My wife and I have a senior in high school, which as we all know is a hectic time. More than anything, it has been, time consuming, intense, and stressful, while full of high hopes but doused with a dose of realism.
In other words, it’s college application season.
I, and many other parents I know, have hounded our kids to make sure they pick the perfect essay topic, study more for the ACT/SAT, and get their Early Decision application submitted on time. I even had to take away Xbox privileges until my son had his applications completed.
Too often we justify our actions by saying “I want my child to be happy and get into his first choice.” Or even worse “I’m worried my child won’t be happy unless he gets into his first choice.” But, does getting into his/her first choice really guarantee happiness? Will your child really be any less happy if they go to their second or third choice?
Like many parents aware of the impact of social media, my wife and I will check our son’s texts from time to time. We noticed this recent text conversation he had.
Friend: Good news?
Son: No, but I’m not really that upset because while it [going to XX University] would have been a great opportunity I know it won’t really make or break my future.
Friend: Sorry to hear that, bud. I admire your positive attitude. Is YY [University] your next top choice?
Son: No, ZZ [University] is. I think that is mainly in part due to the fact that my sister goes there, so I know I’ll enjoy the school as I have been on campus a lot and I like it. . . . Also, I mean weird things happen, but because I didn’t get into XX, I find it very unlikely I’ll get accepted to YY.
This texting conversation should teach us parents that maybe our kids have a better perspective on this entire process than we do. They are not disappointed by rejection from their first choice. They understand their undergraduate school does not define who they are, does not dictate their career, and does not cast the die for an immutable future. They understand that what they accomplish while in college, taking advantage of all their school has to offer, and being happy where they are at, ultimately has a greater impact on their future than the name on their sweatshirt.
And one more nugget from my son: As I sat distraught after learning he was rejected from his first choice, he turned to me and said “Don’t worry dad, I’m not worried about it.” It’s obvious he is the mature one in this relationship, at least on that day.
As I often do, I’ll bring this back to a simple business lesson. Your first job does not define your career. Neither does the college you attended or the grades you received in high school. Getting fired does not mean you will not be successful. The company name on your business card does not guarantee success. And, for those with high school juniors, I hope my son’s story provides some perspective. I know I learned a lot from them.