Thought #22: The Key to Achieving the Unachievable

“Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.,” by Unknown [NARA].
Browsing the self-help section of Dog-Eared Books on Valencia St. in San Francisco recently, I found It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden and thought: “Catchy title.” So I bought the book (plus, I made a commitment to read at least one personal finance or self-help book per year, so…). 

Overall, the book is an okay read; however, my critique is similar to the critique I have of other self-help books: authors hardly ever acknowledge race and ethnicity as an enduring and legitimate barrier to entrepreneurial or professional success. In the first couple pages, Arden claims, “you can achieve the unachievable.” In other words, Arden highlights that everyone has the potential to achieve their wildest dreams. While Arden is correct, this statement also bothers me because it ignores the reality that racial bias and discrimination are still huge barriers to equity in the American economy.

For example, Rebecca Safier, writer for Student Loan Hero, reports data from the National Center for Education Statistics that approximately 77.7% of black students borrow federal student loans to pay for a higher education compared to 57.5% of white students. “The unequal burden of student loan debt further aggravates disparities, since a big loan payment can make it difficult to build your career, grow your income, and achieve financial independence,” adds Safier.

Additionally, Jamil Smith, writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, cites studies that illustrate investors are more likely to help entrepreneurs who share their gender and race. According to Smith, “it doesn’t help that…less than 3 percent of venture capitalists are Hispanic or African American [because] It makes the American Dream a little more difficult to believe in for a great many people when…virtually no one who looks like you willing to invest in those businesses.”

Similarly, Michael Gee writes “A review of white-collar employment data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals serious gaps in income, promotional opportunities, and advancement for minorities and women of all races” in the Harvard Business Review. While Gee doesn’t offer an explanation for these disparities, they might be attributed to the same implicit, or subconscious, biases that Smith mentions since white men are disproportionately represented in executive and managerial positions.  

But why bring all of this up?

In America, there are numerous examples of people of color who have been able to achieve despite seemingly insurmountable odds. In honor of these pioneers and role-models, I acknowledge that racism has endured and evolved in the post-civil-rights era,  so the achievements of these pioneering persons of color are seen as more exceptional considering the bias and discrimination they had to overcome to arrive at their destination. 

For young professionals of color in particular, it’s important to understand where we’ve come from as a nation since we are still grappling with the consequences of past actions and deeply ingrained belief systems. In addition to equipping ourselves with an armour of knowledge and truth, it’s not a bad idea to also cultivate our visioning skills, so achieving the unachievable becomes a little easier.

Next, I’m going to share a visioning strategy that I’ve used for several years now that you should try.

Try This:

Before I layout my visioning strategy, let’s get on the same page about what a vision is. When I say vision, I mean, “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom” ( In other words, a vision is a plan that is informed by one’s wisdom, or lived experience and knowledge, and their imagination, or ability to see a future without restriction.

Now that you have a better idea of what a vision is, here’s why you should get into the habit of visioning: how can you reach your destination if you don’t have directions? You can’t. The same logic applies to developing a vision for one’s self and one’s life because it’s going to a lot more likely that you’ll achieve your dreams if you have a clear idea of what you need to do to get there and the obstacles you may encounter along the way.

Personally, I type out my vision in a Google Document where I think through my short-term and long-term goals (see Thought #7 for more guidance on setting effective goals) – there are other ways, however, to  organize your vision, so leave a comment if there’s a strategy that works particularly well for you. I find it easiest to plan backwards by asking a question like: if I ultimately would like to achieve this thing, what do I need to do to bring myself closer to the goal? For example, I might think about what I can accomplish in a year then the next 5 years to make my desired achievement more likely. 

After I know my objective, I then start to brainstorm a route to my destination. As you develop your vision, it’s a great idea to seek feedback from trusted advisers and peers since they’ll most like have valuable feedback on how you might accomplish your goal.  For a better idea of what this strategy looks like, check out my vision from 2015. While my imagination in 2015 looks a lot different than my reality in 2019, compare my example with my Linkedin profile and notice how similar the two  are.

It’s important to develop visioning skills because these are the skills that allow us focus and organize our worlds, so we are more aware of opportunities that will bring us closer to our dreams.  While life is guaranteed to be unpredictable, it’s easier to deal with obstacles when you’re grounded in a vision of the type of life you want for yourself.

I know I’ve been gone for while, but I’m back and excited to publish new college admission and career planning advice that’s race conscious and grounded in social justice. If you enjoyed Thought #22, please leave a comment or head to my website where you can subscribe to the CTC blog. 

Until next time.

Thought #21: 2 Quick & Easy Ways to Fix that Resumé

Did you know that on average 100 or more applicants apply for any given position? Or that recruiters and hiring managers need to know in less than 30 seconds of reading your resumé that you’re the right candidate for a job? Not only is it important to stand-out in a competitive job market, but you also need to make the case for why you’re in a position to succeed in a desired position right away.

At this point, it should be common sense that successful resumés are the ones that are super specific and directly address the qualifications and skills that are needed to excel in a prospective role or position; additionally, the best resumés present this information in an engaging and concise way, which isn’t an easy feat. Moreover, if you have little work experience, or you’re looking to change careers, you’re probably applying for positions across industries, making the task of tailoring your resume for each individual job posting even more daunting.

Don’t be tempted to revert to the more traditional mindset about the resumé as a repository for every work, volunteer, and educational experience that is universally applicable to all positions because there’s a better way. While compiling a detailed list of all your experiences is a great first step, it’s only the beginning of the process.

Thought #21 outlines my recent insights on how to quickly and effectively tailor a resumé for desired positions, so you increase your chances of landing an interview.

Tip #1: Nail the Opening Statement

Recruiters and hiring managers spend very little time reviewing resumés, so first impressions are paramount – knock the introduction out of the park! Hook a recruiter or prospective employer into what you’re selling at the beginning, and you’ll get an interview.

Still using an Objective Statement as the opener of your resumé? Stop! Instead, start with a professional profile or summary, which is a longer, but not long, statement at the beginning of a resumé that establishes a track-record of results.

To give you an idea of what profile or summary might look like, the following is a suggested opening statement for a career counselor:

For five years, I developed a reputation of leading diverse stakeholders in executing complex projects, such as college fairs and career panels, which increased the number of first-generation college students accessing higher education at my school-sites. Moreover, I developed equitable and supportive approaches to facilitating goal development and follow through on college and career aspirations for first-generation college students, and I’m confident I will be able to produce similar results with the diverse students at your school-site.

Tip #2. Use Competencies Section Strategically

When evaluating candidates, the first thing a recruiter or a prospective employer attempts to do is assess an applicant’s competence, so it’s in your best interest to outline at the beginning the specific abilities, knowledge, and skills that qualify you for a particular job. Hence, my recommendation is to incorporate a key competencies section into the introductory part of your resumé.

How you format your key competencies section depends on where your resumé is headed. For resumés submitted directly to an employer and vetted by a hiring committee, restate relevant qualifications and skills from a targeted job description, which will accomplish two goals:

  1. It will demonstrate to a hiring committee that you’ve actually read and understood the job description and have relevant skills.
  2. It will make it easy for a resumé reader to quickly identify and evaluate your competence.

On the otherhand, resumés submitted to popular job sites like Indeed or Monster have to beat an Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which is a software program that scans resumes for matching and/or related keywords (read Thought #8: 3 Ways to Make Your Resume Stand Out for more on ATS).

When taking on ATS, use your key competencies section to compile a list of keywords that are related to your targeted position; however, the catch is not to just list a bunch of awesome keywords – keywords should actually describe what you know and can do. A good strategy is to research 3 to 4 target job descriptions, scan through each description, and circle keywords and phrases that reflect your knowledge and abilities.

While tailoring your resume for various employers and purposes is never an easy task, I hope that the two tips I’ve discussed will make the process just a little bit easier the next time you need to draft a resume.

If you enjoyed Thought #21, please like and leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, subscribe to Thoughts on my website and receive notifications of new posts. Also, please take advantage of the other useful resources on my site to help you achieve your college and career goals.

Thought #20: Money v. Passion

To start, shout-out to Shivonne Bascom (@euphoria1981) for leaving the comment that inspired Thought #20 – thanks for reading Thoughts!

The topic of money and passion is relevant for me because the only reason I worry about money as much as I do is debt – crippling student loan debt to be exact. I will spare you the details here, but encourage you to read “Thought #5: 3 Ways to Manage Student Loan Debt” for more.

Essentially, my goal is to pay-off my loans within the next couple of years, so I can give my dad a thank you card and show him that his investment as a cosigner paid-off; however, at the rate I’m currently able to pay my loans, it’s a very real possibility that my dad may never see the return on his investment.

I bring up my struggle with student loan debt because it’s the source of any doubts I have that passion exceeds money in importance. While I’m passionate about the mission of Critical Thinkers Consulting and teaching composition, I can barely boast that these passions are generating enough money to cover my non-discretionary expenses, yet alone get me out of debt anytime in the near future.

I mull over the reasons why I don’t earn more money and ponder what’s holding me back from pursuing a higher paying career in another industry; I seek answers on Indeed, my favorite job search engine, where I spend hours doing key word searches for fantasy careers, so I can compare salaries with whatever information I’m able to find on Glassdoor. Even though I’ve been able to estimate exactly how profitable it could be for me to pivot and take off on a new career trajectory, I’m unwilling to give up on my vision.

For Thought #20, I want discuss a couple different perspectives on pursuing money versus pursuing a passion. With this information on the table, I’ll let you decide for yourself which is most important: money or passion? Plus, I’ll share my thoughts on why I don’t give up.

Cultivate a Sense of Purpose

In an article from Inc. Magazine, Amy Morin shares recent research that claims:

People who [feel] a sense of purpose [accumulate] more wealth than those who feel as though their lives lack meaning (see “A therapist explains why you don’t have to choose between earning more money and doing something meaningful“)

Rather than asking yourself whether you should chase after money or follow your passions, you should ask: do I have/feel a sense of purpose in my life and career? The point here being that there should be a purpose that motivates you other than making enormous amounts of money. To identify your purpose, Morin recommends thinking carefully about what you would like for your legacy to be.

If you’re living a purposeful life, odds are that the money will naturally just work itself out.

Create Passive Income

The concept of passive income is:

  1. You exert a lot of effort into creating or developing something upfront, like a product or an investment, that will generate income for you 24/7 year-round with minimal upkeep or supervision.
  2. You go off and create better and new products or make better and new investments, which create new sources of passive income.

The objective of passive income is generate enough income to fund your desired lifestyle, so you will never have to worry about holding a traditional 9 to 5 job in order to keep a roof over your head, food on the table, or clothes on your back – the basics (see “8 great ways to earn passive income“).

Just imagine, if you didn’t HAVE to work 40 hours each week to sustain your lifestyle, the issue of money versus passion wouldn’t matter – you would be able to wake up each day and pursue the things that make you happy and bring meaning to your life.

My Thoughts

Money is sometimes just money, i.e. a resource you need to survive and support yourself; Additionally, passions are sometimes just passions, i.e. those things that bring you joy and pleasure – not jobs.

It’s great when money and passion converge in a career; however, there is nothing wrong with working a job you’re inpassionate about, e.g. an indifferent partner in major accounting firm, if it affords you opportunities to pursue your passions outside of work.

For me, It’s hard to imagine that I would ever voluntarily give up my vision which consists of Critical Thinkers Consulting and teaching. As a result, I’m willing to deal with the immediate discomfort and insecurity that come with being a neophyte instructor and sole proprietor because my purpose is to develop young people and professionals that understand equity and social justice.

If you’re feeling that your life lacks a sense of purpose, I suggest (re)evaluating your situation and making a change because life is short – take a chance and do what makes you happy and gives your life meaning.

If you enjoyed Thought #20, please like and leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #19: How to Write a Winning Personal Statement

Perform a quick Google search or read any popular news publication, like Business Insider, and you’ll find stories of inspirational students and entrepreneurs who have leveraged a killer personal statement to gain admission into the most prestigious colleges or secure tens of thousands of dollars of funding for tuition, academic projects, and entrepreneurial pursuits.

Personal statements are a key component of admission applications for most competitive colleges and universities, like University of California and the Ivy League. Sometimes, personal statements are the determining factor in admissions decisions where academic performance and test scores are generally strong across the board for candidates. Moreover, many business and foundations have tons of scholarship and fellowship monies earmarked to spend on promising students, and they use personal statements to determine fit with their mission and goals.

The personal statement can be your secret weapon to college access and career advancement – especially for communities who have been historically underrepresented in higher education and business and who are disadvantaged by generational poverty and disenfranchisement. A good personal statement can demonstrate your originality, passion, and critical thinking skills to application readers and scholarship judges; however, a lot of people (from personal experience) go about writing their personal statement all wrong!

With only 250 to 1000 words to represent who you are and high stakes, it’s important to nail the personal statement and put your best foot forward. For Thought #19, I want to share 3 tips that will take your personal statement to the next-level and produce results.

1. Know Who You’re Dealing With

Before you even begin to write a personal statement, you have to know who you’re audience is, which means you’re going to have to do your research. Most colleges and foundations have mission statements that explain the type of problem they are trying to solve or the result they are hoping to produce with their products or services. Whatever their mission is, you want to know it!

If you know a college’s or foundation’s mission,  you can make a strong argument for how choosing you will advance their mission. While most colleges and foundations are genuinely interested in getting to know students more, they are always trying to evaluate the best fit for their schools and donors, so you want to have some sense of what they are looking for.

2. Share a Slice of Your Life

When it comes to writing a personal statement, it’s paramount to keep it focused and engaging. A mistake that many people make with their personal statements is compiling a “Brag Sheet” or CV – these documents require you to list all your accomplishments and achievements.  Instead, personal statements should be seen as more curated and strategic.

Thoughtfully choose anecdote(s) to answer essay prompts and bring your own authentic experiences to life and captivate your audience. You can use a couple of carefully selected anecdotes to really hone in on personal characteristics and illustrate people, places, things, or opportunities that have been most influential to you, which is what application readers want to see.

To ensure that you are adequately detailing your anecdotes in your personal statement, use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing to tell events and show how you responded to the things that happened.

3. Elaborate, Elaborate, Elaborate!

Application readers and scholarship judges look for depth and complexity of thought in personal statements. It’s not enough to just write a beautiful anecdote; you also need to breakdown and explain to your audience how it answers the prompt/question they’ve asked you. As a result, I want to quickly review elaboration and how to incorporate more into your personal statement.

In terms of personal statements, elaboration describes the process of breaking down, interpreting, and explaining how the chosen anecdote(s) answer a prompt.

Do these three things the next time you write a personal statement, and I guarantee you’ll transform your personal statement from good to great. Cheers writing your personal statement!

If you enjoyed Thought #19, please like or leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.

Thought #18: Coping with the Inbox Blues

With the recent downpour of rain devastating many parts of California, I realize that the cover image for this post might evoke some unintended emotions given the current state of affairs here in the “Golden State”. However, this post isn’t about the havoc that rains are wreaking across the west coast; this post is about the havoc that over saturated inboxes wreak on our personal and professional lives.

Email is arguably one of the most ubiquitous tools for communication in our current times, and it’s even more important in college and careers. In school or at work, we use email to deliver urgent messages, announce deadlines, share important documents and photos, and coordinate pivotal meetings – and that’s only a few of the seemingly endless ways that we use email in our daily lives. Because email is so frequently used, our inboxes can quickly become unmanageable and burdensome.

With hundreds of messages being sent to and from our email accounts on a weekly basis, the Inbox can quickly become a scary place to be and an overwhelming project to tackle. Moreover, a great deal of us simultaneously use personal and professional accounts, which means a higher volume of messages and bigger headaches. The result of all these messages ceaselessly piling up is that crucial information gets overlooked or forgotten, and important deadlines pass by unnoticed, which is embarrassing.

With many of us silently struggling with the Inbox blues, I wanted to join the conversation on email management and share four tips on how to take control of your inbox and alleviate the stress that comes with managing single and multiple email accounts – you don’t want to miss Thought #18.

#1. Aggressively Unsubscribe

Jocelyn Glei claims 20% of the people who send us emails waste something like 80% of our time, which creates a significant drag on our productivity (see “An Illustrated Guide to Getting Over Email Overload“). While there are numerous culprits of this time drain, the primary culprit appears to be promotional mailers.

With virtually every business and organization asking for email subscriptions, it’s so easy for our inboxes to become swamped with irrelevant promotional messages, which are distracting attention leeches. This constant influx is why it’s so important to build unsubscribing into your email management strategy.

The following suggestion might sound obvious, but it’s much harder in practice. Most email subscriptions have a link to unsubscribe somewhere in a message or on their website; the easiest way to cut down on the junk and clutter in your inbox is to locate those links and aggressively unsubscribe from subscriptions that are no longer relevant for you.

#2. Use Filters

A popular concept being thrown around in the email management sphere is Inbox Zero. While there are many definitions for Inbox Zero on the web, I find Mark Vardy definition particularly compelling (see “The Ultimate Way to get to Inbox Zero“). The definition that Vardy uses states:

[Inbox Zero is] about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life…It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.

I personally like this definition because it shifts the focus from numbers to priorities. The goal of email management is to achieve an inbox that mitigates clutter and distractions to focus attention on what’s important; this is why I recommend using filters to better manage the influx  of messages and to better organize your inbox.

Ditto Tech has a popular video on YouTube that will walk you through how to create labels and filters in Gmail (my personal email provider), so you can begin the process of taking control of your inbox and kicking the inbox blues to the curb (see “Gmail Labels and Filters, Organising Gmail“).

#3. 50 Minutes 2 Times a Day

Perusing posts on effective email management, the advice to schedule time in advance to read and respond to email comes up so frequently it’s probably a good idea. In a post for Entrepreneur, Jacqueline Whitmore writes, “schedule specific blocks of time throughout the day for checking your email. You might even try marking your calendar and setting your availability to busy” (see “4 Tips to Better Manage Your Email Inbox“).

Instead of immediately reading and responding to email messages as you receive notifications on your phone, which can be disruptive to your flow and focus, try turning off email notifications and blocking out 50 minutes two times per day for email. If you suffer from FOMO, i.e. the fear of missing out, craft an auto response to explain to senders when they can expect a response and an alternative way to contact you in an emergency.

Cultivating good habits and boundaries is paramount to effective email management and the key to kicking the inbox blues to the curb.

#4. Build in Time for Revision

If it takes less than 2 minutes to respond to an email, just do it! Don’t save a task for tomorrow that can be easily accomplished today. If you’re sending email messages that require more attention, however, plan time for drafting and editing messages  into your email management strategy – you’ll set yourself up for greater success.

If you’re like me, and you make a lot of errors when writing, you could benefit from some extra time to review and make corrections. There isn’t any rule that states you can’t come up with your own email response policy. As I mentioned in too #3, just clearly communicate your policy to senders, so they know when to expect a response from you and how to contact you in case of an emergency.

Generally, it’s okay to respond to emails within 24 to 48 hours. I recommend taking advantage of that entire window of time if needed and separating the drafting and editing processes. If you follow my advice and set aside time twice per day to check email, draft a response right away, then work on revision and editting the following session. Wrap up all editing and send by the third session.

Please don’t let it be misunderstood – email management is no easy task, but it’s not impossible. With the tips and tricks outlined in this Thought, I hope that you will feel more confident to take control of your email.

If you enjoyed Thought #18, be sure to like or leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.

Thought #17: Conquer the Fear of Completion (Re-Visited)

Around this time last year, I was posting my first Thought (see Thought #1: Conquer the Fear of Completion), rebounding from a failed attempt to flee the country, and settling into a new job at City College of San Francisco. In the midst of all this transition, I was also avoiding the culminating project for my master’s degree, which had been nagging at me for over a year.

Then early on January 28th, Graduate Studies finally sent me the congratulatory email that I had been anxiously awaiting since I submitted the final draft of my culminating project in November, closing out the largest and most complex project I’ve ever attempted and validating a significant chapter of my life.

Aside from completing my culminating project, my blog, Thoughts, has survived its first year of publication, my business has grown and created opportunities for me to consult with great non-profit and private clients, and I’ve learned a lot about what I want and how I can be valuable to young people and professionals who are seeking access to college and fulfilling careers. With my culminating project and Grad School officially behind me, I’m excited for my next big projects: securing a gig as an English Instructor and expanding the Critical Thinkers’ catalog of online boot camps.

For Thought #17, which is coincidentally the first Thought of 2017, I wanted to re-visit the fear of completion and share some new insights on how to conquer big, intimidating projects that I’ve learned in 2016. The following are 6 tips to conquer the fear of completion in 2017.

Breakdown the Task

Big projects are a huge source of anxiety, and it’s hard figuring out how to break down large tasks into manageable pieces. Fortunately, I have a three-step process to break down any project and Get’er done.

The first step is to visualize the final product. In order to visualize what my project needed to look like, I had to take the time to gather information about a couple of key things, such as the purpose, content requirements, and style and tone (if writing). Once you have this information, then proceeded to the second step, which is to establish a timeline and milestones. In terms of my culminating project, chapters became the milestones that measure my progress and success.

The third step is to create smaller tasks that you can you use to generate easily accomplishable daily to-do lists. For me, reading and summarizing one article per day became a daily to-do list item while I focused on completing the literature review chapter of my project. Breaking down a task into smaller and more manageable pieces, such as reading and summarizing one article per day, is a great way to practice discipline and keep yourself motivated.

Not Perfect, but Complete

Big or important projects can be overwhelming. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. When you get stuck in a rut, it’s easy to lose steam. When you lose steam, your progress is probably going to stall. When your progress stalls, you never complete your project, which is not good; however, the solution is simple: Get’er done!

The feeling of being overwhelmed is often the result of a lack of clarity. When you find yourself overwhelmed, ask yourself how good of a grasp you have on the scope and deliverables of your project. If there are any specific requirements outlined, prioritize meeting those requirements first – focus your attention on refining and perfecting your work last.

Furthermore, our estimation of good work and bad work is sometimes misguided or incorrect, so feedback is critical. The sooner and more you produce means the more opportunity for valuable feedback and revision – look at the acknowledgments section of An academic book, and you’ll learn that masterpieces are often the result of shitty first drafts and a healthy portion of peer review and revision.

Practice Discipline & Motivation

Discipline and motivation are tough – that’s a fact. Still, discipline and motivation are required to conquer the fear of completion and successfully complete any project.

According to Life Hack (see 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick), consistency is key in getting any new habit to stick. After you’ve broken down your project into smaller more manageable tasks, consistently completing those tasks is key. In my case, checking readings off my to-do list helped me to monitor my progress, plus it was extremely motivating to see the project shrinking as I check items off my to-do list and complete milestones.

Self-Evaluation is Key

A habit I picked up after years of working for Seven Tepees Youth Program is evaluation. After any event or trip, the staff would come together and evaluate the project. We used a simple Positives & Deltas evaluation format where we would list project successes and areas for improvement, which I find to be a balanced and easy approach to evaluation. Plus, it’s easily adaptable to self-evaluation.

As you hit each of your project milestones, consider what went well and what could’ve gone better. I can guarantee that this process will be illuminating and help you identify your strengths and areas where you need more support or improvement.

Fearlessly Advocate for Yourself

Sometimes life places roadblocks in the way of you completing a project. These roadblocks sometimes come in the form of people or imposing institutions. When this happens, throwing in the towel and calling it quits might seem appealing, but it’s necessary to advocate for yourself.

Completing projects requires proactive risk management. Build dealing with bureaucracy and other barriers to project completion into your contingency plans because nobody is going to advocate more on your behalf than you.

Keep Making Moves

Good things come to those who move. No matter what life throws your way, keep making moves. If you make it your goal to complete one task, big or small, every day, that will move you forward towards a goal or aspiration, and your efforts won’t be in vain.

Just because you stall on a project, that doesn’t mean that your entire life has to come to halt. Conventional wisdom says complete one project at a time; however, I say never put all your eggs in one basket and try to keep your eye on the bigger picture. If fortune gifts you an opportunity that excites you, take it! Alternately, if something doesn’t excite you, say no. Whatever you do, however, don’t be still.

If you enjoyed Thought #17, be sure to like or leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.

Thought #16: In Recognition of First-Generation College Parents

Each Semester that I’ve worked at City College of San Francisco, I’ve been inspired by a book from one of my English courses (see Thought #6: Cultivate a #winning Mindset). This semester, an anecdote from Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle, got me thinking about the parents of First-Generation college students.

Boyle – a Jesuit priest and the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles – uses anecdotes from various Homeboys and Homegirls to illustrate what a lifetime experience serving the Boyle Heights community taught him about faith and gangs.

Boyle fondly remembers Bandit,  a childhood delinquent who frequented juvenile detention centers,  because he was able to successfully turn his life around after growing weary of street life. 15 years after landing his first legit job with Homeboy Industries, Bandit reaches out to Boyle to bless his eldest child’s transition to college.

As Boyle prays for the eldest daughter, Bandit and his wife start to weep. Reflecting on Bandit’s and his wife’s reaction, Boyle explains, “I’m not entirely sure why we’re crying, except, I suppose, for the fact that Bandit and his wife don’t know anybody who’s gone to college – except, I guess, me” (197-198). Father G, Bandit, and his wife weren’t weeping because they were sad, they were weeping from a combination of pride and uncertainty.

Often the conversation about college access revolves around First-Generation college students, and how to get them into college despite their personal circumstances; however, for Thought #16, I wanted to shift the spotlight to First-Generation College Parents, and think about how to better support them through the transition from high school to college.

Social Capital is Important

I elaborate on the concept of Social Capital more in a previous Thought (Thought #4: 4 Ways You’re Rich); however, for this Thought, it’s important to understand that social capital essentially describes the value and opportunity gained from one’s personal and professional network. Accordingly, not all social capital is equal in terms of its value in the world of college admission and career planning.

It’s convenient for those of us with access to privileged social capital to take for granted how much our communities (e.g. family, peers, teachers, trusted advisers, etc.) shape and facilitate the attainment of our aspirations; however, the reality is that in the year 2016 some families still don’t know anybody with a bachelors degree, which means that these families don’t have any  intimate examples of people who’ve successfully navigated college and used their education to launch a career.

Getting more information about investing for college and planning for careers directly to parents is necessary. Moreover, Tattoos on the Heart reminds me that churches are still beacons of social capital for families and communities who haven’t traditionally had access to it.

Separation Anxiety is Real

Imagine you tune into the news, and the breaking story is: San Jose State University students hold rally to end racism on campus in response to incidents on campus, including an incident involving the chaining and humiliation of a black student by three of his white roommates. The truth is, hate crimes and sexual assaults on college campuses are still breaking news in 2016.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that First-Generation College Parents, with no college experience of their own to draw on, might be more than just a little bit hesitant to send their children off to college, which is foreign, expensive, and possibly dangerous.

The best way that I can think of to mitigate this separation anxiety is start engaging parents in college preparation early. While it is important for First-Generation college students to tour college campuses, it’s equally important for First-Generation College Parents to visit colleges and be confident that chosen campuses will be a safe and welcoming environments for their children.

The Impact of a Degree

While it is undoubtedly an important moment when any parent sends their child off to college, the anecdote of Bandit is a reminder of how monumental it is for First-Generation College Parents because a college education has the potential to change the trajectory for their entire family.

This is why First-Generation College Parents need guidance and support on how to help their children navigate and persist through to their degree because college isn’t easy – and I’m not only referring to the academics.

The ubiquity of retention programs might suggest that First-Generation college students have all the access to guidance and resources that they need; however, many students turn to their parents first, which suggests that we empower First-Generation College Parents with the information they need to help their children navigate these crucial conversations.

Essentially I’m advocating for a different rhetoric about First-Generation College Parents – a rhetoric that acknowledges the reality that many families are marginalized from information about college admission and career planning. Earlier and more consistent efforts to engage First-Generation College Parents in the college admission and career planning processes needs to be a priority in schools serving large populations of First-Generation college students.

If you enjoyed Thought #16, be sure to like or leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.