Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You Can't Always Get What You Want

No, you can't always get what you want
No, you can't always get what you want
No, you can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need -- Rolling Stones

Yes, I am going to a concert during the final tour of the Rolling Stones!  How timely of them to schedule these concerts, and of them to provide the backbeat to my post.  Thank God I am married to a man who recognizes the significance of these moments!

Thanksgiving has come and gone, leaving me with a deep level of gratitude and a clear understanding of what it means to "get what you need."  The tug between getting what you want and getting what you need is a reality.  And, becoming peaceful with that tug is the beginning to really, REALLY getting what you NEED.

First of all, you CAN do something for some New Yorkers who have lost homes and belongings.  Go to:  or  the Sandy Relief Fund at   or any other site you might find.

Back to that tug...
I have been reading The One World Schoolhouse   Education Reimagined (Salman Khan, inventor of the Khan Academy).  How he created the "Academy" and his understanding of education and learning are very, very inspiring and exciting.  But about that tug;  "Normal is what you're used to."  That is somewhat of a profound statement.  I know it is true, and that people have created their lives around that statement.  And, the killer is that "normal" is what sets the expectations that trips one up when trying to step into a new experience.

Sal says that the educational system that we know is "so complexly integrated with other aspects of our culture that it's daunting to imagine a world without it." (61)  And further in the chapter called Questioning Customs he says "the idea that college is needed for everyone in order to be productive members of society is only a few decades old."  And, then "why should it prove so difficult to design a school that would teach both skill and wisdom, or even better, wisdom through skill?  That's the challenge and the opportunity we face today." (69-70)

Normal is what we are used to.  Expectations can trip us up.  Is college, as it is now, the best option for everyone?  Can daydreaming about what it would be like to be a college student bring some of those expectations down to Earth?  Harlen says in The Naked Roommate, "Students are rarely told the truth about college life." (39)  He goes on to explain that although most of the college experience is amazing, a small but robust part can be unexpected or not be in line with students' expectations.  And, students may find themselves putting a disproportionate amount of time and energy into dealing with these unexpected aspects.  Or, they might just shut down or resort to fitting in.

Do you remember the gift you got that turned out to be not the gift you thought it was?  It was still a gift, but not the gift you were expecting.  Its potential was dashed from the moment you ripped the wrapping paper off and saw it wasn't what you thought it was.  It could have been just want you really needed, but it wasn't what you wanted.

Expectations can really get in the way.  An A-student in high school may find that isn't going to happen anymore in college, at least not right away.  Someone who has never shared a room, and loudly stated that having a roommate would be a piece of cake finds himself tongue-tied when trying to explain that his roommate's music is disturbing his studying.  Sitting in a lecture with 600 or 10 other students feels really uncomfortable, despite the beautiful glossy pictures of happy students on the college website.

But, all that may be required is some practice and learning to not put that unexpected gift into the trash or the drawer so quickly.  You can't always get what you want; but if you try some time, you might just find, you get what you need...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Muscle Memory

I am in Boston for the weekend.  There is a saying, "move a muscle, change a thought," and I feel like taking it one step further and saying, "move geographically, change a perspective."  My purpose for being here is acting as a chauffeur for some of my children and their friends.  I needed to drive them to the area for both a visit with friends and to attend SPLASH at MIT.  SPLASH is an educational experience for teens enabling them to take classes, negotiate some of the MIT campus, and basically ditch their parents for the weekend as they do these things with throngs of friends and new acquaintances.  If the time is used correctly it also enables parents to get through loads of work and enjoy some much-needed solitude.  I have finished one book, gone through a pile of Inc.Magazines, revised my game (again) and am now adding a new post.  And, being in Boston has made me feel SMART.  I don't know if that is real but it does feel good.

Geographical places, for me, conjure up different emotions and sometimes even physical feelings.  Colorado makes me feel balanced, Ann Arbor makes me feel at home, Washington, DC made me feel curious, Chicago inspired perkiness, Florida is other-worldly, Utah is crisp, Greece on the beach was timeless, as was St. Petersburg, Vilnius was busy.  I like clean beaches and mountains that have hiking trails I can handle.  And I love rock formations and elk!  And, one day I will finally come face-to-face with a moose.  And, New York?  I am just proud to be able to sometimes live there successfully.  It is big, messy, awe-inspiring, loud, disrespectful and both the most cold-hearted and benevolent place I've ever been in.  It has peregrine falcons and homeless people, beautiful sunsets and garbage that stinks.

Today, in Boston, I have been thinking about the enigma of a good fit, and how teens preparing to go to college don't really care about the same thing I do.  My child, the other day, did a very good job of explaining that kids don't really try to prepare for going to college in the same way I am trying to get that to happen.  He was clear and concise and eloquent.  I feel confident that the coming leg of the journey will have lots of challenges but also lots of opportunities.  I don't have the same fears I had when he was much younger, so I guess I have grown and matured (ha, ha...).

But, I have also learned that I really am smart; it's not just being in Boston!  And, no matter what the challenge is, practicing something like it can give a person a little muscle memory.  Oh, I love muscle memory!  I was never an athlete like my father, and I am still not very confident when it comes to physical things but my body does remember a little about riding on a bicycle, hiking and skiing.  I can at least do it on some level.  (I don't know what happened with tennis; and am hoping better outcomes with golf.)  And so, why not play a game and pretend that you are going to figure out what it means to go to college?  Building up a little muscle memory is not setting the entire experience thereafter in stone.

I met a lovely woman at the Starbucks this morning.  We chatted for a few minutes about how when you have more than one child, the children are different individuals (oxymoron?)   And, I told her about one of the exercises I use when asking students to practice sharing a room.  Never underestimate the USE OF THE REFRIGERATOR!  It matters not if a college student is brilliant, rich, poor, not-so-brilliant, perky, or whatever -- the use of the refrigerator must be negotiated.  And, just when one thinks they have conquered it, that they are the best, it will come back to offer another issue.  So, I want to say Thank You for adding another layer to this negotiation:  who buys it?  who gets to store food in how much of it?  who cleans it?  AND,WHAT IF SOMEONE EATS THE FOOD THEY DIDN'T PURCHASE?

I am continuing to read The Naked Roommate.  Mr. Cohen describes college as a place to take risks, because there are so many safety nets.  I like this part:  "And take risk after risk after risk so that you can figure out what you love and what you don't love.  Expect that all the risks you take will not always go as planned." (33)  And, "Most people get to college and want it all...New takes time." (35)
Building up a little muscle memory, imagining what it will be like and then taking some pretend risks can be really smart.

So, I need to take my own advice.  I have revised my game and now I need to get it online and see if anyone will play it, and if it works!  Yipes!!  My muscle memory is quivering.

Speaking of memory...did any of you eat food from the cube refrigerator that you didn't purchase?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, It's the Grateful Dead....

And the crowd goes wild, right? What was it about the Dead that caused people to go to multiple concerts and in some cases actually follow the band.  I was not a Dead Head but even the small interaction I had has left a set of memories that lead quickly into re-creations.  My favorite moments were at a concert at UNLV when the band played "Fire on the Mountain" as a lightening storm approached across the desert and at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC when I ran into a student who lived in the dorm I was directing.  He was amazed and dare I say disturbed that he would turn around and find me at a Dead concert.  His expectation was that only younger people and especially stoners would be attending.

So, here are some points:  expectations can drive an impression or even an outcome and abandoning oneself to an experience can enable a person to push past previous expectations.

I went to a "Further" concert this summer where some surviving members of the Grateful Dead played and many, many people attended.  For anyone not familiar with the Grateful Dead it looked like some older guys playing some sort of California spacey music and a lot of middle aged people bouncing around and in some cases getting high.  But, for anyone who had followed the Dead it was a trip to reconnect with all of those memories, no matter what present life looked like.  It appeared that many people came from corporate or other traditional "grown up" jobs.  I wonder if colleagues  knew they were going to become Dead Heads for the evening?  And, I wonder if it crossed anyone's mind to say "I have outgrown this or I shouldn't do this."

Segue to envisioning oneself as a college student.  I picked up a copy of The Naked Roommate:  And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College (Harlan Cohen).  Mr. Cohen's first tip, in a book that claims many very helpful things, is Expect the Unexpected.  "Bottom Line  When you expect the unexpected you're better prepared when the unexpected arrives."  Expectations can motivate students to achieve, but having them can also create blinders that get in the way of seeing possibilities.

Abandoning oneself to an experience can enable a person to push past previous expectations.  In Ivan the Fool (Leo Tolstoy) Ivan turned a village on its ear by changing the value of things like money.  Others could be corrupted by the promise of money but Ivan considered it only something shiny and saw no use for it.   Can you imagine how life would become very different if money suddenly became useless and something unexpected, like tea bags, became valuable?  Apply that thinking to transforming into a college student, regardless of reservations.  Ivan was true to who he was regardless of the situation, and he didn't fall into conforming to the expectations based on who he appeared to be.

So, next time you see someone get out of a car that has a funny little bear on the bumper, just take a moment to recognize that you are probably looking at someone who has thrown off their blinders and abandoned themselves to something bigger than who they appear to be.

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it's been (Truckin')

Saturday, November 3, 2012

It's getting better.

I have been tweaking Small Steps Go Places this evening.  I hope the changes will make reading this blog more entertaining.  For example, if you scroll to the bottom you will find you can translate the blog into whatever language is most appropriate.  This means you can refer it to folks that don't speak English.
And, yes, to comment you do need to have a Google account (remember we really do have to take the steps!)

I'm also going to try making the advertisements more relevant and interesting.

And, hey, have you checked out the links that have been posted on the site all along?  Jerry Posner is great (look for his ukelele) and Dawn Falcone has great design tips.  And, I may take some of the Smart Brief articles out and include them in the blog.  I have found them very useful myself.  These are all real people and sites that I have known or used!

So, take a few steps and let me know if it's getting better...

In Charge I am Not

I have been, over the past year, working in the book The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron, one of Martin Scorsese's wives).  I've worked my way through the book once and am back for my second go-around.  Soon I will be looking for a group to share this amazing experience with, but for now I am slogging solo.
Today I am working on negative core beliefs; trying to challenge them with positive core beliefs.  And, in the middle of this I have found a small, golden kernel:

"creative recovery (or discovery) is a teachable, trackable spiritual process.  Each of us is complex and highly individual yet there are common recognizable denominators in the creative recovery process."

There is something very comforting about the phrase "teachable, trackable spiritual process."  It doesn't even have to be spiritual but the fact that there are steps that any of us as human beings are taking and those steps are recognizable is such a simple, satisfying notion.

So back to my statement, "In Charge I am Not."  As I try to move my journey back to this game and what it represents I am also stating and restating that college application is a process, and that students and their families shouldn't be shooting for perfection, but rather for a good fit.  Just as I should not be shooting to rescue everyone in the New York City area after Hurricane Sandy, or shooting for the perfect job, or the perfect anything.  Perfect doesn't exist, and in fact trying to make it happen has some drawbacks.

Take a step back.....

The truth is you really do need to take the steps and do the work.  There was a hurricane and people do need help so step up and help them.  Even a small thing will make a difference.  High school students do need to decide if they are going to college or not, and there is an application process that needs to be completed.  But, going to Harvard isn't the only "good fit."  Maybe becoming a plumber or a phlebotomist or a police officer is a good fit.  The real work is asking the questions and really being honest with the answers.

Henry David Thoreau said, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you imagined.  As you SIMPLIFY your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler."

Isn't the ultimate "good fit" figuring out how and when to say "I'm not going to do that right now," and letting the world go on to fill the space?  Isn't it finding out how to "simplify" life so each of us can decide what to hone and what to add?

Yes, In Charge I am Not!  But I am taking some small steps, and I am going places.