What Matters to You: Exploring Passions and Pastimes

There has been a great deal of loss during these recent weeks, and we are all looking for silver linings.   As I contemplate possible silver linings for PrepMatters students, I look for opportunities that could offer greater strength and insight regarding learning.  I see, even in the midst of these difficult days, that there is an opportunity for each and every one of you.  Our current situation has produced the gift of time – time to consider what matters most to you, time to look inward and find what you value which, after all, is the powerful fuel of your inner drive. 

Last week, my high school senior son remarked, “I am glad that I am going to a small liberal arts college.  I don’t think that I could handle not seeing and talking with teachers in the same room.” However, on the other side of the online learning spectrum, I have a student who, although she desperately misses her friends at school, loves completing her work at her own pace and then moving on to other interests. To this I say – to each their own.

High school juniors have paid a particularly stiff price as they have had to let go of what matters to them — seeing friends, playing out the sports season, putting on the spring musical, and foregoing every other manner of extracurricular activities. In addition, the prospective college applicants are separated from school, traditional grades and grading, and even standardized tests. However, I see evidence every day that they are doing their best to hold on and power through the current circumstances.

I want to ask a question before our world reopens and we likely revert to old patterns. We, parents and kids alike, might ask ourselves: “Why am I doing this?” or “What matters to me?”  In “The Self-Driven Child,” a book I co-authored with Dr. William Stixrud, we look at the research of Reed Larson who studied how adolescents develop intrinsic motivation (or inner drive) as opposed to the idea of “carrots and sticks” prompts which have traditionally been used as behavioral tools. Larson observed that it was not dutifully doing homework that inspires motivation but what he described as “the passionate pursuit of pastimes.”  I recognize that many of those pastimes have taken a hit along with everything else right now but, as much as we can, I would make time and space for our kids to “noodle on” as best they can. I recommend playing, exploring, and engaging with, well, whatever your or your kids find engaging. What might that look like? Well, we all want what we want and don’t want what we don’t.  Our drives are personal.  Personally, I am a fan of Trimextirx which organizes drives under these six principles:

So, you may have a kid who goes down a rabbit hole of exploration, another who wants to build, acquire, or get stuff done, a third who is drawn to art, or one who wants to go full Marie Kondo on the household.  Across the street, there is a kid who is organizing every iteration of social meet-up that social distancing allows, while her friend continues to perfect her room, her vlog, or her application to a future leadership camp, and their friends are committed to helping the helpers with a virtual fundraiser or churning out homemade PPEs.  In each of these cases, you can see the paths in college and career that may develop.  None of us does or likes everything.  And, that’s great.  I stay in my lane.  I do me knowing that you’ll do you

A couple of years ago, I asked a rather forlorn high school senior what she most liked to do.  She looked at me and sadly said, “I really have no idea.  I am too busy meeting other peoples’ expectations of me.” The comment was beyond discouraging and should not be the outcome of high school and adolescence.  Now that we have had to slow down, I hope that all teenagers will encounter and consider the question: What do I like to do?

For juniors, there is a practical side to this exercise. It is the pursuit of these very passions that become the “something extra” that colleges look for beyond grades and tests scores.  For the Class of 2021, with so much disruption to grades and test scores, these pastimes may figure even more prominently than before.   I understand that not everyone has identified their passion to pursue.  And, that’s okay.  We are all in a state of becoming.  My hope is that with the time and space afforded by being distanced from the norm, we will continue to create the space and opportunity for those passions to emerge.