Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Welcome to High School, What is Your Vision?

Let’s talk about high school.  I love teaching high school because that is where I feel the action is.  So much hinges on the decisions made during high school.  In a way I think it is unfair, because most kids have no clue what they want to do, but they are expected to make this decision.  Most college students are also unsure, so if you aren’t sure you are not a freak.  In a perfect world you would know your career and your desired major.  Then you would take the best high school courses to make the transition to that field of study more easily.  You would then choose a college and a major in line with that exact career.

The problem is a concept of vision.  Look at the picture below taken from inside a forest:

Now look at the same forest from a different vantage point:

You can see that the higher vantage point allows you to see how large the forest actually is.  If I were lost I’d rather have a view that allows me to see more.  Career identification is a lot like this.  As you begin to interface with the working world, you will begin to see the immense career choices available to you.  There are thousands of jobs you can do.  If you take apart any organization you will see this.  Did you know that McDonald’s employs statisticians?  In the same way, IBM employs day care workers.  How do you get a clearer vision of what you want to be?

One thing is to just start paying attention to what you see around you.  You have access to quite a few adults who do many different things.  Ask them about their jobs, what they do, what they like and dislike about it, the conditions, the outlook, and the best way to get qualified to do such a job.  As you meet adults soak up as much as possible and you will get a clearer vision of what may be your dream job.  You are forcing yourself into a better vantage point that doesn’t appear fast enough if left to itself.  It takes effort to get a handle on what is a good career fit for you.

Volunteering at multiple organizations can help.  One student of mine volunteered with a local hospital twice a week.  He got a real look behind the scenes and found out that he didn’t want to be a doctor but rather a nurse.  In addition, by working in many different wards of the hospital he discovered the exact sub-field that he wanted to pursue.  When he went on to college, he sought a college with that exact major.  He is going to end up where he wants.

Your high school classes are a good indicator of career possibilities.  As you take your classes ask yourself if you enjoy the material and if you are good at it.   Competence and enjoyment are two powerful indicators of where we should be going.  They are mutually reinforcing.  When you are not competent in your job, people complain at you all day long, there is less pride in your work, and you will not be promoted.  This will lead you to be unhappy with your job no matter how much you initially enjoyed the job.  We need to have the basic skills required in order to pursue a college major.  A person weak in math should not pursue a math degree, nor should they pursue a career that demands a lot of math.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Young Men, Guard Your Rep!

How do people see you? 

Think about the different circles of people that you interact with such as classmates, teachers, teammates, coaches, principals, counselors, close friends, girlfriend, internet acquaintances, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, sisters, brothers.  This list would include all people who remember something about you even though you may not be aware of them.   

What if all of these people were to gather in a large room and in this room is a large whiteboard. The first person comes up and writes words that describe you. The next person places a check-mark next to any words they agree to and adds to the list.  The group lines up in a huge circle going round and round until everyone has a chance to check any words they forgot to list. 

Some of the words would probably have many checks, some might not.  Your girlfriend might write great kisser but obviously others wouldn’t check that term.  What would that list look like for you?  What we are talking about is something called integrity.  Integrity is maintaining a consistent character in all aspects of your life.   It is normal to adjust your behavior to the situation, but your basic character should be reliably similar regardless of the situation.  The problem is that many people have serious inconsistencies in their character.  They lack integrity.

The things you do will be the evidence for the judgments people make about you.  If you are caught lying, then you might be deemed a liar.  If you tell the truth 99 times and get caught lying one time, you are a liar.  Luckily people will cut you some slack.  When you screw up with people, apologize and don’t screw up and people tend to forgive with time. 

The secret to a healthy reputation is to consistently treat strangers kindly.

Our school has a no-hood policy.  Unless it is raining, sweater hoods must stay off the head.  Most of our students think the rule is really dumb, but a simple hood renders all of our security cameras as useless.  A hood also allows students to effectively avert and cover their eyes so that class discussions become less manageable.  I believe that the hood is also symbol of disrespect towards our school, so I enforce the rule wherever I walk on campus.  

What I have noticed is that when I am correcting one of my students in the hallways, there is compliance without complaint and the hood goes down. If; however, it is a stranger the reaction is very intense for some kids.  “Who are you?  You can’t tell me what to do (insert explicative here)!”  All schools have knuckleheads, so I try not to take it personal.  Since I teach freshmen and seniors I might have multiple run-ins with a kid before they walk in as a senior.  This is always an interesting thing in that their world is crashing around them, they are nice to those they know and jerky to strangers.  This is a lack of integrity. If you are a respectful person, you are respectful at all times and not only when people are respectful towards you.

This type of behavior is extreme, but you need to know that highly respectful people are more likely to benefit.  You never know who somebody is and whether they will hold the key to something you want.  Every adult you see on campus could be a potential recommendation letter or a single voice against you in a scholarship committee.  You never know who somebody may be, so make it your policy to be respectful and follow directions from any adult on campus.  That teacher or counselor may be next year’s vice principal.  That campus supervisor could become the principal’s secretary (the most powerful person on a campus).

He looked me dead in the eyes and with a look of pure hatred retorted, “You have to give respect, before you get respect!”  At that point it was clear the discussion was going nowhere.  I had just tried to explain how his lack of a respectful attitude towards me and his classmates was hurting his reputation.  He wasn’t getting that it.  As we sat together I could feel the anger dripping from this young man, and his attitude was going to be a death sentence for whatever aspirations he harbored.  I can’t remember anything else from the conversation, only that I think I have tried to tackle this conversation a million times.   Sometimes I get through to them, most times I don’t.  I think truth has a way of working itself into a person’s heart over time, so it’s possible that many of these hurting souls later got it.

That phrase: “You have to give respect to get respect” is interesting in that there is some truth to this.  It’s a half-truth.  We can earn respect when we are respectful to others, but not always.  Some people take a respectful attitude as a green light to be abusive towards us, but we can still be respectful in the face of disrespect.  The point is not to focus on how others treat you; it is to focus on how you treat others.  

Don’t wait to decide whether a person is worthy of your respect before you extend it to him or her. Make it automatic and you will have a healthy reputation as a person of integrity.

If you are disrespectful to those you feel are mean, then others will see you being disrespectful when they disagree with your assessment of that other person.  When I hear that one of my star students was disrespectful to another staff member, then that student has lost some of my respect for them and I will be less willing to back them in a scholarship committee or write a letter of recommendation.  I can only write a recommendation letter for people who are respectful in all situations to all people.  This is because the purpose of a recommendation letter is to vouch for a person that is not known by the college.  If I see someone who can be respectful to all people regardless of how they are treated, then I know for sure they will behave well  towards students or professors at that college.

Image: By The U.S. Army ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons at

Saturday, August 11, 2012

College Application Anxiety

The decisions that cost us the most anxiety are those that involve a lot of risk and where there are many variables to consider.  The stakes are high when choosing a college because it is a major jumping off point for the next phase of life.  

If you are not anxious at all then I’m seriously concerned that you are not taking this whole thing seriously.  People who have zero anxiety tend to be lazy on the application essays thereby insuring a denial.   I’m going to assume you are taking this seriously, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  To you I say, stop freaking out! Anxiety is normal, but you cannot let it get the best of you.   

Make your list of things to do and begin working on them.  After that no amount of worrying will really change anything.

I have great news for you!  You don’t have to make a final college choice just yet.  You should be looking to apply to seven colleges.  This means we just need to narrow it down by the beginning of the senior year.  That said we should put a lot of effort into this process because we are starting with over 3000 fully accredited colleges.

I need to repeat something I say a lot:  Most public universities have a wide range of majors that will give you most of what you want in a college.  I believe the perfect college does not exist and all colleges (as well as all organizations) have flaws.  There are quite a few colleges that are very good and will meet all your college needs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How many colleges should you apply to?

You are looking for seven colleges to apply to.  You can do more, but it takes time to fill out the applications, do the essays, round up recommendation letters, and in addition to the time, each application requires an application fee ranging up to $70.  This means you are going to be limited to the number of colleges that you will be able to apply to.   

The object is to choose 2 colleges that are considered reach colleges, 3 colleges that are matches and 2 colleges that are safety colleges.  A safety college is a college where you will get in easily.  Your grades and test scores are far above the averages posted for that college.  Note:  these averages have been rising recently as more students have been chasing fewer freshman slots, so give yourself some wiggle room by going far above the averages posted for that school.  A match college is exactly as it sounds.  Your grades are about where the average scores are for that college.  A reach college is a college where you are slightly below the average scores for that college. Reach colleges are where we run into trouble.

Some people use the word dream college in place of reach college.  The reason I like the term reach college is that we are talking about a stretch, but not an unreachable chasm.  If you have a 3.1 GPA, then a reach college is one that has an average no greater than 3.5.  Do you see where I am going?  Some websites will delineate the percentages of students who have each level of grades. does a great job of this and in my opinion is the best place to get college data for score ranges. 

While  I was watching the swimming qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics.  One female swimmer who qualified was in the process of applying to colleges.  Listen, anyone who is good enough to qualify for the Olympics should have no problem getting a full-ride scholarship from a college.  After the race a commentator asked her if the colleges were leaving her alone.   She responded that they were being good.  I don’t know how good her grades are, and grades are important to colleges, but she will not need to score on the higher range of the academic scale.   

The low end of the range is often reserved for special status students.  This is important when thinking about applying to a reach college.  You must have something to offer them because your grades are not in the highest range of what they accept.  You should investigate which things each college values and apply to reach schools who value the type of experiences that you have.  In this way a reach college can become closer to a match college, and your chances for getting into that college increase.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tithing and Debt

Leonardo da Vinci Christ Carrying the Cross via Wikimedia Commons

A good way to center any discussion is to think about the Cross.  Jesus willingly went to the cross and suffered a horrible death (Matthew 26:53-54) (Hebrews 10:14).  He did this to offer a us a way to God that was unreachable through our own effort (Romans 3:23-24). Our salvation is a total act of grace and this should fill us with total joy and peace (Ephesians 2:8) (1 Peter 1:8).  Gratitude always trumps guilt as a motivator.

If you call yourself a Christ follower and are not tithing, then you have been stealing from God (Malachi 3:9). This sounds harsh, but there are real consequences for wrong living.  I'm not trying to guilt you into tithing, I just want you to see the reality of what is happening.  Sometimes as Christians we just need to do the right thing even though every fiber of our soul is saying we shouldn't.

The average family has almost $7000 in credit card debt.  Most families in debt tend to not tithe.  If you have no income then there is no need to tithe.  If you have income (even welfare) then you can tithe.  Most people have sufficient income to work their way out of debt, with a serious cost cutting plan.  

I believe that the tithe should be paid before any other debts are paid.   I know this sounds crazy, but if you can't live on 90% then you probably can't live on 100%. Tithing while in debt takes great faith, so you must trust God in this, because this will feel highly illogical. 

 If in debt, the concept of tithing sounds irresponsible, but you need to pay back God first what He has given you.  God wants you to test Him in this (Malachi 3:9-11).  This is the logic of the world: When I get out of debt, then I will tithe.  God’s logic is different, because He can work miracles and if you are in debt, you can use some miracles in your life.  Trust Him by obeying Him.  Remember, the logical side of things doesn’t always apply to issues of faith.  God is able to sustain you, bless you, and allow you move towards fiscal sanity.
Here is an odd mystery: obedience to God takes strength of character that comes from God (Matthew 6:9-13).  When you tithe in the face of debt, God rewards your obedience. One of the fruits of the Spirit that comes to Christians in obedience is self-control.  Self-control will allow you resist those urges to spend on things of short term value, thereby improving your financial state.  Another two amazing fruits of the Spirit are peace and joy.  When fulfilled by God, you will not experience the urge to spend as much because you will be satisfied with what you have.  In fact you will be grateful.  Gratefulness is one of the most powerful motivators in life. 
There is disagreement among some as to what qualifies as debt-free.  In my opinion, being debt-free doesn’t mean a lack of bills.  It also doesn’t mean an absence of loan payments.  For some things (cars, houses) you will need a loan, this is good debt, so don’t assume that all loans are evil.   Debt is a trap that God wants to release you from.  Trust him to set you free, but God does not promise that you will win the lottery. You need God's strength to radically downsize your spending and get out of debt.  Obey God and you will have access to this strength (Galatians 5:16).   

Look to the Cross, understand what you have, feel the warmth of God's love and then go do what He says.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Blowing Your Mind!!

Last week I talked about how a house actually costs less than an apartment, and now I am going to blow your mind.  Ready?  What happens in year 31 after your house is paid off? 

For the home owner, something amazing has happened in year 31.  They own their home, free and clear!  They now hold something of amazing value.  The other thing is that $16,000 each year is now freed up for whatever you want because you are no longer paying your mortgage.  For the renter, they face yet another year of rent increases AND they hold nothing of any real value.  It never stops!  In this case the rich do get richer and the poor do get poorer. 

But wait!  There’s more:  Once you have gotten yourself into a house you will eventually notice that it gets easier to make the payment. Over time, inflation renders money less valuable and this is a good thing for a homeowner because inflation increases your pay over time, but your mortgage is a fixed cost that does not change (assuming a fixed-rate loan).  All of these factors over time combine to make your home payment a smaller and smaller portion of your total costs.  This feels good.  

 Go check out and type in your address.  If you live in an apartment, find a block with single family houses.  You can see how much each person on your block paid for their house.  Most houses in the suburbs are built in large groups utilizing a few floor plans to minimize costs. My house has five exact replicas on my block.  They all were priced identically initially, but over time various owners have come and gone.  In one of those identical houses is a fellow who has his house paid off, while I have another 20 years to go!  He paid far less and his payment was far less than mine is now.  That’s ok for me because I’m 40 and at 60 my house will be paid off!  This is about the time my kids will need me to be helping with college tuitions and weddings, but I will no longer be paying a mortgage.

As a young adult these future things will be easier if you make small sacrifices now.  Spend less than you earn and save up for a house.  Yes the housing market can be crazy, but I'm not trying to sell you on a get rich quick scheme.  If you buy a house THAT YOU CAN AFFORD and stay put, you will soon be paying less than the average renter. Eventually you will have no monthly payment for your housing and you will hold something of immense value.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Buying a House

 As a young adult it may seem that buying a house is a long, far-off dream; but I want you to see why buying a house is key to your economic success.  Once you see the importance of buying a house,  then you are more likely to watch your spending now and begin saving money. 

I want to show you something amazing.   Below is a comparison of a $900 apartment with a $270,000 house.  (Note for older adults: These numbers reflect Southern California rates, as the market rebounds these numbers will be much higher) I want you to see how rent prices per month go up each year, while the mortgage payment is fixed over the course of the loan.

We will now take a look at the same comparison by year.  Notice the total amount that you will have paid at the end of 30 years.  You will have paid more than the loan amount of $270,000 because you have to pay interest.  It is a lot of money.  The interest does add up, so that is why you need to be reasonably sure that you can afford the payments and want to stay in this house for a long time. 

If you have to sell before the value of the house appreciates significantly, you will have to literally pay money to sell the house because of the interest payments that you will pay to get out of the house.  I made an assumption that you will get a fixed-rate loan, because this type of loan will help keep you from a similar fate that is facing many stressed homeowners. This is something you need to learn out of the housing crash that we have witnessed.  

 A variable-rate home loan allows you to get into a house at a much lower cost, but it carries more risk that could get you in trouble.  The idea of a variable rate loan is that the bank charges you a low interest initially and raises it later.  Before the housing crash, the pitch they were making was that the house was rising in value so fast that it didn’t matter; you could just get further loans based upon the value of the house.  People were buying houses they could not afford and were banking on unrealistic rises in housing prices.   

When your home is worth more than you owe on the loan it is called equity.  Equity is nice, but in reality, it is worthless until you sell the house.  Since you need to live somewhere, the house you purchase next will eat up much of this equity.  If you downsize to something smaller, or move to a less expensive area, you can walk away with a lot of cash in your pocket.  In retirement, it typically does not matter where you live, because your kids are grown up and you do not need to be tied to a location for a job. 

            Do you see it?  You will pay almost twice as much over thirty years for an apartment.  I’ll bet you thought that apartments cost less, because that is where the poor people live.  You are right, poor people do live in apartments, but they cost more.  The reason why poor people do not buy houses and save a lot of money is that it takes a significant amount of money up front to get into a house and the mortgage payment will usually be initially higher than the average apartment rental.  You will need to save 20% of the house price (in this case $54,000) to get approved for the loan.  This is why poor people can’t get into a house.  The up front commitment is too big.  If you save aggressively you can get there.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Celebrate Failure

I have one failed business under my belt, and while upsetting, I learned a lot from it.  Those lessons are being put into practice in my newest venture as an author.  When I first started teaching, I went through the usual round of substituting and being laid off as a new teacher.  Once after being laid off, I didn’t get rehired right away.  
Photo by Bill Nicholls

 Now I’m fairly responsible, so I launched immediately into an aggressive job hunt.  My family was depending on me and I couldn’t sit around and wait on a job that might not be there for me.  Seeing that nothing was coming and we were temporarily doing ok financially, I decided to upgrade my fairly useless history degree with a masters degree in business administration.  I was convinced that there were no opportunities in teaching and decided to cast my lot with the business world.  

I developed a two-track plan to create a business while looking for a position with a company.  Ironically, I was offered a teaching position at the end of that very summer.  While teaching, I took night classes to complete my master’s degree the following year because it would lead to an immediate pay raise, and it would provide some semblance of a lay-off back-up plan.  

A requirement of the degree was that I had to develop a business plan for a new business.  That summer I decided to pass on working at the San Diego Fair to try my new business idea.  It was a failure and it was upsetting.  I did; however, get a clear look at my interests and abilities by attempting this business.  I got a better look at what I enjoyed doing and what I really don’t want to do as a career.  At the time I was not sure what practical experience I had learned from that experiment, but I now believe it all had a purpose in my life.  

You also will travel down similar “dead ends” but it may be preparation for something greater, so don’t freak out when things don’t make sense.  Uncertainty is one of the hallmarks of a concept called faith.  Faith is trusting in something that is intangible or unseen.  When you walk with God, you must trust that He has your best interests at heart even when things are going horribly (Romans 8:28).  If you don’t trust Him, you won’t stick your neck out.  

Writing represents a new chapter of my summer life as an author so it is new, exciting and scary.  I don’t know if this will be successful, but what I do know is that God loves me and even if this becomes a failure it will mean something in God’s overall plan for me. 

I have put many hours into all this new venture and success is not guaranteed, but risks need to be taken or I'll stagnate. You should have a similar outlook towards taking risks. 

(Proverbs 3:5-6). 

As you trust God (a risk) with more and more of your life, you will be led into some uncomfortable things that may not succeed outwardly.  Sometimes success is not something you will see this side of heaven. Failure is a good teacher, so be ready to stop and contemplate the lessons in the failure.  In the same way that successes are not readily evident, there will sometimes be no apparent lesson to be drawn from a failure.  This is the mystery of God.  Sometimes bad things happen and there is no clear explanation why.  All we can do is press into Him for the strength to get through that difficulty.  Celebrate failure even though it stinks.

This post is one in a series of posts with the blog chain.  This month's theme is Celebrate.  Please check out some very talented writing by clicking on the links along the right side of this website.  If you are a Christian writer, this website offers a wealth of advice and support on your journey as a writer.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Money 101

 Here is an amazing plan for your finances.  At the beginning of each month or whenever you are paid set aside 10% for your home church (1 Cor 16:1-2).  This is called a tithe.  There is a lot of arguing going on about this issue, but my point is that the church is the vehicle through which the community is most likely to be blessed.   
Image by selbstfotografiert

The idea of a tithe is that you are giving back an amount immediately that has been given to you.  In fact none of your money is yours, it is all God’s, so 10% is a reasonable amount (Deut. 10:14).  Failure to bring this tithe leads to natural economic consequences (Malachi 3:8-10).  While the rest is yours to live on, you should also consider giving.  Giving and tithing are separate issues and should be handled differently.  An additional amount can be set aside for charitable giving, but it should be considered something you want to do.  

 Do not bow to pressure to give without consulting God, for if you resent having to give, then it is not pleasing to God (2 Cor 9:7).  If you fall into debt you may be tempted to stop paying your tithe, but this is unwise. Dave Ramsey in his book The Money Answer Book: quick answers to your everyday financial questions has noted that many people fall into worse financial situations once they stop tithing.  He further explains that 10% is a reasonable amount and if a person cannot live on 90% then they cannot live on 100%.  The effort to pay the tithe forces a person to budget, which can lead a person out of debt.

Earlier we talked about the ability to utilize gratitude as a way to follow God’s commandments.  By focusing on the tangible and intangible gifts of God, you reach a point where change happens.  God’s plan will take you out of your debt.  You need to set aside 10% of your salary for tithing and an additional 10-20% for debt repayment and the rest is the amount you must live on.  Living this way takes faith in God’s provision for your life (Matthew 6:31-33).

A good way to reason out the tithe in your mind is that God gives you a total amount containing the tithe on top of your amount, the total amount is really determined by Him.  What if a stranger knocked on your door and handed you $110 and walked away.  Cool.  But, what if that stranger came back an hour later and demanded $10 of the money back, you would be bitter, wouldn’t you?  But what if the stranger told you the deal up front?  What if he said, “I’m going to give you $100, but I’ll also give you $10 that you need to give back to me. Oh and by the way as long as you are faithful in giving back the $10 I’ll keep dropping by with $100 for you,  if you are faithful I may entrust more to you”   This is a pretty sweet deal, but this is similar to how God deals with us (Matthew 25:15-30).  Remember that God gives us all of it, even if you work for it. He has brought about everything to give you the opportunity to earn it.  (James 4:1-3)

When you are faithful you are showing yourself able to handle more responsibility, but don’t think that God can be fooled into giving you more.  He won’t necessarily give you more money just because you are faithful, but by being faithful you are now able to access the blessings that flow from being obedient.  Remember, more money brings more responsibility for those around us who have less (1 Tim 6:17-18).  The Spirit that resides in you prompts you to be obedient to God’s commands.  When you obey the Spirit there are benefits that flow from obedience (Galatians 5:22-23).  These “fruits” are amazing characteristics that I want in my life and you should want them too. 
God is very clear that these are the blessings that flow from obedience. Monetary wealth is not promised.  It is possible to be poor and very happy, and at the same time to be very rich and miserable (Prov 13:7).  Wealth is not the purpose of life, in some ways it brings more hassles.  Most people live a lie by living above their means resulting in debt.  You have to realize this and not try to “keep up” with them. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Getting into College: Extracurriculars

I teach mostly freshmen and seniors.  I call those grades the bookends.  Freshmen are learning how to do high school academics, make new friends, and begin thinking about later on.  Seniors are totally different.  Since college applications are due by the end of November, then even the first semester grades of the senior year will not be available.  This means the initial judgment of college is based upon the 9-11 years.  In fact some colleges do not look at the freshmen year at all.  A senior who has messed around all high school has little options and they know it, because the kids who are applying for college are shoving it in their faces.
Image by Paul at Ft. Collins

Freshmen, the best thing you can realize is that the friends you have now are probably not the friends you will end up with at graduation.  Why is this? All people change over time, but there is no greater window of time that experiences more change than the high school years.  There is just something about high school that holds a lock on our hearts.  I’ve been out of high school for 23 years but nothing draws memories more than my high school years.  You are figuring out who you are and that requires experimentation.  I’m not talking about doing drugs and all, but I’m talking about those adjustments to our personality that comes during adolescence.  Researchers have determined that more brain development happens during adolescence than any other phase of life.  This is significant, so cut yourself a break.

A class discussion took a curve one day in my senior economics course.  We were nearing graduation and the kids were sharing that they had made really good friends in high school and didn’t want to lose them.  That piqued my interest so I asked them, “Who are your friends and where did you make these friendships?” What they shared has stuck with me and I now share with all my freshmen.  They shared that their closest friends were their teammates.  There are other renditions of this, such as band, theater, choir, and other clubs but the concept was the same. 

The things you do outside of the classroom will determine your friendships.  If you don’t get involved then you will have few authentic friendships and high school is going to be very lonely.  An authentic friend is someone you can talk to face to face and in person.  It is someone you can be open and honest with and not have to wear a mask.  They accept you for who you are and you do likewise for them.  It is a give and take relationship.  I’ve seen many of my better students neglect their friendships (as well as schoolwork) to focus solely on the person they are dating.  Once the breakup happens they find out that they have no one to lean on in their pain because their friends have moved on and made new friendships.

Colleges like to see involvement in sports, clubs, and community service because it shows that you are a well rounded person.  It also shows that you can manage time by juggling the responsibilities of homework, social life, as well as practice. There is something about slogging through a losing season and sticking with it that builds real character.  How about taking the time to teach a technique to a less skilled teammate, or having that tough one on one conversation with the coach because the rest of the team is afraid to say something?  All of these experiences make these activities very valuable.

As good as these experiences are, you should understand that to a college, your extracurricular activities are a very, very small portion of what colleges are looking for.  In fact some colleges are very upfront by saying the only thing they look at are grades and college entrance exams.  

Community service is work that is performed without pay where you make a contribution to the community in which you live.  Community service allows you the opportunity to help others and feel a part of something much bigger than yourself.  Many students have found their calling by doing community service.  It is a great way to learn about your strengths and weaknesses.  There is something about helping a person, it makes you care for them.  As you do more community service, you will begin to care more for others.  This will make you into a better person.  Another benefit of community service is that you will gain a better understanding of the basic working of life and how things work.

While there are many things you can do, my suggestion is to view it like a buffet.  In a buffet, you try a little of this and that and then you go back for the stuff you really like.  Going alone to do community service can be intimidating, so go with friends and you will have more fun.  Think about the things you care about the most.  What around you needs improving?  Then go find others who are already doing good things to help in that area.  If you are feeling innovative, organize it yourself.  There is a cool website to check out called  They have lots of ideas, events to join.  They will even fund your organization if you submit a good plan to them.

Private scholarships heavily lean on community service, so while the community service may not get you into a college, it may help you to pay for it.  The goal is to find something you are passionate about and put lots of time into one or two things.  Summers are made for fun and relaxing, but they are a great time to rack up community service hours.

Many colleges look very favorably on community service, but even colleges that have a comprehensive review of the whole set of experiences of a prospective student still rate grades and entrance exams as the highest factor of consideration. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Life is a Lot Like Frogger

There is this game from the eighties called Frogger, and I wasted a lot of quarters on that game.  The object of the game is simple.  You try to get your frog across a highway and a moving river to the lily pads at the top of the screen.  There are cars you must avoid on the highway, and you must hop on logs and turtles to get you across the river.  The logs and turtles must be abandoned before they reach the side of the screen or you die.  The turtles have an additional peril in that they regularly submerge, and if you are on them when they do your frog dies.
All games have strategies for winning and so does Frogger.  One strategy is that sometimes the way to move forward is by temporarily moving backwards.  This aspect of the game is a great analogy of fiscal livelihood.  You must move forward through education, training, and hard work.  Sometimes you can look down into the future and you can see an end of a job coming (like the log or turtles) and you must alter your course.  Sometimes you must accept a short-term career path or job that holds you until something more stable comes along.  

Taking a low paying job may feel like going backwards, but that may be the best strategy for that moment.  You may look down the line and see that the job you have is about to become obsolete.  In this case you need to “hop off the log” and begin preparing for your next move. All analogies have their weaknesses and Frogger is just a game and not real life, but in life you will be blindsided occasionally.  Layoffs and health issues are two areas that catch people off guard.  It is very hard to recover financially when blindsided with something big, so preparation is the best measure. 

My son Bryce had a condition called Kawasaki’s Disease.  This disease is a temporary inflammation of the arterial system.  Since the heart is a part of this system, extended inflammation can lead to an aneurism or even a heart attack.  Bryce was very fortunate to have an alert doctor catch the subtle signs, and he was quickly medicated with two treatments of an anti-inflammatory called gamma globulin.   Bryce recovered quickly and had no major aftereffects of the disease.  When we got the bill in the mail we were blown away that each treatment would cost us $20,000!  

We had insurance and after a lot of calls, our insurance paid for all of it.  We were very fortunate to have insurance, but we had always made it a priority to make sure we had medical insurance and so should you.  Besides the importance of having medical insurance, this episode illustrated to me that there are events that can come along that have the ability to immediately turn your world upside down.  It is prudent to expect a couple of these events in your life and prepare to the best of your ability.

Another area where people get blindsided is a layoff.  Are there signs to look for to help you notice an impending layoff?  There are, and some signs can be seen years in advance!  When you are working, it is wise to take note to what is going on around you.  You will want to continually ask yourself if the company you are working for is healthy.  Is your position secure for the moment, and for how long?  Is there a skill you will need in order to progress or continue?  Is this job going to evaporate when a new innovation comes along, and how likely is that?  Am I getting positive feedback?  Are the things I’m doing relevant for this company, and could they decide that I’m not needed?  

Even with watching carefully, you may still get blindsided, but you should still watch carefully and make adjustments.  Using the Frogger analogy, use your footing in the current job to work on your plan to ensure you have current skills that are in demand in the marketplace. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Continual Pursuit of Digital Crack

ad·dic·tion:  the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma (

Image by Petr Kratochvil  
As a teacher at a school with a “no cell phone” use policy I have come to rue the moment that I have to ask a teenager to give up a cell phone (cue temper tantrum). For me, this reaction is proof of an addiction. Over the years, the social expectation among teenagers is that everybody has a cell phone and to properly interact with everyone a cell phone is needed

The reaction to losing a cell phone is so visceral, so intense. In my mind, it was unwarranted, but I didn't understand what was going on underneath.   I eventually came to understand the role of the cell phone in a teenager's life.  It is their connection to the social world, but it can also be a crutch that limits the ability to conduct true face-to-face friendships. 

Many of my  former high school students are now college students and the cell phone has moved to a different (although important) role.  It is the link to what was left behind in high school.  At some point the real work of developing new relationships must begin.

Loneliness is a top reason why people drop out, and I wonder what the role of the cell phone is in all this.  We need face-to-face friendships.

Our society is still "negotiating" the rules surrounding digital media, so there is a lot of disagreement regarding what is offensive.  To put it simply, our usage of digital media should not come at the expense of reality.  How often have you seen two people sitting next to each other texting away ignoring each other?  Pity the poor fool who has to stand there "looking stupid" while their companion texts.  Most likely the other will whip out their phone to look busy.  Texting is a way to look busy, but we don't need to be busy.  In fact busyness can cause us to neglect what is really important (Luke 10:41-42) .

If any activity hinders our true calling, than that activity has become a problem and should be jettisoned (Hebrews 12:1).  God has called us to love Him with true concentration.  It is hard to do that when we have filled every second with something.  There is opportunity in boredom and we don't need to be externally stimulated in every waking moment.   Pondering takes time and quietness.

""Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." 
Psalm 46:10. 

This post is one in a series with the Christian Writers Blog Chain.   This month’s topic is ‘Pursuit’. You can find links to the others in the blog chain in the link list to the left.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spiritual Economics

There are two obvious and one hidden dimension of the financial equation. Income and expenses are the obvious ones, so what is the hidden one?  As long as we spend less than we earn we will build savings.  The emphasis on limiting expenses makes sense because when we want to change the situation it is easier to stop spending than it is to bring in more money.  Income can be raised through increasing your education. 
 Photo by Petr Kratochvil

It is possible to make more money but the options tend to take a lot of time.  It is appropriate to work on these long term fixes, but it is best to reign in your spending now.  So what are some ideas to make more?  Some jobs automatically pay more if you have furthered your education.  You can switch careers, but this may take going back to school.  A switch does cause most people to experience a short term drop in income because you move to a lower tier on the pay scale.  As a teacher my pay is entirely a function of time in service and education level.  

If a car mechanic making $52,000 a year goes back to college, finishes a bachelors degree and gets a teachers credential it will take roughly 7 years at my district to get back to the point of where they were.  Remember, that in those 7 years the auto mechanic would probably be receiving pay raises.  This doesn’t mean the auto mechanic should give up on the dream of teaching, it just means that switching careers can be time consuming and expensive.  If that same auto mechanic were receiving no medical or retirement benefits, switching careers would make sense in order to get these benefits.  This pay drop keeps many people from going after something they want. 

 Long term thinking always trumps short term thinking, but is generally more painful in the short term.  You can generate more cash by working overtime, taking a second job, starting a sideline business, but these options eat into your time.  Sometimes it is best to make do with what you have then to chase after more money.  This chase for money can erode other areas of your life, especially you relationships with God and the people you love (Mark 8:36).  It is not wrong to be rich, but the thirst (or lust) for riches, is a foolish pursuit (Luke 12:13-21).

By lowering expenses you will generate savings, allowing you to invest and build wealth.  The goal of wealth, is to allow you to be independent and not dependent on others (1 Thess. 4:11-12) while able to help others (Eph 4:28).  Most people when they take a good hard look at their spending can identify areas where they can cut.  The truth of spending cuts as a way to economic freedom out of debt takes us to the third dimension of finances.  There is a spiritual dimension to your finances and it must be taken into account (Luke 12:34). 

The above verse talks about the correlation of spending to thinking.  We think about the things that involve our money.  If our money is going to bills and ever increasing late fees we will only think about that.  This is the mental trap of debt.  The hard reality is that you do not control any of the important variables of life (Matthew 6:25-34).  You could lose your job because the company you work for goes out of business, gets taken over, or moves to a new location.  Companies know that increasing productivity allows them to produce the same or more products with less human labor.  

According to Steven Bragg in his book The New CFO Financial Leadership Manual human labor represents the single largest expense for most companies; therefore, companies are always searching desperately for ways to limit costs.  Lower costs equals greater profits for companies, so you just need to be aware that there is no loyalty within the context of the free market system, and you can essentially be let go for any number of reasons.  Even government agencies are working to limit labor costs. You will need to view everything as temporary and be ready to adapt or adjust if you see change coming.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Credit Reports & Credit Ratings

What is your economic reputation worth to you?

Your credit report is a listing of all past and present obligations and the credit rating is a number that estimates how reliable you are financially.  Banks and other lending institutions look at your credit rating to determine whether to lend money to you and what price (interest) you will pay for the loan. According to, a person with a poor credit rating borrowing $200,000 for a house will pay $127,000 more in interest than someone with a stellar credit rating.  This is insane.  

Image by Petr Kratochvil
Debt ends up costing you so much over your lifetime, so remember any unpaid bill lowers your score.  You can raise your credit score just by paying things like rent and utility bills on time.  The idea that you need a credit card to increase your score is silly because the credit card will encourage you to overspend. If you overspend, by definition you have spent more than you have, so you will not be able to pay the bill.  

The credit card company will happily add interest to the remaining amount and your debt grows.  This is called carrying a balance (aka: falling behind) and it lowers your credit rating while costing you more. If you are careful with a budget, you can utilize credit cards as a cashless payment system assuming you pay the bill off each month and there are no hidden fees. Read all credit contracts carefully; better yet have your parents do it.  That’s why they are there. The problem according to Robert D. Manning in his book Credit Card Nation is that paying by credit cards does not hurt as much when you buy with cash, and this leads many to overspend and get into debt.

If your parents have given you a credit card for emergencies, then save it for true emergencies.  Pizza lust is not an emergency.  If you run up your parents’ bill, they will find out when the bill comes, so get permission prior to using it.  If you can’t contact them, and in your best judgment it is an emergency then use it, but let them know immediately.  Your parents are depending on you to not screw them, honor their trust in you by thinking hard before using the card.  If you screw up in judgment, be up front about it and accept the consequences.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fiscal Sanity

Image by Andrew Bardwell
Debt is a prison that many of us voluntarily walk into.  That is how a trap works; we walk into it based upon some lure.  We see something we want, (ignoring warning signs of danger) we go get it, and we suffer.  Debt represents all the money you owe and have not yet paid back, so when you owe money to someone you essentially become their slave (Proverbs 22:7). states that the average American household owes more than $15,000 on their credit cards. Furthermore, the ongoing housing crisis is devouring many families, and few have any savings for retirement.  Can you escape these traps, or are you doomed to eventually be swept up in the random nature of the business cycle?  Now that you are a legal adult, you are allowed to enter into contracts, but beware that contracts are binding.  If you make a bad choice here, your parents can’t get you out of the contract.  

Credit cards offers are going to be available everywhere you go, and you need to be very careful because some of the contracts will cost you money even if you do not use the credit card.  Those freebees and gifts offered by credit card vendors can lead to serous debt.  A lot of people put down false information on the application to get free stuff, but it isn’t worth the compromise of your values for a free Frisbee or t-shirt.  At this phase in your life, you should avoid credit cards.  

You do not need to walk into debt, but folks tend to run up the bill as long as additional credit is issued.  They have lost the sense of the enormity of their debt and give up all hope of paying things off.  The bottom line is that when you borrow money you have an obligation to pay for it because taking something without paying for it is stealing.  Jesus’ most talked about topic is money, so you can learn much about how to handle yourself financially when you live according to the Word of God. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Allure of Last-Minute Success

When you work a hard day, it will feel natural to want time to relax, unwind, or recharge.  We want to play and while fun is not wrong most people devote way too much time to fun.  Television, video games, Facebook, and texting, are classic time wasters. We are good at time wasting when we have something we don’t want to do staring us in the face.  
I have watched my younger son play with thread rather than do his writing exercises.  When we have work hanging over us, any diversion becomes even more fun.  Many successful people talk about doing the most important things first, then rewarding ourselves with things that are more fun.  This is habit three of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
It is important to realize that we are making choices in our use of time.  It is a good idea to take a week and log what you have been doing with your time.  Just get a sense of what you do.  This will allow you to budget time realistically.   You probably will not like doing this because it shines a light on what you do and you may feel ashamed.  Please push through this feeling and do the exercise.  This is the same issue people face when they try to create a budget.  
With time, there needs to be a schedule or things will not get done.  If you go off of feeling, you won’t get things done.  I am a very organized person at work when it comes to my time, but I struggle to keep track of things going on at home because at work I only have to keep track of what I need to do while at home I have to accommodate my wife and children’s needs in addition to mine. 
It is important to realize that there is a behavioral element to our usage of time.  We tend to procrastinate on those long-term important things, because we don’t feel the pressure of time.  Feeling is an unreliable guide when setting your schedule.  Most of you have experienced that rush of productivity and creativity that accompanies trying to get something done in the last minute.  Unfortunately the problem is that it works sometimes.  
If you got burned from procrastinating, hopefully you learned your lesson.  I’ve interviewed a number of high level students and asked them to tell me the advice they would give themselves if they could go back a few years, and more often than not they tell themselves to not procrastinate on homework.  You know this, but for those of who didn’t learn your lesson about the pitfalls of procrastinating, please realize that you will probably not get too far in your college career if you keep procrastinating.  
So much of what is done in college is long term work such as reading, studying for tests, researching, and writing.  These cannot be done at the last minute with any degree of success.  This is why some of the most brilliant students struggle, because the system that was utilized in past does not work for them now.  The more time you can devote to long-term things the better you will be doing in many areas of your life.  This concept is progressive, the longer the view of your perspective, the more purposeful the activity of your life (2 Cor 4:18).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Productivity and Time Awareness

Image by Jesus Presley
A major factor that can determine your success at managing your time is the “feeling” of time. 

When I was a kid, I used to like jumping my bike.    This one jump I built looked like all the others and consisted of a couple of bricks and a piece of plywood.  I had done this type of jump hundreds of times, but this one had a surprise in store for me.  Sensing that the jump was small, I got a very fast run at it. 
The problem was that the plywood for the ramp was that bendy type of plywood and when I hit the ramp it bent in a way that shot me straight up.  At the apex of my ascent, time stopped, or least my sensation of time altered to where it felt like time stopped.  I knew this would end badly.  I had gone almost vertical and it was going to hurt.  In my mind, everything slowed and I had time to think about the ground as it rushed upwards to meet me. That jump did hurt, but I walked away without anything broken. 
This is an illustration of our brain’s ability to process time differently based upon the situation.  According to Douglas Fox in his article "The illusion of time” in moments of pure fear, our brain is going crazy and things slow down because we are processing the visual images must faster.
I have experienced other events when time stopped: All four of my children’s births, proposing to my wife, being caught in a lie, having to ask forgiveness, having to answer a question where there was no painless option.  All of these moments cause our mind to race and time to stop. 
The problem is that other than these moments of heightened time awareness. According to Hebert Wray In his article "Looming Deadlines” our perception of time is not constant and can expand and contract with the situation.  Time drags through painful moments, while time flies when we are having fun. 
This inconsistency is why we fail to allocate enough time to work in our lives.  When you study, it will feel that you have studied much more than you have studied because time drags when you are doing work you don’t want to do.  Whatever time you allocate to study, push yourself to do that amount of time and no less. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Managing Trash Time

Image By WahTee 
How do you handle trash time?  

Trash time is a short amount of time between two important events in your day. Trash time is typically unproductive, but it doesn't have to be.  For a student these small patches of time are an opportunity to do micro-study.  The small bursts of study can really add up to some significant learning.  College Freshmen often struggle with getting control of their schedule.  In high school, all the blocks of time are mapped out and similar every day, while in college there is a constantly shifting array of commitments.

If you are are early to an appointment or the appointment ends early there will be some unexpected trash time.  Being able to utilize trash time requires being ready to use it and sensing that it is there.  If you regularly have to wait between two classes, then this is trash time you can count on and should take steps to harness this resource.

We decide what we do with our time, and doing nothing is a choice, but we actually have a lot of time on our hands even in the midst of a busy schedule.

  Every moment can have a purpose, but not every purposeful moment requires movement (Psalm 46:10).  Sometimes the best thing to do is unplug and sit quiet before God.