You planned absolutely anything you could, from the big stuff like finding the best preschool to enroll them in to the small stuff like their lunch and outfits for their first day of school. Mapping out your child’s life to set them up for maximal success was never easy, but as they grow up that map becomes much messier, harder to decipher. More avenues are opened, creating more possibilities. In the blink of an eye, the most difficult decision you have to help them make shifts from whether they want a PB & J or a turkey sandwich for lunch to what career they should pursue to ensure a lifetime of happiness and prosperity.
There are so many moving parts that take off at a break-neck speed before your child is even allowed to use the restroom at school without a teacher’s permission. There are college entrance exams to be taken, resumes to be made, essays to be written, applications to be submitted, and benchmarks of excellence to be reached all within four short years. How is a student, even with the help of a parent, supposed to know whether to take the ACT or SAT? Or what would wow an admissions counselor? Or whether pushing themselves to take that last physics class to achieve an honors diploma will change their future in the grand scheme of things?
The unfortunate truth of it all is that there are definitive answers to many of these questions, but students aren’t given the necessary tools to find them. They get caught up in the minutiae of what they think might be important, but ultimately isn't. What classes are their friends taking? Will taking an AP history class make their peers perceive them as more intelligent? How can they maximize their GPA?
For example, a student that ultimately wants to go to law school might get overwhelmed by an AP Physics class that doesn't necessarily support their end goal but sounds good to college counsellors. It sounds like an important benchmark class for a high achieving high school student to take, but is it really going to help them in the end, especially if that class might cause them stress or negatively effect their GPA?
Today’s students are savvy and intelligent. If given the right resources, they can navigate their futures to circumvent the dreaded American nightmare of spending their 30's, 40's or even 50's sitting upon a heap of student loan debt with nothing to show for it.
But what is the best resource that we can give our children?
While students are chasing after these sometimes positive short term goals, they can ultimately lose sight of what is truly important: finding a calling that fulfills them and allows them to live a lifestyle they are not only comfortable, but happy with. The mindset needs to be shifted to finding that calling and making positive steps toward that end goal. There is the big picture: meaning what does my student want to do? What kind of life do they ultimately want to lead and how can we get them there? And that sentiment guides all of the short term planning that needs to be done.
What classes will help me get into my program of choice? What college offers the best version of that program? What is their benchmark for ACT? These are the real questions they should be asking. By having foresight to the ultimate goal, we are able to determine how to tackle the smaller tasks in between.
Approaching college without foresight is like going to the grocery store and having no idea what you already have in the fridge at home. Do we need milk….maybe eggs? You’ll most likely end up with a trunk full of groceries you don’t need, but paid for, while simultaneously missing necessary staples like bread. You don’t want your student to have worked hard and struggled through college-level courses that turn out to be irrelevant to their major when they should have been allocating that time to raising their ACT score the 2 points that they were shy of their dream college’s average.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but what good is that when you’ve already been sitting at a dead end job for ten years, or when you’re following your passion but you can’t seem to support yourself and a family, or even worse, you’ve spent thousands on a degree that was meant to lead you to the future of your dreams and all you're left with is a piece of paper, a heap of debt and no career to show for it? If a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and an income that allows you to keep up with the Jones’ is the American dream, this bleak future many students face after college is the epitome of the American nightmare.
At the end of the day, your child’s greatest aspiration will not be to get a higher GPA than their peers or go to college with their best friends. Their greatest hope will be to lead happy and productive lives. Foresight is the differentiator between those who buy more milk than there is room for in the fridge and those who achieve self-actualization in the form of a successful college education and meaningful careers.