Let Your Children Go (to College)

I was born in the last year of the Baby Boom Generation, or the First Year of Generation X, depending on whose culture yardstick you go by. Thus, I was at the tail end of the first generation in American history, and possibly history period, to over-nurture their young. Presumably, this was due to a few factors: we had the post-war economic means to do so, with fewer children per couple, each one was proportionally a little more precious than back when the norm was to birth a whole litter, and finally, if social anthropologists are to be believed, we were absolutely in love with ourselves, and what better immortality project is there than perfect offspring?

We made sure they had the right baby food (breast milk, and then organic vegetables), the right teachers in the right school districts, the right coaches and cultural experiences, and the right stuff (usually delivered in the form of constant praise for minor accomplishments). All of this over-nurturing inevitably led to the Great Game, the defining cherry on top of our superlative child rearing – admission to the college of their choice (i.e. the college that was more highly ranked than that of our friends’ kids).

We of the Animal House generation had probably lived in lousy dorms, ate uninspired food, went to some pretty fun parties, and worked fairly hard either at school, or at least at some other quixotic quest, while at university. The stakes seemed a little lower then, probably because the cost was so very much lower. Most of us went to perfectly adequate state universities for what now seems like a laughably small amount of money (Since 1990 consumer prices have doubled, medical care has tripled, and college costs have quintupled. Source: U.S. Labor Dept.). So, we stayed up too late, watched Letterman, talked about life, ate Pizza, and got into the usual shenanigans that are common to young people with both time and a degree of boredom on their hands.

But then, as the years passed, and selective memory being what it is, we proceeded to fetishize and glorify our experiences well beyond reality. We began to sell this notion to our kids: that this would be the defining experience of their young lives; that it would be the most thrilling, fun, crazy, hilarious and profound four years of their entire existence. Which is a huge load of crap.

Our competitive selves were also paying close attention as our community’s older kids were getting into the “right” (and sometimes not so right) schools. If we were going to set our children up for life success, we had to nail this thing. And, maybe more importantly, if we wanted something enviable to share every time the question of “where is Julie going next year?” came up at a party, we hoped to be able to respond with a “Yale,” or “Georgetown,” or maybe “Michigan” in order to call, or hopefully raise, their Brown, Bowdoin or UNC.

The kids got the message, loud and clear, from their parents, friends, counselors, and the culture. “This is it” they heard. Get in to the right school and a life of happiness and success awaits you. Get into your safety school, or your safety-safety school and shame and degradation waits. The colleges took the Great Game as a great gift. Endowments swelled as alums hoped to play favors with admissions. The schools, non-profits that they are, raised tuition non-stop and poured the proceeds into every conceivable luxury, creating campuses that would make most cruise ships blush, all in an effort to make the physical reality begin to at least resemble the collegiate myth that had been created. When the family arrived on campus for a tour, it was the parents that wanted to see the massive buffet with the white hatted chefs intently working the sushi bar, the athletic facility that could make pro football teams envious, and the dorm rooms that insured little Justin would never, ever have to wait in line to take a shower or use the john.

When the acceptance letters finally arrive. The students are told to “pick the one that feels right” as if this will be the most obvious thing in the world to them. At best, they’ve visited once and took a tour. So, they do the next best thing which is pick the one they think will either make their friends the most jealous or cost their parents the most money.

And then the problems arrive. They arrive on campus fall of freshman year, still just 18-years old, and full of promises. And guess what? They are just as confused, just as insecure, just as human as they were on the last day of high school. College isn’t a non-stop, feel good party combined with new best friends to eat pizza with while watching YouTube into the late hours. Some of that stuff happens of course, but not without the usual irritations, jealousies, and social anxiety that accompanies all of life. And now, they are confused! They feel like failures. Clearly, everyone else they know is totally having the promised perfect life at their perfect college – one only has to glance at Instagram to see proof of this; and yet they are sad, which makes them feel more sad, and terribly alone.

Many of them, probably most, eventually, figure it out. They fight through it, find their friends, and figure out that life is still life even on the collegiate cruise ship. But far too many spend a year or two feeling depressed and miserable. Many of them transfer in the hope that it was just the wrong “fit.” Others drop out altogether. But just about everyone goes through a tough adjustment period that probably wasn’t entirely necessary had their parents and educators just leveled with them a little bit.

Generation X and Y, I’m talking to you now. Let it go. Let them go. College is great. Really, it is. But please stop building it up with unobtainable expectations and overwrought consequences about the school they attend. Just about any school they pick, including the more affordable options, will allow them to learn and grow as people. They will be fine. And for goodness sakes, strongly suggest that they take a gap year so they can be a tiny bit more prepared and mature before embarking on the most expensive investment of their lives.

 

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“You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.” -Paul McCartney

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People Want the Story

They want the hero, the villain, the boy who meets girl, the girl who meets girl, the love, the loss, the hurt, the pain, the twists, the turns, the ups, the downs, the happy ending, the moral, the lesson, the learning, and ultimately they want the LIFE.

They want to connect. They want to fall in love and to feel loved.

Sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes, as a marketer, all you have to work with is a tire sale, on Tuesday, it’s 15% off. It’s difficult to help someone fall iTire Adn love with that.

Unless, like Michelin, you tell a story about what’s riding on their tires. Then, all of a sudden: there is life, there is love. There is making babies, and protecting those babies. There is a story.Michelin

Other times it is hard, because, well, we feel a little embarrassed. It’s easier to keep it light, focused on the basics. Strictly first date stuff: When? Where? How much? How is this one better than the one across the street? What are the features and benefits? Is it Gluten Free? And we may tell ourselves that this is all our customers want to know, everything else is just fluff.

That’s probably what most banks think. We’ve got better service, or more aggressive rates, or a wider set of products. Let’s go with that message. Again.

Or, you can be like HSBC and realize that your product is really just the subtext to the tapestry of life’s journey

Watch Lift by Grey London.

Lift

HSBC Lift

Not a word is spoken, or written, and yet, we come away a little changed.

What’s your story?

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Food Truck Your Brand

IMG_2084

Every Friday night in the summer, where I live in Burlington, VT, it is Food Truck Friday. Some twenty trucks gather in a too-small parking area behind some cafes, and a madhouse ensues. This is happening in every city in the country. Granted, it’s a social scene as much as a food experience, but why are people so enthusiastic about it? Why are they willing to wait in very long lines and pay fairly high prices for a small delicacy served to them by a sweaty, bearded, and tattooed proprietor – and then have no place to sit down to eat? Because, it is unquestionably, and empirically authentic. You know this guy, or this gal (less the beard), is the real deal. Why else would they be hunched over in a tiny, humid kitchen with about the same floor space as an intern’s cubicle, making change for wadded up twenties, and frantically trying to keep from setting the whole operation on fire? Answer: they are foodies of the first order, and they have a gift for creating amazing, original food – else why subject themselves to this?

People want real. They want trust. They want a story. They no longer want factories directed by the suits following formulas. That’s why McDonald’s has a lot more problems than just simplifying their menu (though this will undoubtedly help). Big food manufacturers from Hormel to General Mills are rapidly buying up small brands with a story like Applegate Farms and Annie’s, hoping to catch a little bit of this real food mojo.

How can you food truck your brand?

  1. Find what’s small. Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs sells their brand up and down the East Cost. They are a reasonably large brand by this measure. But all of their partner farmers (the independent farms that contract to raise the hens) are small, family farms with maybe one or two free-range organic barns each. That’s the story Pete & Gerry’s shares with consumers because they can relate to that scale, and they trust that each farmer is as committed to their craft as the guy in the food truck.
  1. Tell your story. Show them your story on your packaging and in your ads. Be yourself. Let them see the real you, warts and all (which can’t be as bad as that tarot card tattoo that the food truck sushi burrito chick had on her forearm last Friday). King Arthur Flour has been selling their flour for 225 years and they make sure you know that. You don’t need to have been around that long to tell your story, however. KAF also makes sure that you know that this is the story of bakers. Not people who bake from occasional necessity (birthday cakes), but people who bake for joy. They are not all professionals either. The experiments are part of the learning and the joy. That creates a shared connection with the people who care most about the quality of their flour, and who go through the biggest quantity of flour as well.
  1. Simplify – Food trucks define simplicity for people as they can see the entire operation from start to finish right before their eyes. The menu is simple too, maybe 5 items. People like simple. They trust simple. It makes decisions easier, and who doesn’t need that? Does your brand list 17 different product benefits from “gluten free” to “fair for life” on your label? These are all nice things perhaps, but they get in the way of the essential truth about you and your product. Heady Topper, the wildly popular Double IPA from Vermont, has just three things on their label, the brewer name and location, the varietal name, and a drawing that captures the essence of this whimsical, yet intricate, craft ale. Your brain can take it all in in an instant, and you don’t need to have ever heard of the beer before to have a pretty good idea of what it is all about. Once you taste it, then you can read more about their story and this brew on the back of the can, when you’re actually receptive to the information, and not before.

HEADY-TOPPER-LABEL

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Tom’s Utterly Incredible Egg Sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices bacon
  • Ciabatta roll
  • 1 slice cheddar cheese
  • 2 Nellie’s Cage Free Eggs, lightly beaten

Directions:

Preheat broiler. Fry the bacon in a skillet or in the oven. Slice the ciabatta roll in half and dip both sides face down in the bacon grease. Top bottom half with cheese. Place halves face up under the broiler until golden brown and cheese is melted. Scramble eggs while browning roll. Top roll with eggs and bacon and enjoy.

Great Addition: Tomato or avocado.

Great Substitution: Try cream cheese instead of cheddar. But add after broiler step.Egg Sandwich

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Good to Be Green

Free Range Water

Free Range Water


I’m an environmentalist. But like all modern Americans, it’s easier to preach than really practice. I drive a hi-mileage car, but wish I drove a Porsche. I yell at the kids to turn off lights, but we have a 50 inch plasma TV. Life is better when my wife is happy (and warm), so we have a hot tub too. But I’m always looking for ways to do better. This year it was the Rain Barrel project. The concept is simple. We water a lot of plants in the summer, so rather than draw from the well, why not catch nature’s bounty off of my roof and into a barrel? Free water! So sensible. And unlike solar panels, it seemed straight forward enough. Or so I thought.

My town advertised that they had barrels for sale. Free would have been better, but I figured they must be cheaper than buying new. That was wrong. I paid $40 for a giant piece of molded plastic with a faucet in the bottom. In terms of color choice, my new barrel came in one: traffic cone orange. So it basically blends right in with our house and yard. But I wasn’t done. I had to buy a downspout diverter which is the thing that taps into your rain gutter pipe and allows you to fill the barrel. This required quite a bit of research online, and another $30.

Now, I had to find the right spot for it. I proposed to put it next to the downspout that collected the lion’s share of the roof’s water, but that was also the one right next to the street. My wife Lori, who still retains a modicum of dignity and pride at this point in her life, objected to the curb appeal of a massive pumpkin colored cylinder in front of the house. So I had to settle for a much less productive spout in the rear.

Following instructions, I went after the gutter pipe with my hacksaw, which took about an hour of patient sawing to finally cut through. With a 3 story house, my downspout is roughly 30’ long and it turns out that when you sever such a tall, thin piece of metal. it becomes extremely flimsy. The pipe, formally flush to the siding, immediately began sagging away from the house in a decidedly slipshod fashion. And the copious amounts of duct tape needed around the mid-section to attach the diverter hose to it contributed to the overall sense of unprofessionalism.

Still, I was making progress. Free water from the skies was nearly in my grasp. It was then that I discovered that with the faucet at the very bottom of the barrel, which was resting on the ground, I couldn’t put a thimble underneath it, much less a watering can. So now I needed to raise the barrel.

The first attempt to do so involved a milk crate draped in a piece of black cloth that I hoped would make it look less like an orange rain barrel teetering on a milk crate, but in fact just looked stupid. Worse, it was not what we engineers like to refer to as “stable.” So with the first rain, and the exciting promise of stored water, the barrel became top heavy and fell heavily into the side yard, ripping out hose, diverter, duct tape and yanking the downspout even further from the house.

But I would not be denied. I was off to Lowe’s for $25 in paving stones with which I constructed a more stable rain barrel podium that looked slightly less crappy than my milk crate version.

And with that, success! For just $95 and three or four hours of my time, we are now saving about 79 cents in water every summer!

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Get the Playbook

My book on the cutthroat world of youth sports is now available here! (or here if you’re a Kindle kind of guy or gal)

I strongly recommend/insist that you buy this book for everyone you know to help them navigate through this Machiavellian minefield. They will thank you, maybe.

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