Sometimes in life there are do-overs, and if you ever get one of those mulligans, tee it high and let it fly.
A few weeks back, my wife and I loaded up our aging family van and pointed it east for the 1,200-mile round trip to take our oldest child to college. This was the going-to-college adventure we both had envisioned when dreaming about taking our academic overachiever off to university for the first time.
We had dreamed of a smiling child who would embrace university life like he was swimming in a warm bathtub filled with knowledge. No longer shackled with the conventions of high school, he could explore academia and be challenged by the minds of his studious peers and stodgy college professors.
This was the kid who at 2 could name all of Thomas the Tank Engine and friends whenever we would say a number. The kid who read “Harry Potter” in the second grade. This was the kid who pounded out A’s like most people gobble up Tic-Tacs. College was supposed to be where hit his stride.
My wife and I thank our lucky stars that his report cards were – although mostly boring – not an adventure in academic wonderland. He was the kid who decided in the sixth grade he wanted to be in the high school choir because he knew it would be his ticket to Italy as a senior as part of a chorus tour.
This was the kid who just walked in with no prep and scored a ridiculous number on the ACT (twice). A kid who, Oh, by the way, finished second in a class of more than 500 at one of the metro’s finest public schools.
So we had little reason to believe that when the time came for college that the universities wouldn’t just back up the money truck and roll out the red carpet. But there’s one fatal flaw in that logic: you have to choose a school early enough in the process in order to be chosen.
So last spring we endured the heartbreaking saga of not getting into his top choice. The trip to college last fall wasn’t so much sad as melancholy. The school he chose as a backup was fine – and the experience turned out well. The roommate was fine. The opportunities afforded by the school were great, and we do appreciate everything they did, but it just wasn’t choice No.1.
Surly and pouty were not words we had associated with the college experience.
I have to hand it to the lad; he reached down deep and found a way to his dream school. Last year the school received more than 31,000 applications for 1,400 freshmen spots, so we knew the task of transferring would be arduous at best.
Probably the biggest key was reaching out to local mentors with contacts within the school, so that he could raise his visual status and get on the university’s radar. One was the local president of the alumni association and the other was a contact our son made through his summer job as a caddie.
Each of the mentors offered a different brand of support. While one provided a rah-rah approach, the other challenged him to find out what made him different than the rest of the applicants and then to answer the question why the school could provide him with a better education than where he was at. He pushed him out of his comfort zone and told him it was time self-promote and show the school why they had missed out on a great candidate.
In the end, I’m sure there was a mixture of dumb luck, hard work and magic that opened the door. For our family, we were just glad to accept the mulligan that life had provided and load up the old family truckster and head off on the college adventure we had all dreamed of.
The takeaway from all this? If you’re a student or a job seeker, set a goal, whether it’s college or a dream job, and make a plan to get there. Realize that nothing is a given, and you have to have a backup plan. Reach out to your friends who are in the know about the job you want. When life deals you a bad card, dig down deep and focus your energy on the things you can change while realizing some things are beyond your control.
Lastly, never give up on your dreams. You never know, life just might grant you a do-over.