The Magic is in You (part 1 of 2)

The alarm went off early in a pitch black hotel room. We didn’t shower, and we barely brushed our teeth before piling into the elevator to head downstairs. We grabbed some fruit, bagels, a bottle or two of juice, and anything else that was easy to eat on the go. Then, it was on to a quick shuttle to the Transportation Hub where we caught the monorail over to the gates of the Magic Kingdom.Disney World

We were ready. We had a plan. We’d loaded up our backpacks with food, clothes, and everything else we could possibly need the night before, and 10 minutes before the gate opened, we were at the ticket booth. You see, FastPasses to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are incredibly tough to get, and both of our kids were dead set on going on that ride. So in order to avoid the incredibly obnoxious lines that will bring any six- or eight-year old, and most 30- and 40-year olds, to their knees in tears, we had been advised by a Disney guru friend to make a b-line for that roller coaster. No watching the opening show, no lingering on Main Street to see a character, no taking a picture in front of the castle. GO, GO, GO!

“Can I see your tickets?” asked the friendly cast member. I pulled up the Disney App and handed her my phone. “I need to see the bar codes,” she said. “Bar codes?” I asked. “Okay… I’m not sure where those are, but here are the times we’ve reserved to ride certain attractions.” “Yes, but I need to scan your bar codes.” “Hmm….I know I had those in my email before I loaded everything in the app,” I told her. I began searching my email for the tickets. I don’t know about you, but when I most need to find something in my inbox, my search words and terms bring back messages from two years ago rather than the week before. Loading, loading…. “Crap,” I say (after all, we are at Disney).

Tick Tock (Croc)…

Five minutes have gone by now. I abort the email search. My daughter was pulling on my backpack, “Let’s go,” she begs. I look back at the woman in the booth. “The tickets were loaded into the app. Now I can’t seem to find them in email. Isn’t there a way to retrieve them from the app?” I point to the “My Tickets” function, and she holds the phone, peers over her glasses, and says, “I’m just not as familiar with the app.” The sun seems to have gotten much hotter and brighter as another five minutes pass. Finally she calls over another cast member who immediately locates them. “Oh. Yes. They’re right here.” I don’t see what she taps but apparently she’s found digits to input rather than bar codes to scan. There are four of us and the codes are a good 12 digits long. “A.3.5.T…..”

My wife is now looking at me, shaking her head, and showing me the time. 8:05 a.m. Finally, the agent finishes all codes. “And that does it! You’re all set. Have a magical day!” Bag checks, clogged gates, people grabbing strollers and stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to tie shoes and pick up kids… buy an ice cream from a street vendor? Come on people, it’s only 8:10. By the time we got to the Mine Train the wait time showed 45 minutes. We stood for maybe a minute, partly in amazement, partly debating if our kids could handle the wait, and partly figuring out if our daughter really needed to go to the bathroom or not. Then the sign turned to 60 minutes. “Forget it,” I said. “Let’s go ride Barnstormer.” For those of you who don’t know Disney, Goofy’s Barnstormer is a classic, standard roller coaster, meaning it does not have the fancy animatronics or story line of some of the more premier rides.

Rick ClarkTo make a long story even longer, the other two rides our kids really wanted to ride that day were Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain never opened due to technical issues. Halfway through the line to Space Mountain it closed “temporarily,” only to remain closed the rest of the day. We re-routed each time. Due to closures we received complimentary FastPasses to Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise, we got front row seats for the parade and later the fireworks, and ultimately, at closing (15 hours…well, technically 14 hours and 50 mins, after entering and 9.2 miles later) we literally carried our kids out of the park.

Our daughter cried about leaving until halfway down Main Street, when she fell asleep on my wife’s shoulder. Sitting on the monorail, I asked my son what his favorite part of the day was. “Barnstormer,” he said without hesitating. “So much fun.”

Barnstormer. Rode it twice and the lines were no more than 30 minutes all day. It’s what you call an “access ride.” It does not have a big name. It does not a have a long waitlist or fancy animatronics. No supply and demand problem. No strategy involved to “get in.” The next day, on the drive home, and ever since, our kids have been dressing like pirates and begging to watch The Curse of the Black Pearl.

“Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.”

If you are a high school senior who did not have the exact Disney experience you were hoping for in the college admission process, here are a few lessons I learned from our trip:

  1. Don’t blame yourself. If you did not get in to your first choice college, do not spend April (and certainly nothing beyond it) replaying in your mind how things could have gone differently. “If I had just taken one more AP class, or scored a point higher on the ACT, or chosen a different essay topic…” Nope. Move on. You have acceptances in front of you. You have places excited to provide you a great college experience. Maybe it’s not what you had “loaded into your app” a few weeks ago, but now they’re excitedly waving you in. There are plenty of other students going to that school who feel like they just won a bonus FastPass. Get in line with them. Buckle up, commit yourself to the experience, and enjoy the ride.
  2. Don’t blame other people. “If that admission counselor had come to my school and met me… if my counselor’s recommendation letter had mentioned my Eagle Scout award…” “Ifs” will kill you in the admission process– and in life in general. The closed doors, long wait lines, and low admit rates of life are what ultimately guide and steer you down different paths. So rather than looking back over your shoulder at the “mights” or “could have beens,” take full advantage of the options you have been offered. My best friend in high school did not get into Princeton. He was crushed. It was his dream school and he was convinced it was the only place for him. But I’ll never forget the day in April (probably right around this time) when he came in wearing a UVA shirt and a huge smile. “I’m going to Charlottesville!” Get your heart, your energy, and your mind pointed toward something and somewhere rather than staring back at something that is no longer there anyway.
  3. Clear your head. Is all of this starting to sound the same? Well, expect more of it because at this time of year you have big decisions to make. And you need a clear head to do that. The truth is that whether you are into your first choice, denied to all but one, waitlisted at more than you would like to admit, or still trying to talk to the gate agent about why they can’t find your tickets, you are going to be on a college campus this summer or fall. And the truth, and frankly the most important part, is not “where” you go. The infinitely bigger point, and the real long-term impact, is “how” you go, and “who” you are when you go. That’s what you should be focusing on. CLEAR. YOUR. HEAD! Go fully committed. Go excited. Go humble. Go looking forward. Go ready to help those around you make it the best experience for them.

When I finally laid my head down on the pillow again that night, I realized what I hope you will. See, they tell you to “experience the magic” as if it’s in the park, or in the characters, or on the rides, or in the experience. But the real magic, it turns out, is IN you.

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Be Cool.

Listen to the audio version here.

I am not a big fan of having internet access on flights because it is a huge temptation for me to do work in the air. So one of my new year’s resolutions is  to stop getting Wi-Fi on the plane. Instead, I read, write, listen to a podcast, or, depending on the length of the flight, watch a movie. With young kids and a wife who is the romantic comedy queen, it’s a rare thing to get to watch whatever I want to watch.

Chaos Around You…

Last week I was flying to Virginia and watched 13 Hours. It’s a super violent, super intense movie about an attack in Libya on two US compounds/outposts. The movie starts with a US special ops contractor flying into Benghazi.  Upon leaving the airport they immediately run into a road block and are boxed in by heavily armed and aggressive rebel fighters. It’s heated and confrontational. Guns are drawn and everyone is yelling at them in Arabic. But the two Americans are unflappable. They’ve been in situations like this before. They don’t raise their voices. They don’t panic. They stay calm and reason with the commander of the opposition force in a firm but balanced manner.  Not easy, right? Chaos around you. Lots of voices. Lots of emotions. Lots on the line.

At Georgia Tech, we are about to release admission decisions and over the course of the next month, most schools will also be putting their decisions on the streets. So, when you log in to a portal, or receive an email or letter from a school with an admission decision, keep two words in mind: Be Cool.  This is on you, because you can’t count on anyone else. Your parents may lose their minds. Your teachers or principal or neighbors or friends may as well. Again, lots of voices, lots of emotions, lots on the line. Two words: Be cool. Allow me to explain.

If you are admitted…

First of all, congratulations! Celebrate. Buy the t-shirt, go out to dinner, treat yourself to something you’ve been wanting to get, or just go get a double scoop of ice cream. Whatever makes you happy. Celebrate your win. Be proud. But keep in mind two things: 1- That could have easily broken the other way for you, especially if it was a highly selective college (30% admit rate or lower). Not saying you’re not the (wo)man, but holistic admission is unpredictable, as we’ve discussed. 2- Some crazy qualified and talented students did not get in, and they are disappointed and hurting.

What should you do? Act like you’ve been there before. Keep it classy, my friend. It’s okay to post your excitement on social media, but a little humility goes a long way. Big difference between: “Got into Northwestern today. They would have been crazy not to take me” vs. “Accepted to UCLA. Honored to have the chance to go there.”Be cool everybody

What should you NOT do? Walk into school and make a big show by pronouncing your victory to the masses.  Not necessary. AND, trust me, definitely not what the school who admitted you would want from you in representing them. (This is also known as the opposite of being cool.)

If you are denied…

Well…it sucks. And you can be honest about being upset. But keep it all in perspective. Nobody died. Nobody was even physically hurt. Look in the mirror. You’re the same person you were the day before. Same talents, same passions, same goals. Just a different path to get to them. Nothing has changed. Say it with me, “Nothing has changed.” Be Cool.

What should you do? You’ll need to figure out how to work it out. Go for a long bike ride or drive. Burn the hoodie (safely, please). Play some cathartic video games. Build something. Go see a movie, or just cry. By now you know how to take care of yourself in times of disappointment. If you don’t, consider this the first lesson in that very necessary, and all too frequent, life skill.

What should you NOT do? Blame someone else. “If Mr. Pruitt had given me an A in that history class…,” “If my parents hadn’t made us move in sophomore year…,” “If Coach Williams had let me play Varsity as a freshman…” No finger pointing. No regrets or should haves. It’s time to move on. You have other options. Look at this closed door as a way to push you toward the next one. Does that sound cheesy or trite? Sometimes the truth is like that.Just be Cool

If you are wait listed…

I’ve literally NEVER heard someone say they like to wait. “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?” “I don’t know. Was thinking I may just go wait somewhere.” Nobody loves “maybes.” But if you are wait listed, that’s what you’re being asked to do. So, again, Be Cool.

What should you do? First, accept your spot on the wait list. Yes, you have to do that. It may be as simple as completing a form or replying to an email. That is step 1; to read what they send, and do what it says. Secondly, well…wait. Easier said than done. Expect that you are not going to hear either way on admission until after May 1. Some schools, and often the extremely selective, will go to their wait list in late April, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Most start working the wait list in early May and it can continue well into the summer. So set your expectations on that time frame. It’s not going to be late March and likely not mid-April. Grab a snack. Text a friend. You have time here.

What should you NOT do? Stalk the admission office. Showing up unannounced, calling every day, sending more than one letter or postcard… it’s not effective.

Next week I’ll be writing more on the wait list.  For now, just two words: BE COOL.  You got this.

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Denied or Deferred Admission? Perspective is a precious holiday gift.

We aren’t sending Christmas cards this year. Normally, we drag the kids out to a park somewhere, force them to wear festive clothing, and pack their weight in snacks to get through a one hour session. Last year I was literally so worn out from picking them up, coaching them to smile or keep still, or to contort their bodies in some unnatural positions while tossing leaves, that I had to stop for a hamburger on the way home. Crossfit may increase strength but family pictures easily burn as many calories.

So this year, instead of that miserable experience, we’re just cobbling together some pictures from the year and sending Happy New Year cards. Buys some time and saves some heartache, so it’s a win-win. As we were looking through pictures to use, I found one from 2015 that I really liked. “We can’t use that one. It’s not from this year,” my wife protested. “Yeah, but it’s so good, and most people haven’t seen it. We all still basically look the same,” I asserted. That last comment sunk me because both our kids have grown several inches since that time. Probably should not have pushed my luck or stretched my argument there.  But, unlike small children who DO change dramatically in a year’s time, college admission (for better or worse) DOES NOT.

Moving Forward After ED and EA Decisions

Last week a number of schools across the country released Early Decision or Early Action decisions. I heard a good bit about this from friends via text, social media, and email over the weekend. “What should I tell her? She’s crushed.” “Do you think it’s worth doing the deferred form or should we just move on?” “Will visiting in January help our chances? We can book a trip to Boston over the MLK weekend.” And the beat goes on.

So while I may be keeping my Christmas cards purely 2016, last year I wrote two blogs in December that I think are relevant this week. 

1) Deferred? Check out The D Word. This walks you through key next steps and gives you some healthy perspective: “You are not denied. Finish the drill. Check your ego.”

2) If you were denied, take a look at It’s Not You, It’s Me.   “You are not okay… but you WILL be okay. Time to refocus.”

If you remember nothing else, remember this: admission decisions are just that. They are limited. They are finite. They are not sweeping judgments of your value or character.  They don’t change who you were the moment before you received that letter or opened that portal, and more importantly they don’t dictate who you will be and can be in the future. You’re disappointed. You’re mad or frustrated or angry or sad. All of those feelings are understandable and legitimate.

Last December thousands (literally!) of students were denied and deferred from the nation’s elite schools. They felt the same way you do now. You probably know some of them and remember that time. And where are they now? They’re on some of those exact campuses after being deferred. Or they’re happy at another school after being denied.  As I said last year, “Go ahead and scream, cry, talk to your parents… beat your pillow, or cook something. Do whatever it takes for you to begin to move on and clear you head.” But don’t let these decisions ruin your holidays. Don’t let them disrupt precious time with family. Don’t let them keep you from some good naps or from getting out to the movies or hanging out with friends.

And most of all, don’t let them put any doubt whatsoever into your mind about your talents, your abilities, and your confidence.

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The “D” Word

I don’t swear a lot. Occasionally, but not that often. Partly that’s because I’m not apt to losing my temper, and I also remember being told that cursing lacks creativity. That always stuck with me, and I think it’s had a lasting impact.

THE ‘S’ WORD

Recently, my seven year old son came home extremely upset because a neighbor kid had used “THE ‘S’ WORD!” Despite being the Holidays I was pretty sure we weren’t talking about Santa, so I immediately started considering how I’d respond. I asked him to tell me more and as he began I started thinking about my advice. Something surrounding how “THE ‘S’ WORD” is not appropriate and you can get in trouble for using it and…. then I heard something that made me pause. “Yea. He was like, ‘that is just plain Ssssssss’… and then you know… and then, ‘Pid.'” Ok. Totally different “S word.” Totally different lecture. Totally different approach. Now we are moving into how that word is insulting, and lazy, and all the other synonyms that are more interesting.

THE ‘D’ WORD

But it got me thinking about college admission. Logically. At this time of year a lot of schools are releasing their EA and ED decisions. I’m already seeing posts on social media and hearing more from friends in our neighborhood talk about their son or daughter. One of the biggest questions surrounds…. “THE D WORD!” Nope… not deny. I suppose that’s kind of like the actual “S WORD.” Pretty clear. If you are denied, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s a tough blow. But at least you have a decision and you can move on. I’ll write more about this in a future post, but it’s a lot like breaking up. You know where you stand… and who you won’t be standing next to. Unfortunately, defer and deny both start with the same letter. But their implications are extremely divergent.

If you are deferred admission from a school, it’s important for you to remember three things:

1. You are not denied. If a school did not think you were competitive or a good fit, they would have denied you. This sounds harsh but it’s true. There is a reason you got a different “D Word,” so pay attention because the message is as different as the two “S Words” above.

2. Finish the drill. Getting deferred is not fun. It means being in limbo a while longer. Now you are going to need to send in fall grades, you may need to write an additional essay or tell more about your personal activities. But you are not denied. The school that deferred you wants to see more. They need to understand perhaps how you’ve done in a challenging senior schedule, or if your upward grade trend will continue, or if you can juggle more responsibility outside the classroom with your course load within. And they likely also want to see how you stack up with the entire applicant pool. So defer is a “hold on” or a “maybe” or even a “tell me more.” So do that. If you liked a school enough to apply, you should finish the drill. After all, it’s called an admission process. Sometimes that means more than just one round. See it through by submitting what they request and put your absolute best foot forward. OR cancel your application and be done. But don’t go halfway and stop giving your best effort.

3. Check your ego.  The truth is that you should do this when you are admitted, denied, or deferred. After all, an admission decision is not a value or character decision. Don’t blur the lines. If you are deferred from a college you really want to attend, you need to give them every confidence that you should be admitted in the next round, or even from the wait list. If a school asks for a mid- spring report, or they call your counselor, or they ask you to come in for an interview, you have solid grades and interesting new information to share. Your job as a senior is to finish well.

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