How to motivate unwilling young people who are NOT considering college


When it comes to making students aware that they are seventeen and need to start thinking seriously about their lives, I give them the “core-four” post-high school options:


1)    College

2)    A job (not a career, but more like “welcome to McDonalds, can I help you?)

3)    The military (a noble pursuit)

4)    Or jail. (eighteen = adult)


The stark realization that “life is real” jostles them; they are forced to consider the future and make some choices. Some kids jump at the opportunity to avoid moping floors and jail (duh) but others can still be rebellious and hard-headed. They are so caught up in the moment of being young and “invulnerable” that they are unable to make the clear distinctions about where they are and where they need to go.


Nothing is more motivational than fear. The fear of losing or being a failure, (or being perceived as) will often make the slowest feet move.


Using my “core four” options –  here is what I suggest:


1)    Take the to a college campus. Tell them that this is where they will have the full support of their family and friends and where they have a chance to reinvent themselves in whatever capacity they choose. They will meet new and inspiring people who may some day be great friends or business partners. College is where you may be given a little extra leash and allowed to make a mistake and still be encouraged. There are so many colleges out there – community, state, private – that hopefully by seeing other young people taking advantage of the opportunity to use facilities to learn, grow and create, they will want to be a part of it.


2)    Have them talk to the 24 year old at Panera Bread. Have them flat out ask the young person at the counter: “would you rather be here or in college?” Most young people who have to punch the clock hate it. It may be necessary and they tell themselves that this is only temporary, but one year turns into two years turns into five. And life does not slow down in terms of mounting adult responsibilities. Having a job is great, for a while, preparing to have a career (COLLEGE!) is better.


3)    Go to a local military office or training facility. If it’s in their DNA to be a soldier, all I can say is “thank you.”  Service of any kind is tremendously important and the military is the highest point of serving the country and all of us who live here. A young person may be motivated to be physically fit, learn mental discipline and possibly see the world. The only way they can decide “yay” or “nay” is to go to a facility and speak to the people who are involved. Their minds will stir and they will be motivated to do it or not.


4)    Ask them if they know anyone who has gone to jail. No matter what they think of jail from pop culture – Orange is the New Black or Oz – jail is not where they want to be. Nor did you – their parents – have them with the intent of them going to jail. A young life that is stifled or stagnant often leads to desperation. Some young people even want the “thrill” to see what they can get away with. Whatever the reason, illegal activity is life-altering and may leave a stain on their permanent record. The thought of jail or prison alone should keep young people from doing drugs or breaking the law. The motivation is not to become prey to people or a system that hinder development more than helps it.


I do believe, however, that motivation can be found in creative and/or innovative aspirations. If you have a child who is eighteen and wants to try their hand at a rock band or immersing themselves in technology and entrepreneurialism, then this is the time. As long as they have the support – literally and figuratively – of their parents, I see no reason why they should not “go for it.” However, they also need to have a self-imposed deadline of how much time they will give this opportunity before reconsidering and trying something else. If the rock band is not touring and profitable by age 20 or 22 the latest, go to school. Some see it as an expensive default, I see it as a foundation for a career. Learn a trade. Hone a craft. Provide a living for yourself and contribute to the world.