Tuesday, August 25, 2015

From 9th grade to 2nd grade - Study Habits

Today is the day. He is off to his first year of high school and therefore only 4 short years from graduation and college (hopefully!!). I am still taller than him and can do more pull ups in a row than he can but how much longer will that last? When did my little boy suddenly become a young man? Along with the emotional turbulence from pride in his growth and maturity conflicting with the wish that I could still carry him on my shoulders is the anxiety about how the next 4 years will impact his future. In the oft quoted book (at least here on my site), How Children Succeed, the author points out that success in college is very closely linked to a child's GPA in HS (regardless of the quality of that HS). This is contrary to the theory behind standardized testing which puts a premium on SAT scores. The explanation for this statistic is that a good GPA is achievable only through discipline and good study habits. Both of which are important to doing well in college and graduating. So while today is all about my growing 14 year old and his new adventures, I find myself thinking more and more about my daughter. She also starts this week but is only a 2nd grader. We have 7 more grades with her to get her ready for HS. To be completely mercenary and quantitative about goals, what can I be doing NOW with her to help her get a better GPA when she goes to HS?

As with any goal planning process, we start with the quantitative goal (in this case let's say a 4.0 GPA at the end of HS for my daughter) and then break it down. To get a 4.0 she will need an A in every class. Typically, to get one A, she will need to be able to reproduce 90% of what is required on any sort of graded work for that class (tests, reports, homework). lists 3 steps to getting the grade: 1) Be motivated. Find something that drives you to get the work done. 2) Stay organized. 3) Develop good study habits. In my view, being organized could easily fall under "good study habits" so there are really only 2 steps. Motivation is a big one so let's procrastinate like we tell our kids not to do and leave that for a future article. Study habits are much more concrete. If we include organization, the good study habit list is something like this:

  1. Be organized
  2. Attend class and be on time
  3. Review
  4. Don't procrastinate
  5. Break large projects into smaller ones
  6. Give yourself plenty of time
The common myth about habits is that it takes 21 days to make one. However, the non-anecdotal studies have shown it can take up to 8 months depending on all sorts of factors. Hopefully we can make some progress in 7 years! This buffer also allows us to break down our big project of teaching my daughter study habits into smaller projects. For example, I don't think she will be getting any multi-week homework assignments in 2nd grade requiring her to create a project plan for completion. Also, attending class and being on time are largely out of her control at age 7. Perhaps this year we can work on organization and procrastination. 

We actually started last year with some lessons in being organized mainly because my daughter wanted to be just like her big brother who has a homework pad to keep him on track. She wanted one of her own so we designed and printed one out together. Which reminds me, I need to make an updated one for my son as well! You can see last year's version below. Simple, her own design, easy to use.
Procrastination is a more difficult challenge. Number 5 on the list, piano, is easily her least favorite subject. I think it is because practicing the piano is not a chore that is easy to evaluate. Is it OK to set a time and as long as she is plunking away at the keys she can stop at the end of that time? Apparently not. As Gladwell pointed out, deliberate practice is what is needed to improve. Deliberate practice when it comes to the piano is more qualitative than quantitative so it is harder to judge when enough is enough. So, with that 7 year window in mind, maybe we can work on a better way of encouraging her to stop putting off her piano practice to the end of the day. If we can get past procrastination in the 2nd grade I have high hopes for tackling the rest of the study habits in grade 3!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Can my daughter be the next Carly? Should I want her to be?

Carly Fiorina graduated from Stanford University (medieval history major!) and holds a Masters from MIT. She was CEO of HP, ran for the US Senate, chairs and supports several non-profit organizations, was diagnosed, treated for, and beat cancer, and is now running for President of the United States. At one time named the most powerful woman in business by Fortune Magazine, she is now hoping to become the most powerful woman in the world.

Whether you disagree with Carly's political views or believe that she made the wrong choices for HP while acting as CEO, it is hard not to be impressed with her achievements. HP is one of the biggest companies in the world. At the time of Carly's leadership, it was in the top 20.

Years ago, at my sister's graduation from Barnard College, the Managing Editor for the Weekend Edition of the New York Times (a prestigious position) gave the commencement speech. I remember her telling the all female graduating class that while her rise to the top of her field was rewarding, she had also made sacrifices on the way. Her message to the young women was, "You can't have everything. Along the way, everyone needs to make choices."

When I began researching more about Carly to write this article I expected to find a similar sentiment. While she certainly rose up through the ranks of business, she must have made choices that she regretted, right? Being powerful is a nice achievement but is she happy? I found myself wondering if this is a life I would wish on my own daughter? Is the price one has to pay for fame and fortune worth it?

For anyone to climb the corporate ladder, long hours, dedication, persistence, and an understanding of company politics are just the beginning. Even to be considered for the top job in a Fortune 100 company means that you have already had an impressive and successful career. Carly no doubt has proven that she is dedicated, ambitious, and intelligent. She took on challenging roles and showed that she was capable of handling them.

In her autobiography from 2006, Tough Choices: A Memoir, she talks about advising a fellow employee with the following:
You cannot sell your soul. Don’t become someone you don’t like because of the pressure. Live your life in a way that makes you happy and proud. If you sell your soul, no one can pay you back.
This does not sound like someone who wishes her life had turned out differently. She goes on to say that she has no regrets. While I don't know for sure if she is "happy", I believe that she is satisfied with her life and is confident in the choices she made. Add to that ambition and belief in herself. "Yes" I would like my daughter to be the next Carly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

If our kids can't get jobs anyway, why bother going to college?

As a follow up to last week's article and all the accompanying statistics about the challenges our kids will face finding a job after college, I began to think that it might make more sense to put it off for a few years. I still think that college is important (necessary). If our kids are not qualified to flip burgers now without a degree then they better get one. But, does it have to be right after high school?

There is a reasonable period of floating around after college before settling into a job that requires a degree anyway. According to the Fed research, the unemployment rate drops steadily for college grads from a high at 22 years old to level off around 27 years old*. Would it be more valuable and less depressing for our kids to get the coffee shop job after high school and start college later when they are 23 or 24?

Consider two identical applicants: Bill and Bob. Both young men graduated from college this year with a 3.5 GPA and a BA in Business from the University of Arizona (acceptance rate of 77%). Both men finished their degrees in four years but that is where the similarity ends. Bill is 22 and he went directly from high school into college. Bob is 27*. Bob finished high school and went to work as a Barista at the local Starbucks for 5 years working his way up to Shift Supervisor before leaving to go to college. If you were screening resumes, which one would you wish to meet? Or, more importantly, is there any difference at all? What if we add a 3rd candidate? Bryan is 27 and went to high school with Bob but then went straight to college. When he graduated he found a job as a Barista and has worked his way up to Shift Supervisor in the 5 years on the job. Bryan is applying for the same corporate, entry level position as Bob and Bill.

Age College Graduation Current Status Experience
Bill 22 2015 Recent Grad none
Bob 27 2015 Recent Grad Shift Supervisor
Bryan 27 2010 Shift Supervisor Shift Supervisor

Of the three "recent college grad" applicants described above, Bryan is probably the least attractive applicant in my opinion. As a recruiter, there is always the question for applicants like him, "Why didn't you get a real job sooner?" or "Is there something wrong with this applicant?" The same thinking does not apply to Bob who had his coffee job before college. The sad thing about this result is that Bryan may be the the most likely archetype for our own kids.

Of course, the potential danger for our Bob candidate who started college late is that he may also require another 5 years of floating around "after" college before he finds a job that requires a college degree which puts him at 32 years old before his career gets started. I don't believe this will be the case though. My educated guess about the reason behind the "floating years" is a lack of focus and career goals for most 22 year old grads. Something our Bob and Bryan candidates will have worked through already.

Starting college late may not be the right choice for all kids but given the job market and (probable) lack of stigma for late grads I think it is a reasonable alternative to consider.

*According to the powers that be in people statistics (U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), "...recent college graduates are those aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree or higher".