Monday, October 20, 2014

The easiest thing you can do to make a difference on your college campus

Have you ever smiled at a baby who smiled back? 

It's a pretty wonderful feeling. 

And it's something I do every chance I get (so far no parents have thought I was least...I don't think... ;))

I travel a lot and there are a lot of little kids flying in and out of my hometown airport (also the hometown of a famous mouse). 

And I love to smile at them. Because they always smile back. And it makes me happy, which is especially helpful during what can sometimes be the stressful hustle and bustle of travel.

One of the reasons babies smile back, so I've read, are because of mirror neurons. It's the same thing that makes you model the expressions and emotions of people in movies (stop and notice your expression during a sad part of a movie...mirror neurons are for real!)

But I think it's also something else. Now I don't know exactly what babies are thinking, but I do think there'ssomething to the power of human attention. A smile with eye contact says, "I see you; you matter." I think, from cradle-to-grave, that is something we all crave every day. 

And while I spend a lot of time speaking to faculty and staff about the importance of these kinds of habits when working with students, I also think it's something you can practice on campus.

I'm not saying to walk through campus with some big fake smile plastered on your face (that would be creepy...) but I am saying, smile even when you don't feel like it. Notice people around you. 

Instead of burying your face in your phone while walking to class and waiting around for the professor, try looking up and giving someone a small, authentic smile. Something that says "Hi, I'm not crazy, I swear, just nice, just trying something this crazy blogger lady put into my head...also, I see you; you matter." ;)

Seriously, though. Try this. 

When I was in high school I once read in a magazine that the best way to be popular was to smile. It wasn't talking about the kind of "popular" that requires money or rebellion. It was the kind where a lot of people, from all different walks of life and cliques, genuinely like you because you show that you care about them. You make them feel important. 

You have more power on your campus than you realize to affect things. The first section of my book is about "Peers" for a reason. You matter on your campus, and the way you show up and the attitude you bring affects others around you.

You never know who might be on the brink of dropping out. Who might be going through a family tragedy. Or who might have just gotten a soul-crushing test grade. 

Smile at people. Make them feel important. There are more students on your campus than you know who are just dying for someone to "say:"

I see you; you matter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What to say when someone invites you to something in college


Let me explain. 

Last week I woke up in such a good mood. It was just one of those days where you actually feel motivated and energized. I work like I feel that way every day, but I don't always feel that way. Today I did, and on days like that I don't like to be alone. 

So I texted a friend whom I know has some flexibility in her day (she's a college professor) and asked her if she wanted to meet me for tea that afternoon. I didn't have a car that day so I needed her to drive pretty far to come pick me up. I didn't think she'd be able to, but I had to ask because I really needed someone to bounce all the energy and ideas I was having off of. 

To my surprise, she said she'd head over soon to pick me up!

When I got in the car, I told her how excited I was that she just said yes, and she told me this:

"I made a rule for myself in college that anytime someone invites me to something I should just say 'yes,' and I still use that rule today."

I love this!

And okay, so of course there are exceptions. I'm not talking about dating or parties or doing anything dangerous or any other kind of other college shenanigans. ;) 

Nor am I saying you need to say "Yes" to everything. You don't need to do everything in college. But when someone first invites you to something, you should make it a rule to say yes. The "rule" part helps re-train your brain that's probably conditioned to say 'no.' Your brain says, 'new is scary,' and 'routine is safe.'

And once you there it doesn't mean you have to keep saying yes - yes to the friendship, yes to joining a club, etc. But if you don't say yes initially, you'll never know what you might be missing. 

This is especially for all the commuters out there:

Stop going to class and going home!

When someone invites you to a club meeting or event, say yes and go.

When someone invites you to lunch or coffee, say yes and go. 

And if no one is inviting you, start inviting other people until someone says yes.

Don't take the no's personally, but don't be the one who's saying 'no' either.

Nine times out of ten you may not have a life-changing wonderful time. But you create opportunities for that one time that changes everything. That new best friend. That club you become an officer in that wins you a scholarship or gets you into your dream transfer university. That really fun time in college that you'll talk about for decades to come. That idea you get from a great conversation. 

When I started community college I just went to class and went home too. I didn't know there was more.

Then a girl invited me to a Phi Theta Kappa meeting. 

I said yes. 

I became an officer. Then President. 

At one of our Phi Theta Kappa meetings I learned about the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship.

And then I won it - $110,000 that paid for my bachelor's degree and master's degree. 

That would have never happened if I'd said 'no.'

Don't wait until you're not scared or it seems easy - because you might be waiting for ever.

Just say yes.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why you should go into airplane mode even when you're not on an airplane

I've always been a somewhat late adopter when it comes to technology.

For example, when I purchased my second smart phone ever last week it was already two versions ahead of my current phone. 

I've always been slow in this area because I never wanted to feel like I was a slave to my phone, to it's updates and bings and notifications and constant connectivity.

But alas, I can't fight it anymore. It's here, and here to stay, and the addiction has taken hold. When I hear a "bing" I just have to read it. I have to know what just happened!!! Was it a retweet?! A text?! A new LinkedIn connection?! I MUST KNOW NOW!!!!!

So yeah...I know, I know, "Welcome to the 21st Century, Isa." I've finally arrived, and while there are a ton of advantages to all this connectivity, there are still times where I need to just zone out and FOCUS.

As a professional writer and speaker this is especially vital. I almost never give the same speech twice, as every one is customized to the specific audience and event, so there are times where I have to focus deeply to get into the "zone" of creating something new. 

Same with writing of course. And for a while I found myself actually procrastinating this work - something I never used to do.

And I realized it was because it was just so hard to focus. I was avoiding the strain not of the work itself, but of the effort it took to focus despite all the distractions around me.

Recently I decided to try something that I think might help you too when it comes to studying. 

I turned my phone on airplane mode. Now, of course you can just turn it off too, but to the addict, that just feels wrong. ;) 

So now when I need to get important work done I turn my phone on airplane mode, and sometimes even turn the wifi off on my laptop.

The result? I've felt re-energized in my work and have created some of the best speeches I've ever done, if I do say so myself. ;)

So give it a try! 

(I also downloaded a bunch of classical music meant for studying on iTunes that I also use when I need to zone out the sounds around me too; just search 'classical music' and 'study' and you'll find a ton of results).

You may be surprised at how much you might accomplish, and what your brain can do when it's released from the constant "bing" for a little while.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The SKiNNY on Non-Traditional Students

Non-traditional is becoming the new normal, but that doesn't mean it's easy. This episode is dedicated to any student who doesn't fit the "full-time-18-year-old-freshman-with-a-HS-diploma-who-doesn't-have-to-work-and-doesn't-have-kids" mold.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The biggest mistake low-income students make when it comes to student loan debt

The biggest mistake low-income students make when it comes to student loan debt, in my opinion, isn't what you might think. 

Sure, taking out too many loans for a private school may not always be the best decision if you can get a similar degree at a public institution for much cheaper (though some private schools may surprise you with how much financial aid they'll offer if you're a great student).

And getting too many loans and dropping out of college before getting the degree that can help open up opportunities which would help you pay back those loans is definitely not good. 

However, the biggest mistake I see students making, especially those who come from low-income backgrounds (like I did), is something different:

It's the misunderstanding of the difference between "debt" and "investment."

Rich people invest. Poor people go into debt. 

If you grew up in a low-income family like I did, in college you may find yourself feeling so burdened from having seen the debt your parents had to endure that you think the number one way to stop being poor is to not get into debt. 

But this can backfire.

To be sure - you shouldn't go racking up credit cards on the fanciest clothes, cars, homes, and things you can't afford. That is still classic debt. 

But your college education is one of the best investments you can make, as long as you are willing to invest the time necessary to do it well and get the degree.

I remember being really afraid of a $1,500 loan I was offered my second year of community college. Loans? Debt?! Yikes!! No no no. Debt is bad, bad, bad. I'm definitely not going to take this loan and instead I'll work more hours - yes!!

But here is what a wise mentor told me: 

Your education is the best investment you can make (especially at a reputable, accredited, public school). If that loan can help you work less, get involved more, and increase your performance in school then it is a WISE investment. 

I decided to take that loan. It allowed me to work a little less and get involved (and study) a little more.

I became president of our Phi Theta Kappa chapter that year and won the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship.

See the difference? It was an investment, because it gave me the opportunity earn more money and be more successful in the long run. 

Let me say that again: An investment is something that can make you even more money in the future. 

Debt is something that sinks you deeper into a hole in which the thing that got you into debt CANNOT get you out.

The newest phone, the luxury car, the designer clothes - those things alone don't have power to get you out of debt.

But a college degree, well, even recent reports still show it is the kind of thing that can help you make more money. It's an investment. 

I've always believed that learning and developing your skills is the best investment you can make. Even in my own business I use my credit cards with abandon when it comes to buying important books or traveling to meet amazing people. Even when I'm not sure if those risks paid off in the moment, I come to find out they always do. 

And if you're still not convinced, let me tell you a very short story about an investment a friend of mine made during his college experience.

It goes like this:

My friend went to a college not located in Washington, DC. He was not rich.

He eventually realized he wanted to work in politics.

He learned that getting an internship in DC was a really good way to get involved in politics. To him it seemed only rich kids were getting internships in DC because their parents could afford to pay for them to live there.

He decided that wasn't going to stop him.

He took out a $6,000 loan in college to help fund a semester in DC for an internship in politics.

Today he works in The White House. Literally. For real. The actual White House. Where the President of the United States lives. The President is his boss. 

You get the picture. ;) 

Invest in yourself. Seek out mentors and talk to financial aid advisors before making any big decisions. 

(If you want to learn more, my favorite financial book for young people is The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke by financial expert Suze Orman. In it you'll also find she agrees with me that college is one of the BEST investments you can make - yes, even if that means taking out some student loans.)

Like any investment, there is risk involved, but the good news about college is you have control over most of the risk, because you're investing in yourself! The best way to reduce risk is to dedicate your 110% to your college education. 

What does that look like? Well, to find out I also recommend investing in some college success books! Invest in your learning and give your best. You are worth it.