"My mother wants me to get higher SAT scores." Really?

It's my goal!

Claire, a high school senior,  was brought to my office by her two parents. She was an outstanding student– 3.5 GPA, captain of the soccer team, a volunteer in public service activities– all the makings for a great college application. The issue was her SAT scores. “Not high enough,” said her Mom when we talked on the phone.

So Mom and Dad brought Claire in for a consult. My opening question was directed towards her. “So Claire, why are you here today?”  She looked at her Mom and then her Dad and then at me, “I’m here because my mother wants me to get higher SAT scores.”  There was an audible gasp from the…

parent gallery. Then Claire [not her real name] leaned in and looked directly at me and delivered the kicker, “And I don’t want to work for them.”

Claire and I worked together for the rest of the session. She was taking an SAT course (“I hate it”) and I gave her some exercises to practice (her weak “leg” was her ability to sustain her focus).  She seemed to enjoy the session and I liked her. She was bright, forthright and engaging.  She came back for the next session, sat down, looked right at me and said, “I didn’t do anything you told me to.”  “OK, I said, that’s not so unusual. You don’t know me and you don’t like your SAT course, so I’m not surprised.”  We talked some more, I gave her a few more exercises to do at home while she practiced test items, and she came back for the third session and said, now rather defiantly, “I didn’t do anything you told me to.”

I smiled. “Claire,” I said, “I like you. You’re a bright kid and I would like to work with you. But I’m not into struggling with the people I work with. So this is our last session.” Clearly this surprised and rattled her. She certainly didn’t expect me to toss her out.  I asked her, “Do you know what college you want to go to?”  Of course she did– it was one that was hard to get into.  “Do you know what SAT scores the college is looking for?” Of course she did. And at that moment the penny dropped. She wasn’t going after higher scores because her mother wanted. She, Claire, wanted them.  Suddenly she realized that it was her goal.

I’m telling this story because I want you to think about your goals. Unless you are motivated, it’s going to be very hard for you to put in the work to reach the goal.  What’s the point here? Own your goals; make them yours. Not what your parent wants, not what your teacher wants, but what you want. And if you’re a parent or a teacher reading this, make sure you’re not confusing your goals with your child’s or student’s.  Kobe Bryant doesn’t score because Phil Jackson wants him to. He scores because he wants to.

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