What is the best advice for your college student? It may seem counter cultural, but I strongly encourage parents to encourage their kids, as college students, to shift their focus away from grades. Today’s college student faces enormous challenges. Besides the daily cultural chaos across the world, the current political rancor of our election, and the repeated headline of disasters (terrorist attacks, fires, floods, earthquakes, etc.), they are facing an increasingly competitive world with greater barriers to financial success. The solution is to help them focus on finding real happiness, not superficial acclaim. Happiness doesn’t come through higher grades; it comes through following your passions and establishing friendships. In this world, your kids are going to need those friendships to battle through life and its many challenges. Here is how I addressed the issue with my daughter, Skyler, when she was a college freshman …

Dear Skyler,

It was fun to hear the account of your Halloween activities and Halloween choices.  Should you go to the New York Halloween parade or stay in your dorm room and write your essay? And the next morning, after you had enjoyed the Halloween parade and gone to bed without writing your essay, should you skip your first class to write the essay or wake up at some really early hour? A year ago, when you were still in high school, I would have argued for your staying home, forgoing any Halloween pleasure, and obtaining a high grade on your essay. After all, I am the wonderful father who would repeatedly send you off to school half dead. A sore throat and a temperature of 102 degrees? Off we go young lady. I am sure you will feel better in class. Nausea and periodic vomiting with the flu?  Don’t worry, young lady, just make sure you finish taking notes before heading to the bathroom to throw up. Great dad, yes? Well, this parent is changing.

I applaud your decision to choose fun and friendship over class and grades; and I applaud the decision to skip a class and complete your essay versus getting minimal sleep and waking up early. Really, how much education can you miss in one class? Is one essay going to change your life? Isn’t sleep far more important than any one grade? Do you want an “A” or a good night’s sleep and physiologic rejuvenation? Remember the movie line from Freaky Friday? Make good choices. Well, I have reached the point where I think you are making good choices, even if they are not the choices I would have recommended a year ago. So, what has changed? First, when I speak to you, I can hear how much you are enjoying college and your new friends. That alone says you are making some good choices. Second, with your absence, and my loneliness from your absence, I have been forced to look at my parental habits and realize my multitude of mistakes.

When I look at my life, what do I see? I see an overload of work for the past decade with less time for leisure than I would have liked. I think of all the weekday nights when I buried myself in the computer room, completing medical record review after medical record review, all for additional money to help pay for college when I could have been enjoying more family time. The other night, after working all day at my regular job on medical record reviews, what did I do? I came home, inhaled my dinner, and then retreated to my computer desk to work on even more medical records, this time from around the country. Yes, the money was needed. But when I had finally finished those cases around 11 pm, everyone was asleep and I was alone. All I could do was slump in front of the TV and watch the sports report on the earlier Lakers game. I had nothing left in the tank. I spent the entire day with no family interaction. Did you know that the average father spends only 4-20 minutes a day one-to-one with his child? What a mistake. Instead of family connection, it is just work and more work. Have I been making the most of life? Not a chance.

What’s my point? Well, like so many people, I have gained insight, but not changed my behaviors. I am still working far too many hours with too little family time and too little fun. But thanks to you, I am committed to making more of a change, and perhaps helping other people to change. The quality of our life is the quality of our relationships, not the financial amount of our portfolios. To obtain quality, you have to establish more quantity. You can’t have great relationships without sufficient time. In fact, those moments of high quality stem from high quantity. Here’s my new advice. Make relationships the core of your life and your life will be wonderful, regardless of everything else. I might propose the following litmus test when you start looking for a career. In which field, will you have the best relationships? In medicine, everyone is always working. Get a group of physicians together and listen to the complaints. No free time. But what about your interest in the film industry? With a studio, is it more of a family feeling? Is there more time for relationships? More time to work together as a group? More time for laughter and fun? I don’t know the answers, but those would be my new questions. Don’t follow my behaviors. Follow your instincts. Skip that evening homework. Downgrade your focus on grades. Increase your effort to establish friendships.

Have some fun. Make your own good choices.

Now, doesn’t that sound like a better college life?

And that will also translate into a better, closer family life …

For me, that mental shift is the solution for our college students …

Any disagreement?

Happy teen girls and boys having good fun time outdoors. Selective focus