Dear College Students,
As your professor, I want you to be successful. I want to see you smile from that feeling of achieving something that was challenging. I want to see you experience the rush of confidence that comes with overcoming a personal limitation. I want to see you branch out, think new thoughts, try new activities, encourage others, read more books, write new grammatically-correct sentences that blow my mind. I want you to leave college and find a great-paying job with a corner office that has windows and with a salary that has benefits. I want all of this for you and more.
But to do all of that, you'll have to pass my class first. (Yeah, don't look at me like that.)
My class is not set up to be tricky. It's not set up to destroy your life, ruin your future, give you migraines, put you in the hospital or have you hate every part of yourself and the life that you live. It is, however, set up for two major goals:
1. To expose you to the content, its history, its importance;
2. To provide you opportunities to learn important life skills.
Life Skills: Abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.
These life skills include: Decision making, problem solving, creative / lateral thinking, critical / perspicacity thinking, effective communication, interpersonal relationships, self-awareness / mindfulness, assertiveness, empathy, equanimity, coping with stress, trauma and loss, and resilience.
We're going to quickly walk through each one of these.
Decision making: This is a tough spot to be in, but you'll find this moment - in varying degrees of seriousness - strung throughout a single day. Do you wear jacket or not? Do you turn right or left? Do you say yes or no? Where it gets tricky is that decisions collectively add up resulting in having to make more decisions. Do I read the required chapter now or later? Do I study for the exam or attend the party?
Every decision will lead you to a new place where you'll be forced to make more decisions. Eventually, your decisions will lead you to a place that you may or may not have control over.
For example, deciding to attend the party; you have control over that. However, attending that party may mean you are unprepared for your exam; you failing or passing the exam was in your control a few days ago, but now - as you sit here sweating over the exam - you may have lost control over the result. You may fail. But if we trace your decision making back to the start of the chain, you will see how powerful decision making can be.
Problem solving: Learning this skill will help you through so many places of life. Challenges will occur in life. You can perceive these as barriers or opportunities, but regardless of how your attitude perceives them, they are real and they will show up exactly when you don't want them to be in your way.
What is problem solving? Well, problems are classified into two different types: ill-defined and well-defined. Ill-defined problems are those that do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solution. Well-defined problems have specific goals, clearly defined solution paths, and clear expected solutions. When you bump up against a problem, you have to figure out what you're dealing with and decide how you can solve it. Is the problem easily solved with pragmatics (logic)? Or are we wading into the deep waters of semantics (interpretation of the problem)?
But one powerful nugget to remember: Problems can be solved, though we may not always enjoy the solution. But you must take responsibility for solving your problems. If there are variables that you cannot control, this forces you to be creative or seek help. But take responsibility for both being creative or asking for help.
Creative / Lateral thinking: Lateral thinking is a term coined by Edward de Bono in 1967. It means solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. It means you may have to step outside of the box to find a pathway of thought that will lead you to a solution. Einstein used to do this. When he felt stuck on an idea or a thought, he would go play his violin. "The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception," Einstein said. So, don't fear getting down and dirty or creative to solve your problems!
Critical / Perspicacity thinking: Critical thinking is the mental process of actively and skillfully using perception, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of collected information through observation, experience and communication that leads to a decision for action. What are the problems? Who is involved? What are the dynamics? What are the variables? What is the timeline? When you inquisitively approach a problem with curiosity, you are more adequately prepared to search for information to help you solve the problem while standing on solid ground.
Effective Communication: Once you've discovered a problem and investigated the problem, you want to make sure you're using clear, candid and effective communication. Effective communications involves how we send and receive messaging. Did you listen to everything that was required? Did you record all details you'll need in the future? Did you ask all questions? Taking on this responsibility (how you listen and how you speak) is an important interpersonal skill for you to carry with you.
Interpersonal relationships: Interpersonal relationships are strong, deep, or close associations or acquaintances between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring. The relationship may be based on inference, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. This can be a relationship with your professor, your classmate, your Dean, your advisor. Each relationship will be different and understanding those dynamics will help you navigate how to be successful during your time in college.
Self-awareness / Mindfulness: Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being mindful of these qualities will help you in your day-to-day decision making, processing and relationships. If you know you're not great at time management, create for yourself a method or ritual or reminder system to help you set small achievable goals. For example choosing to work for 30 minutes a day on your 10-page paper that is due by the end of the month. You cannot expect someone else to clean up a mess you created for yourself. Knowing where the messes are created within your life, and being mindful of that vulnerability, will help you learn how to overcome or better prepare so the mess doesn't occur.
Assertiveness: This skill means being able to stand up for your own or other people's rights in a calm and positive way, without being either aggressive or passively accepting 'wrong.' Don't be afraid to speak up! If you feel you have been wronged, we enjoy when our students speak up. We are, in fact, humans. Speak up. Help us stay accountable, the way we help you but do it in a calm and positive manner.
Empathy: This means you are able to understand and share the feelings of someone else. It's a life skill that will help you be a better listener (thus lead to more effective communication). Empathy can also be included in your investigative process of understanding the dynamics of a problem.
Equanimity: Mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Equanimity is crucial to being successful in college and in the real world. Your patience will be tested daily. People will challenge you, things will go wrong. How you approach problems will reveal your character.
Coping with stress, trauma and loss: Coping means to invest own conscious effort, to solve personal and interpersonal problems, in order to try to master, minimize or tolerate stress and conflict. Coping is how we move forward in difficult times. It's a process that we must continue to hone as we grow older and our problems grow more complicated.
Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Trust me, life will be difficult. It tends to be even more difficult when you're already struggling. But recovering or bouncing back is what makes you stronger. If you missed an online quiz because of bad choices or traffic or being called to work overtime at your work, you have to understand that you may have to take the zero for the grade. But bounce back! Communicate to your work or to your professor; plan ahead; prepare for things to go wrong; create a Plan B. Resilience is what we learn when things have gone wrong before, and here we are left to deal with the consequences. But you don't have to die right there on the spot: bounce back! Swallow the tough news, the GPA hit, or whatever it may be, and be more prepared for the next time. Life goes on.
As your professor, I want you to embed these important life skills deep within your behaviors, your thoughts, your planning. These skills will make you stronger, better, sweeter, kinder, and more efficient as a human being.
I have big dreams for you! If I didn't believe in our future, I would have gone into a different field. I wouldn't be teaching you. I wouldn't be concerned about what you know or don't know. But, I am! And I've dedicated my time and effort to making sure you're a great, great person.
You must know that being molded into a great, great person isn't easy. I will not clean up your messes. I will not allow you to slack. I will not accept mediocrity. Why? Because you're better than that, and I'm going to stand right here beside you as you become the great, great person I know you can be. You'll be so excited to meet that person.