I am a wellbeing coach. I spend a lot of my time reading, researching, learning, thinking, writing and talking about how to be well. One thing that comes up a lot in my line of work is ‘stress’. So it would make sense for you to assume that I have mastered the art of being stress-free. Right? Wrong.
As a mother of a kid who is getting ready to enter the junior year (11th grade for my non-US audience) of high school in a few months, I am starting to get a whiff of that acrid smell of ‘stress’ that comes with being part of a family that has a kid facing college-admissions in less than two years. The monster of college-admissions – understanding the process, sifting through all the information, prioritizing, choosing, strategizing, managing expectations, riding the highs and lows of emotions that come with disappointments, rejections and accomplishments – seems to get to not just the kids who are seeking the admissions but to parents as well.
Lots of my dear friends have older kids. Almost all of them, adults and kids, have navigated through this treacherous journey and have come out pretty much unscathed by this monster and walked out gracefully, and with lots of wisdom, from the other side of the woods. So the logic dictates, that in a few years, I, along with my family, would be fine as well. But I am also told that logic is not of much help during this journey. No amount of information is enough and the best way to deal with this process is mental discipline, humility and grace.
So in an attempt to keep my family’s sanity, I have decided to be pro-active and face this monster head-on. I have decided to coach myself and see if I can help myself, the parent, with my own anxieties. I am sharing this tongue-and-cheek coaching session with you in hope that it might strike a chord with other parents who may be going through something similar. For those of you, who have faced this monster before, please feel free to be amused or laugh out loud at my laughable anxieties and insecurities. For those of you, who have not gotten here yet, alas, I have no words of wisdom to share. And for those of you, who are walking lockstep with me on this journey, come along and share the ride.
Me, the Wellbeing Coach (M-WC): Hello, Why are you looking so pale?
Me, the Client (M-C): Oh, am I? I guess I am anxious.
M-WC: About what?
M-C: About my son.
M-WC: Why? What happened? Is he healthy and well?
M-C: Yeah, yeah. He is fine. I am starting to get worried about his college admissions.
M-WC: Has he not gotten into any colleges he applied to?
M-C: No, no, no. He is just a 10th grader right now but this whole ‘college-admissions’ process is looming.
M-WC: Say a little more. I don’t know much about it.
M-C: Neither do I. I have been told that it is a horrible process. Lots of stress, lots of work, lots of long hours for kids, lots of anxiety for the whole family, emotional roller-coaster and stuff!
M-WC: Oh! It seems to me that you are not as stressed about his admissions but more about the ‘process of college-admissions’.
M-C: Hmmm! I guess you are right!
M-WC: So what exactly are you worried about?
M-C: That he might not get into the right college. I have heard that there will be lots of workload for next couple of years. There are unrealistic expectations.
M-WC: Doesn’t your son control the workload? Can’t you help him manage expectations?
M-C: I can’t.
M-WC: Why not?
M-C: I don’t know how to. The system seems overwhelming and there is not much in our control. Additionally, there are too many conflicting messages being sent to the kids and the parents. ‘Work hard or else.’ ‘Don’t work yourself to death.’ ‘These two years are really important and there is a hyper-competitive world out there.’ ‘Do what you love.’ If we try to collect basic information, there are just too many variables and too much info. To get into a good university, one really needs to over-achieve. Perfect GPA and perfect SAT/ACT scores are just the starting point. On top of that, the kid needs to have opened an orphanage in Chad or should have broken Michael Phelps’ Olympic records for last three years running or opened an orphanage in Chad while breaking Phelps records. Oh, BTW, as neither my husband nor I went to undergrad in an Ivy league in the US, our kids are definitely doomed with no legacy advantage. And don’t forget that we are of Asian ethnicity. As a race, we are over subscribed in the selective universities – so no luck getting ….
M-WC: Stop. Wait. Take a breath. Calm down. There is no need to hyperventilate.
M-C: But wouldn’t you agree that this is a bit too much?
M-WC: Yes, I agree.
M-C: Good, at least I am not going crazy here.
M-WC: Yes you are. Remember, that is the reason why we are talking.
M-C: Fair enough. What should I do?
M-WC: First you need to breathe and calm down. Then you need to remember that it is your son who has to make this decision and not you. Is he as worried as well?
M-C: Not really! He is just being a regular teenager.
M-WC: Good. That’s a healthy sign. Now tell me what are you really afraid of?
M-C: That my kids will not get into good universities/colleges and then they will not have good jobs and then they will be unhappy and their lives will be miserable and it will be ALL because I didn’t figure out their college admissions process. OK, I really don’t mean all of that but you know what I mean. I just want them to be happy and successful.
M-WC: Can we just focus on your one son?
M-C: What do you mean?
M-WC: You just went from being worried about your one son’s college admissions to being worried about ‘my kids’ miserable lives’.
M-C: Did I? You are right. I need to get a handle on this. Let’s focus on my son. Let me try to answer your question: I am afraid that he will not get into the right college.
M-WC: How do you know what is the right college for him?
M-C: Oh it’s the one where he flourishes, learns what he enjoys, experiments, takes measured risks, discovers his young adult identity, explores the world beyond his family, makes life-long friends and learns how to become a contributing member of the society.
M-WC: Are there only limited number of colleges that offer those opportunities?
M-C: No, but…
M-C: Are you playing mind games with me?
M-WC: I don’t mean to. All I am doing is asking some questions. That’s my job.
M-C: OK. I get your point.
M-WC: I really don’t have a point. I am just helping you to get to your own point.
M-C: OK. OK. I have another fear. What if he doesn’t get into the college of his choice, when he chooses one?
M-WC: So he hasn’t chosen yet?
M-C: No. He is really not sure what he wants to do. But what if he doesn’t get into what he wants?
M-WC: What will happen?
M-C: Poor kid. He will be broken-hearted.
M-WC: What is wrong with that?
M-C: What do you mean? I am his mom. I don’t want him to be broken-hearted.
M-WC: Why? Do you think you can stop him from being broken-hearted all his life? Do you think that is healthy for his development? Were your parents able to do that for you?
M-C: No. No. And No.
M-WC: Do you think that your parents did a good job with you?
M-C: Yes, they did a great job. OK, I get your point.
M-WC: Which is…
M-C: I don’t know. I am confused. But I think your point maybe that I need to get a handle on my mind and not let it go crazy. I need to let my son make his choices, let him live and learn from his life and let the chips fall wherever they may. Is that your point?
M-WC: Sweetheart, I am being really serious when I say ‘I don’t have a point.’ More importantly, my point is completely irrelevant to your life. For you to get a handle on your anxiety, you need to dig deep and figure out what exactly is your point and check if it is really worth it for you to get anxious about.
M-C: Got it. I feel better. I think. For now. I have one more fear. Can we talk about it?
M-WC: I am sorry. Our time is up. But let me share a secret with you. A few minutes after you walk out this door, you will be back to the square one. There are lots of fear monsters waiting in line in all our heads. You can stop by my office everyday for next few years if you want or you can start to self-coach yourself. You seem to be quite good at it.
M-C: If you say so. One of these days I will become a secure parent.
M-WC: If you say so!
“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no real purpose.” – Eckhart Tolle