College Myth #4: I Can Trust What Others Decide for Me

“My parents know me best.  And, I really think my teachers and my guidance counselor can guide me through this college selection process.”

Example: Bill’s father thought he should be a dentist. Bill was a good student. Dentistry would be a well-paying, professional career with some stability, status and prestige. There was only one problem.  He didn’t know it at the time, but Bill’s strongest abilities were not in science or spatial relations, two very important aspects of dentistry. He had other very real abilities, but not those. Because Bill was a responsible, hard-working young man, he listened to his father and enrolled in chemistry. He made good grades, but he was miserably unhappy. In his junior year, frustrated and lost, he left college.

It wasn’t until Bill sought out some career mentoring that his direction developed more Continue reading

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College Myth #3: There’s Plenty of Time to Get a Good Return on Investment

The female student on the other end of the phone line said, “I’ll just shoot for the best school I can get into.”

She had already explained how successful she was at her high school.  She would be graduating in May 2013 in the top 10% of her class.  She was playing a varsity sport, and was earning a well-deserved athletic reputation.

Her parents sent her my way, ironically because she was too sure of what she wanted to do in college.

When I asked her about her initial plans, she said: ‘I’m going to go to Harvard and I’m going to be a doctor!’ Now there’s a powerful one-two punch. Case closed! No anxiety here.

I wasn’t fooled by her quick answer, and deep down she wasn’t either.  As we talked over the course of weeks, she expressed her anxiety and uncertainty about the upcoming college choosing season.  She had created a story about her life goals, but was completely uncertain about how she would get there.

Fact: In the ‘real world’ – that place out there after college – people get ahead fastest, are most successful, and are happiest when they know clearly how to state what their highest and best contribution can be. The key ingredient in knowing how you can contribute is self-knowledge.

The point: If a student’s only goal is to get into the most prestigious university (or that slight variant – the college that Dad went to) the student is overlooking the most important piece of the puzzle: herself.

Students rarely find out about themselves from taking a college course.  They learn how successful they are at mastering the course material, but not necessarily about who they are.

Return on Investment

Families spend a lot of time calculating and saving for the outlay of money that college requires. Few parents realize how little it can cost to “figure out” your college major, or to discover how your talents and personality can match your career goals.

In the following article, when one considers tuition and fees by themselves, the average class at a public college is costing: $721 for a 3-unit course.  At the average private college, that same course would be $2,421.

That money is wasted if a student is unaware of himself or herself.  A complete assessment of personality, interests, and the Highlands Ability Battery costs a bit more than one class at the average state college: just $800.

For peace of mind about your college tuition bill, pay attention to your return on investment.

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College Myth #2: My college will help me figure out what I should study.

A 17 year-old young man sat in my office telling me:

“I have no clue about what I want to study in college.  I’ll wait until I get there to figure that out.”

The young man grew up in a family with two working parents who were college graduates.   He was an intelligent and attractive individual.  He would also

be graduating soon in the top 10% of his class.

With all that he had going for him, I was shocked to hear that he had given very little thought to one of the biggest decisions of his life: college major.

Without a good dose of reality, I think most readers know that the results of his approach are fairly predictable.

The student will likely spend four years taking courses, going to parties, and avoiding the real world. At some point (4-5 years down the road), the student is going to face graduation. And students who have not been dealing with who they are and  what  they  want  to  do  in  life  probably  aren’t  going  to  be any further along than they were when they first entered college.

Fact: Even the most elite universities cannot look inside your heart and mind to know what you are passionate about, what has meaning for you. Only you can know that.

Prepare:  In this case, the 17-year-old I mentioned had someone to advise him to take a more reasoned approach.  He took the time to learn about himself through our visits and through a personal retreat time he designed for himself.  He put in some hard work to consider his values and goals, to understand his personality and his natural giftedness.

The Highlands Ability Battery was one of the tools I used with him to uncover what he was naturally talented at doing.  He came to understand that his logic and conceptual aptitudes, coupled with his mechanical talents could make him successful in an engineering field.  His personality styles of Introversion and Openness to Learning would also be a match for that career choice.

If a student goes to college with some reasonable options at hand—ones that are based on objective tests and measures—he will have sufficient focus to choose courses, majors, and summer jobs (or internships) that will actively allow him to take the ball down the field.

The point:Having no focus is just as bad as having a focus that is prematurely narrow.

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I’m the adventurous type when it comes to food.  I will try a new spice, a new meat, or an odd fruit I’ve never seen before in the grocery aisle.  I’ve tried to instill this in my children, and even to influence my wife.  It’s not so easy to change another person’s outlook—especially their sense of adventure.

When I’m travelling I appreciate a local restaurant, rather than rushing to a chain I could have dined at back home.  Recently, I stopped in at this diner, deciding I could quench my thirst with a cup of coffee.  I figured that would be a safe item, and if I was intrigued I could order something else.

What I found in this particular place was some good conversation about cooking.  I began to recall times in the kitchen with my grandmother sharing stories about preparing food and eating.  One of the cooks shared that their diner is known for their “home fries” as she sat peeling potato after potato into a bucket.  When is the last time you saw a person at a restaurant peel potatoes?   It impresses me to see actual food being prepared.

Adventurousness is a personality style measured by several psychology inventories.  They one I use often is the Workplace Big Five.  On that test, being a person who appreciates Adventure means you are open to change and new experiences.  Adventurousness is closely related to imagination, complexity, and artistic interests.

This personality style can be helpful in careers that are fast paced and place you in positions where a new culture or new way of thinking is valued.  Conversely, with a low adventure style you hold fast to acceptable practices and methods in the workplace.

Making a match between your Adventure scores and a career is an important factor my line of work.  Contact me for more information.

By the way, a lot of good has come from my tendency towards adventure.  Also, I’ve had a whole lot of sour tastes, and quickly disposed of foods—if you know what I mean.

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College Myth #1: Choosing a College Major Is The First and Only Step

“I already know what I want to study in college.  I don’t need to do any further exploration.”

Fact: Until a student understands her innate abilities – how she learns and solves problems best, any decision about what to study in college is premature.

Students feel enormous pressure: “What are you going to study?” “What do you want to be?”  If the student answers, ‘I’m going to study medicine,’ all the pressure stops. Problem solved.

But who knows if there is something else the student should consider that she just hasn’t thought of?

This approach can arise out of family pressure and messages.  Parents can send the message that “success=decision.”  If life were only this simple!  Decisions can lead to success, but it’s not just any decision.  Effective decisions come from adequate self-reflection, timely investigation, and increased self-knowledge.

Parents can also believe that schools have provided training in choosing a career.  High schools (and even some colleges) are poor places to learn these skills because the focus is too much on following the rules while spitting back acceptable answers in math or reading.  Schools can actually dampen the academic exploration and intellectual experimentation that students need to discover their talents.

Example: Karen was set to study philosophy at a small liberal arts college.  She was accepted on early admission and her parents were thrilled that she had found her lifelong path.  Then she completed the Highlands Ability Battery and found out she had structural abilities. Interestingly, when she found out about these abilities, and did some research on what she could do with them, she discovered that she had always felt a deep seated but unexpressed love of architecture and design. She ended up at a large university where she could explore abstract fields such as philosophy, but also architecture and industrial design as well.

The point:By finding out about her abilities, she went to a college that would leave all her options open.  Karen took the time to understand herself, explore her strengths and now has a much clearer career direction.

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The Contentment of a Cat

“What do you mean I’m not balanced!”

The woman who said this to me had a 40-hour a week job for which she commuted 2 hours each way. She also had hours of cab service she provided for her children to and from soccer, gymnastics, and football. She also spent half a day at her church, volunteering her time. In the wee hours of early morning she stole minutes here and there to dream about starting her own business.

There was no space for her to listen to her inner voice, or to renew herself.

I told her, “Being busy with many things doesn’t bring balance. Where in your schedule is time for peace and reflection and goal-setting?” The anxiety to fill up our life with “good” things sometimes keeps us from experiencing those good things. She was so distracted and tired, having a spontaneous conversation with her children was low on the priority list. Asking for prayer, or authentically offering it, wasn’t possible because she was so busing serving she left no place for being served.Like the cat, we humans must lay aside anxiety about the past and future to comfortably be in the present.

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Positive Psychology Part 2

In my previous post on positive psychology, I reviewed virtues that people can develop, and that help change themselves for the better.  I’ll continue describing other positive psychology virtues that I highlight in my own psychotherapy work.

Self-Control or self-regulation is learning to delay your present want/need for a future benefit.  It is both a mark of maturity in an individual, and contributes to a more responsible life in the community for that individual.  If you think about it, you are bombarded daily with information from physicians  who say that if you control yourself you’ll live a longer life (reduce cigarette smoking, reduce calories, increase exercise, practice safe sex, etc).  Well, this psychologist wants to add that self-control can also benefit you in building your marriage, succeeding at your career, and experience emotional peace, among other things.

Humility is about keeping your abilities and accomplishments in perspective.  Humility means having a realistic and accurate estimate of what you can do and what you have done in the past.  A person with humility is able to acknowledge their mistakes and limits.  In addition, a humble  person is open to new ideas and advice from others, appreciating the value of all people and what they have to contribute.

Wisdom is more than just gained academic skills, knowledge, or even social/emotional intelligence.  According to a researcher into intelligence–Robert Sternberg–Wisdom involves a capacity for sound logic, empathy, learning from experience, sensible judgment, efficient in using information, and possessing an accurate intuition.

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Positive Psychology: The Power Behind Scramboose

Positive psychology first began blazing a trail in my life during the late 1990’s.  It was then that a growing group of leading psychologists decided to dedicate their practice to investigate, understand, and encourage the brighter side of life — aspects that make life flourish and be most worth living.

Because my own psychotherapy training emphasized values and strong models of spirituality, I didn’t need convincing that cultivating a positive focus had great power to enliven people.

I see advantage in keeping a optimistic outlook on life’s challenges.  This website is one way that I invite people to “grow into their solutions”—learning more about themselves and their strengths.

In this first of two blog posts, I’ll introduce a list of personal traits that I like to emphasize in my professional work.  I’ll use a framework provided in Pursuing Human Strengths by Martin Bolt.  In his writing, Bolt emphasizes the human strengths or positive characteristics that people possess

Empathy is the human experience of perceiving another person’s experience or feelings as similar to one’s own.  It involves using our imagination to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  Sometimes empathy is seen in how people respond to a person’s suffering.  My vision for psychotherapy rests on empathy, and without it I can’t be a guide to those I serve.

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Valuing your Health

Have you ever been to a medical doctor or interacted with a nurse that did not seem to be particularly friendly or concerned about your “feelings”?

Health Psychology is psychology applied toward health promotion and disease prevention.  And it seeks to understand the impact of stress, and relationship pressures on our medical and psychological health.  However, Health Psychology is not only concerned about the practitioners of medicine (and how they might encourage emotional as well as medical healing) but also the receivers of medicine (that’s you and me!).

Licensed psychologists use the methods of Health Psychology to understand Hassles and Chronic StressHassles are the every day annoyances in daily lives.  These events are times when we feel frustrated in our goals, or have minor unexpected setbacks.

Chronic Stress, on the other hand, is the accumulation of daily hassles and is a state of persistent tension or pressure.  Such chronic feelings can come about through major changes in life circumstances.  And, surprisingly major life changes can be stressful whether negative or positive.

It may be easy to come up with “negative” life changes that could cause you stress.  What about a job loss, or the death of a close family member or friend? Continue reading

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Career Motivation and Interests


The famous Greek philospher Socrates quipped, “Know thyself.” 

[I would rephrase it here as “Know thyself and scramboose!”  But that’s just me.]

On the topic of careers and career goals, it seems to me like this is good advice.  Even in my 40’s I still find myself self-reflecting, “What do I want to be when I grow up.”

Today’s post includes a link to a free career interest survey that I hope will get you thinking about what interests you and motivates you.

What are the types of Motivation? Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

An Intrinsic Motivation is focused on achieving something because it makes you feel good or the result has its own reward.  Think of a time when you decided to read a book or do a chore because it was fun or interesting.  In an activity with Intrinsic Motivation you aren’t thinking about how much money you’ll earn, or whether someone will notice what you did.  Instead, you choose to do something because it’s the “right thing to do,” or you are satisfied by what you will do.

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