In my office, I have a lots of paintings from my daughter, a few awards, diplomas, and certificates, as well as a number of books, pictures, and admittedly some random other décor I’ve picked up along the way. Most of the time, since I am in there so frequently, I don’t really stop and pay attention to most of them.
But there are four pieces that I intentionally look at and consider regularly, because of how they impact and inform my work.
The first is on the window sill behind my desk and is entitled “The Man in the Arena” from Teddy Roosevelt.
This is my regular reminder that people- both on and off campus- are inevitably going to oppose and disagree with my decisions, priorities, and leadership (or blog topics/opinions), and that I am going to make mistakes. But at the end of the day, I am the one doing the work and it’s important to keep the weight of their voices in check. Effectively, this is the early 1900s version of “haters gonna hate.”
The second was given to me by a colleague, because it is one I can recite verbatim and have shared in staff meetings over the years. Often attributed to Emerson, it is entitled: “What is Success?”
As you can imagine, much of my work and goals are quantifiable. We have a target overall class size each year. We are attempting to increase our yield rate (percentage of students who say YES to our offer of admission), enroll more Georgians from more of our 159 counties, increase our number and percentage of first-generation and Pell eligible students, and so on. Numbers matter. They matter a lot. But I keep this quote on my desk because it reminds me to keep a big picture view and perspective on my job and life.
Another is right next to my computer screen so that I see it multiple times each day. It is a simple board with just four words: Humble, Available, Honest, Clear
Ultimately, a big part of my success is the success of others. My role is to create a vision and set direction for my team. If I can empower them, I am confident they have the skills and talent to help us reach the metrics and numbers we are expected to deliver. These words help me stay focused and grounded on how I should conduct myself and approach my work.
And finally, I have picture from the North Georgia mountains with the first verse of Psalm 121.
I lift my eyes up to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
Again, perspective and big picture vision. I am very cognizant of the fact that my time, my energy, and my knowledge are finite. This image and message help me on a weekly basis to remember that my identity, hope- and ultimately my success- is not all about quantitative results or outcomes.
Intentions for Senior Year and College Admission
If you are a senior in high school applying to college right now, I wonder if you have considered what success looks like for you this year. How are you going to maintain perspective, especially when you cannot control all outcomes or when things don’t go as you had hoped or planned they would? What do you want your senior year to look like academically, relationally, socially, and beyond? If you have not taken time to pause, reflect, and consider these questions, I’m encouraging you to do so before you finalize your essay or submit your apps.
When this spring rolls around, how will you measure success? I know it’s uncommon to use paper and pen, but I am challenging you to actually do that. Put away your phone and write this down.
Whether it is a paragraph, a few sentences, bullet points, or even a letter to yourself, articulate how you hope your senior year will go and how you want to feel about your college admission experience in April of 2024.
I know you don’t read this blog for more homework, but I think you will find this helpful to revisit periodically, particularly when you are about to submit applications, you are waiting on decisions, notifications from colleges arrive, and when you ultimately are making your final choice.
Pause, Reflect, Consider, and Revisit
After watching this cycle of college admission repeat itself for over two decades, I hope you will take a broad view of success, seek perspective, gain identity from character built not results achieved.
In the year ahead, where will your hope, strength, confidence, and identity come from?
Does not getting into your first choice, or even one of your top three schools, change anything about who you are or your belief in your future and potential?
Should you even have a “first choice” or a “top school” in mind?
How will you celebrate your friends and classmates, particularly when you are dealing with uncertainty or disappointment?
What are your goals this year for how you will impact and influence your team, co-workers, classmates, family, or friends- particularly knowing you will likely not be with them physically a year from now?
Regardless of college outcomes, what is your plan for thanking, celebrating, or honoring those who have provided opportunities for you and helped you to this point?
College admission generally includes a lot of waiting- on decisions, on financial aid and scholarships, on your housing assignment, and on your class schedule. While you are in inevitable periods of limbo, how will you view yourself, treat others, and focus your mind and time?
How will you communicate with your parents this year about tough topics like money, deadlines, or the minutia of completing forms and other logistics?
How will you conduct yourself on social media?
I believe the college admission experience is an opportunity to prepare for college and life well beyond. Ultimately, we wake up each day with a choice about how we show up. We get to determine what drives us, what gives us peace, where our identity comes from, and how we treat those around us.
When you are sitting at graduation this spring, regardless of where you may be going to college next fall, what is success? It’s an important question. Your answer matters. Take five minutes now. Yes, seriously. I want you to do that now. Check in periodically along the way to see how you are doing- and revise as necessary.
If you are reading this blog, you are going to “get in” to college- likely multiple, in fact. So, a year from now you’ll be waking up in a bed somewhere and putting your feet down on the floor. You’ll walk to the mirror and stare into it. My hope is you will be more proud of the person looking back at you than the name of the college on your shirt. How will you ensure that is the case? I look forward to hearing some of your answers and experiences this year.