When I notice a student struggling to write her main college essay, I sometimes ask how she would complete the sentence “If you really knew me, you would know…” Thinking about how to complete that sentence leads to discussions about what matters in her life. I am not necessarily looking to elicit a big idea or an earth-shattering achievement. Truthfully, I want to know what makes her smile and motivates her to look ahead.
For those of you who know me personally—and therefore “really know me”—you know I’m a huge Duke basketball fan. Regardless of what’s going on around me, I never feel guilty about plopping in front of the TV for two hours to cheer on the Blue Devils. The players vary each year, but the man on the sidelines is always the same: Coach Mike Krzyzewski. When Coach K announced his planned retirement for the end of the 2021-2022 season after more than 40 years at Duke, I needed a few days to wrap my head around this change.
At the press conference a couple of days later, Coach K spoke of critical junctures in his career, and how, if not for the belief of others, his career could have been very different. He noted specific moments when an athletic director, a college president, or a colleague ignored the naysayers and wholeheartedly believed in his ability and vision. He shared these stories incredulously and gratefully.
I tell this story because I witness firsthand how the students I work with benefit from the people in their lives who believe in them. Look, I’m solidly aware that what might sound like a good idea to a high school student may be…questionable. But I’ve also witnessed the determination and creativity of enough young people to know that most of time, it’s a good idea to get out of their way and watch them clear their own path. They’ve all got something that motivates them to look ahead—and often it’s because at least one person says, “I believe in you.”