"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" So asks poet Mary Oliver in The Summer Day, a perfectly named piece for this college counselor, advisor, administrator, and coach. Having spent nearly twenty years asking this same question to students arriving on my campus like clockwork every August, I am always prepared for the confusion that follows.
"Do you mean my major? What I want to do after college?"
"Not necessarily. I guess I am thinking more about what motivates you to get out of bed every morning and brings you joy."
"I never thought of that before. Should I be thinking about that? How do I find the answer?"
The answer is not a simple one. As adults, we possess maturity and experience. Beyond just plain good information, this wisdom about ourselves and the world around us makes it easy for us to understand the importance of motivation, setting priorities, and self regulation resulting in good consequences.
At eighteen, when adolescence is still very much in bloom, the brain is not fully wired to appreciate the notion of intrinsic motivation, self regulation, nor the role of consequences in decision making. This neurological fact is what always makes Monday mornings so busy on a campus with numerous incident reports and urgent emails from a weekend of impulsivity, poor decision-making, missed due dates, and unplanned priorities.
In many ways, these poor decisions and missed deadlines are the same things that reassure me students are getting ready to discover what they want to do with their lives. Like toddlerhood, when children seek to learn about the world around them by putting everything in their mouths, college students begin their undergraduate years pushing limits and testing boundaries. Risks like staying up too late, missing a class, or forgoing a study period are all decisions with consequences. Experienced Executive Function coaches know this behavior is fairly common among freshman college students. While we might expect it, we're not going to let students who make these poor decisions off the hook. We anticipate the developmental stages students will move through on the path to cognitive maturity while instilling the faith that better habits and internal motivation come with patience, practice, and support.
And then, one day, like the grasshopper eating sugar from Oliver's hand, the freshman college student will snap his/her wings open and float away. The departure will be risky but fully planned with priorities firmly set. This one wild and precious life will be led by a more mature mind with the ability to awake each morning with motivation and joy. Simply put, this is what it means to be an Executive Function coach and what my own wild and precious life brings to me.
Michele Hearn, College and Career Coach