Today’s Question: On College Disappointment
My son is finishing up high school and did everything he was supposed to do. He worked hard, got good grades, did extracurricular activities, volunteer work- you name the hoop, he jumped through it. The university that he had set his heart on did not accept him and he is suffering from college disappointment.
He got into his “safety school” but he’s really not excited about it. I think it bothers him that so many of his classmates are going there. They offered us some great financial incentives so it makes sense for him to go there, but it’s a little to close to home for his liking.
I just wish he were happier. He’s got all these end of year celebrations coming up but there’s a dark cloud over him that’s keeping him from enjoying his accomplishments so far. I’m so sad for him. What can I say to cheer him up? -Anya
Parent Educator Answer:
Most of the advice you would hear from a parent educator when a child just came from college disappointment is the same advice you’ll hear from other parents. “He’ll be fine.” “Once he gets in there, he’ll realize how different the experience is and make it work for him.”
When these attempts at “cheering up” don’t work, it’s probably best to meet him where he is.
Agreeing with him by saying, “This totally sucks” or “It’s so disappointing” will help him accept his emotions, feel supported, and move on when he’s ready to move on. Being compassionate towards him teaches him to be compassionate towards himself.
Lots of people encounter a situation like this and think, “I’m such an idiot” “I suck” “Why did I think I would ever get in” and other self-defeating comments.
When we are our own cheerleaders, we can take chances and try new things, knowing we have our backs. The more we model this to our kids, the more they will learn to do the same.
There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed. If you are going to have ambitions, goals, and dreams, you are also going to have disappointment. It’s a natural part of the human experience and nothing has gone wrong here.
Life Coaching Answer:
The life coach in me has A LOT to say about this, starting with, I’m so sorry, Anya. It’s so hard to watch our kids work so hard for something that they really want and not get it.
It sounds like he found a school that really resonated with him and seemed like the perfect match. It’s hard to have figured out what you want and do everything you were supposed to do, and still not be able to get it.
I’m going to guess, Anya, that you live in a part of the country that participates in a “crazy college culture.” There are places in our country where people place A LOT of importance on which college children are attending.
It’s become a marker of success FOR THE PARENTS and THE SCHOOLS, as well as the kids. This is so screwed up. GRADUATION is the marker of a successful high school career! People are stressing their kids out, putting so much pressure on them, making them believe where they go to school is vital to success in life.
Do you know what the #1 predictor of success in life is? It’s not where you go to school. It’s not what kind of grades or test scores you get.
The #1 predictor of success in life is social and emotional well being.
When we, as a culture, prioritize grades, hard work, and competition over relaxation, peace, and kindness, we may actually be hindering the success of an entire generation by increasing their stress levels.
The purpose of higher education is to diversify your thinking, build a set of skills, and deepen your education in one specialized area for the purpose of employment.
You can do this right now, for free.
In the “olden days,” you had to go to a university in order to access this knowledge and higher wisdom. With Kahn Academy, Youtube, and free online universities, you do not need to leave your bedroom to learn the content you want to learn.
Pretty much anything you want to learn can be acquired online, anytime you want.
Today, the value of going away to a university is more about personal growth. Our kids are sheltered without a lot of opportunities to test their mettle.
We don’t send them away for a month at a summer camp, or to a grandparents farm anymore. We don’t let our kids travel alone, or even take a bus to the city by themselves. Today’s teens are even delaying getting jobs and driver’s licenses.
Going away to school has become a rite of passage into adulthood. It is personal growth and independence that has made going away to college so important, (but only because we stopped giving them other opportunities to grow).
My hunch is that the reason Anya’s son doesn’t want to go to this school is he feels it’s stifling his growth.
What else can he do that would be a growth opportunity for him? Could he take a gap year and travel? Could he join the peace corps? Teach for America? Become an au pair or teach English in another country?
If he really has his heart set on this dream school, he could get an apartment and attend a junior college nearby.
How about starting his own business doing something fascinating? Take up a new sport, job, or hobby? There are lots of ways to grow and explore one’s independence.
Our higher selves will rebel if we try to be happy about staying small. We are meant for continual expansion and growth at every age and stage of our lives. Help him think creatively about growth and you’ll see the light come back in your son’s eyes.
Think of your high school senior like a hermit crab who has outgrown its shell. As scary as it is to venture out into the unknown and try out a new shell, but it feels better than staying stuck in a shell that has become too small for him.
The way to help a hermit crab find a new shell, is to present him with a few different options with varying sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. He thought he found the right shell, he thought it was going to be perfect but it wasn’t.
Maybe it will be the right shell after a year of growth? Or maybe, after a year of growth, it won’t feel like the right fit anymore.
The important thing is to be patient and let your hermit crab be uncomfortable. Let him be disappointed. This discomfort is what will motivate your hermit crab and when he is ready, he will choose another shell.
I think it’s great that the system failed him at a young age. It was going to happen eventually.
I have so many clients who play by the rules and do what they are told, hoping for some future reward that never comes.
Better to learn now, that the key to happiness is making the systems work for you instead of you believing the key to your success and happiness, is in the hands of a system.
Supermom Kryptonite: Trying to fix a problem that isn’t yours to solve.
Anya is trying to fix this college disappointment for her son, understandably, but the effort of trying to solve a problem that doesn’t belong to her, will exhaust her and drain her energy. When a loved one is suffering, there are two ways people try to help that really aren’t helpful.
We feel bad for them
Many moms try to help by “feeling bad” for the suffering person. We think, “My son is so sad, I’ll feel bad along with him, so at least he’s not alone in his suffering.”
There’s this underlying belief that a mom shouldn’t be happy if her child isn’t. We feel guilty being happy when our loved ones are suffering but having two suffering people really doesn’t help.
You feel better because you think you are being a good mom, but your son feels even worse because now he’s responsible for creating a dark cloud over two people instead of just one.
Tell them what to do.
It’s so easy for us to see what someone can do to improve their life!
We hate watching them suffer, so we try to move into their life and take over: telling them what to do, how to feel, and even taking actions for them.
This ends up being a lose-lose situation. They feel disempowered because they can’t solve their own problems, we get annoyed that they don’t follow all our great advice.
Supermom Power Boost:
The way to help suffering loved ones is today’s supermom power boost. There are three things to think about when we watch someone we love going through a hard time.
1. There’s a reason they have a problem.
There is a skill set they need to build in order to solve the problem. It’s not that they need an immediate solution, it’s that they need to grow a capacity.
In Anya’s son’s case, if he had experienced many disappointments in his life, this college disappointment wouldn’t have been a big deal.
My guess is that it’s his first big disappointment, so he needs to decide what he’s going to make it mean and recalibrate his expectations with the reality he is experiencing. This skill set will serve him well and now is his time to develop it.
2. “Troubled? Then sit with me for I am not.” Hafiz (*I think I said Rumi in the podcast…oops!)
Have you ever had a problem and someone else was more upset and worried about it than you were?
It feels icky. What helps our loved ones who are suffering, is for us to remain peaceful and untroubled.
We can hold the space for them to feel whatever they want to feel, while also letting them work it out on their own and making their life even better.
Do you know someone who is suffering? Picture your loved one standing in front of you, strong and peaceful, with an open, empty suitcase at their feet.
Imagine taking your worries, your fears, your sadness, and placing it inside the suitcase. Watch as your loved one closes the suitcase, thanks you, picks it up, and walks away. This is their problem to solve. You can give them advice if they ask because that’s a sign they are ready to hear it.