Category Archives: School

Need To Change

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I struggled to support myself without egregious pain or worry. I’m 33
and feel I’ve finally found my life’s work: doing bodywork/massage. I
feel ready and excited but have two jobs now: one is temporary part
time, the other will become full-time permanent in October,
November, or December, but they can’t tell me when!!! I also do
printing work, which I love, but can’t rely on it to pay the bills. Fulltime
bodywork school couldn’t fit with it all right now, though there is a
part-time (Wednesdays and Saturdays) program that starts every
quarter. I think (at least through December) I can go down to two
days at both jobs, take Weds off for school, and do the printing in the
wee hours if there’s a deadline. When the temp-going-to-full-time job
happens, I’ll negotiate for four days, at least for a while. But I really
don’t like it there. Is it okay to walk away from a job that makes me
want to die? I want to love my work instead of sitting alone putting
computer files into folders all day. I’m so sick of making questionable
decisions in fear or scarcity mode. Help…..

Need To Change

Dear Need To Change:

What sounds like a great plan on the surface can conceal a multitude
of disasters in the shallow waters. I love the idea that you’ve found a
new career and a place to train for it that allows you to work while you
do so. Going into debt for a profession that might take a while to build
up a clientele to employ you is a bad start. So yes to staying employed
as long as possible while you are in school. You don’t say how many
terms the training is, or what you’ll do if the part full-time job won’t
negotiate. Given their equivocation about timing you should be okay n
the short-run, but employers have the upper hand in most unskilled
labor markets, so you might find that they value their own priorities
much more highly than yours.

Start out with a financial assessment for the duration of your training
program and six months afterwards, which should give you time to
find a job. What do you need to bring in each month to pay your fixed
expenses? Can you trim that down at all? Can you get or become a
roommate to save on living expenses? Go through everything on your
list from transportation to haircuts. Don’t forget insurance and other
items you probably don’t want to afford but need. Can you see a path
to making this work? If not, what kind of student loan could
supplement one of the part-time jobs? What happens in an
emergency? Do you have savings? Debts? Talk to yourself the way a
stern parent would. Not to talk yourself out of the change, but to
figure out what it will take to make your new life work. If, in the worst
case, you simply cannot afford to do it now, decide to work for a
specific period with the goal of saving enough to start in six to twelve
months. I know you won’t enjoy the delay, but it will make you even
more committed. In the meantime, get copies of all the textbooks, or
even just a used Gray’s Anatomy and learn every muscle and its
insertion points. Be your own study group while you are doing the
boring work. That will equip you to be a blazing success whenever you
do start classes. You’ll impress the instructors with your readiness, and
they’ll go to bat for you when you graduate. Change is hard and
rewarding. Good luck!!

Not A Slave

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For years I’ve helped the children of my friends with their college
applications and scholarship essays. I make a living as a technical
editor, so I’m used to explaining things clearly, and especially adept at
avoiding the kinds of silly typos and missing words that can get an
application moved from the Yes to the Maybe pile. But this round my
best friend’s son gave me a set of essays that are just raw and
unformed, and with a very short timeline for his submission deadline. I
know he is recovering from a broken collarbone, and planning his trip
to Europe with his sweetie. But I don’t think it’s my job to get him into
grad school while he’s off having fun. At 22, it’s time for him to take
greater responsibility for his words. I have more than enough nieces
and nephews coming along who really need my help. I like this young
man and his mother. How can I gently use this teaching moment?

Not A Slave

Dear Not A Slave:

Do it very simply. Reply to his email with one that says, You must
have sent the wrong file. This looks like a first or maybe second draft,
not like the quality of work I am used to from you and that I know
you’re capable of doing. I’ll need three days from the deadline to work
on it because of my own life priorities. So send me your best shot after
you’ve worked on them again or after you find the file with your better
draft. That gives him a backdoor to work on them again without
blatantly shaming him.

In future, tell your protégées that you will only work on their best
attempt. And that you need to know everything relevant about
submittal like word/character/space count limits in their draft. Be sure
to say they have to do final spell check and proofing. Then let them
thank you as much and often as they want.

Déjà vu

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in my mid-30’s. I make a very good living in high tech, a field I’ve
worked in since my teens. I could do this forever but my heart has not
been in it for years. I spent five years to get a 3.95 grade point and a
degree in hard sciences and pre-med classes; then applied for/ got
rejected/applied again/ got accepted to a med school in my home
town! After completing four terms I hated it. It’s not what I imagined
med school would be and I don’t think I really want to be a doctor. But
along the way I fell in love with biochemistry. I think I could make a
great contribution to society if I harnessed my techie skills with a PhD
or even a Masters in biochem. But I feel like a failure and have great
anxiety about approaching the same health sciences university that
the med school is part of to ask about applying to their grad program.
Can you help me get past my shame and onto the right degree path?

Déjà vu

Dear Déjà Vu:

No one wants a doctor whose heart ad brain aren’t deeply into the art
of healing. That includes the university that is training that doc. It’s an
expensive and labor-intensive commitment to become a physician, on
both the part of the student and the teachers. Better to decide sooner
than later that it’s not for you. Whoever was on the top of the waiting
list the year you began might have a legitimate grudge. But the school
plans for attrition, and I assure you that you’re not the first person in
their history to change his mind about your career. Write down
everything you feel about being a failure, shame, etc etc etc and burn
the page you wrote on in your bbq. Then focus on the future.


Study the grad program website as though you were approaching
them two years ago. Identify prerequisites and highlight your
transcripts for each of them. Pull together any letters of reference you
got for the med school application and everything else that seems
useful. Then appear (no call or appointment) at the posted office hours
of the graduate advisor. Say you want to apply for next fall, and you
think you have what’s needed. Go over everything relevant. Get that
person excited about you, including your high-tech background and
vision for the future. Then, when it seems like s/he is impressed, say
you have one final question: Would it matter if I had tried med school
and realized that my passion is biochem instead? The answer, and the
person’s face, will tell you a lot. Who knows, maybe there’s even
room on the waiting list for this fall.

Just Making It

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in my first term of med school, after six years of taking prep
classes at night school. I was a philosophy major in college and
worked while deciding what I really wanted to do. Being in med school
is a lot harder even than I thought it would be and it is taking every
moment of my life outside of class just to stay caught up. I know my
maturity helps, but aging brains don’t compete as well. The problem is
this: we used cadavers for anatomy that had been donated by
volunteers. Mine was named Grace. Now that we’ve completed
dissecting the med school wants to have a funeral, a real one, for each
of the forty cadavers and any family who want to attend. They’ve
schedule five hours for the event and are encouraging all of us to
attend. No disrespect intended, but I feel like my schoolwork and
study time are more important.

Just Making It

Dear Just Making It:

Disrespect intended or not, you should attend the funeral of any
person whose viscera you’ve disemboweled and whose muscle and
sinew you’ve deconstructed. It’s about more than respect; it’s
honoring the contribution that Grace made to your education by
donating her body to the school.

Attend. Sit near an exit. Stay open to the possibility that you may be
moved to stay longer than you think you have to spare. But if not, after
an hour, make a show of consulting your watch and then slip out
quietly. Write a card for whatever family Grace has who may attend;
and ask that it be sent to her relatives. Be very sincere about your
appreciation for her willingness to be a teacher as the last act of giving
in her life. Thank them and let them know that she was treated with
respect throughout her time of service. Explain what drew you to want
to be a doctor and generally give them the feeling that the world will
be a better place because of her donation and your learning
Part of becoming a doctor is learning compassion. This is an excellent
chance to practice it.

Visiting Non-Dignitary

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’ve been asked to give the keynote address at my son’s graduation
from a small liberal arts college. I’m not shy about public speaking,
though of course wouldn’t mind any tips. But I’m just a software
designer who got lucky by inventing a game app that went viral. It
made me money and got me a certain amount of notoriety. But I don’t
know what to say to a group of graduating seniors that won’t make me
sound like a pompous idiot. Can you please at least get me started.
Visiting Non-Dignitary

Dear Visiting:
This answer is for you, but it’s true for anyone who’s giving a talk in
any forum other than an accounting power-point. But even then, the
intro and style could benefit from the below.

Form first: Be sincere, brief, and honest. Virtually any audience can
tell when a speaker is bull-sh**ing about things they know nothing
about, so unless you are a very accomplished liar, you should talk
about what you know and how you learned it. Speak in simple clear
sentences. Make the talk punchy, as I suspect your gaming app was.
Let them see you, the you behind the words, so they have a sense
that the content is real Make a point of telling the truth as you know
and feel it. In lieu of that, tell them what you think will make their
lives happier.

Content 1: As it turns out, I’ve been thinking about exactly these
issues. Not because I’m speaking at any graduations, but because I
just passed a milestone birthday and as I get older and wiser I wish I’d
known back then what I learned the hard, slow, and sometimes painful
way. Experience is hard to transfer, and hard-earned wisdom can often
sound like banal platitudes. But you have a chance to say something
one of these kids might remember when they need it most. Or in a
best case scenario, help several of them live better and easier lives.


Content 2: If I were going to give your talk I’d say some or all of the
Choose to be happy. Life is too short to be miserable or to make things
more complicated than you need to. You can’t control everything and
the truth is you shouldn’t want to. We live in a world of marvelous
surprises. It’s good to have goals, and to plan to make them real. But
don’t go through life wearing blinders and with mono-vision or you’ll
miss a lot of what the universe has to offer. Leave room and time for
good things to happen that you might not have the imagination and
creativity to predict or ask for.


Invest in good friends and loving family. They’ll be there for you in the
long run. Ad you’ll get to be there for them. Some of what you’ll
remember with the deepest sense of appreciation when you get older
aren’t the easy happy times. They may be the crises when you had to
make tough decisions, and when you had an opportunity to step up,
help out, and give much more than you may think you are able.


Remember to enjoy yourself. Have fun and adventures. But also to
save some of your money for things you won’t be able to predict you’ll
need it for. Make and spend your money wisely. Do what you enjoy
and have passion for as a vocation if you can. If not, do it for fun.


Take better care of your body and your health than your youth may
make you think you need to. All those candy bars add up. It turns out
that your mother is right: eating right and exercise will keep you able
to enjoy life longer and more happily.


Learn, read, study, pursue knowledge in every form. That can mean
anything from learning a new language or a sport, playing bridge or a
new computer game. Keep your mind facile and active and it’ll be
there when you need it.


Take better care of your parents than you probably do. They won’t be
there forever and you’re gonna miss them when they’re not. Make the
time for the extra phone call or visit. Share your lives with them (Okay
not everything, because they’ll =forget they were just as reckless or
stupid). But tell them often that you love them and appreciate all
they’ve done for you.


Above all, be honest and kind. Take care before you speak ill of others.
Help people who ask you, even if it takes you out of your way. Become
the person other people ask for advice. Tell them what you feel, even                                   if it’s awkward. Don’t let disagreements linger too long lest they erode
your relationships.


Choose a life that makes this place we call home a better and more
loving environment for others and you’ll make a good life for yourself.
And try to laugh often and deeply along the way,

Mother Hen

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My son is a good kid. He’s a scholar athlete and has been accepted
into his first choice college. It costs $40K a year more than we’d
budgeted for the state school that was his shoe-in. At State he’ll have
to compete for his preferred major (athletic training). At the premier
place he beat the odds (14 out of 800!!) and is already into a six-year
BA+PhD program. Last night he said he was sleeping at a friend’s,
which is also near his girlfriend’s. He’d told us her mom was out of
town so after dinner and a midnite movie we drove by both houses.
You guessed: his car was at his girlfriend’s. Note: condoms fell out of
his backpack last week, even though he’d sworn to us they weren’t
having sex. His scholarship essays are due next week. From what I
can tell he’s more committed to playing than writing, now that he’s
been accepted. I don’t want to pull 160K out of my house for a kid
who thinks lying and leaving the essays for mother to write is okay. I
love him but feel this is a last chance to teach him responsibility. His
father is more sympathetic. You get the tie-breaker on how we
Mother Hen

Dear Mother Hen:
Asking a teenager to swear off sex is almost the same as asking him
to lie to you. The old potato chip commercial, “Bet you can’t eat just
one!” is a pretty close equivalent. That doesn’t take him off the hook
for playing hooky with his scholarship applications, but you should
probably focus your energies where they’ll do the most good: making
him responsible for helping pay for his education, whether that’s by
writing essays, working his way through school, or taking out loans.
Sit him down with a spreadsheet of costs and revenue sources. Be
sure to identify everything you’ll have to pay for, including travel,
books, and fees. Then add up the commitments you’ve made to pay,
any scholarships he’s already received, and other possible sources of
funding (e.g. a future dorm counseller or work-study job). If the                                question is where should he go, I’m voting with the premier school. If
the question is how to pay for it, make him help. But punishing him for
being sexually active is a losing battle.

Had It

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My mom bugs me all the time about a decision I made six months ago. I was in
my first term at college and decided not to try out for football. I know all the good
things that come with being on a team because I double lettered all through high
school. But I also knew I’d get very little playing time compared to the kids they’d
recruited. Now she brings it up daily and it is driving me nuts. I am generally
respectful but I am starting not to want to answer her calls or texts. I dread the
idea of a summer dominated with why I am a disappointing failure. I’m enjoying
exploring different aspects of life at college and am not sorry I didn’t play. How
can I get her to see reason?
Had It

Dear Had It:
Every parent wants the best and most for their child. They tend to assume that
they have answers that are right, and that a younger person might make the
wrong decision out of lack of experience. That’s true even if they are the people
responsible for instilling values and teaching their children how to make good
decisions. That said, use her own techniques on her.

Ask her how you should handle a problem you have with a friend, someone who
has a personal habit that keeps bugging you. Ask her what’s a reasonable or
polite amount of times to bring it up and remind the person about it. Say you
really value her opinion and want to learn how she’d handle a similar situation.
Say you’re looking for an actual number, even a quota, of what’s appropriate,
and a time limit, a statute of limitations, on when you should stop bugging your
friend. Stick to theory until you get answers. Then say, Mom. That friend is you.
When you….. She’ll probably say parents are different, but it’ll shift the dynamic.


P.S. You may need to remind her again, but she’ll eventually listen. Time is on
your side.

At the Cusp

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’m 44 and a real estate agent for ten years after fifteen in social work,
Fortunately I have a husband with a job. I just got back from a vacation (his
parents treated us) in Israel, where lived and studied in my 20s. When I was
there I learned about a program where I could be trained to become a Jewish
educator: get a master’s degree in two years with a guaranteed placement In a
Hebrew day school for three after. (If I left without the three years if service I’d
pay a fortune to the education.) He’s in finance and can live anywhere, though
he’s been wanting to take a year off to do music. There are also “issues”
between us. It’s a huge decision. How can I figure out what I really want? Should
I potentially uproot my whole life? What if my husband doesn’t want to come?
At the Cusp

Dear At the Cusp:
Sorry to say this, but your marriage may be in enough trouble that
location isn’t the most important variable in its future. I would run
your evolutionary process in parallel tracks. On the one hand
investigate options for school and relocation, but do it at the same
time that you try and save your marriage, decide if you want to keep
trying, or at least decide you’re willing to risk the downsides of a
severe separation.

Re school, follow through on the application. See if you get in. If you
do and you decide to risk it, you have an option to go. You also have
an option to ask for a one-year deferral. If the marriage still seems
salvageable you can put Israel on the table as part of the process. But
leading with it now seems to put your post-divorce, or at least post-
separation, career ahead of the relationship. While you’re waiting on
the application, devote yourself to marriage counseling. Do so to see
what you are saving and on what terms, not, repeat not to save it at
any cost. Re-establish the ground rules of a life you would want to live.
If you end up single, you’ll need to make a living. No matter what, real
estate sounds like your past, not your future.

Want Out

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I rowed crew in high school. It’s the only sport I have ever cared
about. I gave up playing in the jazz band and a trip to Zambia to stay
on the team, and go to meets. It was a great chance for me to learn
persistence, endurance, and even leadership. Though I never won any
races I did attend every practice and every meet. I got recruited by a
top school to be on their team. That helped me get into college early.
But now that I am here I see that all the other guys on the crew do
nothing but school and crew. They’re tired all the time, and do nothing
but work out and feel like they’re behind in their classes. I realize I
want more from my college years. I want to drop off the team but my
parents think I will miss an incredible opportunity. What can I say to
convince them? I was planning to be a pre-med major, btw, but
chemistry is killing crew, no crew or me.
Want Out

Dear Want Out:
I commend what you did in high school, the sacrifice and the
dedication. It sounds like you really like rowing, but don’t want to
make it your life any more. I don’t know if you’ll be able to make
medicine your life if you can’t make it through chemistry. But if your
commitment to trying to get into med school is in any way presaged
by your high school commitment to crew, I think you have a shot. And
to really have a shot it will require your full attention.

I’d talk to my parents about why you want to quit and my coach to
find out if a one–term leave is a possible option. Explain that since you
are a new freshman it is critical to you to do well in your basic courses.
Say that you’d like to practice with the team if possible, and that
you’re willing to surrender whatever perks (training table, tutoring,
other?) come with being on the team. Explain that if you cannot do
well enough in school you’re going to have to quit crew altogether. If
you have to choose, go full bore on your academics and see if you can                           make the pre-med cut. If you cannot, you can always try out for crew
again next year. Or just row for fun.

Didn’t Raise a Quitter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
Our son is a great kid. He was a B+/A- student in high school. For
years he has said he wants to be a doctor and we have not done
anything to contradict his dreams (usually a 4.0 is needed). The reality
is that he devoted a lot of time to sports (crew) and neglected his
schoolwork. But it did get him into a good school, one where he could
excel in athletics, but where his lack of study habits and lack of serious
commitment to academics will bring up some serious issues about his
future. Now he’s saying he wants to quit crew. We want him to stay in
because the athletic teams get special tutoring, the kind that might
make the difference to get him over the freshman hump. I know it’s a
lot of work to do both school and sports, but he’s young for his age
and we are more worried that he’ll succumb to the dangers of dorm
life. I’d rather have him sleepy from working out than hung over. Do
you have any compelling arguments about why he should stay on the
Didn’t Raise a Quitter

Dear Didn’t Raise:
It’s hard when children don’t live up to parents’ expectations. It
sounds like you’ve raised a good son who has high ideals and a good
sense of commitment to what he sets his mind to. Study habits are
important, and yes a 4.0 may be necessary for med school. But so is
becoming a happy well-adjusted person, and that’s something that
requires as much role modeling and reinforcement as coaching
provides in sports.

Your goals for your son sound contradictory. If you want him focused
on school, then give him incentives to get good grades (perhaps in
tandem with some diminished feedback for not doing well) and
perhaps tutoring if he needs it. Yes he might get perks, but the
adjustment to college is also about learning to be a grown–up. If he’s
been hand-fed his whole life by overly protective parents, perhaps
what he needs most is the chance to make his own decisions, to
occasionally fall flat on his face, and to learn how to get up again. If he
learns to do that he can learn anything else.