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The Three T’s

A few weeks ago, my wife called me at work around 2 p.m. This is not typical.

“Hey, what’s up?” I answered.

“Walter (our neighbor) is walking around his house with a clipboard,” she said.

“Weird.”

Not catching my sarcasm, she replied, “I know, right? Do you think they’re moving?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he has taken up sketching. I’ll see you around six.”

But like so many times before, she was exactly right. The next day there were guys pressure washing and painting. Within a week, red mulch was spread around the yard, and a bunch of boxes went out to a mobile storage unit.  Next came the “Coming Soon” sign, which a week later turned to “Just Listed.”

Since that day there have been regular showings, real estate caravans, and cars slowly cruising past the house. If you have ever sold a house, you know how all-consuming it can be. First you have to prepare to sell, which includes all the things our neighbors have been doing recently: de-cluttering inside; touching-up outside; and buying decorative items for show like doilies (things you would never actually use in day-to-day living). Once on the market, you are at the mercy of potential buyers. I distinctly remember this from a few years ago when we moved. “Someone wants to come see it at 8 a.m. on Saturday,” our real estate agent would say. We’d clean up the kids’ toys, wipe down the counters, throw about three boxes of stuff we did not have a place for into the back of the van and go eat the All-Star Breakfast at Waffle House (that part was actually okay).  “Someone wants to come at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday,” “Let’s have an open house Sunday from 1-4 p.m.,” “Look out your window. Yeah, those folks want to see it now!”

Let’s not forget you also have to move somewhere. The buying side can be worse. You download every possible real estate app: one from your realtor, not to mention all the other real estate search engines on the web. Whatever you can find. You set your parameters on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, location, price, and so on. Then the notifications start coming… or they don’t. Either way it is maddening. If you are moving locally, every trip to the grocery store becomes a detour “just to see if anything has popped up” (as if your realtor’s search would not have caught that). You become the one that is manic about getting in to see houses before other potential buyers. You are the one in the driveway asking to “see it now!”

Conversations over meals are about houses and prices and what else might come up next week. Everyone in the family (even ones who are not going to live there and don’t even visit regularly) have an opinion about how you’ve priced your house and what you need in the next home.

We’re Moving!

If you are a high school senior, all of this may sound familiar. Every time you get home there is another glossy, shiny brochure telling you with a $75 fee and a few essays you might be able to move in for four years. You have also been “caravanning” around to colleges and creating pro/con lists about size, price, location, and other factors. Like the real estate apps and websites, I’m guessing you also have found conflicting information and question the accuracy or relevance of data like test score ranges and admit rates. Everyone from coaches to aunts to random baristas are asking you questions and expressing their opinions about which place you should choose, what schools are overpriced, or which ones are unwarranted in their popularity. It’s uncertain and protracted. Let’s face it, as humans we just hate the waiting. For too many students and families the college admission experience, like the home buying and selling process, can be exhausting, maddening, and not a lot of fun.

I’m here to tell you there is a better way. You have a choice. Since I was recently trying to teach my kids the concept of alliteration, I present to you “The Three T’s.”

1 – Time. It is incredibly easy to let the college conversation permeate life, especially as a high school senior. Where are you applying? Did you write your essay yet? Aren’t we visiting Northwestern next month? When is that financial aid deadline? Did you see that brochure from U Conn? Left unchecked these queries and conversations are like incessant app notifications: after practice; on the way home from school; during breakfast, or when you are just sitting on the porch trying to relax.

I propose you and your family allocate just three hours a week to college applications and discussions. Sunday afternoons from 2-5 p.m., Thursday nights from 6-9 p.m. Find a time that works. You do you (Southern Translation: Y’all do y’all). Protect your time, and protect your sanity.

Here is how this works:

PARENTS: This is your time to bring the brochures you’ve noticed in the mail and say, “Hey, look honey, the leaves are turning in South Bend. Isn’t it pretty?” You get to ask, “Have you written your supplemental essays for SMU?” Or “Do you still want to take that trip to California to look at schools in November?” It’s all fair game.

Outside of that time, college talk is banned.  Drive past a car with a University of Colorado sticker? Not a peep. Sean next door gets accepted to Auburn or Washington State? Mute button is on.

STUDENTS: You don’t get to bring your cell phone, crunchy snacks, or a bad attitude. Three hours a week. You come ready to string multi-syllabic words together and use intonation. No shoe gazing. You are committed to being fully engaged in the conversation because it’s the ONLY ONE! One time a week… only three hours (1/8 of one day). You got this!

Three hours a week is also plenty of time to get college applications done (just not the last three hours before the deadline!). If you use three good hours for several weeks, you can absolutely do a great job and in truth, your essays will be better having re-visited them in multiple sittings. There is a lot to say for letting something sit for a week and then coming back to it with fresh eyes, some sleep, and a new perspective.

Note to students: I know sometimes your parents’ questions and opinions can sound like nagging or overreach. See that for what it really is—love and deep affection in disguise. The thought of you heading to college brings a crazy mixture of emotions, and frankly sometimes they are still trying to reconcile you are taking AP Biology or standing at over 6 feet tall. Somehow, carpool lines and tricycles do not seem like that long ago. Give them a break. Fear, excitement, love—these all warrant your being fully engaged. Three hours is less than 1.8% of your week. Phone down. Answer their questions—and every now and then, how about a hug?

2 – Talk. One of the main issues with home buying and selling is how public it becomes. Everyone can see pictures, prices, statistics about square footage, and the number of bathrooms on flyers and online. Neighbors are chatting in the streets about why someone is moving, when the house will sell, who might move in, and if it is over or under priced. After the sale is finalized, that too is public information—setting off another wave of gossip. That type of unnecessary, unhealthy, and unbridled noise can also occur in your admission experience if you share too much publicly. I strongly encourage you to consider how much you are going to volunteer with friends and online about where you are applying, because that opens you up to questions later about whether you are admitted, deferred, denied, or waitlisted.

Students, consider holding this process a little closer to your vest (or sweater or shirt for non-vest wearers) and only letting in a very small subset of trusted people. Parents, commit (before any admission decisions are released!) to not adding to the speculation and consternation surrounding college admission by sharing stories at parties or games or online about where your son or daughter is admitted, denied, or offered scholarships. Keeping decisions and deliberations private has incredible potential to build trust and bond your family in what should be a very personal process.  Taking this a step further, do not ask others about their college admission decisions. Not only is it really none of your business, but typically the information shared is exaggerated or inaccurate. Sorry, but sometimes… people, you know?

3 – Trust. Paranoia often surrounds buying and selling a house making it even more all–consuming. We are not going to be able to sell our house for the amount we want. I just know we are going to get outbid. There are almost no houses for sale and lots of people buying in that neighborhood. All of this, again, is extremely similar to college admission. There are thousands of applicants for a limited number of seats in classes. You apply (make an offer) and then have to wait anxiously to see if you are going to be admitted (offer accepted). With tens of thousands of dollars involved and a potential move out-of-state, it’s expensive and emotional.

I am asking—scratch that—I am telling you this is all going to work out. How do I know? Last Sunday, we hosted a program at Tech called Give 1 Get 1. Before Convocation, students brought shirts from other colleges where they visited, applied, or were admitted. That day we got lots of different shirts, saw lots of different faces, and heard lots of different backgrounds and stories about how they arrived at Tech. They were bonded by one commonality—they were all excited to be on campus and get started with their college career. This is the beautiful and inevitable other side  I described a few weeks ago.

Trifecta: Combining the 3 T’s

Anyone who has bought or sold a house has had some disappointments and made some adjustments during the process. With so many variables in timing, pricing, and other buyers and sellers, things never go exactly as you hope or plan. But they will also tell you that a house becomes a home because you move into it. You make it yours.

The truth is there are lots of great colleges in the nation where you could move in, succeed, and be thrilled with the community—where you could make friends, do well, be happy, and thrive. Right now these places are just names and addresses—don’t place any more emotional attachment on any one of them than that. Talk to friends this year when they come back from college for Thanksgiving or Winter Break. Ask them where they thought they would be a year prior—for many their current school was not their first choice or even on their radar. But then they moved in. They made it their home. And so will you.

Time, Talk, Trust. Apply these well and behold the power of alliteration, my friends!

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The Other Side

Listen to the audio version here!

Rewind

Sunday we were on our way home from the mountains and the song “The Other Side” from The Greatest Showman came on our playlist. Before I knew it, my wife and kids were singing every word. If you have not seen the movie, I highly, highly recommend it. Inspired by the story of P.T. Barnum’s creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1800s, it is a musical with several big stars (including Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron). We saw it in the theater, twice, and immediately bought it on Amazon when it became available.

What I love and appreciate about the movie is Barnum’s (Jackman) incredible imagination to dream up a circus; his creativity and perseverance in bringing his vision to life; and his ability to disregard his naysayers who told him it would not be successful. In addition to finding and recruiting interesting acts and attractions and securing extensive funding for the show, one of his biggest challenges was bringing credibility to the circus. Barnum was obsessed with convincing the upper class in New York, who normally spent their money on theatre or opera, that this too was worthy of their attention and investment.

“The Other Side” is a fast-paced negotiation between Barnum and Phillip Carlyle (Efron), a wealthy New York aristocrat and playwright. In the song, Barnum is attempting to convince the young, popular, conventionally established Carlyle to take a risk and become his business partner. The song, like the movie itself, is about having the vision to see something new and different, but also the faith and courage to act on it.

Pause

Many colleges open their applications on August 1. If you are a senior, I am guessing you already created at least one application account and may have also started writing your college essays. It is also likely you are scheduled to take or re-take the SAT or ACT in the fall. I would not doubt you took time this summer to visit a college… or 18, and questions from family, friends, coaches, and neighbors like “where are you applying to college?” have become ubiquitous. I have bad news for you: it gets worse. Thanks for reading and have a great day. Kidding!

Understandably, there are some elements of the college admission process many students do not find enjoyable: keeping track of the dates and deadlines for applications, scholarships and financial aid; looking deep into your soul to introspectively articulate your passion (in 300 words or less!); taking seemingly endless standardized tests in sterile environments (some beginning at a God-forsaken hour on Saturday); reading blogs that simply won’t come to the point… the list goes on.  Lest (no longer a word on the SAT) we forget, all of that is just getting to the point of submitting your applications. We have not even delved into some of the stress around waiting endless months for decisions, or the frustration of being deferred admission, or the dismay of being denied by your dream school. And don’t even get me started on the vortex that is the waitlist. Feeling better yet?

I get it. There is nothing I can say, write, or sing that is going to eradicate moments of uncertainty or consternation in the year ahead. What I can offer you is perspective. I can offer you a vision. I can help you see “The Other Side.”

Right here, right now 
I put the offer out
I don’t want to chase you down 

I know you see it
You run with me
And I can cut you free
Out of the treachery and walls you keep in
So trade that typical for something colorful
And if it’s crazy, live a little crazy
You can play it sensible, a king of conventional
Or you can risk it all and see

Track 1- The Other Side

Monday, in an effort to memorize the lyrics, I was listening to “The Other Side” as I walked from the train station. It was a perfectly clear day with low humidity and temperatures around 70. In late July in Atlanta, you cannot ask for better conditions. Just as I got onto campus, I saw a couple of first-year summer students walking into the dining hall together. They were laughing and smiling.  I recognized one of the guys in the group because I met with him at an admitted student program in the spring. At the time he told me Tech was not his first choice, but he would come here if he did not get admitted to…. names aren’t important, right? In late April, he emailed me to say he had not been offered admission to the other place and had decided to become a Yellow Jacket. Three months later (basically to the day) here he was on campus with a smile on his face, a few new friends around him, and enjoying a perfect summer morning.

Don’t you wanna get away from the same old part you gotta play
‘Cause I got what you need
So come with me and take the ride
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 2- The Other Side, Remix

A few years ago I was helping students move into residence halls. As I entered the building I saw a father out of the corner of my eye I had met before. I remembered him clearly because a few years earlier he had been in the office yelling at me for denying his son’s admission. I put the box down in the room of the student I was helping, wished her a good year, and then wiped the sweat from my brow. While the box was heavy and I had just basically sprinted up two flights of stairs, the perspiration was from that memory. Heading back out the front door (side door was locked) I scanned the lawn. Whew! He was gone. Then… a hand on my shoulder. “Oh… Hi. How are you?” I managed to say in feigned surprise. After talking for a few minutes, his wife came up with their two sons. Unbeknownst (also no longer on SAT) to me, the younger brother had been admitted to Tech and was starting his first year. The older son explained he had chosen a smaller school and was now a rising senior majoring in business. “Could not have been a better choice,” the father added, and then went on to proudly describe his son’s summer internship and added he already had a job offer waiting upon graduation.

‘Cause you can do like you do
Or you can do like me
Stay in the cage, or you’ll finally take the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly you’re free to fly
It’ll take you to the other side

Track 3- The Other Side, Re-remix

Each summer we have orientation for new students. This year we’ve already held six and still have two more to go. I love these days on campus because they are filled with balloons, loud music, skits, banners, cheering orientation leaders, smiling students, and proud parents. Go check out the social media accounts of a few college and university orientations or new student programs. You’ll love seeing the pictures, images, and videos that demonstrate a real sense of community, belonging, and excitement.

In all that happiness, remember that three, six, and nine months prior, none of that excitement was there. Those same smiling faces were grimaces as they attempted to “craft an essay” or remember which password they had selected for the Common Application. Was it “12^gold!!”or “emojisRpasswords2~@?”

You would finally live a little, finally laugh a little
Just let me give you the freedom to dream and it’ll
Wake you up and cure your aching
Take your walls and start ’em breaking
Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking
But I guess I’ll leave that up to you

Play

So here you sit. Senior year is about to start. After nearly 20 years of watching this cycle repeat itself, here is what I know: there are no guarantees in college admission and financial aid.  Where you will end up is absolutely uncertain. Unsettling? It shouldn’t be. The mystery of where is the adventure of the college admission experience (and some would say it’s the adventure of life in general).

Bottom line: there is no “dream” college. Instead, there is just a dream…a vision. It is one of smiles, balloons, friends, celebration, a new home, excitement, aka “The Other Side.” Don’t forget that as you are applying to colleges. When you get deferred admission, remember the students I described walking into the dining hall. When you don’t get a scholarship, envision the older son who went elsewhere and ended up exactly where he was meant to be. When you don’t get into your first choice school, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the first step to The Other Side.  Balloons, smiles, exuberance. That is what awaits you. A year from now you’ll be there. Trust me.

Forget the cage, ’cause we know how to make the key
Oh, damn! Suddenly we’re free to fly
We’re going to the other side

Bonus Track

I still may not know all the lyrics but I do know the truth. There are many times in life that we need to be reminded to slow down, remain calm, and dream of The Other Side.  I hope you’ll strive to recognize those moments not only in your own life but in those of your friends and family members too. Take the time to encourage them; to come around them; to describe with optimism and confidence the better days that lie ahead.  Like Barnum and Carlyle, it will make the celebration when you arrive there together that much sweeter.

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Time to Level Up

This week we welcome Communications Officer (and former Assistant Director of Admission) Becky Tankersley to the blog. Welcome, Becky!

When you think about stressful experiences, taking a test in front of a crowd probably ranks pretty high on the list. Last year Rick shared a story about his son’s Taekwondo belt test. My 6-year old daughter has been in Taekwondo for a few months now and is getting ready for her third belt test. Now that we’ve been through a couple of tests we know what to expect… but that wasn’t initially the case.

Her first test to move from a white belt (beginner) to a yellow belt (slightly more advanced) was a nerve-racking experience for her—as well as for me as a parent. She had no idea what to expect, and candidly neither did I.

The white belts and yellow belts tested together in the same room. Clearly the instructors know what they’re doing, because the yellow belts were tested first, giving the white belts a chance to watch and get an idea of what’s going on. When their time came, all the white belts stood in a group, and 12-15 kids were tested on their basic form, kicking motion, and board breaking simultaneously. Meanwhile a crowd of parents (and newly minted orange belts) watched.

Focus… Concentration…

Everything went according to plan until the board breaking portion. Older students (or junior instructors) each paired up with younger students to hold their boards for breaking. The kids got ready as the Master led the chant: “Focus…. Concentration… kyah!” A series of boards around the room shattered… except for one.

One boy did not break his board. The rest of the students celebrated with smiles on their faces and sat down in their spots. The Master continued the chant for the boy: “Focus… concentration….” The boy tried again. And again. And again. At least six tries went by before he quietly whispered to the junior instructor “can you crack the board for me a little?” She whispered back, “no, but I know you can do it.” Every eye in the room was on this kid, and I started to feel uncomfortable to the point I felt bad for watching, so I intentionally averted my eyes to look out the window. When I glanced back, the board suddenly cracked and the room erupted in cheers. He sat down with a smile, belt testing continued, and each student received their yellow belt.

On the drive home we talked about the experience. My daughter asked, “Why did you cheer for him? You don’t know who he is…” An understandable question for a 6-year old involved in a sport for the first time. I replied, “We cheered because that was tough. Everyone was watching as he failed over and over again. It would’ve been easy for him to quit—but he didn’t. He kept going, even with people watching, and that takes courage. And when you see someone have courage like that it’s worth cheering for.”

Belt Tests and Graduations

Belt tests and graduations have some things in common. As you work up to the big event, you go to class, you practice, you study, and you prepare. You work for the goal, and lots of people—some you know, many of whom you don’t—show up to watch and cheer.

As a high school senior on the cusp of graduation, here are three takeaways to keep in mind as you finish out your year.

You don’t know someone else’s story. In our case we saw the boy struggle to break his board and, after many tries, ultimately achieve success. But most of the time in life that’s not the case. Now that May 1 has passed, you’ll see peers recognized for acceptances, scholarships, and other achievements. It’s easy to look at another person’s end result and think about how lucky they are. But behind that “luck” is a lot of hard work, time invested, and sacrifice. You may not see the number of times they failed. You may not know the physical or emotional challenges they overcame to achieve their goal. Cheer them on, and remember…

Someone else’s win isn’t your loss. This is the time to celebrate! You did it! You’ve worked hard for years to graduate from high school. You may have a friend who got into their (or your) dream school and you didn’t. You may still be sitting on someone’s waitlist. Of course that stings. But remember, you’ve gotten accepted (and hopefully have deposited!) to a great place too. And guess what? There are people at that school making plans right now to welcome you to campus next fall, and they want to make your first year an amazing experience. So enjoy these last few weeks of high school and summer with your friends. Then…

Get Ready to Level Up. After my daughter got her yellow belt, we celebrated and told her how proud we were to see her work for a goal and achieve it. Then we reminded her: it will get harder from here. Each level you go up in life, things become more challenging. More is expected of you—if you want to succeed you have to continue to work hard. It’s the same for you as you head to college. You’re moving up a level. More will be expected of you—not only in the classroom, but also in life. No longer will your family be there to make sure you get places on time, to feed you healthy meals, to do your laundry, or give you a curfew to make sure you’re in bed at a decent hour to sleep. These life choices are now up to you.  You can take your new-found freedom and run wild—or you can make the best choices for you as you take the next step into adulthood. Life won’t be as easy as it has been—but as you already know, nothing rewarding comes easily.

Make time for work, but also make time for fun. Your moment of truth is here, Class of 2018. Celebrate each other and get ready for your next adventure. After all, life moves pretty fast—if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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The Countdown Is On…

I found myself in a cemetery this week contemplating the brevity of life. I know, I know, but stick with me here. Before I went to Buenos Aires, three people told me I had to check out Recoleta Cemetery. It did not disappoint. The engravings, inscriptions, and mausoleums were truly magnificent. And after an all-night flight it turned out to be a fabulous place to relax, people watch, ruminate, and most importantly attempt to escape the preoccupation with admission deposits that typically begins in March and gradually escalates as we approach the National Deposit Deadline of May 1. I often try to take a trip in late April because, as an admission director, you are basically useless to anyone around this time. At work you are checking deposit reports obsessively. At home with family, at the park, or out with friends, “the numbers” are constantly scrolling through your head.

During April, before brewing coffee or picking up a toothbrush or checking the weather, Deans, Directors, and VPs around the country are waking up each day and immediately looking at deposit reports or dashboards on their phones and iPads. “Are we up from last year? Oh man, I hope not too far up or housing is going to kill me!” “Are we down in students from abroad? Is it too early to go to our waitlist?” Scroll down the report: “We are still short four states. Come on, Wyoming!” “Are you sleeping with your phone?” Wait… that’s not my voice. Rolling over: “Yes, sweetheart. Gotta check the numbers.” (She always tells me with a mixture of concern and confusion that I make too much of an effort to think like a 17 year old, and I know the whole sleeping with the phone thing only adds ammo to her growing arsenal.)

Now the Tables Are Turned

We made you wait for months on an admission decision, and now the tables are turned. Joke’s on us. I’ve been reading back over my own advice on waiting and have officially confirmed… waiting truly sucks! It’s a maddening time for directors and other leaders because we are asked daily by parents, deans, our president, board members, and counselors, “How’s it looking?” Even the guy on the train platform asked me that the other day. I almost started delving into an explication of yield, and then I realized he was asking me for an opinion on his outfit.

While we try to speak with some confidence about the historical trends and predictive models, in the back of your mind you also know that a few percentage point variance up or down on yield can literally change everything. And with a week to go…a weekend to go… a Sunday still before May 1… that is an eternity, because like applications, the final few days are the linchpin.

I’m not looking for sympathy. Yes, I’ve read that sleeping with your phone is not optimal for rest. Yes, I know that obsessively looking at the numbers (by the way, three deposits came in while I was writing the paragraphs above) is not going to change the final result. But I share this because the experience of the deans and directors around the country is relevant to you.

If you are admitted but not deposited:

Still weighing your choices? First, I’m guessing you are down to two options. Second, I’m guessing the consternation surrounds the fact that they’re both great. I distinctly remember sitting on the curb outside my house in late April trying to make a final college decision my senior year. It’s a big one because you are officially closing a door. I get it. This is the first of many times you’ll experience these types of choices with relationships, jobs, grad school, moving to a new city or state or country. The truth—there is no right answer. The school you pick is going to be great because your job, starting today and going through this summer, is to fully commit. Yes, it’s unpaid. But like so many unpaid jobs the returns are incalculable. So no looking back once you put that deposit down. Join the Class Facebook page, donate or trade the shirts from your other schools, cancel your application at the other place, and start planning for orientation.

One more thing… May 1 means that night! You know what I was saying about lots of deposits coming in over the final few days? If you do not deposit by 11:59 p.m. on May 1 and a school comes in the morning of May 2 way over their targets, you know what they’re doing? Yep–shutting it down. They could even set the system to close on May 2 at 12:01 a.m. (we have done this before). In those years there are no excuses. No exceptions. We gave you weeks or months to deposit. Deadline means DEADline.

By the way, inevitably there will be a few calls on April 30 asking if the deadline is midnight that day or May 1 at midnight– followed often by “which time zone?” C’mon people–don’t be that person!

If you are waitlisted:

Because there is so much movement in numbers in the final week, it is rare that schools will begin to pull from their waitlists before May 1. If they do, they either intentionally under admitted (a tactic typically employed to reduce admit rate and impact rankings/prestige), or they truly are having an unexpected and significant drop in yield.

I’m just going to say it in case nobody else has: the likelihood is you are not getting off the waitlist. For a variety of reasons schools carry big waitlists. We’ve discussed how they’re used in terms of shaping a class rather than being assigned a number. You need to deposit elsewhere now. And get excited about it.  I understand you’re in a tough spot—there is still a chance. Sure, someone has to come off the waitlist, if they go to it. However, when you look at the percentages, “the odds may not be ever in your favor.”

But you know what? Some other school has admitted you. I’m guessing some of you have a sweet financial package or scholarship or perhaps a spot in an honors program. And that is pretty amazing! Rewind to the fall when you first applied. If you had known then that at this point you would have a solid offer, a financially affordable option, and an opportunity to take advantage of all that place offers you in terms of academics, network, and campus environment, you would feel great about it. Well, that’s your job. Same speech as above: Facebook page, t-shirts, orientation.

The Winged Hourglass

Sitting in the cemetery I saw a very common engraving–the winged hourglass. This symbol is typically associated with the brevity of life. It’s a reminder that we don’t control the number of days we have– but we can use those wings to fly with the opportunities this life provides.  So I’m heading into May with that excitement and mentality. Are you with me?

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What’s Now?

“Let’s get a FastPass for Everest, run to Pandora, and then we can be to Epcot by noon.”

“If we alternate getting lunch while the others stand in line, we’ll only have a 30 minute wait each.”

I happened to see this on a wall the day I was writing this blog post. What’s Now is a real thing.

These were just a couple of the “suggestions” I heard during our day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom last week. I’ve previously confessed to eavesdropping, but this time was different. These were not even conversations but rather commands called out over shoulders from 10 yards ahead as one family member looked manically at the Disney App and the others ralked behind (part run/part walk). You know, ralking—that  awkward gait where you attempt to keep more than two family members together in a crowded space that won’t allow a complete run, and  either hip alignment, lack of practice, or perhaps pride prohibits all out power walking.

Then of course there is the next level of determination and commitment, which I experienced first-hand. Without glancing back, a man yelled, “Can you hold it for the next 30 minutes? We gotta get to that side of the park NOW!” No response. I looked behind me and was pretty sure I saw his family a few yards back– all with large refillable Disney cups. This was not going to end well. Then, at a slightly louder volume, “Well…can you?!”  He finally slowed slightly, looked back expecting to see his family and instead…me. Confused and irritated he furrowed his eyebrows and quickly shook his head as if he had smelled something noxious. I’ll admit I wanted to nod my head courageously and say, “Yeah, I think so.” Instead, I just raised my shoulders, tilted my head slightly to the right and simultaneously squinted my left eye as if to say, “Probably not.”

What’s Now?

On some level, thinking about what’s next is all very understandable. There’s nothing wrong with trying to maximize life. Looking ahead is natural and having a plan is important. Organized, strategic, ambitious people accomplish amazing things, and if you’re reading this I’m guessing you have a lot of that in you. But there will always be a next.

I call this frontwards photobomb.

At 17 it’s college; at 27 it’s a relationship or a job; at 37 next is a vacation or a house; at 47 and 57…. As you can see, somehow now becomes far more elusive.

Sometimes the plan, which is all in theory, needs to take a back seat to the tangible present—to the moment of now, where you can stop and reflect. While the next things are important, the ability to be mindful of the value of the things in the now is what builds and preserves relationships, brings smiles, makes memories, and allows you to remember exactly why (or if) the next thing is so important.

Don’t Wish Away Now for Next

As a senior in high school, especially in the spring, it’s easy to be completely focused on “What’s Next?” You are looking ahead to AP or IB exams; trying to figure out if you can get a job and fit in some trips this summer; or thinking about graduation. And, of course, the question of “Where are you going to college next year?” has not gone away.

If you are admitted to your dream school: You are fully committed— shirt purchased, bumper sticker on, the whole nine yards. The final weeks of school are simply an albatross and a nuisance. Tests, classes, and requirements are just a long line standing in your way to the ultimate ride.

If you are maddeningly debating between your college options: You have pro-conned this thing to death. You bought an eight ball. You asked Siri. You’ve flipped coins. You’ve got Venn diagrams including geography, size, major, and ROI. What’s next? is the only question consuming your mind.

If you are on a waitlist: First, on behalf of admission directors, VPs and deans everywhere, I am sorry. Really. In a perfect world there would be no waitlists. In a perfect world we’d all walk right up to Flight of Passage with a FastPass and enjoy the ride. Waiting can be frustrating in general, and The Waitlist Sucks in particular. The “what if’s” of both the past and the future are driving you crazy. You just want answers!

I’m asking you not to wish these final weeks of high school away. Do not let them be about just surviving or making it through. Days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years, and it happens fast, my friends. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

Listen.  You don’t owe me anything, but regardless of your current college plans I’m still going to ask you a favor. Take some time today to pause. Take a moment longer at breakfast or lunch and breathe. Go for a walk and look around. Consider and appreciate this moment in your life. For just a bit, forget about what’s next. Think about the people who helped get you to now, or those around you who are hurting right now, or those you know who need to be celebrated or encouraged now.

Tell your friends you are really going to miss them next year no matter where you all end up. Go back and visit the coach or teacher who inspired you or encouraged you in the ninth grade and would love to hear about where you are now. Hug your mom. Then walk out and come back in and do it again.

All of these folks are going to sorely miss you. While they love hearing you talk about what’s next and they’re legitimately excited for you, it also hurts. It’s the epitome of bittersweet. Share a few precious what’s now moments with them this week.

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