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March 09, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Guest Opinion: Yes, he's my dad. Yes, she's my daughter. Guest Opinion: Yes, he's my dad. <I>Yes, she's my daughter.</B></I></strong> (March 09, 2005)

by Anna Luskin and Fred Luskin

Anna: It's March! To some people, March isn't anything but another month. To me, it's the time to finally hear from colleges.

I've been dreading this month for a long time. Would all my worst nightmares come true? It's the moment of truth. Where am I going to get in?

Fred: As a psychologist I realized early on to check my profession at the front door of our home. Not that my wife or children ever invited that expertise in, or bowed down when it was offered. Yet I understood that a psychologist for other people has to be just dad or husband at home.

I am a stress-management researcher and teacher who has taught countless people to relax and take things as they come. From this perch I have been watching my daughter stress herself out about finding the perfect college -- and have been in the perfect position to do nothing about it.

To me, Anna at 18 is more mature and emotionally stable than I was in my twenties. She is both blessed and cursed with a strong desire to do well and a profound sense of responsibility. The environment of Palo Alto and its school system has led her to have almost straight A's.

It also gave her a sense at a young age that hard work must be rewarded and that status really matters. Hard work is not promoted as its own virtue -- being the top of the food chain is seen as the only worthwhile goal.

Anna loves to write and is interested in a career in journalism. This mix of desires and social pressure is where Anna's stress originated. Her core dilemma was that the California public universities that offer a journalism major are regarded as mostly second tier while the schools considered first tier do not offer the career training as a writer she desires -- a case of substance versus status.

Getting it all at 18 is a lot of pressure for a young woman to be under.

Well, guess what? I think I've found the perfect solution! I found out at the end of February that I have been accepted into the California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo.

Cal Poly has journalism and prestige. Cal Poly offers a Bachelor's of Science in Journalism. It offers courses in newswriting, magazine writing and editing -- exactly what I want. The major also allows me to take courses in psychology, another big interest of mine.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Cal Poly ranked fifth among the best universities in the West offering undergraduate and master's degrees. It is definitely a competitive school, and it has a great campus.

I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. When I got my acceptance, I was so relieved because I was into a school to which I wanted to go.

I know my column from late summer (Weekly, Sept. 1, 2004) says I don't need to go to a school just for prestige; that I was OK going to San Francisco State University. I've been thinking about it a lot since, and I still maintain that I'm not going to go to UCLA -- my original target school because of its reputation -- even if I did get in.

But I have worked really hard these past four years. I have stressed myself out and lost sleep in order to get my 4.0. I want to go to a school that reflects my years of hard work.

I don't want to sound snobby, but I didn't have to work nearly as hard as I did to get into SF State. If I went there, what was the point of me working so hard? I feel like all my stress wouldn't have been worth it.

My daughter is lucky and I am proud of her. She worked hard and was accepted to an excellent school with rigorous admission standards. My contribution over the years to her success has been to remind her that I loved her whether or not she got all A's -- and that what she wanted to do with her life did not have to be cleared with me.

Yet I acknowledge that is only part of the story. I have a Ph.D. from Stanford and have written a couple of books as well as been featured on national television. So my life may be more influential than my words, and it resonates fully with the high-achievement community in which she was raised.

But again my daughter is lucky because there is a solution to her dilemma.

Anna's stress was from having competing desires. She had two goals that at first blush were in conflict and she could not see a compromise. Not everyone is as lucky as she to have an available solution.

In my work I have seen many people suffer because they can't make peace with their limitations. When at 18 someone expects to "have it all" I wonder about that. Stressing over the perfect college without acknowledgment of how lucky someone is to go to college -- and have parents who can pay for it -- may not be the best blueprint for happiness.

On the other hand, Anna is a hard-working, cooperative and delightful human being who deserves the grace she has earned.

I like that Cal Poly is actually competitive and they accepted me because my achievements met their higher standards. It's like all my strain and anxiety was worth it, and that makes me happy.

The stress of worrying about getting in is gone. The stress of worrying about satisfying my head and/or my ego is gone.

The stress of Palo Alto is coming to a close. I think I might finally be able to be at peace with myself, and with the world.

I've waited a long time to be able to say that.

Anna Luskin (gobanannas12@yahoo.com) is a senior at Palo Alto High School and summer interne at the Weekly who has written four columns exploring her struggles with everything from college to sunsets. Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., (learningtoforgive@comcast.net) is the author of the book, "Forgive for Good," and the recently published, "Stress-Free for Good." He will be keynote speaker Saturday, April 16, at a community forum on "Health Choices from a Woman's Perspective," 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Palo Alto High School. Call (650) 329-3752; www.PAAdultSchool.org.


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