Why Are Our Graduates So Fragile?

College graduation is upon us and both parents and students have mixed emotions about this day. As a parent, you are likely beaming but possibly even teary-eyed as another chapter is coming to an end. As a student, you are likely relieved it is over, exhausted from the journey, but excited for the real world to come – to reap the reward of successfully transitioning to your dream job after years of academic pursuit.

Then comes reality – trying to translate what was learned in college into getting a meaningful job. 

The endless resume re-writes, applying for jobs, networking and hoping someone has a contact to give you a chance. And the realization that looking for a job is not so easy. Are today’s graduates really ready for this? Why are some of our graduates struggling to put it all together?

Before we answer that question, a quick story.

I was at a family event a few weeks ago and met a mutual friend who is the head of a high school guidance department in the Boston area. She shared a unique experience where she was invited to sit in on a Harvard admissions session and learn about the process of how they evaluate students. Oh, how I would love to be a fly on the wall in there! Of course each student is more exceptional than the next. They categorize applicants by academics, achievements, lineage, and then “teacups” – the term for those students who had dealt with some type of significant tragedy, medical issue or extreme personal challenge. This last group is considered very fragile and could easily crack from a stressful environment or situation – more thought would be allocated to those decisions.

The more I speak with students and recent graduates, I am seeing more and more “teacups.” However, these teacups are not like the ones from Harvard. There is no family tragedy or major personal struggle. In fact, many of these students come from stable homes with supportive parents, strong grades in college, and well balanced activities and social life.

But something is happening in students that makes them feel afraid, insecure and not willing to persist when things get tough in finding a job.

Sometimes it is just one rejection from a job. Sometimes the employer never calls back after multiple tries. Sometimes it’s the perception that “everyone else” is getting a job except for me. Often, it is just being completely overwhelmed stepping into an environment that has no syllabus, study guide, structure, time table or set rules. For years our students are clearly told what is expected of them and now employer expectations are not so clear.

What should we do to help them? Push them harder? Let them figure it out on their own? Help them? There is no clear answer. However, the word GRIT comes to mind. There is an outstanding TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth that says

“THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN OUR STUDENTS IS GRIT.” 

She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future…and working really hard to make that future a reality.” Duckworth shares that “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” But when answering the question on how to build grit and keep students motivated, she refers to research done by Stanford professor, Carol Dweck. Dweck’s studies show that one may develop grit by having a “growth mindset” – the willingness to fail, and the belief that failure is NOT a permanent condition. It is a willingness to start over again with lessons learned.

My lesson from this is that it is OK to fail.  The job search can be long and difficult and failure may feel like a common occurrence.  Failure can be good because you learn a lot about yourself and what you want to pursue. It is the ability to learn, persevere and take the lessons with you that help you move forward. Our students and graduates can learn to be ‘grittier’ as grit can can change over time, with experience, and with hard work. Their skills and talents can also grow utilizing good strategies and help from others. To learn more about how Next Great Step helps students gain confidence and perseverance (which some may call grit) in finding the first job out of college click here to learn more.

 

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