It’s recommendation season and you should sit down right now, carve out 30 minutes from your busy day of deflecting fake news and worrying about well, everything, and write one.
“But why Walt? I don’t work with any student applying for colleges.” You may ask.
Well, two reasons, first it gets your gratitude juices flowing and second, the kids need you.
I don’t write a lot of college recommendations as my posse rarely go directly to four-year institutions. But I do write my share for the players on the teams I coach and I’m honored every time I am asked. Plus, if you really want to improve your writing skills, try writing a recommendation for someone you really don’t have much to say about. The challenge is worth the exercise as everyone has traits worthy of a recommendation, you just might have to dig a little.
These are bleak times, if you didn’t get the memo, and the way we are going to get through them is by keeping in mind just how amazing it is to be alive. We’ve all been maxed, we’ve all dreamt about cashing out and moving to Spain, we’ve all had days where we want to lie on the couch all day covered in Cheeto dust but I have a better idea. As a not-so-wise- teacher says to his students on the daily, “every day above ground is a good day”.
First, pick your victim. Could be a student or wife or husband or coworker or sister in-law. Anybody who you think could use some gratitude right about now. Next, think deeply about this person. Why did you choose them? What are you impressed by? What funny stories can you remember about them? How do you feel when you are with them? Take notes and go deep, it helps.
Next organize your thoughts. I always use the hamburger method (not sure if this is a real method but it works for me). Start with a light or funny story (the top bun) then lead into the real information (the lettuce, tomato, and pickles) then hit the main point (the meat) then end with another story which connects the ideas (the bottom bun).
This also works with uncomfortable discussions. Start with a compliment, then add the meat (criticism or issue) then end with another compliment. If you are me then you also add cheese all over but you already knew that from reading four years of these blogs.
“Julian is also just plain fun. It is rare that he is not smiling or laughing during practice or when interacting with his peers.” Yes, that’s a real line from a real recommendation and while it might not get him into Harvard, I’m sure it made him smile when he read it. Keep it fun people, one day we will smile again.
Which brings me to my original statement that the kids need you. Remember High School? The dances, sports, activities, secret looks at that foxy babe across the room (don’t judge me, it was the 80’s, we used phrases like foxy babe), well, that’s all gone now. Wake up and stare at your computer screen for six hours is the new high school and it’s not pleasant. Yes, teachers and parents are doing a great job of keeping it entertaining and educational but there is only so much we can do.
But imagine what a nice letter of recommendation might do. I always joke that on my death bed I want to be surrounded by old yearbooks with comments from students as that will determine whether my life has been a success.
We have to be mindful of what we have and what others have given us. And if you can’t think of a person, walk outside and pen a letter of gratitude to mother earth because she could really use a whole lot of gratitude right about now.
Oh, and make sure to put your recommendation on real paper in a real envelope so that it lives in the real world. Along with the yearbooks, I have a gratitude drawer in my classroom and a gratitude file at home and whenever I get feeling like I do right about now, I pull out something someone has written about me and think, huh, maybe it is all worth it.
Here, I’ll help you get started, “This recommendation is for ___ who has consistently done ____ bringing joy to a ____ time when we all could use a little ___.”