What are the benefits of college? How can you help your kid access them?

In the 15 plus years I’ve been working with adolescents & college students, there’s a phrase of concern I’ve heard a thousand times.

It usually starts with a qualifying statement.

“He’s really bright.” Or, “She’s such a good kid.”

And then it comes: “…but just lacks direction.”


True direction, and confidence in one’s direction, is the greatest advantage any of us can have in our lives.

Direction beats wealth, connections, and even the benefits of college.

Direction is the most critical factor in finding long-term fulfillment, self-worth and success.

Why is it, then, that direction is the last thing we feel confident in providing our kids?


Adults have no clue either.


Whenever I tell adults what I do, I help high school and college students figure out what they want to be when they grow up and plan backwards so they can reap the benefits of a college degree, I consistently hear one of two things:

“Man, I wish I had someone do that for me when I was that age!”

Or, “Do you ever do that for adults? I need that now! I’m lost in life!”

I frequently hear something else, though.

“Sixteen year-olds have no idea what they’ll want when they’re 40! They’re clueless!”

For this reason, some adults push back against the value of providing vocational guidance teens.

Isn’t it odd, though, that with the same rationale, a parent would complete a child’s college applications for a $50,000 a year college?

We send kids off to college without helping them understand in detail where they want to go long-term on their occupational journey.

Then we scratch our heads and wonder why they failed to gain the benefits of a college degree.

It is not the failing of the child who has no direction in life. It is the failing of the adult system.


The Great Myth of Direction


In the adult system, we’ve created and perpetuated a myth that direction is a thing one has.

We talk like it is a noun: a magical seashell you find on the beach.

As long as you have it in your pocket, you’re golden.

This misconception is at the root of the problem.

It is why kids don’t go to their counselors/teachers/advisors.

They think there is something wrong with them because they haven’t found their magical seashell…and everyone else has.

Meanwhile, everyone else is acting like they have that seashell in their pocket so they don’t look like the one who hasn’t found it yet.

But in reality no one has found it – because “it” doesn’t exist.

Direction is not a thing you find.


Direction is process.


For the last 10 years, I have taught teenagers how to find direction by navigating one of the most difficult places in the world: the Appalachian mountains of Western North Carolina.

Each morning during our navigation briefing, we lay out our maps and compasses. We figure out where we are on the map and  where we want to go.

With our compasses we measure in which direction we will travel, for how long, and how much elevation change we should expect along the route.

As we hike, we keep our maps, compasses, and plans in our hands. We don’t pack them away where we can’t see them.

We constantly compare what we see in the real world to the information from our tools and plans.

When we notice a contradiction — “Wait a minute. We’ve been going south for the last 10 minutes when we should have been going north” — we use strategies to gather more information to make a decision about how to react.

At times, we even find that the misdirection IS the direction we would rather go.

We find direction in the wilderness with a process of observing where we are and determining where we want to go, calculating and deciding how to get there, taking action, observing and realigning with where we want to go, or altering our course when we find we want to go somewhere else.

What’s more, finding direction is a skill anyone can develop by applying strategies.


What’s that have to do with college?


Direction in life is found in the same way as direction in the wilderness.

The key to teaching high school and college students to find direction begins with debunking the old myth.

They must experience the process of finding direction.

They must learn how to recognize when they are feeling lost in life.

They must feel the thrill of solving the problem and regaining direction by applying what they’ve learned.

Teaching them this process is how we give them confidence in themselves.

Sixteen year-olds do not need to know what they will want when they are 40. That is not what gives them direction.

They need to know how to find and navigate to what they will want when they are 18.

They need a process they can confidently follow to move in the direction of their next greatest beliefs about themselves and their place in the world.

They need a process that will allow them to evolve as they learn more about themselves and the ever-changing world they find through their explorations.

This process is what Off-Trail On Purpose contributes to the families we serve.

In the process, our clients gain the greatest benefits of college because they see exactly how it fits into the bigger picture they want to create for their lives.

Let us help your child learn how to find direction.


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