue when I want to put others down.  I recognize that what I want to judge in others is what I hate in myself.

Discernment, however, is important.  It’s often mistaken for judgment but they are very different.  Judgment is mean and wants to lash out.  Discernment is seeing what you see with no story attached.  Judgment creates a one-upsmanship (“I would NEVER do such a thing because I’m a better person.”)  Discernment is an awareness of what is and offers the opportunity to make another decision.

So now we have the Paula Deen situation.  Judgment makes us want to lash out at her for being bad, wants us to write mean things about her and cancel all of her business contracts to punish her for things she said and did in her past.  Judgment spins a bigger story here (she’s Southern, she was a closet diabetic even as she was cooking up food to clog our arteries, she’s greedy, she’s evil, blahblahblah) and wants to see her humiliated.  Discernment watches with no opinion, knows Paula Deen is mortal like the rest of us and that all humans are imperfect.  We’ve all said and done things that society would not approve of.  Discernment knows that ‘imperfect’ does not mean ‘bad’.  Discernment offers compassion to Paula even as it reviews and maybe resets our inner compass around our own behavior.

College admissions provokes a lot of judgment.

Parents often judge their children for not being smart enough or ambitious enough or conscientious enough etc etc as they begin to compare their children to college admissions standards.  One parent I know literally burst into tears when she heard her daughter’s SAT scores, crying “I thought you were smart.”  As you can imagine, this didn’t help her daughter at all.  The daughter felt shame for “letting my Mom down and making her cry.”   I wanted to hunt her mother down and give her a good slap but that wouldn’t help her mother at all.

I appeal to parents now.  Drop the judgment and switch to discernment.  Discernment carries no story.  It sees what is.  If your child’s scores don’t fit a certain college’s profile, look for a college where they will fit instead of blaming your child.  SATs tell us nothing of value.  Truth.  If your child’s rank isn’t as high as you’d wished or if they didn’t end the year well, attend to the cause with no story attached.  It is what it is.  Judgment will choke off any encouragement for them to do their best.  Judgment is the death of confidence and confidence is the single most important attribute your child needs to go into the world every day.

Discernment is your real friend and ally.  Time to get to know it well.

The Shame Series Continues: What’s The Point of Confronting This? (Or, Can She Please Stop Writing About This Now?)

The reason I’m writing about shame so much recently is that I can see how common it is to the human experience and how it cripples us, creating more drama in our lives than in the typical soap opera on daytime TV.  I see how it stops us from being our brave selves.  I see it in clients and friends, in people all around me.  I see it in all of the haters on social media and in the self-righteous commentators on TV and radio.  I can see it is because I’ve come to know it so well myself.

Shame is that awful feeling we have when we feel like we aren’t worthy of being loved, when we feel that profound disconnection from others we need.  Shame is ubiquitous (only sociopaths feel none) and it’s easy to understand why.  Chalk it up to civilizing children.  Lord knows how many times as tiny children we heard “no”, “stop”, “that’s bad” as our parents did their best to keep us safe and under some measure of control.  (My father used to say that I got myself into so much trouble, it would be a miracle if I made it to 21.)  Then as older kids, we might have heard “what do you think you are doing?” or “shame on you” or “you know better than that” because adults wanted to keep our sexual curiosity in check due to the unintended consequences of that (pregnancy, STDs, big hurts), not to mention the iconic bad decision making of teenagers.  All of these phrases were meant to stop us and create a course correction of sorts, but because the sentiment was based in judgment, they also generated this awful feeling called shame.

You feel guilt when you think you’ve done something bad.  You feel shame when you think that you are bad.

It hurts to be judged, especially by the people who love us the best.  Afterall, if they think we’re bad, we must be bad.

If you or your child is a perfectionist, shame is at the root, hiding, stealthy, even sneaky.  Maybe your culture approves of this drive for absolute perfection.  Maybe you’ve won awards or have taken your personal value from the perceived admiration of others around you.  College admissions certainly stokes this up.  But make no mistake – hidden away, shame wreaks havoc in your life. It messes with your health since the fear of doing something wrong keeps you in a chronic state of fight-flight-or-freeze.

Does your child have physical issues like stomach pain or headaches or even repetitive sports injuries?  Yup.  There’s shame under there.

Shame also interferes with your relationships, because you are only as good as your last success and no one can be allowed to know what a screw-up you really are inside. You’ll always hold a piece of yourself apart, for fear of rejection.  Been there.  Done that.

So no intimacy or rest for you.  Ever.

Saddest and most important of all, there is little creativity being expressed because to do that is to risk rejection and the shame within you will not let that happen.  So over time you do what you’ve always done, except really really really well.  Over and over.  Deluding yourself into thinking you’re growing.  One-trick pony.  And all the wildly interesting stuff, the juice of life within you that thrives on risk and change, goes unexpressed… and we all lose.

So what’s the point of hanging on to shame?  Does it protect us in the long run and make our life worth living?  Nah.  It’s actually more like a silent and creepy cancer that chokes us off from our authentic self.

If you are not thriving the way you’d like, and you have always been a perfectionist, go immediately and read some Brene Brown, the shame researcher.  She’ll tell you all about it in the most hilarious way.  She’ll describe how shame thrives in secrecy and silence.  In fact, the less you talk about it, the more exponential its growth.  When you finally understand it, you’ll want to expose shame to oxygen and sunlight when it surfaces next.  Best of all, you’ll want to make a joke about it.  (Shame hates to be made fun of.)  You’ll laugh about it and share it with those who have earned the right to hear it.  You’ll swap shame stories…(Warning: don’t share shame stories with just anyone because shame-based people will only make you feel worse.  Share with friends that offer compassion and empathy.  Shame hates empathy.)

Soon, swapping shame stories will be the new black.

It won’t take long before you’ll feel more relaxed, more comfortable in your skin.  And best of all, that creation power that was waiting in the wings to be noticed and expressed will open up your life in ways you cannot imagine.  All good.

I still get paralyzed by shame a few times per day, but at least now I notice it for what it is and I laugh, saying out loud, “Oh, yeah.  Should HaveAlready Mastered Everything.  Hilarious.  Good try.”   The Shame Series Continues:  Whats The Point of Confronting This? (Or, Can She Please Stop Writing About This Now?)

So here’s your homework assignment for the week:  tell someone who has earned the right to hear it your scariest shame secret.  Then give yourself lots and lots and lots of approval because you just took a giant step toward freedom.