Why Being Sorry is Better Than Flying

sorrycat.jpegThink about this before you answer.

If you had a choice, would you rather a) never make mistakes, or b) make mistakes frequently, and get really good at saying you’re sorry?

This question (don’t answer, yet. Don’t even decide, yet) is a litmus test of your personality, similar to the awesome This American Life episode where people chose invisibility or flying. The implications of the two options go far beyond wind-chill at high altitude vs. fear of being bumped into as you creep around an amusement park. It’s about desire vs. aspiration: the crouching, secret voyeurism of invisibility vs. the reaching and striving of soaring in plain sight.

A student who I admire and respect emailed me and told me that I’d been a bit of an ass. I read the message and my hands flew to keyboard keys; had every right to take the tone I took. The student hadn’t lived up to expectations.

Then again, I thought, as I deleted the draft – what is that going to accomplish?

I apologized and the next day, in person, we made nicey-nice. But this isn’t about the value of apologizing. That’s level ONE. That’s so last year.

This is about the incredible transformation that takes place when people take off their masks and apologize and show vulnerability and say, “I trust you with my feelings.”After all, there is no apologizing while wearing a mask. Unless it’s Halloween and your “sexy crossing-guard” costume just made a little child cry.

After the sorry-session, there is a period of potential. The bonds of the relationship-as-usual are loosened. Until “regular life” kicks in, you’ve been on a roller-coaster together — you and your sorry-partner; there is no teacher and student. There is humanity. Both of you have ruffled hair, hoarse voices from shrieking, disarray.

And disarray is the harbinger of growth. Disarray is flight without wings.

So, perfection or getting good at saying you’re sorry? I’ll choose the latter, thankyou. I’m a big believer in growing my abilities throughout my life. And what’s at the core of vulnerability? Ability.


Easy Hack For Letters of Recommendation

letterofrecSometimes, students ask you for letters of recommendation. This is great! They are going on to do amazing things in their lives and you get to be part of that process! It shows that they trust you, that they feel seen by you, and they want you to share your thoughts!


There are a few times, however, when this honor presents a tricky challenge.

Scenario 1: The student knows you well enough to hope for a letter from you. But… you don’t know the student very well. You don’t want to say, “I haven’t had Madison in a class since she was a sophomore and I have no idea what she’d bring to your institute of higher learning.”

Scenario 2: Maybe he or she was a fine student, not a great student, and you don’t want to say, in a college recommendation letter, “Maximillian mostly did his homework, rarely raised his hand in class, turned in so-so papers, and squeaked by with a B.”

Scenario 3: Eight students have asked for letters of recommendation, you’ve done most of them throughout the past month, and one night — you wake up in the middle of the night wondering if one of their deadlines is approaching! Back in October, the college recommendation deadline seemed so far away…you didn’t bother recording when it was due!


letter of recThe Solution: A Letter of Recommendation Questionnaire (click here)

I created a survey on Google Docs which asks students their name and the deadline. Then, it asks a series of questions which you might find on an application to college:

  • What are some important things you’ve learned about life in the past two years?
  • What is one accomplishment you’re proud of in the past two years?
  • What is one challenge you’ve overcome in the past two years?

letter of rec 2And so on. With this information, I can craft a letter which gives great insight into who the student is – in the same way that a journalist might interview a subject in order to write a thoughtful, positive, editorial piece. And since I don’t need to scrape my memories for something worth saying, the writing process is quicker and more efficient, while the content is deeper. WIN, WIN!



Put an X next to completed letters.

(Oh, and, since the answers are routed into a spreadsheet, I can put an X next to students whose letter I’ve completed.)


Now, when I student says, “Wolk, can I have a letter of recommendation?” my response is, “Sure! I’m sending you a link to a questionairre. Fill it in, and I’ll get right on it!”

And if you’re wondering what students reactions are – they seem unphased. They aren’t offended that I want them to articulate some of their strengths, and frankly, I think they’re glad to know a little bit about what I’ll be writing!
So basically, the letter of recommendation questionnaire?

I recommend it.