Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Circus Run Like an Army

Baz Luhrmann says his life is “a circus run like an army,” which might be the perfect amalgam for being a thinker, creator and doer – three requirements for any college student.  By conducting oneself in a structured manner, there is time to think, to create and to execute, essentials for surviving on campus.

Whether you like his work or not, this Baz-brilliance captures an important part of my Carpe College! message about time management for college students.  You need to keep your regular, daily, walking around life in order as a means of freeing your mind to think big and be creative.  Or, as put more elegantly and succinctly in Amy Wallace’s NYT magazine piece, Deep Inside Baz Luhrmann’s Creative Chaos, “external order creates internal possibility.”  External order creates internal possibility.  That sounds nice.  It’s elegant because of the truth contained therein.  In Carpe College!, I talk about using a planner so you don’t need to keep your mundane appointments and course assignments organized in your head and how doing so, in turn, frees your mind to think about bigger and better things.  I suggest that college students develop their own EMO (Effectiveness M.O.) that can involve any combination of electronic calendars, white boards, post-it notes or school-supplied planners.  Luhrmann takes this to the nth degree with his “nine huge calendars tacked to a white wall,” but the point is that he’s developed an EMO that works for him.  That is, it affords him the time and space he needs to think and create and execute.

I like Luhrmann’s style in this regard, and it’s best illustrated by his underpants.  Yes, underpants!  According to the Wallace piece, he has nearly identical closets in Sydney and New York and gets frustrated if he must wonder ‘Where are the underpants? They’re supposed to be in Drawer No. 6.”  A similar approach applies to his bathrooms.  “As I’m going through the routine, I don’t have to think,” he said, adding that this leaves more room for creativity.  ‘The mind is unlocking something.”  What he really means by “I don’t have to think” is that he gets to think about the things he wants to think about, not “Where is the underwear?”*

While Luhrmann’s approach may appear to venture into OCD-land, it clearly works for him.  And any college student can find an Effectiveness M.O. that works, as well.  Now that we are into the second half of the school year, most first-year students should be well on their way to fine-tuning an approach that works.  By June it should be a system that’s been tested and proven, one that provides comfort and confidence coming out of their first year that they can handle what’s to come for the rest of their college career.

And… they should be able to find their underwear.


* This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from my Latin teachers:  “Semper ubi sub ubi.”  (Always wear underwear – LOOSELY translated**)


This two-letter word keeps creeping up lately…. And rightly so.

While matters of sexual assault are not exactly front and center, they are receiving some timely attention through the “No More” campaign, which has been airing since September, and articles like this, which revisit ‘no means no’ and more:

Two thoughts occur to me:

1). The staggering numbers when it comes to male involvement.  Only three percent are responsible for most assaults, leaving 97 percent to simply stop being bystanders.

2).  I’ve got to stop using the word ‘simply’ when talking about this.  Nothing is simple.  I recall the difficulty I had writing about this topic in my book.  I was drawn to the fatherly (male?) tack of telling young women to be careful, protect themselves, and take preventative measures (like monitoring alcohol intake).  But a former student suggested I was venturing into ‘blame the victim’ territory, and I had to rethink it all.


In the end (which isn’t really the end in this ongoing effort), one must not fall in the middle, riding the fence, when faced with an issue like this.  So, I subscribe to a ‘both-and’ stance, where I advise would-be victims (females and males alike) to take precautions and preventative measures, and I encourage males to get educated about how to become part of the solution.  In the book, I felt inadequate on both counts, so I continue to defer to those who are off and running with some really good ideas.  The above article and the ‘No More’ campaign do a pretty good job of framing the issue and calling young men (and campus administrators) to action.

Here are a few articles I’ve read along the way that tried to tackle this troubling topic.  At the time I wrote my book, there was a thought-provoking piece by Kate Taylor in which the author explored campus sexual relationships through in-depth interviews at Penn University.  It’s called “Sex on Campus:  She Can Play That Game, Too.”

The response to her article was quick and loud, as well…

And the conversation continues with “Love in the Time of Hookups” here:

The sexual assault conversations were just as active….


As we continue to look for solutions, the most immediate action would be to keep this issue front and center with an ongoing dialogue.  Hope this contributes.


Student Athletes: Separate But Equal?

‘Life must be lived as play.” 



Maybe by this point you’re tired of people telling you how special you are.  Or maybe you’re still basking in it.  Either way, that’s going to be a part of your student-athlete life for the next few years, and there’s no getting around it.  You are special, you will be treated as though you’re special, and yet your goals are probably the same as every other ‘regular’ student (unless you plan to be a professional athlete or Olympian).  You want to graduate with knowhow and skills to begin a career and become a thoughtful, well-functioning citizen.

But you’re not like ‘normal’ students because you have expectations, obligations, and special treatment that they don’t have.  You have team meetings, training, practices, meals, travel, games, community-relations events, and aches and pains that can’t help but dig into your academic time.  Everyone associated with NCAA athletics will tell you that there’s a good reason you’re called a ‘student-athlete’ with the student part first and academics as the priority.  When you’re immersed in a weekly regimen of ‘team time,’ however, it may be hard to focus on your life outside your sport.  And when you’re showered with special stuff (special course registration, special meals, special gear, special travel, special opportunities in the community, special status, etc.), it might become hard to stay grounded and maintain perspective.

So, it might be beneficial to remember our mantra

Know Thyself.  Have a Plan.  Assume No One Else Cares.

Know Thyself

In high school athletics, you were a ‘big fish.’  It may take you a while to get back to that stature at the college level.  Or, you may never get back there.  Is school your Plan B?  I would recommend making it your Plan A.  This does not mean to abandon your athletic dreams.  Keep them alive, continue to perfect your skills and perform at your best level, and ENJOY this wonderful experience that only a small number of college students get to enjoy.   But before school begins in the fall, please spend some serious time thinking about your life after athletics.  Put all your athletic plans aside TEMPORARILY and consider who you are and who you wish to become WITHOUT athletics.

Remember that you are the one who’s still in control of your own destiny.  At least in terms of planning for your present and future.  You made an agreement with your institution that you would partake in their athletics program, but their part of the bargain was that they would educate you.  What kind of education do you want?  What do you want to do with it when you’re done?  Go back and review some of the advice contained in this book and see if you can find a way to find your bliss apart from your sport.  This should help drive how you approach the academic side of your life for the next few years.

It’s also important to remember that there will be multiple sides to your life over your college career.  You might play the role of a campus leader and an ambassador for your team and your school.  It’s healthy to consider how others might view you and how you’d like to view yourself in this capacity.  You could start by reflecting on how you acted back in high school when you were a celebrated student-athlete.  Were you a good student, teammate and person?  Were you a good role model?  In other words, did you find a way to transcend being identified only by the sport you played?  Were you able to be something else first?

I sat next to a Heisman Trophy runner-up in one of my marketing classes.  He and I exchanged small talk and class notes and, later in life, when he became a college football coach, he sent my son some fun autographed memorabilia to inspire him as he began his young football ‘career.’  This guy was a true Big Man On Campus, but he allowed me to see him as simply a nice, humble guy by the way he carried himself.

One of my son’s friends, Conner, who’s going on to play Division I baseball, proposes this outlook for a student-athlete to maintain proper stature and perspective:  “Stay focused.  Stay smart.  Stay humble.”  These are wise words, and you’ve probably heard something like it from your coaches, parents or recruiters along the way.  But it’s time that you begin to interpret them in terms of your own outlook and your own behavior.

Have a Plan

Let’s keep this simple… and harsh.  Tomorrow you blow out your knee and end your athletic career.  What’s your plan?

Sorry to be so blunt, but this is the best way to figure out if you have truly thought through your plans.  I’d recommend reflection on what your goals are, who you want to be, as a person, as a student, and as an athlete.  Treat them all separately at first, and then combine them into one larger plan.  Of course, what you do over the next few years as a student and an athlete will help forge who you can become as a person, but it’s always good to start with the bigger ‘person’ picture, knowing that your days as a student and as an athlete will eventually fade away.  So, begin with ‘Who do I wish to become and how do I want people to see me?’ and work your way back from there.

Once you’re done planning who you wish to be as a person, you can use what you’ve read in this book to plan what you’d like your student life to look like.  Then, once you’re done with that, move on to your athletic life.  Revisit ‘The June Question’ to think about what you’d like to say after your first athletic year.  Or aim higher and consider what you’d like to be able to say when your college athletic career is done.  Once you’ve reflected on these matters on your own, be sure to share them with your coach, parents and others who care about you.

After laying out all this planning, it’s important to return to the fact that your life as a student-athlete makes you special, and that will require one more bit of planning:  your social life.  The easy way to do it would be to meet your teammates and do whatever the team does.  If that’s the extent of what you’re looking for from your college experience, then stick with it.  But because you’re special, you have the unique opportunity to carpe more college than most.  Consider how you’re going to meet your dorm mates.  Of course, you’ll spend a ton of time with your teammates, but what if you planned one day a week to stroll your dorm halls and say hello to people who aren’t on the team?  What about Bulletin Board Bingo?  With your busy team schedule, it’s going to be tough to find time to experience all the great cultural offerings on campus.  But if you have a plan, you can do it.  Are things a little lighter for you off-season?  Why not plan to do some Bulletin Board Bingo then?  You might even be able to combine that with meeting dorm mates.  To the best of your ability, and in terms of what your schedule will allow, try to reach out and away from your athletic culture as early and as often as you can.  That will make for a richer overall college experience, and you’ll be able to say, in a way few others can, that you really Carpe’d College!

Note:  For planning purposes, try to utilize the entire year to fit in all that you’d like to accomplish.  Consider that you’ll be swamped while your team is in season, but when out of season, you may find time to squeeze in some of this other stuff.  Week to week, you’re simply not going to be able to fit it all in, and you won’t have nearly the time luxuries that other students have.  However, over the course of a full year, you will.  Again, it’s all about what you’d like to be able to say at the end of the year.

Assume No One Else Cares

Simply apply this part of the mantra to your athletic life the same way you’re doing for your student life.  It’s your job to run your life, and you need to care about it more than anyone else.  Of course you should rely on coaches, professors, parents, teammates and tutors, but you’ve got to rely on yourself more.

As mentioned earlier in this book, it’s not that your teammates or fellow students aren’t nice people.  It’s just that they have themselves to worry about.  If you decide to break team rules and get suspended for a few weeks, I’m sure a teammate will gladly step in and take your starting position for game day.  If you forget to tell your professor about your team travel plans, it’s unlikely anyone else will.  And, even if your team offers some formal communication with professors, having a special travel schedule gives you a built-in excuse to talk to your professors and get to know them better.  And we’ve already addressed why that’s a good thing.

And, again, I’m sorry, but what if you blow out your knee and end your career?  Is there anyone who will care more about your next move than you?  (NOTE:  A friend of mine earned an athletic scholarship to a Big Ten football program with a stellar academic reputation.  He blew out his knee before his first season without playing a down for the team, and his career ended.  The school, however, honored his scholarship until graduation.  So, you see, assuming no one cares is not meant to make you cynical and jaded; it’s designed to help you plan for the worst while hoping for the best.  It’s about having YOU in control of your journey even though there are a whole lot of uncontrollable factors that can come into play.  If you have planned in this way, good things can fall into place even after some setbacks.)

What if you want to be something more than just an athlete?  What if you want to have friends outside your team?  What if you want to go on to grad school?  What if you want to do philanthropic work in the local community or abroad?  What if you want to be a head coach some day?  What if you can’t afford to be charged with a crime because your future is riding on your college experience?  What if you want to be nice to everyone?

All of these answers must reside with you.  And you can lay the groundwork with some deep self-reflection and a good plan that begins your first year.

You’ll have a unique opportunity to have a much more rich college experience than most.

Seize it!

(NOTE:  This blog entry is taken from Appendix I of Carpe College! Seize Your WHOLE College Experience by Mike Metzler)

The New STEMsation

As you know, there has been some STEM talk in the air the past few years.  That’s really understating it, though, isn’t it?  Far from a little bit of chatter, it’s been more of a clarion call.  And, given a short-term, ‘what’s on our immediate economic horizon and how am I going to get a job right out of college?’ perspective, it makes perfect sense that we might see such emphasis.  In fact, it also makes sense from a long-term perspective if one were interested in strategies for how America might ‘win’ the next innovation-driven era the way we ‘won’ the twentieth century.  Of course the STEM disciplines must be a part of that endeavor.


But it is shortsighted and makes little sense to have this conversation at the expense of the liberal arts, as many politicians (and others) have, including President Obama, using liberal arts majors as a foil to bolster the argument that STEM disciplines deserve emphasis.  To think that these two realms –STEM and the liberal arts – operate separately, and we can slough one off in order to lighten our load as we propel ourselves full-steam ahead in pursuit of the other is sheer madness.  It’s not zero-sum.  It’s not either-or.  Moreover, my attempt to dichotomize ‘these two realms’ is a fool’s errand, for it fails to recognize the way the world works and how we should operate in it.  They are not distinct and easily separated the way we often try to do in education circles.

The world does not come at us a little bit of literature, a measure of math and physics, a sprinkle of sociology and a dash of ethics, all at perfectly proportioned intervals and amounts in a nice, neat, and easy-to-execute recipe.  It storms at us in rapid waves, a mash-up of drone technologies, human rights, nuclear weaponry, poverty, terrorism, new discoveries, or those myriad cases where economy and ecology collide.  It is not clean and tidy, neatly packaged and formulaic.  We humans rarely are.

And this human messiness provides the context for why the liberal arts have always found a place in an education that hopes to prepare citizens for the world we have and the world that’s coming.  On the immediate horizon, if our world is shrinking, its pace of change quickening, and its career possibilities shifting, a broad-based liberal arts curriculum for a well-rounded education should be part of the mix now more than ever.

Though conducting laboratory research, engineering new designs, or writing software – any STEM activity, really – will be an integral part of our future, they will never be done in a vacuum.  They will never be done for their own sake just because we can.  They will be done in the context of the wider world.  There will be questions of ethics, historical context and impact on humanity.   There will be dialogue and debate and difficult decisions for our collective future.  These are the bread and butter of the liberal arts and must be a significant part of any education.

Whether or not you get a great-paying engineering job right out of college is not really relevant in this context.  Yes, it may be what you want.  And, yes, it may be good for the world in terms of the potential contributions you may make.  But it should not be a solitary consideration.  Your preparation for an engineering career should not be done at the expense of your preparation to be a citizen of the world.  Sure, earning potential matters, but isn’t that a reflection of what we collectively choose to value, and wouldn’t this be a good time to ask why that is?

If we can, in all good conscience, say that there is NO value in the social sciences, like psychology and anthropology, the humanities (yes, including art history, that other much maligned major), and literature (yep, we gotta toss English majors into the mix once we pull ‘em out from under the bus), then it is most definitely time to pull the plug on all of them and set our sights on STEM full-throttle.  But if these domains, these college majors, have value in terms of how we learn to think and communicate about ourselves, our pursuits and our collective future, then it’s time to stop the rhetorical assault on the liberal arts.

Instead of STEM, I propose a new acronym to guide our curricular focus.  Sure, it’s trite, but it’s really more traditional than anything.  And it truly does get at the heart of the matter….







Sciences (all of ‘em)


There.  That ought to do it.

This article includes a new study that should help us get our collective heads (and hearts) around it….  Enjoy!