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Once Burned, Twice Shy

Book Excerpt: Beating the Good Student Trap

By Adele Scheele, Ph.D.
Courtesy of Kaplan Books
Thursday, May 6, 2004; 5:34 PM

Practice experimenting. Think about the creative process of a scientific experiment. You develop your hypothesis and then you test it. If it works, you feel gratified being right and proving your theory. But you haven't actually learned anything because you already knew it; now you can confirm results with others.

But suppose you don't prove what you set out to. At first, you feel terrible. The fact is, you were wrong. But have you failed? Only if you think the experiment is a test. If you do, then by getting the "wrong answer" you feel terrible having failed. Most people decide to quit then and there. Or you go on-in true experimental fashion-restructuring your hypothesis, reexamining your variables, trying another approach, applying your own educated hunches. Only then do you discover things you didn't know before.


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_____Adele Scheele, Ph.D._____
Excerpt Beating the Good Student Trap (Kaplan Books).
Excerpt Once Burned, Twice Shy (Kaplan Books).

It's like the old adage from generations of collected wisdom: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." The old adage still applies, but with an addendum: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again . . . another way, each time." It's a life-fulfilling philosophy that builds both confidence and skill.

Career Qs

Q. I am worried about not making the right career choice and being stuck in that job for the rest of my life. What can I do?

A. You don't have to ever be stuck if you practice taking risks right now. Successful people achieve not just because they're either smart or lucky, but because they are resourceful and courageous. These two qualities will be in great demand in the twenty-first century, for according to the Department of Labor, you will have as many as five different careers in your lifetime. Thirty-three percent of those new jobs aren't even conceived of yet. What such a statistic means is that you can't prepare for one, single career nor can you stand in line for your career to be handed to you like your college registration is. You've got to prepare for many careers.

Start learning the megaskills you'll need throughout your life, now while you're in college. Start networking with professors and counselors on campus, and with employers through internships and jobs. You'll discover fascinating careers though new tasks to learn. It shouldn't be boring!

Think of college not as a test but as an experiment. You're experimenting to find out what you like to study and what you would like to do with your major. Don't turn college into the Big Test with many small quizzes along the way. You'll end up merely passing: passing tests, passing time, passing up possibilities for achievement, passing through life-stuck in the good student trap.

Here Are Some Things You Can Do.

• Join a study group. If you can't find a study group meeting regularly, start one. Invite some classmates to meet over pizza to brainstorm about how to reap the many benefits of collaboration. You will learn ways to:
• Organize and prepare material for your classes; set appropriate deadlines so you won't procrastinate
• Build long-lasting friendships with some of the other students in your study group

Check Out and Join Campus Activities That Appeal to You.

You can get a list of activities from the student affairs office. Pick the activities that you always wanted to join. Do more than just join. Get involved. And make your involvement an exploration of your abilities. Make yourself visit and sit in on a few meetings and events so you can pick one or two activities from your own preferences and direct experiences. Then volunteer in a role that you haven't tried before.

Investigate Your Best Subjects.

Write papers about the fields that interest you. Talk to your professors. Look in the alumni directory (from the alumni office) to find graduates who are employed in fields that interest you. And go meet them. (More on this point in chapter 3.)

Risk asking questions of your academic advisor, professors and administrators. That's what these people are there for. Go to their offices and ask:

• How they got started
• Surprises they found along the way
• New trends they recognize
• Advice on your best academic or career bets

Make New Friends From Class and Clubs.

Introduce yourself. Meet for lunch or college events and lectures. Keep building your network. People of every age like to be invited; in fact, they are waiting for your invitation or call. Do it. Persistence is hot; shyness is not.

Susan's Story: Voulez-Vouz Fries With That?

Let's take a look at someone who fell into the good student trap, and think about how she could have used her education differently.

Susan was used to A's. She graduated at the top of her college class with a B.A. in French, going to class and studying by day and waiting on tables at night at a local coffee shop. Susan hoped that a job in Paris, the city of her dreams, would be hers after graduation. Near the end of her last semester, Susan mailed out dozens of letters requesting job information, but she got no response. Susan discovered that getting employment overseas with an American company was a plum assignment given as a reward to men or women who were already working in their company. There were two other alternatives open to her-teaching or applying to graduate school-but she didn't want to do either. Depressed, Susan felt that college had been a complete failure, a waste of her time and money.

Susan's major was certainly not wasted: The study of another language and culture does provide a valuable framework. But by not using college, Susan did fail to uncover and create valuable opportunities. Just for starters, here are eight things she could have done while she was in college to chart her path to Paris.

• She could have developed a relationship with her French professors who might help her network with potential employers as well as find interesting projects.
• She could have studied the French iport business.
• She could have volunteered to work for the French consulate.
• She could have worked as a translator for the mayor's office in her college town.
• She could have worked part time at a French bank.
• She could have waited tables at a French restaurant rather than a coffee shop, connecting herself to a French chef or owner, even French customers or suppliers.
• She could have developed her leadership skills by joining the French club and becoming an officer or inviting French artists, politicians, business people to campus.
• She could have spent her junior year in France, working or volunteering part time for an American company with offices in Paris.

Pursuing these cocurricular activities would have taken time, courage, research, and energy. But any one of them would have paid off for her with more than a job. These explorations would have developed Susan's sense of courage and perhaps ignited some passion for a way to use her talents. It also would have been a lot more fun. Even if Susan's grade point average had dropped a little, the tradeoff would have been building blocks to construct her future-and perhaps a passport to Paris, as well as her heart.

Apply these imaginative ways to enhance what you're required to do and what you've chosen. Be proactive in a place where you've been conditioned to be passive. For example, use test taking or paper writing as activities to stimulate a way to discover your calling so that your dreams have a chance of being fulfilled. Combining your curriculum with life is a great way to create a set of goals toward your self-discovery. Dare to experience college as your own laboratory-not an isolated ivory tower. Make it a source of people, contacts, minds, power, creativity, and opportunity. You'll find that the real possibilities of college can be as open-ended as you are open-minded and willing to take risks. It requires your exploring what is yet unknown to you yet beckoning.

You choose how to use college. It can be either a continuation of fulfilling other people's assignments, a time-out from the real world, or it can be a head start into the real world as you create it and contribute to it. It's what you make it. Decide.

Career Qs

Q. My biggest concern is finding a career that offers job stability, security, and advancement. I want to succeed and prosper in life. How can I make sure that I will achieve all this?

A. You won't like this answer, but life has no real guarantees. Security and success are often at odds with each other. But there are careers to choose that are likely to provide you with what you hope for; insurance, accounting, or computer programming, for example. The field of sales is the path to the highest incomes, but this career path is secure only if you are creative and consistent in serving your clients and learning about your product or service. The most secure though not lucrative positions are teaching or government work, even research; these have their own rewards. Your best bet is to get an internship or part time job to discover where you fit best.

Strategies for Avoiding the "Good" Student Trap

Here are some ways you can put the ideas in this chapter into practice.

How to Build a Network

The first step is to reframe your way of thinking. Don't be so leery of seeking out and connecting with accomplished people-students, professors, and employers. Remember this is the first step in taking yourself seriously. Give up trying to secure your place in the world only by obediently fulfilling other people's expectations and goals.

The process of learning is twofold. First, you need to find out what other people know. Second, find out where you want to forge ahead and make a contribution.

Think of yourself as both an explorer and a builder. It's the process of discovery. Part of what you have to discover is how to interact with other people.

Here Are Some Things You Can Do.

• Join a study group. If you can't find a study group meeting regularly, start one. Invite some classmates to meet over pizza to brainstorm about how to reap the many benefits of collaboration. You will learn ways to:
• Organize and prepare material for your classes; set appropriate deadlines so you won't procrastinate
• Build long-lasting friendships with some of the other students in your study group

Check out and join campus activities that appeal to you.

You can get a list of activities from the student affairs office. Pick the activities that you always wanted to join. Do more than just join. Get involved. And make your involvement an exploration of your abilities. Make yourself visit and sit in on a few meetings and events so you can pick one or two activities from your own preferences and direct experiences. Then volunteer in a role that you haven't tried before.

Investigate your best subjects.

Write papers about the fields that interest you. Talk to your professors. Look in the alumni directory (from the alumni office) to find graduates who are employed in fields that interest you. And go meet them. (More on this point in chapter 3.)

Risk asking questions of your academic advisor, professors and administrators. That's what these people are there for. Go to their offices and ask:

• How they got started
• Surprises they found along the way
• New trends they recognize
• Advice on your best academic or career bets

Make new friends from class and clubs.

Introduce yourself. Meet for lunch or college events and lectures. Keep building your network. People of every age like to be invited; in fact, they are waiting for your invitation or call. Do it. Persistence is hot; shyness is not.

Editor's note: Author Adele Scheele , Ph.D., is an internationally known career/life strategist and change management authority. This updated excerpt of her book, Beating the Good Student Trap, was first acquired in May 2003.


© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive