Thursday, June 14, 2012

Life's second choices

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
One of my jobs as a college academic adviser was to answer student questions, ease their transition from high school to college, and offer suggestions regarding course work.  Inevitably through my conversations, I would discover that they had come to this college instead of their first choice because of cost (most often), academic ineligibility (they didn’t have the grades), distance (the desired college was too far away), or parental guidance (their parents preferred this choice rather than their first choice).  How I addressed their concern about coming to a college that was not their first choice, offers some general parameters regarding how everyone must deal with life’s second choices.
My first response was always the same.  How you deal with all areas of life, no matter what it is — or first, second, third, or fourth choices! — comes down to one, singular issue.  Life is what you make of it!  It depends entirely on your own perception, point of view, and  impression.  If you let this choice gnaw away at you, erode your spirit, or destroy your enthusiasm and motivation to learn, then there is only one person to blame — yourself!
Human beings, by natural instinct, want to find someone else to blame for their misfortunes.  At, in the essay there that has no author nor date, titled, “How to Take Responsibility & Stop Blaming Others (Even if Others are to Blame),” there is a comment about blaming others: “You know you are not accepting personal responsibility if you do the opposite: blame others for your problems, life situation, hardships, character flaws, and just about everything and anything else. Rather than accepting the ‘blame’ or responsibility for how your life is, you make excuses. Everything and anybody is to blame -- except yourself.”
Let me add something to my comment about perception — life is what you make it.  I don’t know whether or not you have discovered it, but all your learning thus far has been up to you.  That is, it isn’t parents, teachers, rabbis, ministers or priests who teach you.  In the end, you are the teacher.  The teacher is inside you; thus, for any learning to occur, it is up to you.  You make the decision, you either absorb or reject the information, and you either decide to use it and learn from it, or discard it as unusable.
There is something else you need to know regarding settling for second choices.  In the end — that is, when you graduate from college — few people are concerned about the institution from which you graduated.  A college education, too, is what you make of it.  

Some people may graduate from an outstanding, well-known, prestigious school, and do nothing with their education.  Just the same, some people can graduate from the tiniest college that few people have ever heard about, and go on and do great things.  Once again, it is all on an individual’s shoulders.  Sure, some people have more connections, resources, or opportunities than others, but the choice of a college seldom is the deciding factor regarding what happens to you after college, how successful you are, or how far you go in life.  That, instead, is based on individual responsibility.
What I have discovered regarding a college education, is that there are “great” teachers, wonderful motivators, and inspiring mentors at all levels of education, in all institutions large and small.  I went to Indiana University because I had heard about the reputation of one of these “great” teachers (Dr. Robert Gunderson), and I would make exactly the same recommendation to all college students: Talk to other students and faculty members, listen to what they have to say, and pursue “great” instructors based on their reputation or what others say about them.  Often, college advisers can assist in these decisions.
There is yet another useful piece of information students need to hear.  Colleges are not just about what happens in their classrooms.  The social networks that take place on campus are important, and the students you get to know can be valuable both within and after a higher-education experience.  Also, because colleges are not just about what happens in the classrooms, students who really want to learn, who consider knowledge acquisition an important part of their college experience, and want to get as much as possible from the time they spend there, have many opportunities to add to their college life.  
What can college students do to add to their college experience?  First there are always additional readings.  Second, there are a large number of experts who can give advice and counsel.  Third, there are numerous extracurricular opportunities.  Fourth, there are useful work experiences that can dovetail with, complement, and add to any in-class learning that takes place.  Fifth, think about student exchanges at either the national or international levels.  Students who fail to add to their in-class experiences, fail to take advantage of all that colleges have to offer.
No matter the college, no matter the location, and no matter the size, students who go to college should take advantage of all possible opportunities to broaden their understandings, add to their resume, and strengthen their foundation.  This can happen anywhere, anyplace, and with no consideration whether their college was first, second, third, or even their fourth choice.
Another piece of advice I like to give students has to do with flexibility.  Those who come in with a specific, well-defined career choice may be restricting their alternatives and opportunities.  I found that during the first couple of years of college, having flexibility actually adds to students’ options and choices.  That is, few students who come to college for the first time have experienced a broad range of courses like they get in any beginning set of requirements.  If they take these with an open-mind, allow receptivity to new ideas and suggestions, and are willing to change, they are far more likely to find a subject or discipline that is best matched to their personality and interests.
Life’s second choices may, at least at first, make a person despondent or sad; but such despondency or sadness should be short lived.  Why?  Life is short and offers us few “do-overs.”  Rather than waste the emotional energy that despondency or sadness require — or any energy devoted to negative emotions — they need to get up, brush themselves off, and begin on a course of action designed to take their best advantage of the hand that has been delivered them.  In that way they are not just making positive use of their time and energy, but they are capitalizing on where they are in life and helping themselves move forward toward greater success and opportunity.
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At eHow, the essay, “How to Make the Most Out of Your College Education,” (no author and no date) has 15 suggestions for making the most of your college education.  They are practical and useful.  I thought the comments that followed the brief essay were insightful and interesting.

At, the essay by Brian Kim, “How to Get the Most Out of College,” (July 26, 2006) includes and discusses ten great suggestions.

Tania K. Cowling has a terrific essay, “How to make the most of your college experience,” at Family TLC, in which she has nine suggestions.  Cowling begins her essay saying: “Why do some students have such a wonderful experience in college and others don¡t? Chances are, it¡s not because students picked the right or the wrong college but because they didn¡t make the most of the opportunities available to them at the college they did choose.”
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Copyright June, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.

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