Survival of the fittest

Campus will be buzzing Monday as another new semester begins at WKU. Based on the chatter I’m seeing on Facebook and Twitter, some students are ready to come back and some are perfectly content to enjoy the extended break.

The transition to college life is tough. It’s one of those major and memorable events that changes a person forever. It’s a time of life that is fun, scary, exciting and sometimes even a little sad (I remember the day I got my acceptance letter, because my mom locked herself in the bathroom and cried). These transitioning students are young adults, but at the same time, they are also big kids. The transition to adulthood isn’t yet complete.

Unfortunately many kids come to college who are unprepared for both the sudden new-found freedom and the rigors of college coursework. Even though I don’t typically work directly with students, I still see it all the time. They get downright giddy when they realize no one is hovering over them or telling them when to come home. They can hang out with whomever they want, whenever they want…and they do. They can choose not to go to class, and while it might affect their grade, no one is going to call their parents to see why they are absent. They are not only allowed to think for themselves, but they are encouraged to do so.

The popular kids and the smart kids who were once the top dogs in their high schools are suddenly small fish in a big pond, and not being in the spotlight can be a big adjustment. Students are suddenly surrounded by an increasingly diverse group of classmates after possibly having spent the previous 13 years surrounded by basically the same group of kids. Hopefully they’ll figure out quickly that just because everyone doesn’t look or sound or think like them, that that makes them even more interesting!

<Soapbox Alert!>

As parents we have to begin prepping our kids to survive this major life change early on. We can’t wait until their senior year of high school to decide that they need to know how to make good decisions. And they need to know how to solve problems without having to rely on mom and dad for things they could easily handle on their own.

Frequently I see students who have an issue with a class or financial aid or housing or any number of other things. Typically they know WHO they should talk to, but they often don’t know HOW to approach the situation diplomatically. In many cases momma has always taken care of everything for them – they’ve never had to work something out on their own, and therefore they don’t know what to do. College students are young adults – they are old enough to try to find solutions to their problems (without having to get momma involved), but they need to be allowed to practice problem solving before they leave home. It’s all part of spreading their wings and becoming independent and self-sufficient adults.

My hope is that my boys have enough confidence and discipline to be successful when they get to college. I want them to be able to make good decisions and to solve inevitable problems that will arise. Of course I’ll help them when they need it – I’m not going to just throw them into the world and wish them good luck. But at the same time, I’m not always going to taking care of my baby birds. I want them to be prepared to survive and thrive when they leave the nest!


In social media, words can hurt more than sticks and stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  We’ve all heard that phrase since childhood, but what I’m talking about here is how a person’s own words can come back to hurt them.  There is a short section about Social Media from the WKU Communication & Branding Manual that bears repeating, specifically to those who are now or might soon be in the job market: “Be prepared to take responsibility for comments made on social media sites. Social media is public and highly visible, and discretion should be used…” That common sense statement is good advice for everyone.

Recently someone said to me, “It won’t be long until, when you go to apply for a job, they’ll look you up on Facebook.”  I think that’s absolutely correct – except for the “it won’t be long” part.  I’ve been doing this for a few years, and I’ve heard many other folks say they have as well.  I know that college students in particular are advised to think about what they post, but in many cases, they are not taking it to heart.  Perhaps they think us “old” professionals aren’t savvy enough to find them on Facebook or Twitter?  Or maybe they don’t believe that it would ever dawn on us to look them up.  Whatever the case, I wish I could shout from the rooftops for all to hear…the status updates (and pictures and videos and Tweets) that they post today could most definitely have serious consequences in the future.

The main point here is to carefully consider how you’re using social media, especially if you’re in the job market, because you never know who will see what you post!

It’s part of the process when reviewing information about potential job candidates: narrow down the selections to just a few, then find them online. It’s not difficult – a quick search on Facebook or Google will nearly always result in a successful search.  Is this considered “creeping?”  Maybe, but you can learn a lot about a person based on their status updates and pictures, and even their Twitter handle or profile picture.  And yes I will admit it – right or wrong, I have chosen NOT to interview people because of what I see on their sites.  A few of the common reasons that I would skip over someone are:  frequent misspellings (though shortcuts don’t bother me if they are obviously done on purpose), poor grammar, offensive language, inappropriate remarks, indecent photos or constant personal drama. That list can all be summed up in one word: Unprofessional.  I realize that a person’s social media page is akin to their personal space, but even so, it’s out there for the world to see. In my experience, a person’s true colors really tend to shine when they’re hiding behind a keyboard…and sometimes that tells me all I need to know.

Of course it’s not all negative.  Social media use can result in positive consequences as well!  There are many great tools to showcase your experience and skills, to network, and to find job openings.  The key is to become familiar with those tools and to use them wisely.  More on that later.

Finals Week Tips

It’s finals week at WKU – the last week of the semester when there is a lot of excitement for the impending Christmas break, but the student stress level is so high you can feel it in the air. I remember those days – thinking that the week would never end and that the tests would be the death of me, but somehow I always made it through unscathed.

Here are a few simple tips to help students survive:

Take care of yourself. Yes, you have to spend most of your time studying, but you also have to sleep and eat. Taking care of yourself physically will make the time spent studying more effective.

Study at a steady pace rather than frantically cramming for a few hours just before a final exam. If/when you feel your mind drifting to the point that you have no idea what you just read, it’s time to put down the material, take a quick break, and refresh your brain.  This is a good time for a brisk, five-minute walk.

Find your ideal study place. Maybe it’s in your room, maybe in the study room at your residence hall or maybe it’s at The Learning Center on campus (they have extended lab and tutoring hours during finals week!).  The library is a great place to study, but it will probably be busier than usual, so be sure to have a backup plan. A [quiet] coffee shop may be a good choice, and the caffeine is easily accessible.

Re-write your class notes. Go old-school with the notes and actually write them with a pen on a piece of paper to help you remember the info.

Friends can help each other out. They say you know something the best when you have to teach it to someone else, so teach what you are studying to a friend or roomie (or even just pretend to), and see if that helps you understand rather than just memorize the material.

Minimize distractions. Turn the TV off, put the phone down and focus on the task at hand. You can always text your friends later to brag about how great you did on the test.

Before a test begins take a few long deep breaths and let them out slowly to help you relax and clear your head.

I’m sure there are lots of websites with other more “scientific” tips, but these are the ones that I always found helpful.  Good luck to all WKU students on a successful finals week…finish strong!

There’s no place like home, but…

I might regret admitting this to the world, and I’ll probably get blasted for saying it, but here goes…I don’t think I could be a stay at home mom. Not because I don’t love my home. Not because I don’t love my kids. Neither of those could be further from the truth. The past two weeks I have been at home much more than usual, and while I’ve loved spending extra time with my youngest son, I have discovered what I long suspected: I’m a lazy sloth. Seriously, if I stayed home every day I would probably sleep until 10 am, stay in my pajamas all day and go up a few dress sizes, because I’d eat everything in sight.

I admire parents who stay at home and make it work, and sometimes I downright envy them. For some people it is the perfect life, and for some it’s not. I know myself well enough to know that it’s not for me. The lure of HGTV and Food Network (which always results in a trip to the kitchen), not to mention my comfy sofa are just too strong. Instead of coming home to a clean house and home cooked meal, Craig would most likely come home to a disheveled wife, piles of laundry and a DiGiorno in the oven. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I know what his expectations would be, and I know that I wouldn’t meet them. Not a good combination.

I’m a more productive person when I’ve got a set schedule and places that I have to be at certain times every single day. I guess I’m a lot like a kid…I thrive on structure. So even though there’s no place like home, and I know it sounds counterproductive, I’ve realized that I get a lot more done around home when I’m not here all the time. I’ve been telling Alex ever since baseball season ended that he has way too much free time on his hands and he doesn’t use his time wisely when that happens. I guess now I have to be big enough to admit that I know where he gets it!

Don’t forget to be thankful during the holiday overload

Halloween is over except for the mounds of candy that my gorilla – er, my son, brought home last night.  After I picked out all the empty wrappers from his goody bag (wonder how those got there?), I “assisted” him with rifling through the treats to see what swag he had scored.  I declared that all of the chocolate was to be mine, but that didn’t work out so well for me.  That’s OK – I don’t need it anyway.

So now we’ve moved into November and toward the holidays that are just around the corner. The store shelves have been stocked with Christmas decorations for weeks already, and fake trees can be found at every turn.  I love Christmas – I really do. In fact, I’ve been known to whip out the Christmas music in the middle of summer just to get a quick fix.

But as much as I enjoy Christmas, I think it’s important not to overlook Thanksgiving.  We have so much for which to be thankful, and there is a whole day set aside for just that!  Enjoying the turkey and dressing is just one part of the day – I want my kids to understand that enjoying time with family and making a special effort to give thanks for all that we have is important, too!  And for those lucky enough to have the day off of work, that’s just another reason to be thankful.  This is my favorite time of year with all of the holidays looming in the near future, and amidst all the chaos I am looking forward to celebrating each and every one!

Come to think of it, every day could be Thanksgiving!

9 ways that marketing and parenting are a lot alike.

As a working mom, I have two full-time jobs.  The job that pays the bills is overseeing Marketing & Communications at WKU, and the job that I go home to every evening is parenting a teen and a tween and running a household with my hubby.  I’ve been a ‘practitioner’ in both fields for 15+ years, so, while I don’t claim to be an expert at either, I feel sufficiently qualified to talk about them both and to point out the similarities that have been swirling around in my head.  I realize it seems like a bit of a stretch, but read on, and I think it will make sense.

Marketing and Parenting are a lot alike in that:

  • Most of my efforts go smoother with Planning and preparation, but even the best plans have to be flexible.
  • In both jobs I am trying to reach a specific Audience and hoping like heck that they listen.
  • I often have an important Message to get across to the intended audiences, usually hoping for some specific action in return, but they don’t always do what I want them to do. Sometimes I have to ask several times before anyone seems to react as I had hoped.
  • Social Media plays a big part in the communication with my audience (I can get my son’s immediate attention if I hack his facebook!)
  • There is all kinds of Competition vying for the audience’s attention. I can’t ignore those competitors or pretend that they don’t exist lest they lure my audience away.
  • Every situation requires a careful Situational Analysis to figure out how to handle it. Knee jerk reactions aren’t usually productive.
  • I can learn more about the audience by Listening to and Communicating with them, rather than by constantly talking AT them.
  • The Results of my efforts over time can be extremely rewarding, but there are bound to be frustrations along the way. The key is to not give up.
  • There is constant Change, and I have to accept it and adapt to it or risk getting left behind.

Both of my jobs come with good days and bad days, fun days and crazy days.  But I am thankful for the rewards I get from both roles – and that is true every day.

15 truths about parenting that I’ve learned so far

My oldest child turns 15 on October 8, and in honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to jot down 15 things I’ve learned to be true about parenting.  Some of these are tips that “the pros” tell you when you join the parenting club (but you don’t really believe them), and some of them are just off-the-wall tidbits that I’ve discovered on my own.  So here goes – in no particular order…

  1. Kids outgrow their parents.  When I hug the soon-to-be 15-year-old, I have to tiptoe to get my chin on his shoulder, and I could probably get both of my feet in one of his shoes.
  2. Selective Hearing is a real phenomenon.
  3. When a kid is 18 months old, it’s perfectly acceptable to give their age in months.  Not so when they are older.   If you say your child is 180 months, instead of just saying 15 years, you will be an oddball.  Try it sometime just for fun.
  4. It’s a good thing for kids to learn some life skills like laundry and cooking.  At some point they will need to fend for themselves.
  5. No matter how perfect a kid is, they will get off track at some point, and the mean mommy must emerge to get them headed back in the right direction. Mean mommy is no fun.
  6. It’s a great day when you can say “everybody load ’em up!” and you don’t have to secure a car seat, pack a diaper bag or sippy cup or blankie or Sam <or whatever your lovey’s name is>.  You just hop in the car and go!
  7. You automatically get a raise the day you stop paying for daycare.
  8. Teenagers like to be with their friends more than they like to be with their parents.  Friends are fun.  Parents are just old…even us cool ones.
  9. Every mother thinks her child is the cutest/smartest/sweetest/funniest.  It’s best not to argue.
  10. When your kids hurt, you hurt.  Whether it’s physical or emotional – you feel it, too.
  11. Kids have a tendency to interpret words and phrases differently than parents.   e.g. “Maybe” or “I’ll think about it” means “Yes” to the kid, but to the parent it means “maybe” or “I’ll think about it.”
  12. When kids don’t get their way, they can get very angry at mom and dad and say things that are downright ugly.  Stand your ground!  Keep in mind that they’ll get over it when they want money.
  13. No matter how old your kid is, you will get unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family.  Use it or don’t, but smile and say ‘thank you’ either way.  There’s always time to grit your teeth later.
  14. Pick your battles.  Save the arguments for things that really matter (like wearing a seatbelt), because you might go crazy if you don’t just let some things slide.
  15. It really does go by fast.  No matter how long a night with a sick infant or a day with an active toddler or a weekend with a mouthy pre-teen may seem, you look back and think where in the world did the time go?

I could keep going and going, but I’d rather hear from others about what they’ve learned about parenting.  Do tell!

Oh – and happy almost birthday to my favorite 15-year-old in the whole world!

Alex Biggs

Happy Birthday!