Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Part Three: My Response (and Other Responses) to the Student Without Support

(It's another Tuesday! For the sake of blog brevity--which I've breached many times since authoring this space--I split the current discussion over three weeks. If you're just tuning in, and even if you're back (and thank you on both counts), I'll recap: 

In Part 1, I wrote about what happens when a student changes his mind about a major/career path and others are not supportive. I discussed that I'd been to an Urgent Care where I met a lovely student who told me about her path, which contained a number of changes. I reflected that there wasn't time for this person to tell me how those around her reacted to the change.

In Part 2, surprise, surprise: The Urgent Care receptionist remembered that I told her about my blog in passing. She accessed it, read about herself, and responded with more of her back-story. 
Now, that you're all caught up, here is my response to her...)

Dear Student,

I am SO glad that you wrote to me and, yes, you made such a positive impression that morning in Urgent Care. I apologize for the delay in this note, but I wanted to have the mental space (read: kids have been iced/snowed in until just two days ago) to provide a thoughtful response.

I am extremely sorry that your family member had that type of response to you. I bet this person does not realize the impact that it had. I'll get to that in a moment.

First, bravo, bravo to you for going for your goals, despite this person’s reaction. Your inclination is totally right--there are many ways to get to what you want to do. Also, genius is completely relative, isn't it? People are "genius" in many ways, and, "genius" and "creativity" hardly go hand-in-hand. I would say fortitude, drive, determination, commitment, etc. have more to do with any goal than being "genius." 

Sure, you need certain skills, but there are many paths to get to your goal. You already know that from your decision to not go into nursing, deciding that wasn't for you, and then looking into a different area of healthcare (which I realize also ended up not being the right path, but you were creative enough to find a way to stay the field in a different capacity, based on your current job).

Let the universe tell you what you need to know: Put your goal out there and see where the validation lands--and I'm talking about the validation that will come from getting into the program that you want, learning from experts in this field, etc. That will tell you what you need to know about your next steps. I am looking forward to hearing about it. I agree that when you feel something in your bones, you have to listen to that and go for it.

As you read in my blog this week, I didn't have a great amount of support either for my decision to teach. Read just the first paragraph or two on this Chronicle of Higher Education piece where I wrote about my grad school profs telling me how "wrong" my decision was: Like I said in the blog, my bio reveals that things worked out pretty okay for me.

I'm going to put on my other hat here for just a second: My interpersonal comm hat (you may have noticed that I write about relationships, also--it's a teaching area for me). I hope you will have a sit-down with your family member and discuss how the interaction made you feel. It sounds like this person is very special in your life; I would think that they would want to know how much their support means to you and the messages you sent to yourself when you felt you didn't have that support. It would probably be very healing, even if your family member maintains their position… but you ask for the support anyway.

(Disclaimer: In my original e-mail to the student, I didn't add this next dialogue, but I wanted to add it here and hope she will see it!) 

You can say, “We recently had a conversation that had a pretty big impact on me. I want you to know that your support has meant the world to me. Your opinion is also very important to me and has helped shape other decisions I’ve made in my life.

When I told you about my decision to change my major, I realize you had my best interest in mind when you said that a person has to be ‘genius’ in order to pursue that career. I know you were probably trying to protect me, though honestly, the message that I took away is that I’m not smart enough. I took that comment pretty harshly. I know it is my choice to react to it that way.

I appreciate your opinion. I’m going to pursue this path because it feels like the right situation for me. Even if you have concerns, I hope you will support me anyway. If my plan doesn’t go as I hope, I will really need your support. But I would rather at least try to move ahead and see where that takes me, rather than give up now.”

A conversation like this where you are keeping your feelings in “I” language will hopefully go far better than the harsh startup of, “You don’t believe in me!” or “You don’t care about me!” or “Oh, so you think I’m stupid?” (Which is the way many people want to react because it’s far “safer” to convey anger than pain, right?).

I will look forward to hearing some wonderful news about your path. I've been where you are and I know what things look like on the other side :-). You can make this happen! If I can do anything to help, please let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you again!



I couldn't just end this post without adding some of the amazing comments that readers had for this student. I'll paraphrase a few here: 

--"Even though you are sadly not getting the support you need from your family, I believe you can absolutely accomplish all of your dreams and plans. I love your resolve to take this negativity and turn it into fuel for the journey! Good luck!"

--"I have been in the same situation. No support, surrounded only by doubters. It is amazing that once one steps onto the path that we are destined for, how both doubt and encouragement become fuel. Doors do open when we follow our true calling. I was 30 years old before I found the faith to pursue mine. I am now almost 40 and realize that every hardship in my past has prepared me for each and every success of my present." 

--"I know quite a few people who are involved in computer programming and design. I think it really takes dedication and a love for what you are doing, both of which you already seem to have. In addition, I changed majors six times while I was in college, because I kept finding new things I loved. There is nothing wrong with spending some time searching for what you love, and once you find it, you most definitely should pursue it!"

So, students, what are you struggling with? I'm back to regular programming next week, but always taking questions at chattyprof@gmail.com. Also, remember that you can "Like" the Chatty Professor on Facebook and the blog will come straight to your FB door! Till next week, be well!!!


  1. WOW this is really helpful , compassionate and powerfully expressing honest authentic feelings.

    That is when good things happen, when we communicate with such honest emotion without making the other person wrong.

    No need in getting into a pissing match lol.

    Great guidance.

  2. Michele @prosperitygal,

    Thank you so much for commenting! It's funny that when we talk about using "I" language in the interpersonal class, I explain to students that another person can't feel blamed if we own our feelings. Of course, the other person could still choose to feel like they are the victim. But we'll hope not :-).

    Be well!