Frankly Speaking – 5/19/14

Dear Frank,

I was academically dismissed from the college I was attending and it hit me really hard – to the point that I ended up taking about a year off from school in general. This past October I decided to get back on the horse and try to boost my GPA so I could apply for readmission. Now that I have submitted my application I am starting to feel like I might not be able to do this after what happened last time. Do you have any advice on this type of situation?

First of all, I want to congratulate you for “getting back on the horse.” I use the same mantra for the patients I work with, the athletes I coach, and as a general reminder for both myself and others: Not succeeding is not failure, quitting is. As long as you are still trying, then you have not failed and success is still attainable.

There is likely a reason (or multiple smaller reasons) why you were not successful on your first go around. Despite what many people begin to think about themselves, it probably has absolutely nothing to do with your intellectual ability. Colleges do their due diligence when it comes to who they accept. It is in their best interest to accept those that they believe will be successful at their school. That you were accepted and enrolled the first time indicates that you demonstrated the necessary abilities.

However, not everyone experiences success right away, whether that be in college, a new job, or just about anything else you can imagine. The key is figuring out what factors prevented you from being as successful as you could have been the first time. Without proper reflection on what did not work the first time and why, you are setting yourself up to repeat the same mistakes.

There are many differences between high school and college and sometimes it takes students some time to adapt to those. For example, the amount of work and amount of studying required can change drastically from high school to college. You’re also now thrust into a very independent environment, likely for the first time, and must navigate academics in addition to roommates, the social scene, extracurricular activities, potentially being away from home for the first time, among many other things. These are a lot of things, all very important, to have to learn how to navigate all at once.

Understand that college is a learning process. Yes you will learn content in your classes, but it also is an opportunity to push yourself. To expand beyond who you were, what you knew, and what you used to be able to do. Receiving some poor grades the first time around is likely no reflection on your intellectual abilities. Rather it may serve as a (perhaps not-so-gentle-) reminder that you have many more things to be responsible for and there is a learning curve associated with that.

Also recognize that, although it is an environment in which opportunities present themselves to learn how to be independent, this does NOT mean you must learn how to do it on your own. Seek out support from others, including the services available through the school in addition to friends and family. Just as you are doing now, continue to ask others for advice as specific situations arise. Don’t expect to know every answer. The trick is more about being able to ask for help. My guess is, the first time around when you felt things beginning to slip, you kept it more to yourself rather than ask for help from others. Personally, I can remember calling up my mother the first weekend I was ever away at college, standing in front of the washing machine and asking her, “Okay, how do I do this laundry thing?” Sometimes, the difference between failure and success is one tiny piece of information.

Some of the most successful athletes have not made every team they ever tried out for. Some of the most successful businessmen and women were not a success at their first business venture. Sometimes, I truly believe, being successful the first time you try something is more about luck than skill. Sticking with something in the face of adversity, learning from your mistakes, and showing improvement each time around: THAT is success.

 

“Frankly Speaking” is a weekly segment on this blog that provides an opportunity for my readers to ask questions aimed at better understanding themselves, others, or their relationship with others. Each week I will select some of those questions to answer here. As you can see, the askers of those questions remain anonymous.

To submit a potential question for future installments, the only thing that I ask is that you first become a fan of my Facebook page. “Like” my page, and then send me a private message with your question(s). Until next week!

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Why Consistent Action is Vital for Long-Term Success

While being flashy may get you noticed, being consistent is what establishes and maintains your reputation. Whether your focus is a business relationship, a friendship, a romantic relationship, or your work ethic, consistency reigns supreme over a one-hit wonder.

I used to attend a number of different summer camps when I was younger. I attended one of them, a basketball camp held at a local high school, for many years in a row. The instructor was (and I believe still is) the head Varsity boys basketball coach at the school. He was well-known both for his longevity and his success. When he spoke, people listened.

One day, Coach was giving a speech about work ethic. He mentioned that although the camp began each day at 8am, the gym was open long before that for anyone who wished to come in early and practice. He stated that he arrived at the gym by 6:30 each morning and “no one could ever beat him there.” I took that as a personal challenge and went home to tell my parents.

Unfortunately for my mother, I was only about 12 years old at the time and definitely couldn’t drive. This meant that she also had to wake up at 5:30 the next morning just so I could prove a point. We pulled up around 6:20am without another vehicle in the lot. It was raining, and I waited in the car for someone to arrive to open the door. A few minutes after 6:30, Coach pulled up. I hopped out of the car and met him at the door to the gym as he was unlocking it. “Good morning, Coach.”

He asked me what I was doing there so early, and I told him that he said no one would beat him to the gym in the morning, and I wanted to prove that I could. Coach wasn’t much for smiles or praise, but I’m fairly certain he gave me a little of both in that moment. I walked into the gym, shoes squeaking from the rain, and spent the next nearly 90 minutes practicing all of the skills and drills we had been learning.

As the Varsity players began to arrive (they were the ones responsible for running the hour-to-hour activities), many of them came over to me. They asked my name and other questions about me; it was clear showing up early had made quite the impression. Throughout the rest of that day I seemed to be getting a little more attention than usual. I smiled to myself at this victory. I went home and told my parents the great news. Challenge accepted, and challenge completed.

The next day, I showed up at the regular time. After all, I had proven my point and I had expected the effects to last. They didn’t. In fact, no one ever brought it up again. In hindsight, what had felt like a victory and a strong impression was merely an opportunity for those things. Had I continued to show up early and put in extra work, people would have continued to notice.

Consistency has many benefits. For one, someone who is consistent is viewed as trustworthy. People equate being consistent with being genuine and respectful, both of which feed into being trusted. Call when you say you’re going to call, meet your work deadlines, and bring the same positive attitude to your relationships each day, and people notice. Do any of those things once and never again and you run the risk of many negative labels. If you want to be trusted, be consistent.

Being consistent also allows you to dictate the message that others receive about you. Wax and wane too many times and you leave your actions open to interpretation. By showing up early just one time, I was probably viewed as a punk who just felt like proving someone wrong. I have to admit, basically telling Coach that was my reason for showing up probably did not help that perception. Instead, I could have stated that I wanted the extra time to practice and get better. Had I then consistently showed up early throughout the rest of the camp, I would have dictated a much more positive perception. Being consistent provides you with the control.

Contrast that with Coach, who did show up early. Every day. And stayed later than everyone else. Every day. He preached a solid work ethic, he backed up his own words, and he did so consistently. It is no wonder that he has coached at one school for multiple decades and achieved much success during his tenure.

Always remember, actions speak louder than words. Consistency is not just about maintaining the same message over time, but it is about demonstrating congruence between what you say and what you do. Be genuine in your thoughts, statements, and actions, and consistency comes easy. Do something for the wrong reason (or worse, someone else’s reason), and the thread of consistency quickly unravels.

Just about anybody can do just about anything one time, but soon both the action and the person are forgotten. Do something repeatedly and be the one who determines how others remember you.

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How to Minimize Your Fear of Failure

Sports have taught me so many valuable lessons in my life. From teamwork to hard work, to how to appropriately experience successes and failures, I don’t know where I would be without the values instilled in me through athletic competition.

I am proud to say that, for the last two years, I have served as the head coach of a high school girls softball team and have tried instill as many of those values in my team members as I can. One of the hardest things to do, I’ve learned, is to teach someone how to pick herself up after a failure and try again. Harder still is trying to convince someone to try at all when failure is a possibility.

I was reminded of this difficulty just a few days ago. Tryouts completed and all three levels of teams (varsity, junior varsity, and freshman) finally set, the discussion among my girls shifted to why a handful of last year’s players had not tried out this year. Some of them had chosen to become involved in different things: choir, the school play, a job, and other extracurricular activities. For some, their family had moved within the last year and they were now attending school in another city. Some, another state.

While I was saddened for myself and my team that many of these girls had moved on in one way or another, I was comforted in knowing that many of them were still participating in activities that they chose to pursue. And while I don’t know for sure, I hope that those who relocated are playing softball at their new school. There is one category of non-returners, however, that continues to bother me:

“They said they didn’t think they would make a team so they didn’t bother trying out.”

Wayne Gretzky, one of the all-time hockey greats, put it best: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

A MATTER OF PRIDE

For the next couple of months, two groups of girls will be sitting at home, not playing softball: the ones that tried out and were cut, and the ones that didn’t try out at all. So what is the difference between those two groups who ultimately will be doing the same thing? Their source of pride.

Many people, including myself, would agree that those who tried out have much more to be proud of than those who did not. They were the ones that gave it a shot, regardless of the likelihood of success. They were the ones who decided that the benefits of success, should it occur, outweighed any downside to failure. In fact I hesitate to use the word failure here. I preach to my team all the time that failure does not mean not succeeding. You haven’t failed until you stop trying.

However, as I talked about in my last post, I understand that not everyone is like me. Not everyone agrees that trying and coming up short is better than not trying at all. Indeed, the handful of girls who chose not to try out have their pride intact as well, but for a different reason. By not subjecting themselves to evaluation and a potential lack of success, they prevent any chinks in their pride armor from occurring. They will continue on, feeling good that they did not allow someone else to tell them that they weren’t good enough.

The most unfortunate part of the story? There is at least one girl who chose not to try out that not only would have been selected to be on my team, but likely would have been a starter. Her fear of failure prevented this from happening. Protecting her pride was more important to her.

RECOGNIZING WHEN FEAR OF FAILURE OCCURS

As with most things in life, two things hold true regarding a fear of failure: recognizing it in others is easier than recognizing it in (or admitting it to) ourselves, and it is easier to advise others to “just try, anyway” than it is to convince ourselves of the same thing.

Pay attention, and start to count the number of times you are encouraging others to try something compared to how many times you consciously encourage yourself to do the same. I guarantee the former number will be higher than the latter; in most cases it’s not because, despite what we all want to believe about ourselves, we try more times than others do. We all require encouragement from outside ourselves at times, and that is precisely why we have parents, teachers, coaches, and best friends.

FOSTERING A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE TRIES

As I mentioned at the end of the first section above, both groups of girls (those that did not make a team and those that chose not to try out) potentially could have their pride intact: the former because of their effort and the latter because they avoided the chink in the armor. If pride is the ultimate goal, then, how do we foster a society full of people who are willing to try? The concept is straightforward but the implementation will be an uphill battle. In short, we must begin to celebrate the process, not the outcome.

Perhaps in this case, Miley Cyrus (twerking aside) said it best when she sang, “Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.”

Ultimately, we can achieve this if we do a few things:

1)      Focus on Self-Improvement: Whether it be athletic competition, playing an instrument, taking a test in school or a performance review at work, focus on doing better than you did last time. When the basis of comparison shifts from others to a previous version of yourself, you can feel proud of your improvement regardless of external evaluations.

2)      Focus on the Self-Improvement of Others:  Try as we might, even when we tell ourselves the right things, we are much more likely to believe the feedback of others over our own. This means that others are more likely to believe what you say over what they tell themselves. So when it comes to our children, our friends, our teammates, our students and our work subordinates, focus on self-improvement, rather than a comparison to others. You’ll be surprised at the results.

3)      Focus on Effort: Whether you’re telling yourself or telling others, adopt the “Always try your best!” mantra. Effort is one thing that is always entirely within one’s control, meaning it is something that we can do successfully every time, if we so choose.

If we make effort and self-improvement, rather than any other external standard, the ultimate sources of pride, we can foster a community of individuals who have many opportunities each day to feel great about themselves.

You miss every shot you don’t take. Take your shot and help others take theirs, too.

 

 

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Achieving Personal Success is as Easy as 3…2…1…Green!

It was not until I got to high school that things like the internet and cell phones started to become popular, and the popularity then pales in comparison to now. This means that, for the majority of my childhood, my parents had to entertain me the old-fashioned way. You know, we actually talked to one another.

Car rides are always particularly challenging for children to remain patient. When I was young, maybe 4, 5, or 6 years old, my father would frequently play the same game with me. I don’t know that we ever named it, but I look back on it fondly as “3…2…1…Green!” Whenever we stopped at a red light, it was my challenge to predict when the light would turn green. It sounds incredibly simple but, at that age, I found the task nearly impossible. Time and time again I would count down, “3…2…1…Green!” only to look up in disappointment as the traffic light continued to glow red.

Without fail, each time after a couple of my own misguided attempts, my father would casually swoop in, count down, “3…2…1…Green!” and like magic, the light would change.  I remember feeling so stunned, amazed, and slightly frustrated that he would always win. For those of you who know me, and as the rest of you will continue to learn, I do not accept failure. I hate to not to be as good at something as I’d like to be. This is the same drive that led me to, in junior high, teach myself to juggle baseballs while standing over my bed in a single night. But that is another story for another time.

I can remember back, even at such a young age, about how I tried to figure out how my father could flawlessly complete his feat. It made no sense at the time, but my progression of theories went something like this: First, I believed that my father had magic powers. He would always countdown at exactly the same pace and then dramatically point his finger to the light at the exact moment it changed. He must be able to control this, himself! I quickly dismissed that idea because I knew my father was a nice person, and if he could really make the light turn green whenever he wanted, a nice person would not make us sit at a red light longer than we had to! Not to mention that pointing never helped me. It must be something else.

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut. Not exactly your one-blinking-light-in-the-center-of-town small town, but we had a finite number of stop lights to be sure. Once I abandoned the magic hypothesis, I began to believe that, given the small number of options, my father had simply memorized exactly how long each light would take to change. I longed for the day when I could be that smart and have all of that knowledge.  But there were certain pieces that didn’t fit. For instance, if we pulled up to a light that was already red, how could he have known how much time remained? Not to mention I was totally baffled when he continued to correctly predict the changing of lights in other towns as well. There’s no way he memorized all of the traffic lights in the state, did he? Don’t even get me started on my bewilderment when he was able to do this when we went out of state on vacation, too.

I should point out that I did ask him at times how this could be done, and he refused to tell me. At the time I thought it was a mean thing to do, but looking back I realize that it fueled my drive for self-discovery. If it meant I could be as smart as my dad, I would memorize how long each stop light lasted, no matter how many years it would take. If he had simply told me the first time we played that he just waited until the adjacent traffic light turned yellow and began counting, the magic and the mystery would have been gone. Gone, too, would have been the sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally figured it out.

As I’ve lived in other places in this country, I realize now that some areas even have a visual countdown associated with the pedestrian crosswalk at the intersection. That certainly would have made things easier! Not to mention a cell phone app was launched recently that attempts to predict when traffic lights will change colors. Regardless of the method, I believe the message absolutely remains the same: sometimes the difference between where we are and where we want to be is not as insurmountable as we might think. It is the difference between believing that I needed to memorize the duration of every traffic light in the world and realizing one simple rule that could be applied to every traffic light.

The unknown absolutely can feel scary and overwhelming, but it is rarely as bad as we make it out to be in our own minds. Sometimes it might even seem like everyone else around us has it figured out and we are light years behind. I promise you, you’re not. The difference between the today you have and the tomorrow that you want may be just one newly discovered piece of information away.

What success would you strive for if you suddenly realized it could be that close? 3…2…1…GREEN!

 

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