If you Google the word, here is what you will find.
"A soft area of land that gives way underfoot."
"An awkward, complex, or hazardous situation."
And for many college freshman, that is exactly what it feels like to walk on to campus for the second time.
I'm not talking about the first time. You know...the one when you tour the campus, seeing the best of everything. When you get what J-Lo calls "the goosies". When you seal the deal that this will be your University with the rite of passage that has happened for decades. You buy the sweatshirt from the bookstore, and wear it all over your hometown.
Everything is full of hope and excitement on the first visit. But when it comes time to wave to your parents from the curb as they become smaller, disappearing into the distance that is your former existence...something shifts.
Don't get me wrong. You are still excited. Come on, man. You've just reached the pinnacle of freedom.
Where do you start?
So much freedom, so much time.
Until there isn't.
Yeah...it happens the moment the first syllabus drops in front of you, with the weight of an anvil. It's multiplied a few times over...from class, to class, to class.
All of a sudden free time looks like one of those freezer bags that gets any quantifiable amount of air left sucked out of it by a vacuum-looking device.
Welcome to college.
If you arrive at this point still unsure of "WHAT" you want to be when you grow up, "WHAT" your major should be, "WHAT" classes you should take...it can be a lot like knowing you are hungry, but afraid to take a bite. Why? Because you know you are allergic to some of it...you just don't know what part of it.
Silly analogy? Maybe.
Wouldn't it be nice to know what you were allergic to, before you consumed it?
I think there are 2 Quagmire-like times in a college freshman's life.
First steps and next steps.
Arriving and deciding.
How do you recapture the "sweatshirt-from-the-bookstore" feeling, when you are staring at the "what-the-heck-do-I-do-now" reality?
Take a step back.
Think about WHO you are and WHY you exist. Think about the very thing that drives you. Think about what you love to day-dream about.
Start to think about what you believe in. The non-negotiable values that steer you. The ones, that at the end of the day, will keep you on track, on time, and on point...amidst the attractive distractions (and they will come) that flood the world of every college freshman.
Think about it this way...
When you know WHO you are, you will know WHAT to do. You exist to do something of significance, based on who YOU are.
This may sound fancy and idealistic. Maybe it is. But from my personal experience, having lived it...and failed out...and hearing from current day college students...this matters.
And at the risk of losing you altogether, I have some homework for you.
Write down the problem that bothers you the most in the world today. Now write down next to it, what you are uniquely equipped to bring to it. (Not what degree you think you need, or major you think you need to declare) Be specific.
Write down the problem.
Write down where you would LOVE to participate in building the solution.
Once you get to the place where you begin to see the end, you will know where to start.
Once you start to see how you are built, you will know what you can bring to the table.
Once you know WHO you are, you will know WHAT to do.
That'll turn your Quagmires into Questions. Questions are a good thing. They lead to solutions.
No more loose footing and awkward unknowns.
Your first steps become confident next steps.
Your arrival is no longer about just survival.
It's time to thrive.
We have a generation of young adults,
many of whom are struggling with making good decisions.
Let's highlight one area where this happens.
Students don't have an academic problem,
they have a vision problem.
And I'm not talking about their eyesight.
So what am I talking about?
Applying themselves in the classroom starts with an ability to understand why they are there in the first place. If the primary reason is because "they have to be", that ship isn't gonna sail.
The Millennial generation fell out of love with "because I said so" a long time ago.
How do you help an at-risk student achieve the success they want, you want for them, and what the world needs from them?
Stop telling them what to do,
and start helping them discover who they are,
so that they will buy in to why they are there.
They won't care about your "because" until they know THE CAUSE.
Why am I doing it?
Who will it help?
What problem will it solve locally?
What problem will it solve globally?
How will this class help me change the world?
We either start answering these questions intentionally,
or we will continue to see them struggle academically.
So we've identified the problem...
but HOW...how does it change?
What is the solution?
THIS PROCESS IS A START.
I've watched this process change thinking.
I've watched this process change lives.
When you help them discover their vision,
they will want to follow direction.
Systems & structures aren't the enemy
of the Millennial generation.
Helping them understand why they exist,
and how their talents fit into this world?
That's the secret sauce.
Because when they know WHO they are,
they will know WHAT to do.
Or we can keep beating the drum saying everything we've been saying, changing nothing, risking even less...and expecting a completely different outcome. (AKA...rolling the dice)
I believe that's pretty close to the definition of insanity.
These 141 testimonials represent the hope that comes when we go first, change our approach, and risk more...all in the name of a generation that needs us to fight for them, not with them. (AKA...solving the problem)
How can you help?
Glad you asked.
Do you know someone in leadership at a University?
Simply share this blog with them,
and ask them to listen to the 141 voices for themselves.
Then have them call me, so I can tell them what made it happen.
(This number works best for that...716-672-9661)
Thanks for joining us in spreading the word.
You're the best!
Don't get caught up with only what you can see today,
focus on what you know the world needs tomorrow.
Commit to your vision.
In the face of doubters.
In the face of naysayers.
In the face of critics.
Or you can give in.
And we'll all be in exactly the same place tomorrow.
And the critics?
They'll have done nothing.
It's what they do best.
Critics create fear.
You have a choice today.
Live in fear created by critics,
or hope built on your vision.
Which world would you rather live in?
When we stop...we give critics credit for their work.
Are you ready?
Will you go first?
Will you step up?
We are living in a time that desperately needs someone to do this work.
The "other shoe"?
Will you sit there and be crushed by it,
or be long gone...blazing a trail of progress?
Helping students identify WHO they are and WHY they exist isn’t just something to do,
it’s giving them an opportunity to articulate the someone they are.
And without someone knowing WHO they are,
how can they possibly know WHAT to do?
I'll prove my point...
We are addicted to "WHAT" questions...
and we start asking them about the time kids can talk right through their college years.
WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?
WHAT is your favorite subject?
WHAT is your major?
WHAT are you going to do with that?
WHAT kind of job do you want?
But when questions are based on WHAT they should do, we miss the point.
On the other hand, when they are based on WHO they are, everything changes.
Try these WHAT questions instead...
WHAT breaks your heart?
WHAT do you daydream about when you are in school?
WHAT would you change if money were no object?
WHAT keeps you up at night when you can't sleep?
WHAT gets you so excited it's hard to sit still?
That will get you closer to understanding WHO students are, WHY they exist, and the unique purpose they are hard-wired to fulfill. They've got gifts, and talents that could change the world. But when they are simply used to check off boxes for majors and jobs to get through school and pay bills...again, we've missed the point.
When we value WHO they are (relationship) over just WHAT they could do (transaction),
we help them get to WHERE they will one day leave a legacy of massive impact.
That sounds exciting!
For your University.
And most importantly...
For the lives they'll change,
as they live out their calling.
Your "retention problem",
is really a relationship opportunity.
It's a much needed shift in perspective.
It's a much needed shift in focus.
From trying to come up with initiatives to keep someone (that sounds like prison),
to creating environments to get to know someone (that sounds like a lot of fun).
No two experiences on campus will ever be the same.
They can't be.
Every single student coming to your University brings different baggage.
And not just the ones on move in weekend.
The emotional ones they carry with them every, single day as they go to and from class.
The emotional ones they carry with them trying to look strong, when they feel weak.
The emotional ones they carry with them when they aren't accepted by someone.
The list is longer than we'd ever know.
And the effort it takes to carry them weighs on a person's heart.
It did for me as a college freshman,
and it does for many, many students on your campus as well.
But here is the good news...
The opportunity is greater than ever before.
Engage them in conversation from day one.
Empower them to talk about their baggage and they'll be more likely to open it up.
Excite them that their best days are still in front of them, on your campus.
Energize them by showing them they aren't alone, and that others carry baggage too.
Remind them they are a relationship you value,
by creating an experience that matches your words.
Give them access to people who have been through what they are going through,
not just people that want to "fix" them so they don't leave school.
That's a very important part of the process.
People respond to the opportunity to hear from someone who has been in their shoes.
You'll be amazed how willing they are to open up about what their greatest needs are, so that in 4 years or so they walk across a stage having reached their next milestone.
It's what you want.
It's what they want.
It's what I wanted.
And it will happen when we stop referring to them as a retention problem,
and start honoring them as real people, with real needs through a real relationship.
It's what helped me on my journey from failing out of college,
to becoming a scholarship musician and athlete, and graduating Cum Laude.
There are countless stories similar to mine waiting to unfold on your campus.
The only question is are you willing to seek out the conversations early on,
so that you don't have confrontations (removal from school) when it's too late?
I believe you are.
I believe you can.
I believe you will.
Please remember to connect with someone who has carried the burden of failing out, as part of your freshman initiatives. There aren't many Universities doing this. And if you are looking to lead...to differentiate yourself as a University, that would do it. It's an integral part of the success for every one of your students. And if you don't know where to start looking for that person, I've got good news...
You've already found him.
Another reason your "retention problem", is really...a relationship opportunity.
For you and me,
so that it is for you and your students,
at your University.
I was having a conversation with a client yesterday,
and I shared this important piece of advice...
"Be a problem solver, not a product seller."
Hit pause today, and ask your team the following question.
Are we solving an actual problem for our customer(s) today,
or simply begging them to buy what we are selling?
How do you know if you are solving or selling?
If you are serving your needs, you are selling.
If you are serving your customers needs, you are solving.
The irony is that when we serve and solve,
the selling takes care of itself.
If Ben & Jerry started a college.
What a thought!
Their enrollment would go through the roof because of these 5 reasons.
They've done what they can,
with what they have,
where they are.
That's why if Ben & Jerry ever decided to start a College they'd crush it.
Value Your People.
Seems simple really.
Yet so many Universities are stuck in the Vanilla ice-cream race,
trying to be just like that place down the road...or across the country.
Stop being a "me-too" University,
and you'll stand a chance of being the Ben & Jerry's of Higher Education.
The AmeriCone Dream.
Go create one the next generation wants to be part of.
It starts with a statistic, and ends with an opportunity.
By the year 2025, 75% of the workforce in the USA will be made up of Millennials.
(Millennials are born roughly between the years of 1980-2000).
That means 75% of the workforce will be 40 years old or younger in 2025.
That means leadership will be younger in 2025.
That means that consumers and their spending habits will be younger in 2025.
And all of that is starting to ramp up...now.
So what is the opportunity?
Education has the largest platform to completely change the game.
I wonder what it might look like to see the college student experience be different than ever before. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm not speaking to the way academics are taught in the classroom by the tremendously talented faculty and staff that does so. I'm speaking specifically to how life is done, lived and offered to the college students during their time on campus.
I imagine a different "experience". One that to implement will give you that "pit of the stomach I want to hurl on my shoes" feeling wondering if it will work. So much different that for it to work, we'll have to ignore a lot of naysayers and status quo lovers in order to do the hard work of launching such a thing.
And when I think about that kind of world...
that kind of University...I can't help but get excited.
I can't help but smile at the thought of my three children attending "that" University.
I'll even toss out some low hanging fruit ideas of what I think it could look like.
Your entire existence as a college student is tracked, in real-time, with something that rivals the "MagicBand" you see taking over Disney these days. Every swipe of the wrist tracks class attendance, grades, meals, volunteer service hours, attendance at sporting events and concerts. No, not a "big brother is watching thing". It would be built FOR the student, not to limit the student. It would be incentivized to create a 4 year, digital resume of excellence. The student could share it like they would something on facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. A prospective employer could see their growth. No more "tell me one of your strengths and one of your weaknesses" cheesy interview questions. This is their life, 24-7, over several years. Employers see right away if the student is a fit for their organization, rather than them taking a job that they end up hating...and the employer loses tons of money recruiting, hiring, training and trying to retain them.
That's a financial and cultural win for the employer.
That's a cultural fit win for the employee.
That's a job placement win for the University.
Isn't it fun to see the wins starting to pile up for everyone involved?
Parents, Faculty, Administrators, Friends...whomever...not wondering how the student is doing, if they are making it, etc... It's live. It's real-time update-level stuff. Hey, if Mom and Dad are footing the bill for tuition, giving them a shot to see how their investment is paying off BEFORE it might implode is just sound investment strategy. AND...it could save a lot of students from making some pretty crummy decisions early on. That's a win-win. Oh, and that whole retention thing colleges are concerned about. That's a win for them too.
And the wins keep coming.
This whole thing isn't just about 4 years in college. It goes with the student, grows with the student, as they enter the workforce. They launch a company, and because they attended a University that "gamified" and "Disney-fied" their college experience they are better equipped to offer the same game changing experience to their team.
A world where "wonder" is about opportunity and possibility again,
not if a student was going to "make it".
This college experience is arcade not archaic.
75% of the USA Workforce will be 40 years old or younger by 2025.
Still think the current "college experience" (outside of the classroom) is preparing them for that?
I know quite a few Universities are pondering the recruitment & retention challenge.
I also know it isn't something to worry about.
It's the coolest, most amazing opportunity to launch a college experience today that will leave a legacy of impact tomorrow.
The sunset is coming (2025).
The work we do before,
dictates the view we have when it gets here.
It's time to create the University on a hill for all to see
as a shining example of what true innovation looks like...
And ends up with the best seat in the house come 2025.
That is a sunset I can't wait to see.
That is an opportunity to leave a tremendous legacy.
That is a world I want for all three of my children.
That is the University I want all of them attending.
Is that you?
I failed out of college.
In the spring of 1994 I received a letter telling me, due to my academic standing, I had failed out of the University I was attending. But I knew it was coming long before it arrived. Within a few short weeks of stepping onto campus as a freshman in the Fall of 1993, this ball of yarn was already starting to unravel.
I felt like a failure.
I suppose that isn't much of a story, in and of itself. Others have been where I was, and others will be in the future. So, why am I sharing this? Because others don't have to. Because I have made it my life's work to not "waste my pain". 1993-1994 was a painful year for me. And unless you've been there or are now, it is really hard to understand the feeling of isolation and desperation that accompanies it.
I didn't know WHO I was, and was desperately trying to. I knew who everyone else thought I was. I knew who everyone else wanted me to be. (Parents, Teachers, Coaches, Faculty, Administration, Friends, etc…) Which, in my mind, translated to what I was supposed to be. The problem was, it wasn't me. It was someone else's version of me. I couldn't articulate that thought then like I can now. 20 plus years of reflection can offer clarity like that. So now I spend my time working with high school and college students who are where I was. I work with them, so that they don't have to go through what I did.
They are standing in the midst of real struggle.
Emotional. Relational. Educational…struggle.
All of it, and more.
As a college freshman, it didn't take long for me to connect with a group of people who were willing to let me be me…or so I thought. Did they have my best interests at heart? No. Looking back, did they really know me at all? No. Then why was I so attracted to being around them, and neglecting my academics?
Because they offered me something I wanted.
Come here. Do this. Be part of "us". Do your thing. We value you, because of who you are. No conditions. No strings attached. (except there were) We'll "do life" together. Eat together. Play intramurals together. Road trip together. Everything…together. Until it gets hard. Then they were gone.
I so desperately wanted something that made sense as I struggled, that I took my eyes off of my future.
Let me be clear. It wasn't their fault. I can't and won't pass the blame. But my experience was real.
I knew I didn't want to be all the things everyone else wanted me to be. I knew I was confused. I knew I had no clue what major I should choose. And I knew the distraction of being pursued by a group of people was giving me what I thought I needed.
But it wasn't.
And the day I received "the letter", that became painfully clear.
None. Not one…single…person from that group has ever reached out to me after I left the University.
Let that sink in.
It was one of the most isolating feelings I had and have ever experienced.
The good news?
This isn't where the story ended.
Actually, it's where it started.
And it's why I am writing to you today.
My story of struggle in college was over 20 years ago.
But for many college students…their story is happening right now.
And the feelings of isolation, confusion, desperation, etc…?
They are real. They are the same.
You may know someone going through them as we speak.
I want to invite you to keep reading as I share more of my story.
You aren't alone.
And before you leave, please take this encouragement with you. (Share it with someone if this isn't you)
You are uniquely gifted. You are talented. The world needs every, single ounce of who you are and the change only you can bring to us. You are creative, smart, and compassionate. I look forward to sharing with you on this journey. I will share my story, so that you feel empowered in yours. You will make it. You will bounce back, comeback, and use this setback as THE moment you launched yourself forward.
I believe in you, and so do many, many others.
Thanks for stopping by today.
I look forward to hearing your story, too.
I've held onto this story for a long time.
I've told it in bits and pieces, but never in it's entirety...
I failed out of college.
It still hurts to write those words, and worse yet to read them back to myself.
But the hurt isn't a "feel sorry for me" hurt. It's a "I'm doing something about it" hurt. In the lives of those who need the advice, mentorship, and direction that can only come from the voice of someone who's been there.
I ended up graduating Cum Laude from another 4 year University.
The journey in between, and since, has taught me everything I will share with you. And I'm doing it, so that you can make it.
When you know WHO you are, you will know WHAT to do.
And one more thing...
You aren't a failure.
Maybe some of your choices are making you feel that way.
But...that word doesn't define WHO you are.
That word is simply a reminder that there is work to be done.
Work that you can do, so that you make it to where you want and need to go.
Failure isn't a permanent place.
It's a reminder that it's time to get to work.
So let's do the work.
Keep coming back to this blog for starters.
Take in some encouragement.
One step at a time.
We'll talk more soon.
I've got a lot of stories from my journey I am going to share with you.
From the desk of our founder, Brett W. Gould.