It was a typical late fall Tuesday evening. A college counseling session with my student Chris had just wrapped up, and we chatted while walking to the parking lot outside the Sacramento ESM office.
Me: "So you have any homework tonight, Chris?"
Chris: "Not too much. I was able to get what is due tomorrow completed during my flex period today."
I knew most students used their flex periods to waste time and hang out with their friends, basically an extra recess.
Chris: "But I do have a math quiz on Friday, so I needed to get my homework done during my flex, so I could start preparing for the quiz tonight."
Me: "Chris, you have a 98% in math right now, and you’re starting to study for the quiz three nights before the assessment??"
Chris looked at me like I’d said something very odd…
Me: "Ok, I see why you have a 98%! Anything else you plan on getting a head start on?" (I said this in a joking manner because I was still stunned by his study plan for a math quiz in a class he was crushing with an A+.)
Chris: "Yeah, I have an essay due in English next Friday, and because I don't have too much homework, I'll start writing a few outlines for different ideas I have for the essay."
Me: "You write multiple outlines for an essay and then choose the one you like the most BEFORE you write the essay?"
Chris again looked at me with a puzzled look on his face...
I knew Chris was at the top of his class with a 4.58 GPA, but I assumed he was "smart" and excelled because of his natural intelligence. I think this is how most students feel. The "smart" kids are just brilliant, and they just get it.
Chris was obviously intelligent, but what made him "smart" was his work ethic and ensuring he walked onto campus every day prepared to the best of his ability.
After this meeting with Chris, I started asking all of my highest GPA students what their behaviors were leading up to assessments, essays, and the daily tasks of high school. Over and over, they were always more prepared than the average student. They studied for examinations (regardless of the size) for multiple days, they were extremely diligent with their time and wasted hardly any of it.
I have had a few students who did naturally understand almost every concept and didn't have to put in extra hours of effort, but I can count on ONE hand out of the thousands of students I have worked with in my career. Almost ALL of the "smart" kids always do the right thing and manage what they can control. They ALWAYS do the right thing when it comes to their schoolwork.
You want to be successful in school and, more importantly, in life?
Always do the right thing. You know in your gut when you aren't putting in the effort required to be successful. Do you think your poor work ethic during school will suddenly change when you are in the real world working your first job?
If you can't get your 12 problems of geometry homework done consistently (which is maybe 30 minutes of work) right now, the future won’t get any easier. In the future, when your boss says she needs a report by 8am the following day, you know it will take five hours, and it is already 5:53pm, will you suddenly have the drive and ambition to have it on her desk before the deadline?
Doing the right thing every time is hard, and no one gets it perfect. But the very best students get as close to perfection as possible in their planning and execution every day, every month, every year. They don't just start and finish each marking period strongly, but also crush everything in between too.
Yes, I understand there are thousands of success stories of those who did not do well in school, but that is the overwhelming minority of the most successful. I'm sure you want to have the best chance at a successful life. In that case, you must be willing to build the habits of success, and that starts with always trying to do the right thing. For you high schoolers who are on summer break, or the rising seniors working on their college essays and applications, your habits now will impact your future.
I have no doubt Chris will have an immensely successful future because of his habit of always trying to do the right thing—no excuses, complete preparation, and planning to execute at the highest level. Those habits won't change.
What do you need to change to get to your highest performance potential now?