Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Student Success Triangle - Why Creating Value is Key

Yesterday I was interviewed by the awesome Thomas Frank, founder of (check it out!) for his podcast for college students.

Thomas started his blog while in college, and helps students regarding topics like study tactics, personal branding, and paying off college debt.

So you can imagine, we had a pretty awesome time talking.

As we were excitedly "geeking out" about college success ideas - both the ones in my book and the ones Thomas talks about - he came up with this triangle in his head, and turned it into this:
(See, I told you he was awesome).

My book focuses on the "Relationship Building" part of the triangle, but today I wanted to elaborate on how "Value Creation" can help you be successful in college and beyond. 

There are many ways you can create value on campus, and it's essential to both winning scholarships and generating career success after college. 

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and my interactions with the following have really been confirming to me the importance of creating today, not tomorrow:

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
When International Dot Day was trending on Twitter I had to find out what was going on. Turns out it was inspired by this incredible children's book written in 2003. I bought it immediately and it made me cry. You'll have to read it to find out why, but essentially it shows how a teacher inspires a girl who thinks she can't draw.

The teacher has the young girl just make a dot, and then tells her to sign it. The teacher then frames the picture/dot on her wall. The girl is inspired, empowered. And she starts creating more dots, more art.

To me this story perfectly elucidates the importance of creating something now - with whatever you've got, whatever you're interested in.
The Future Project
This incredible non-profit encourages high school students to create projects, "dreams with a deadline," and it's amazing. I was watching a bunch of their videos the other day and was in awe of some of the projects the students were creating, like a student who created a website and event to help students coping with loss.

The Future Project has done research that shows why projects like these can have such a huge impact on students' lives. Not only do these kinds of projects stand out in a resume or college application, but something special happens when you complete an ambitious project...

Happy Professor
My good friend Erin writes the blog, and wrote a book of the same title. Earlier this week we were both talking about the incredible feeling we got from creating a website and writing a book - how it's scary at first but that once you do it it makes you feel like you could do anything. Suddenly writing your next book or starting your next website doesn't seem so scary. 

In short, you feel empowered.

You feel like maybe you really have something to offer the world. That maybe, just  maybe, your actions actually matter. 

P.S. Doing a project you care about makes you INTERESTING. This in turn makes it much easier for you to make real connections in your community and online via social media (i.e. Building Relationships). People love hearing about new projects, and it shows that you are a person of action. 

And as you engage in projects and create value you'll start to get closer to what you really like to learn about and what skills you really want to develop, thus making you much more excited about learning.

So are you ready to start to add value creation to your college success triangle? 

10 Ways to Create Value in College

1. Start a club

2. Create and execute a campus event
3. Write for your college newspaper; host a campus TV or radio show
4. Start a small business; see if your college has an incubator
5. Start a YouTube channel
6. Start a blog or website
7. Find an internship that gives you the opportunity to create something new
8. Do a photo project
9. Create art and share it
10. Do an original research project* (check to see if your college offers funding/help)

The key is to think about what you're most interested in and then just contribute to that area. DO something. MAKE something. Create something. 

Seek out help and don't do it on your own. And don't worry if it doesn't work the way you wanted it to. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to get done. 

Make your mark. You'll be amazed at what a little dot on a piece of paper can turn into. 


*At Stetson University I was required to embark on a year-long research project in order to complete my bachelor's degree. It was daunting, but accomplishing that 75-page research paper and presenting it out-of-state at a conference gave me the confidence and skills to write my book. It taught me how to break a giant writing project into smaller parts, and made me feel just so dang good that I actually COULD do something I previously thought terrifying. 

If starting a blog, a YouTube channel, a website, writing a book, or giving speeches appeals to you, you'll like the free ebook I wrote here about creating a personal brand through value creation. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

An overachiever's guide to failure and uncertainty

Overachiever: someone who's good at following the rules, going the extra mile, getting the A; also adept at avoiding failure.

That's not Webster's definition, it's just the first thing that came to my mind.

Hi, my name is Isa and I'm an overachiever. 

My overachiever's nature has led me to deeply explore the world of success, who gets it, what makes it, how hard you have to work to get it, what it requires, etc.

And the kind of success I tend to admire most is the kind had by the rule breakers, the artists, the creators, the entrepreneurs, the inventors, the leaders. 

By nature I'm not a rule breaker. I'm a rule follower. I'm not comfortable with risk, adventure, uncertainty, and, the big one, failure.

For the most of my life, this served me well.

School was made for overachievers. We're lucky in that. Privileged in fact. Overachievers can continue to follow the rules and do very well in life.

But what about the brand of overachievers who aren't interested in careers where rule-following matters. What if you want to overachieve at something that's scary, risky, and requires lots of failure along the way?

If that describes you, then this is just for you; it's something I wish I'd had before I set out on my journey of trying to overachieve in the world of risk and uncertainty.

An Overachiever's Guide to Failure and Uncertainty

1 - Drown out the noise
There are a lot of rules around you, a lot of paths, a lot of people telling you what success is. Sometimes as overachievers we get so wrapped up in the definitions being put upon us (we're good at that, remember? There isn't a class we can't ace, a syllabus we can't follow) but we rarely stop and think about our real values and priorities, and how we really want to define what success means in our lives. 

Find a quiet place, grab a notebook or a great journal, and start by writing out what success really means to you - if judgement, money, and rules weren't a factor, what would success really look like in your life? Forget about every other expectation or expected path, and just write like no one's judging (or grading ;)).

2 - Read books about people you admire
Once you've really thought about what success looks like to you, find some books about people who have achieved that kind of success. Pay close attention to their failures and the uncertainty in their path. What risks did they have to take? What happened when they failed? What kept them going? Why did their pursuit matter? When did they have to evolve their dreams? Who helped them along the way?  

Write down the insights you gain and find someone to talk with about the ideas you gleam.

3 - Admit failure and uncertainty
There's often a pressure to seem like you have it all together. "You don't know your major yet!? You don't have a five year plan?! You must be the worst person ever." Okay, so it might not always be that dramatic, but it can feel that way sometimes.

Don't be afraid to answer these questions honestly, especially when talking to friends. Admit that you are still trying to figure it out. Some of the most successful people I've met aren't afraid to say "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up." 

I've noticed that most of the successful people I admire, talk to, and read about, seem to embrace uncertainty and failure like friends. It's not that the processes are fun (they're not!) but they understand that they are a mandatory part of the journey.

There's nothing like being given permission to admit you're unsure and afraid. Be honest and give others permission to talk about the failure and uncertainty in their lives. When you admit your failures/uncertainties, you can almost see people relax, their shoulders drop, their breathing slows, and they think, "ahh, finally, I don't have to pretend. We can be real here for a moment." 

Create those conversations and bask in the honesty.

4 - Know that it's the worst
Okay, so, as an overachiever I've got to be honest: I hate failure and uncertainty! If you're one of those people who are all zen about failure and uncertainty then good for you, please share your tips in the comments below. But here's the honest truth, as an overachiever, I've found that it's not about having to love failure and uncertainty - it's about learning how to survive it and then let the act of surviving it build your confidence instead of tearing it down permanently (even if it does shake it for a while).

Failure curls me into a little ball on the stairs, in wracking sobs. Uncertainty makes me feel like I'm having a panic attack on the inside while moving in slow motion on the outside. 

Knowing that coming up against setbacks (and sometimes feeling terrible about it) is normal (and a required part of success) is what keeps me from giving up. Steps 1-3 are what keep me going forward.

When you do hit a wall, a setback, a failure, or a moment when you're almost paralyzed by the uncertainty of your future, know that it's okay if it makes you feel terrible. Talk to someone. Don't go through it alone. It's okay to cry. It's also okay to adjust your direction. Sometimes it's good to quit. The key is just not to give up on you. 

And be careful not to "avoid failure" so much so that you also avoid the kind of success that might mean the most to you, the kind of overachieving that you really dream of, the kind that is impossible without risk and uncertainty, the kind that might involve breaking a few rules (or being okay with a B...;)). 

"Success and failure are not two separate roads...success and failure are on the same road, just picture success farther down that road." - Dr. Cathy Collautt

Friday, October 24, 2014

Are you studying in the right place?

Where do you study for college? 

When you're in that environment, do you feel really productive? When you finish do you think "ahh...I got even more accomplished than I thought I would"?

Do you feel like you're at your best? 

Are you getting the grades you know you can get?

If you answered "no" to any of those questions, then it might be time to change where you're studying for college. 

For me, the best study place, the place where I could easily answer "yes" to all the questions above, was the college library. 

I almost never did college work or studied from home. I scheduled time before and in-between my classes to spend in the library each week, without fail. From the cozy corner cubicles surrounded my books to the quiet buzz of the computer lab, that is where I felt at my most productive - and I really was.

But here's the thing - I didn't realize until recently how powerful this actually was. Let me explain:

I've been working from home for almost three years now, and recently I found myself feeling restless. I wasn't feeling like I could answer "yes" to the questions above anymore. Even though I was still working hard, at the end of the day I still felt antsy, like I wasn't accomplishing what I needed. And at the beginning of the day I felt sluggish. What was up?

When an opportunity arose for me to rent an office, something inside me clicked - THIS is just what I need! I realized all this time I had been fighting against what I had known so instinctively in college - I work best outside of my home. 

My new office!
Environment matters. Just walk on the beach, into a dance studio, or onto a sports field, and see how those environments make you feel. What do they make you want to do?

For me, home has always been the place where I like to read, sleep, eat, eat, eat, watch TV, and relax. It's never been the best "work" environment for me.

I can't tell you what the "best" environment is, because I think it can be different for every person - and you might even find you need different environments at different times. 

I just want to encourage you to take the time figure out what really works best for you. Notice how you feel when you're working and preparing to do well in your college classes. If you aren't feeling that sense of flow, try changing your environment.

Because trust me, when you find that place that inspires you to do your best work, work doesn't feel like work anymore. It feels more like art.
My new favorite inspiration spot near my office. :)

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.