Thought #12: 7 Characteristics of Great Advisors

It’s been a while since I’ve worked inside a high school or an after-school setting in an advising capacity, so I was excited when I was asked to train the advising and direct support staff at 100% College Prep on advising best practices and college admission requirements.

There is one activity that I’m proud of in particular. In this activity, I facilitated a free-write and group discussion in which I asked the group to consider the characteristics of great advisors using their own experiences as young people navigating the transition from high school to adulthood as a frame of reference and Gold Mine for illustrations of both successful and challenging advising experiences.

For Thought #12, I wanted to share some insights from the conversation that I started at 100% College Prep. The following are the 7 characteristics of great advisors, inspired by the staff of 100% College Prep.

1. They are Open, Honest, and Caring

The first characteristic we discussed is that great advisors are open, honest, and caring. Talking with the staff, most seemed to agree that the most memorable advisors have an ability to be simultaneously critical and nurturing. The group talked a lot about how great advisors made them feel like they could be extraordinary. It’s important to remember that when young people seek out advising they are looking for someone who is going to be patient enough to hear them out and respond to them in way that respects their agency and constructive moves them forward.

2. They Are Knowledgeable

Another characteristic we discussed is that great advisors are knowledgeable. We discussed how great advising generally requires for the advisor to possess a certain level of expertise on the topic they are giving advice about. For those in advising positions, it’s imperative to constantly participate in the process of acquiring new knowledge and striving to become a master of your craft.

3. They Expresses Genuine Interest

A third characteristic we discussed is that great advisors are distinguished by their genuine interest in their advisees’ aspirations and outcomes. We discussed how managing large caseloads and managing the other demands from work can distract an advisor from the main objective – build relationships. As challenging as it can be, great advisers have the ability to genuinely engage with their advisees.

4. They Are Willing to Go Above and Beyond

A fourth characteristic we discussed is that great advisors virtually always go above and beyond to ensure that their advisee succeeds. We discussed how there are times in life when all you feel like doing is the bare minimum; however, this attitude won’t make you great. Great advisors are committed to ensuring that their advisees achieve their goals.

5. They Suggest Strategies for Success

A fifth characteristic we discussed is that great advisors suggest strategies to promote their advisee’s success. Great advisors assess where youth are in their immediate reality then work with youth to develop a road-map to accomplish their goals and aspirations. A goal setting framework that I like to use with is SMART (See Thought #7: A Few Keys to Success for more about SMART Goal Setting).

6. They Are Great Listeners

A sixth characteristic we discussed is that great advisors tend to be the best listeners. We talk a lot about how a great advisor understands the importance of listening. Advising relationships tend to fall apart when advisors aren’t able to listen and get on the same page with their advisees.

7. They Are Present & Persistent

The final characteristic that I want to share is that great advisors are present and persistent. Any great salesperson understands that closing the Deal means focusing on building relationships, which can be protracted. When advising, being visible and consistent is a crucial aspect of being able to sell services.

If you enjoyed Thought #12, be sure to like and leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #11: I’m Not Perfect, but I Got Grit!

For Thought #11, I was planning on posting a few tips on how to tackle big and challenging projects – clearly, this isn’t that post.

After hours crafting the perfect introduction and writing most of the content, I touched the wrong options in my phone last night and lost all the awesome content I spent so much time developing – basically what I’m trying to say is: The dog ate my homework!

Despite technological difficulties, I still wanted to post on schedule for Thought #11. Instead of trying to recreate my lost Thought, I want to thank all my subscribers and others who read Thoughts regularly and keep up with the development of Critical Thinkers Consulting.

It’s been 7 months since publishing my first Thought (see Thought #1: Conquer The Fear of Completion), and I’m still surprised and humbled that folks actually care to read what I have to say…plus are patient with my learning curve as I’m figuring out how to build and maintain a blog and website on WordPress.

Thinking of the road from zero to Thought #11, I realize that I’ve only made it this far by accepting that I’m not perfect and mistakes – you’ve probably noticed frequent tweaks and changes take place on my website if you’ve been paying attention the past year  – are opportunities for growth and development.

While I’d love to be the portrait of perfection, I’m not; however, what I do have is grit (see “5 Characteristics of Grit“). Carving out a niche for myself in business and finding my voice as a blogger has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding undertakings of my career so far, and I’m excited to continue growing and developing with each new Thought published, client secured, or opportunity presented to me.

Continue to join me on this journey as I critically think through the experience of transitioning from youth to adulthood and offer solutions to some of its most pressing problems – all you have to do is subscribe on my website. Also, I live off feedback so share your thoughts and let me know what you find interesting or challenging aboutThoughts and how I can make Critical Thinkers Consulting great.

Thought #10: The Benefits of Volunteering

Riding home on the bus after volunteering for Seven Tepees Youth Program‘s (7Tepees) Annual Camping Trip, I felt a strong sense of contentment.

Even though volunteering for the annual camping trip meant 24/(7 minus 2) of supervising and managing young people, which was challenging for sure, what I gained in return was five days outdoors in the beautiful Mammoth Lakes with high school students that I’ve mentored and watched grow since middle school, as well as an opportunity to reunite with program staff whom I consider friends after years of adventures in the wilderness of California.

Each day of the camping trip was occupied by a cool experience. Some days we were shuttling to trails that led to mountain lakes, other days we were carpooling to the local pool to cool off with the breathtaking views of mountains and plains as our backdrop, and most days we were enjoying free time around our campsite tossing around a football, and playing card games, Connect Four, and Jenga – no matter what the group was doing, I always had a lot of fun.

After having such a great experience volunteering with the staff and youth of 7Tepees, I wanted to breakdown a few of the things you could gain by volunteering for an organization that has a mission you get excited about – keep reading in Thought #10.

Experience Leading and Facilitating

This year, I noticed that I got a chance to step up and practice my leadership and facilitation skills by leading activities with the youth and staff of 7Tepees.

Whether I was stepping up to serve dinner, facilitating Guess Who, a community building activity facilitated over the course of the entire trip, or coordinating the 5th annual Project Nature Runway Show, a tradition where the youth design ensembles out of items found in the natural environment plus a little duct tape, there where always opportunities for me to rise to occasion and be helpful.

Most times, when you volunteer with an organization, you are serving an essential function, so volunteering provides a great opportunity to cultivate skill sets, such as leadership and facilitation skills, which could potentially catapult your career to the next level.

A Network and Appreciation

It’s often the case that when you volunteer with an organization, you become the beneficiary of much appreciation and goodwill, which  has definitely been the situation with 7Tepees and me.

The picture above depicts an activity I participated in with the group at the conclusion of our trip. Everyone was instructed to write an appreciation for each member of the group, and I found the personal messages that the staff and youth  wrote for me to be especially touching – go figure.

By volunteering on this trip, I was also able to reconnect with former coworkers and forge some new relationships with current staff and volunteers, plus I was in beautiful and restorative Mammoth Lakes!

Rich Material for Applications and Interviews

Let’s be honest, volunteering can provide a rich source of material for college applications and job interviews, especially in response to questions that ask: “what do you do outside work?” and “Who are you?”

These questions want to prove that you are interesting outside of being a student or an employee – volunteering is a great way to do that.

Though I’ve only included 3 benefits of volunteering, I’m sure that there are more – If you can think of additional benefits, take a moment and leave a comment for me and those who enjoy Thoughts to read and benefit from.

If you enjoyed Thought #10, be sure to like and leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #6: Cultivating a Winning Mindset

Aside from supporting some of the most amazing students, the best part about auditing college reading and writing courses is that I’m constantly exposed to books and other types of texts that transform my views about failure and success.

As the largest community college in California, City College of San Francisco also happens to serve one of the most diverse student populations of any college campus – there is economic diversity, linguistic diversity, diversity in age, and diversity in ability – and along with all this diversity comes various intrinsic and extrinsic challenges to college retention.

In response to diversity, major themes in the English Department are “Mindset” and “Metacognition”, so many of the readings challenge students to reconsider their beliefs about failure, and the writing assignments prompt students to reflect on their unique struggles and develop strategies to breakthrough barriers to success.

My favorite book this semester has been Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Through extensive interview and survey data, Dweck discovered that there are two mindsets: Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset.

Dweck characterizes Fixed Mindset by a belief that individuals are endowed with specific intelligences, talents, and abilities at birth, which are stubborn. Moreover, Fixed Mindset is skeptical that new skills and abilities can be cultivated over the course of an individual’s lifetime. Fixed Mindset is reflected in the statement, “I’m not a math person – I’ll never be good a math!”

In contrast, Growth Mindset acknowledges that individuals are endowed with certain traits at birth; however, Growth Mindset is distinguished by the belief that new intelligences, talents, and abilities can be cultivated through effort and perseverance.  Instead of saying, “I’m not a math person – I’ll never be good a math!” Growth Mindset might say something more like, “I know that I struggle in math, but I can improve if I practice consistently and seek answers to my questions.”

Cultivating an appropriate mindset is super important. Those with Growth Mindset are more likely to succeed than those with a Fixed Mindset because they are more likely to take risks and less likely to be deterred by the prospect of failure.

For “Thought” #6, I wanted reflect on how to cultivate a #winning Mindset. The following are 2 easy ways to develop a mindset that is most likely to beget lifelong growth and development.

1. Accept that #winning Requires Failing

The first step in cultivating a #winning mindset is to accept that “all great achievements require time,” which coincidentally happens to be one my favorite quote from Maya Angelou.

Fixed Mindset would have you believe that anything you fail to excel at naturally or with minimal effort is something that you probably aren’t meant to do; however, the danger of this attitude is that it causes you to develop Atychiphobia (i.e. a debilitating fear of failure) – for more about overcoming the fear of failure, be sure to read Thought #1: Conquer the Fear of Failure.

There are so many examples of great people in history who were only able to accomplish something great because they weren’t afraid to fail over and over again. Michael Jordan, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time, is reported to have said:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot…and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”

If you spend life in your comfort zone, you’ll end up missing out on a lot of important life lessons.

2. Be a Person of Action

Today is the perfect opportunity to try out something that you’ve convinced yourself you wouldn’t be any good at.

Take a computer science class, learn how to cook, do ballet, or pick up a new language. If inspires you, just do it…especially if the only reason you don’t is because you believe you wouldn’t be any good at it.

While failure can be extremely uncomfortable, failure creates invaluable opportunities for you to gain new insights into your skills and capabilities, so you can overcome the obstacles that stand between you and success.

Whether you’re ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, the more risks you take on yourself, the greater the return on investment.

You’ll never know what you are truly capable of unless you take a risk and just do it. Moreover, every time you step out of your comfort zone and try something new, you’re building your confidence and laying the  How does this relate to my brand and mission? Why am I talking about this?

I should start with an anecdote about a time I failed at something and how I dealt with that failure. Maybe I could share how my mindset about majoring in biology shifted and why I eventually chose to major in political science. I could talk about my mindset towards learning Spanish and why I have had such a hard time becoming fluent. I could talk about writing and my mindset pursuing and completing my certificate in the teaching of composition. I could talk about my mindset toward blogging. Maybe as I write more, I can emphasize that mindset is not an either or proposition but, rather, case specific and operating on spectrum because there is a constant tug of war that takes place for me. Maybe that’s a little bit of a critique that I have about Dweck is that she depicts mindset as a black and white.

Thought #9: A Mom on the Transition to Adulthood

My Aunt Amy is the matriarch of one of my favorite families, and she was my favorite mother growing up (sounds strange, but I had many mothers…more about that in future posts).

I wanted to start this series with my Aunt Amy for two reasons. First, she is the mother of two high school graduates, who also happen to be two young adults that I respect a lot for the choices they’ve made since graduating high school. Second, I figured Amy was a mother many families could relate to.

Even though she has been able to provide for her family, her and my uncle never attended college themselves, so they experienced many of the challenges that the families of first-generation college students routinely face.

Through my conversation with Amy, and mothers in the future, I hope to answer the following questions: what’s most challenging about transitioning from high school to adulthood? How can Critical Thinkers help young people succeed?

For Thought #9, I’ll narrate Amy’s challenges and successes navigating the transition from high school to adulthood with her children.

@founderctc: “What was challenging about coaching your child through the transition from high school to…something else?”

Amy shared many great insights on the challenges she faced navigating public schools; however, two challenges stood out from our conversation: choosing the ‘right’ classes and communication.

More specifically, Amy talked about her struggle to get her son taken out of a course that “they [his high school] wouldn’t let him out of.” She explains that she physically had to go speak with a counselor before the school would transfer him out of a class after she realized the course didn’t count towards CSU (California State University) and UC (University of California) eligibility for admission.

By his final year of high school,”it was too late,” she lamented. While he could’ve made up the classes his senior year, Amy said, “I wanted him to enjoy his senior year,” plus he decided to enlist in the US Coast Guard. She adds, “[my daughter] was a little easier because she went to a private school,” shedding light on the different circumstances public school counselors find themselves in – college advising isn’t always the priority. She ended her point with, “All that stuff is confusing and hard to navigate – especially what class they [high school students] need to take to get into a 4-year.”

Another challenge Amy brought up during our conversation was “communication”. She recalled how the communication with school changed once her children entered high school. She explains, “unless your kid is doing something really bad [in high school] you don’t know.”

Similarly, she explained how difficult it was “talking to [my son] about it [his grades] in a way that didn’t end up in a fight” once he reached high school, and how she could’ve used some help “keeping him organized and on track.”

@founderctc: “What would you consider a success with your children’s transition to adulthood?”

While Amy mentioned many successes, she summed it up when she said, “I love that neither of my kids have been afraid to do what they want to do.”

While Amy would’ve preferred for her daughter to attend college on a softball scholarship, she talked about how much courage it took to choose cosmetology, something she loved, when everyone expected her to play softball. She adds, “six years later, high school girls still ask [my daughter] for her autograph.”

She goes on to say, “it’s awesome to see them [my children] excelling at what they’ve chosen to do,” recalling how fear and having children young deterred her from doing things she might’ve wanted to do.

@founderctc: “What advice do you have for parents who are preparing their children for the transition to adulthood?”

Immediately, Amy replied,”start early,” and “ask for help.”

Amy explains, “prepare your kids early then they can have fun their senior year.” Because of the time her son wasted in courses that didn’t count towards college admission, he had to choose between making up courses his senior year or not making up courses – fortunately, he found something he really wanted to do after high school that didn’t require him to make up courses.

Amy also suggested that parents not only take advantage of resources, such as Google and counselors, but professional advice as well because “everybody needs a little help.”

My conversation with Amy reinforces how difficult it can be for young people to navigate high school. Moreover, she has me excited to interview more families and put a spotlight on the challenges and successes youth and the families that support them experience making the transition to adulthood.

If you enjoyed Thought #9, be sure to like and leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #8: 3 Ways to Make Your Resume Stand Out

“Can you help me write a resume? I need to get a job!”

This is the question high school students asked me on a daily basis back when I was Coordinating two high school College and Career Centers just a couple of years ago.

Whether applying for a job, college admission, or a scholarship, students needed help creating resumes and cover letters that would stand out in a sea of other resumes and cover letters – some days this was the biggest part of my job.

Advising was my first job out of college, so my understanding of the world of work was limited to a handful of part-time jobs that I worked during high school and college, and most of what I knew about how to write a resume and cover letter came from my Professor the last semester of college.

I quickly realized that I still had a lot to learn, so I turned to the web and have been accumulating a collection of books, articles, and blog posts on how to write compelling and successful resumes ever since.

For Thought #8, I wanted to share some of my favorite resources and tips on how to compose a resume that will standout and leave a hiring committee with a positive impression of who you are personally, and why you are the best candidate for the job.

1. Feel an Employer’s Pain

One of my favorite workplace bloggers is Liz Ryan. I’ve been influenced most by Ryan’s ideas about “human-voiced” resumes and responding to a prospective employer’s “pain” (See “How to Write a Human-Voiced Resume“).

Essentially, Ryan’s experience is that no hiring manager wants to read a resume that sounds like it was written by a robot because that’s boring. Also, employer’s aren’t going to be moved by an applicant that can’t understand their “pain”.

The solution to a cookie-cutter resume is putting oneself in a hiring manager’s shoes and figuring out what problem(s) they lose sleep over at night that you could solve. Once you’ve done that, use your resume to convince an employer you’re a real person with a record of solving problems – trust me, I know that’s easier said than done.

Start by ditching the outdated Objective Statement and replace it with a brief (2-3 sentence) Professional Summary statement that conveys your personality and addresses the types of problems you fix.

2. Emphasize Accomplishments Over Daily Responsibilities

What goes in the work history section of a resume? Hint: It’s not your roles and responsibilities.

If you learned how to write a resume by reading a career planning book from the 90s, or you’re one of my seniors from way back when I was just getting started, you’ve probably been taught to discuss your daily roles and responsibilities in the work history section; however, think about this: what are you really telling a potential employer about your talents and abilities when you list your daily roles and responsibilities?

Many workplace bloggers agree that resumes make a lasting impression when they discuss accomplishments and not daily roles and responsibilities (see “5 Ways Your Resume is Like Everyone Else’s (But Doesn’t Have to Be)“).

Instead of saying something generic like, “Helped graduating high school students with 4-year college applications,” try, “Supported 50 eligible high school seniors prepare competitive 4-year applications; 35 student gained admission to their first choice school.”

3. Use Competencies Section to Beat Resume Databases

Have you ever wondered how potential employers identify resumes after they’re uploaded to popular job search sites like Monster or Indeed? The answer: Keywords.

If you’re using resume databases like Monster and Indeed, and your resume doesn’t have the right keywords, it’s likely to get lost in the resume database void, which means it’ll never be seen, which means you’ll never get that interview, which means no new opportunity to grow and do what you want to do.

The solution is including a Core Competencies section. Martin Yate, author of the favorably reviewed Knock ’em Dead Resumes, tell us, “think of your Core Competencies section as an electronic business card that allows you to network with computers.” In this section of your resume, you’re able to use single words and short phrases to list all the skills you’ve acquired that are relevant to a target position and display them in a format that’s easy to read by employers and computers alike.

Be proactive about adding to the Core Competencies section of your resume as you come across keywords in job descriptions that reflect your capabilities – do this exercise and your resume is bound to outperform the competition in those pesky resume databases.

Composing the perfect resume is tough; however, use the tips outlined here to help you create a resume that stands out and lands you the position of your dreams.

If you enjoyed Thought #8, be sure to like and leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #7: A Few Keys to Success

Within the last year, the opportunity to launch my own consultancy emerged out of some new life circumstances in which I found myself between jobs, back at home with family, and weathering a professional identity crisis.

During this transition, I took advantage of the opportunity to take stock of my skills and abilities, as well as pick up a couple of new ones, but most importantly think more deeply about the man I wanted to be and how I wanted to be spending my time and the quality of life I imagined for myself.

I found the push I needed to take a risk and finally start a business. The first step: I needed to figure how to make a sustainable career out of teaching and advising young people from high school and into meaningful, suitable, and diverse careers – that’s what I love to do.

Up to this point in my career, I never had to rely on my ability to independently (and more critically successfully) run a small business, and generate income – I had been spoiled by a consistent influx of salary.

My new position as self-employed has asked me to engage in business planning, as well as draft revenue, expense, and 5-year growth projections. In short, I’ve had to perform tasks that are foreign to me; however, these new tasks remind about the importance of learning how to hold yourself accountable for success.

Whether you’re launching a business or tackling some other major life endeavor endeavor – like graduating high school, enrolling in college, or applying for a job – it’s important to cultivate good habits because the right habits are going to be your key to greater success.

For Thought #7, I wanted to share three things you can do hold yourself accountable for your accomplishing your goals. When you start to hold yourself more accountable for your actions, you start to realize that success is easier to achieve than you previously imagined.

1. Set SMART Goals

If you ever had a goal that you failed to achieve, I would wager you failed to accomplish your goal because it simply wasn’t SMART enough.

The acronym SMART, ie. specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-specific, is arguable one of the more popular ideas in business management and definitely one of my favorite ideas in life in general.

The basic idea of SMART is that how you start plays a major role in how you finish. For example, if your goal is go an international trip before the end of the year, it’s not enough to say, “My goal is to travel to Costa Rica in six months.”

While not bad, the goal as stated doesn’t provide much information about how one would actually go about bringing this goal to fruition. A SMARTer goal might look like: “I’ll save $200 per month for airfare the next four months leading up to my trip to Costa Rica while monitoring prices online, so I’m sure to get the best deal.”

The point here is that it’s so much easier to monitor and hold yourself accountable for progress on SMARTer goals than big, broad, or vague goals because you’ve decided what you will accomplish, how you will accomplish it, and by when.

The more thought you put upfront into articulating goals that are SMART will increase the likelihood you’ll actually accomplish them later down the road…if you’re willing to put in the work and follow through of course.

2. Keep a Journal

Perhaps it’s the writing teacher in me, but maintaining a journal is one of the best tools for improving personal accountability.

A journal is a great place to house your thoughts, intentions, and aspirations, so you’re not relying solely on your memory, which can be fickle. Moreover, journals permit recursion, i.e. the opportunity to regularly go back to review and tweak.

The best part about journaling is that it’s super easy – all you need is a journal, a pen or pencil, and a commitment to write regularly. For the more technologically oriented, you can also download free apps like Evernote for an electronic alternative to old fashion pencil and paper.

I recommend free writing for 10-15 minutes per day about what’s going in your life for 4-5 days per week to really benefit from the exercise of journaling.

When you write your goals in a journal and then keep a regular log of your progress on your goals, you’re able to evaluate impediments to accomplishing your goals and revise either your goals or your behaviors to better create the conditions for success.

3. Find an Accountability Buddy

Identifying someone who working to accomplish a similar goal as you or a mentor that is willing and able to invest time is helping you to succeed is so invaluable.

It’s important to note that identifying and cultivating a relationship with the right accountability buddy can be challenging and time intensive.

The key to relationship is trust and honesty. You don’t want anyone who is going to ruin your self-esteem, but you don’t want anyone who is going to enable you to default on your goals either. If you fail to accomplish a goal in a specified time, you need to trust that your accountability buddy is going to provide you with the right combination of compassion and tough love.

Moreover, both parties need to be committed and vulnerable in order for the the accountability buddy relationship to be effective; however, you’re golden once that relationship is established.

A great accountability buddy will help you to develop SMARTer goals, hold you accountable to periodic check-ins about progress made on established goals, and share tips and strategies on how to circumvent challenges and obstacles to accomplishing your goals.

Personal accountability is not an easy thing to do; however, I hope the tools provided in this article inspires you to develop a system for personal accountability that works for you. Once you’re able to hold yourself accountable for success, achieving your goals will become easier, and you’ll experience new levels of personal and professional success.

If you enjoyed Thought #7, be sure to like and leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #5: 3 Ways to Manage Student Loan Debt

Since “Harlem” by Langston Hughes recently found its way back into my life, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of a dream deferred in the context of my situation with student loan debt.

Hughes starts the poem with two poignant questions, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

Exiting high school, my dream was pretty simple: a career that garnered the respect of my family and peers and financial freedom. Every adult in my life at the time insisted that a college degree would place me on the fast-track to my ideal life and pay for itself. Obviously, I borrowed the money I needed and enrolled in the highest ranked university that was willing to take me.

As soon as I signed that initial promissory note, I was locked in the cycle of borrowing just to defer repayment – it was actually avoiding repayment that motivated me to continue directly on to Grad School because entry-level positions barely paid enough to cover the cost of living in the Bay Area, yet alone my student loan payments.

All these years later, I still believe that my degree was a smart investment; however, at the age of 18 years old, I had no clue how much borrowing would actually cost me later on down the line in terms of opportunity and quality of life. Lately, all I can do is worry about what’s going to happen to my dream as the reality sinks in more everyday that it could take me the rest of my young adult life settle my debt and finally start to live the life I dreamed of as a kid.

For Thought #5,  I want to share 3 debt management strategies that will hopefully help you to better manage your student loan debt so it doesn’t spiral out of control and threaten to defer your dream.

#1. Manage the Cost

A mistake that I made early on was that I didn’t put a price on my education. Obtaining a degree by any means necessary was my mindset, so I borrowed – perhaps even a little more liberally than I should have. I could have benefited from a budget.

As a college adviser in high schools, I would ask students if they had a budget for their education once the financial aid packages started to roll in. While a few students were financially conscious, an overwhelming majority of students were clueless like me at that age. This simple question, however, sparked some really productive conversations about expectations for life after college.

I believe that a lot of people invest in college expecting increased future career earnings; however, I wonder how many people actually consider how much it will cost to live and repay a loan after graduating. Free online tools like Nerd Wallet’s Student Loan Calculator or Career Zone’s Make Money Choices are great resources to estimate the cost of a loan and your desired lifestyle – the hope is that realistic statistics will empower you to make more informed decisions about borrowing.

More than paying to attend a name brand college, grit and resourcefulness (e.g. applying for scholarships to offset the amount borrowed) are the characteristics that are going to help you rise to the top. Carefully consider your options and your goals before taking out a loan.

#2. Get Informed

Taking out small loans each semester over the course of four or more years really adds up, so much so that I was shocked when I finally got informed about how much I owed. My debt grew beyond control because I wasn’t keeping good track of how much money I was borrowing – all I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t have to deal with my debt until six months after graduation.

In hindsight (see previous Thought, “Is Hindsight 20/20?“), I didn’t really want to know exactly how much I owed – my debt scared me. By not keeping a closer eye on the amount of debt that I was accruing, I ended up hurting my financial health in the long run. Had I monitored how my debt was growing over time, I like to believe that I would have made some different decisions.

Even though they heavily market credit cards and other credit-based products, Credit Karma  is a credit tracking tool that I could have benefited a lot from early. Credit Karma generates your credit score and report information for free, allowing you to keep track of what’s going on with your credit at all times.

When it comes to managing your student loan debt, knowledge is power. If you work with someone to develop a budget and monitor your debt, you will be empowered to control your borrowing so that it never has an opportunity to get out of hand.

#3. Pay the Interest

The whole time I have been accumulating astronomical amounts of debt, I have also been working; however, I didn’t contribute any of my income to managing of my debt.

I spent all my income trying to “Keep up with the Joneses” – I took advantage of the deferment on my student loans to buy a lifestyle that I actually couldn’t afford, which I am paying for today in the form of tens of thousands of dollars in compound interest.

The thing about unpaid interest is that it gets added to the principle (i.e. the original loan amount). Basically, you end up paying interest on any unpaid interest you accrue. This means that your principle can look dramatically different by the time you graduate if you aren’t proactive about keeping the cost down.

Instead of eating out, purchasing new clothes and the latest gadget, or attending popular concerts and sporting events, pay the interest on your student loans if you can afford to. Besides, interest payments are tax deductible, which means a larger return come tax season.

Borrowing to pay for college isn’t a bad – just be smart. Crunch the numbers and proactively manage your debt so paying it off doesn’t impede on your quality of life and/or threaten to defer your dream.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Be sure to like and leave me a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to this blog on my website and get automatically notified of new posts.

Thought #4: 4 Ways You’re Rich

Recently, my father decided to go back to school, so he enrolled in a night course with me,  which means we’ve been spending more time together then we have in years.

You’re probably thinking that all of this quality father/son time is adorable, but the reality is that the two of us rarely ever see eye to eye – introduce a classroom to our dynamic, and we become arch nemeses.

Our conflict stems from the fact that he perceives my views as liberal and generally naive, while I think he is conservative and a little out of touch.

A couple of weeks ago in class, we were on opposing sides of an issue like we normally are; however, this time my father seized an opportunity to make things personal and hit me where he knew I would feel it.

The topic we were discussing that evening was: “What motivates employees?” A group, including my father, agreed that money was the greatest motivating force in the workplace, yet the professor presented research suggesting that other factors, such as challenging work, a clear connection to future goals and aspirations, and positive relationships with coworkers and managers motivated employees to be more productive and approach their jobs with more enthusiasm.

Inspired, I shared how I prioritized finding work that I considered to be meaningful over jobs that offered high salaries during my recent job hunt, to which my father rebutted: “He mightn’t had taken that Community College job if he wasn’t living with me rent free!”

It’s true, my father has always been my hero every time I have gone through a major life transition (e.g. this time, my plan to move abroad fell through, and I found myself between jobs and out of an apartment, so I decided to take a risk and launch a business). Still, I couldn’t pick my jaw up off the ground – my father got me good.

After some reflection  – and major ego restoration – I came to see that my father was actually trying to remind me that I’ve been able to pursue my dreams because I possess a lot of Capital.

For this “Thought”, I discuss 4 ways to be rich and make progress towards your dreams even when your bank statements say you’re broke.

#1. Appraise Social Capital

Social capital refers to the value created by the people in our lives. Family, friends and our professional associates are all valuable assets, particularly when making a major life transition.

While the delivery of his message could have been more tactful, my father was unequivocally just in his assertion that I might have prioritized a large salary in my recent job hunt had I not been the beneficiary of the security and support that he provided me.

Receiving help from a parent to make a down payment on a house, getting recommended for a position by an associate in a coveted company, or crashing on a friends couch in a time of need are just a few examples of how each of us has probably benefited from social capital; in addition, the belonging and sense of connection created through our social networks is extremely valuable.

Though social capital varies greatly from person to person, I’d like to believe that if each of us appraised our social networks, we’d realize just how wealthy we are.

When you’re broke and chasing a dream, it’s important to cultivate your social capital. For example, stay present in the lives of the people you care about and continue to expand your network. Also, don’t be afraid to humble yourself and tap into your social capital – you might be surprised how willing and able people are to provide you with what you need to keep pushing forward.

#2. Expand Human Capital

Human capital refers to our intrinsic talents, skills and abilities. Besides who you know, the return on investment in what you know can’t be underestimated, especially when you’re trying to bring a dream to fruition.

Thanks to the internet and the public library, expanding your repertoire of talents, skills and abilities has never been easier – or cheaper! You can learn almost anything online or in a book. Moreover, your local community college is a great resource for Career and Technical Education, which provides direct access to many of the most popular and fastest growing careers (check out my post “5 Reasons to Get a Certificate” for more information).

Just because you’re broke doesn’t mean that you can’t become an expert on a topic or in an area of interest to you, or you can’t pick up a some new skills that could come in handy later on down the line when you’re trying to launch that business or apply for that dream job.

#3. Diversify Economic Capital

Economic capital is the capital we’re most familiar with – and probably the type of capital we’d like to get better acquainted with – and it refers to cold hard cash.

While human and social capital are important, “money makes the world go round“.

It cost money to interview or start a business, and that’s on top of eating, keeping up with a phone bill and car insurance, or student loan payments (if you are one of the millions of Americans grappling with student loan debt), so I would be remiss if I didn’t emphasize the importance of diversifying your economic capital.

When you’re transitioning between careers or starting a business, you probably don’t really want to commit to a 30+ hour per week job; however, that doesn’t mean you can’t still make money.

If you live in a major metropolitan area and have a car, contract with car sharing or delivery service and take advantage of the flexible schedule. It’s becoming increasingly popular to sell things online. If you have a talent or skill, chances are there is someone willing to pay you for them. In short, hustle!

#4. Cultivate Spiritual Capital

One of the first things to be sacrificed when life gets tough is health and faith. Spiritual capital is an original concept that I am using to represent the value in attending to the body and soul.

Exercising and praying and/or meditating are free, but they are two activities that can reap major benefits in your life. Hitting local trails or walking around your neighborhood is a great opportunity to reflect and strengthen your body. Moreover, having faith that a force greater than yourself is working out the things that are beyond your control is a great way to lighten your load and free  up your mind so you can focus more on the things within your control.

Accomplishing a dream can be a long and arduous journey full of trials and tribulations, which is why it’s so important to focus on creating value in all aspects of your life.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Remember to like and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #3: 5 Reasons to Get Certified

After finally convincing myself to be courageous and venture out on my own to start working as an independent educational consultant, I knew that I was going to need a lot of help figuring out how to start and operate a successful business.

Immediately, I began to research blogs, videos, and books that would give me the information that I needed to get started. While the internet provided me with more than enough resources, I mainly felt overwhelmed; it was hard figuring out how to organize and use all the information.

My gut told me that I would benefit so much more from working with an experienced entrepreneur or business professional who could curate the information for me and help me to break down the complicated process of starting and operating a small business into some actionable steps.

Fortunately, I had been researching and advising young people on alternatives to enrolling in traditional undergraduate programs for a while, so I was familiar with the various career-focused certificate programs offered in the Bay Area, and I remembered that the City College of San Francisco offered a free, 72-hour certificate program for persons interested in owning and operating small businesses, so I gave it a try.

As I prepare to complete the program, I appreciate just how much I have been able to accomplish in such a short period of time: I developed a business plan, I built a website and started this blog, I registered my business with my county Clerk Recorder, and I extended my professional and personal networks and now have mentors to support my continued growth and development as an entrepreneur.

In addition to the small business certificate program, I have earned other certificates, and each one has been similarly useful in helping me to cultivate new skills and open doors to new opportunities, so I wanted to take some time and share a couple of reasons why I think you should consider acquiring a certificate too.

1. They are Highly Specialized

One of the main deterrents of young people continuing their education after high school is the thought of more general education. I have heard on numerous occasions how young people are jaded by twelve years of compulsory education and lack the desire to take more courses on topics that lack a direct application in the world of work.

Moreover, some of my close friends have realized that the jobs they really want require highly specialized skill sets and know-how that weren’t offered in their undergraduate programs.

For both situations, a certificate is a great solution. A major benefit of certificates is that they offer a high degree of specialization, which means you only take those courses that are directly related to your chosen discipline, and many programs don’t require high GPAs, test scores, or prerequisite courses to start.

2. They Don’t Take Long to Complete

“I don’t want to be in school forever…I want to get a job,” or, “I am too busy and don’t have time to take classes,” are the most common reasons people give me for choosing to discontinue their formal education.

What’s so wonderful about certificates is they are created to provide a fast-track into a desired career, and many certificates are designed to fit the schedules of working professionals and non-traditional students. Many of the certificates that I have looked into take less than a year to complete (and some take less than 6 months!), plus many of the programs are offered in the evening or online making them compatible with virtually any schedule.

3. They are Affordable

It’s no secret that school can get expensive, and student loan debt is arguably the defining financial crisis of our times; however, that shouldn’t deter you from looking into earning a certificate.

While the cost of a certificate can vary depending on where you get it and you want to pay close attention to the accreditation and reputation of a program, chances are there is a certificate available at the right price for you.

If you are currently working, it might be worth it contact your Human Resource Department or speak with your manager/supervisor to find out if your company has any money set aside for professional development because you might be able to earn a job-related certification for free.

If you are not working, check out the course catalog at your local community college and see what the school has to offer. Community college programs are generally industry approved, and they offer some of the most affordable rates on the market – my program was free!

4. You Meet New People

Unless your chosen program is entirely online, you are going to get to work with lots of new people. These people will come in the forms of professors, experts, and peers – as you may already be aware, sometimes who you know is just as important as what you know.

Increasing your network is powerful because the more people you meaningfully connect with in your field means more potential opportunity. As you begin the process of looking for jobs, knowing people in your field becomes an advantage and can translate into higher quality recommendations and referrals.

In addition to expanding your network, new people have the potential to inspire creativity because you are exposing yourself to new and different ways of thinking. This exposure will help you to stretch yourself and become a more critical thinker.

5.  You Build Your Resume

Lastly, certificates are a great way to build up your resume and transform yourself into a more marketable candidate for employment.

Whether you are fresh out of high school and just embarking on your career journey, or you are a seasoned professional, certificates are a great way to spruce up your resume and demonstrate to a potential employer that you are intellectually dexterous and committed to learning and growing professionally.

Certificates offer a big bang for the buck! A short investment in time and finances can turn out to produce big returns in work satisfaction and future earnings.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Remember to like and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website and get notified of new posts.