Posted in Academic Coaching

The Day My Future Career As A Scientist Died

Starting around the age of 16, I decided that I wanted to be a scientist of some kind. I went to a special magnet school for math and science, and when I went to college I majored in math and physics. I double majored because I thought I wanted to learn everything I could, but there were also more unhealthy motivations at play.

During my senior year, when I was considering options for graduate school, I had a conversation with one of my physics professors, a rough-and-ready good ol’ boy from Texas with a reputation for resorting to non-conventional disciplinary measures with particularly troublesome students. I had asked him whether he thought I could get accepted to UT Austin, his alma mater, and appearing to consider carefully, he said with some hesitation “Yes, I think you’re smart enough…” This meant a lot coming from him, since UT Austin is one of the most prestigious physics universities around. There was something in his voice, however, that seemed to hint that that wasn’t all that it would take, but I realize now that that was truly the day my career as a scientist died (although I wasn’t to realize it for a number of years afterwards).

I have written before about my need as a kid to be perceived as smart to justify my self-worth (, and it turns out that this was a big source of my motivation to be a scientist: to prove, to myself, the world, and everyone, how smart I was. So it seems now, looking back, that when I heard those three words (“you’re smart enough”) from someone that I considered to be a credible source, some part of me felt that I was already “in the club”, and further qualifications were unnecessary.

As it turns out, I did go on to go to graduate school – in California rather than Texas – but my heart wasn’t in it, and I eventually decided that academia wasn’t the right career path for me. Instead I have gone on to have a very different set of life experiences than I thought I wanted to have when I was projecting forward into the future at age 16, motivated largely by the desire to prove myself to myself.

The point of this story is to illustrate the importance of not only being clear about what you want to do with your life, but also about why you want to do it. I spent years climbing a ladder only to find out that it was against the wrong wall, and this is one of my reasons for being so passionate about helping students get in touch with their true desires and highest vision for their lives.

Posted in Inspiration, Tips for Students

What Do You Want to Do…

…now?  Not when you grow up, but now?

Growing up is like tomorrow, it’s always a day away but never comes.  Whatever you want to do and be in the world, now is the time to do and be it.

The problem with big dreams is that sometimes we think we have our whole life to work on them, so we end up putting them off.  It’s a great irony, but sometimes we put our first priorities last.

Instead of deciding you’re going to just get by for now and figure out how to make your dreams come true as you go along, decide that you’re going to make your dreams come true for now and figure out how to get by as you go along.

Posted in Educational Reform, Inspiration

Does School Prepare Kids for Life?

And if it did, how would we know?

If preparing kids for life is the purpose of school, then these are both important questions to ask.

The most important factor to consider is not what kids know coming out, but how they are primed to engage with things, with ideas, with people, and with society at large.  Facts are always changing, and available information is growing exponentially, but the patterns of engagement that we develop going through the process of school are going to stick with us.  How much do the typical patterns of engagement in school resemble those that are conducive to leading healthy, happy, productive lives, and that we’d like to see reflected in society at large?  This is the real measure of how well school prepares kids for life.

Posted in Inspiration, Tips for Students

How to Maximize your Education, Part 1 of 6

This is the first in a series of posts where we will look at six vital principles for getting the most value out of your education, regardless of how you go about pursuing it.

Principle # 1: Know Your Purpose

In my experience the universal difference between people who are happy, successful, and fulfilled and those who aren’t is a sense of purpose.  Having a sense of purpose for your life is a necessary prerequisite for being satisfied and effective in any area.  When someone who is depressed or stuck in their life asks me for help, I inevitably find the lack of a sense of purpose to be at the core of their problem.

When you don’t have a sense of purpose, the world can seem like a place where you have to fit in, follow the rules, and pay the bills, just so you can go on living for more of the same.  When you do have a sense of purpose, every day becomes an opportunity to experience progress and fulfillment.

Notice that the key is to have a sense of purpose, which is a feeling.  It is related to having an actual purpose, but even if you don’t know what your purpose is, you can still have faith that you have one and that it is being revealed to you through your life experience.

One clue is that purpose and joy go together.  When you find one the other is usually not far behind.  So either seek joy through your purpose, or seek purpose through your joy.

Know that you have a purpose in life, do your best to develop your sense of what it is, and let this be the basis of your motivation for pursuing your education.  This is the only way to be fully effective in your activities as well as satisfied with the results.