On Cheerleaders

Those new readers to this blog (and even you familiar readers) might be a little confused by the title of this entry, as I’m normally not one to delve into sports outside of the equestrian realm, so let me assure you that this particular post is not a diversion from my usual topic.  The “cheerleaders” to whom I refer here are not the ones with the pom poms and inspirational slogans, but rather the people in our lives who support us when we need it the most – and believe me, if you’re a high school student embarking on the college search this spring or in the near future, you’re going to need some major cheerleaders to get through this stressful time in your life!

Everyone’s cheerleaders are different and sometimes you end up relying on different cheerleaders at different times.  Sometimes it’s your parents, sometimes it’s teachers or counselors, and other times it’s riding instructors and your group of friends from the barn.  (Much of the time, it’s all of them together!)  In truth, it doesn’t really matter who your cheerleaders are or what compartment of your life they fit into; what does matter is that you make a conscious effort to surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams as much as you do and can lend you support on your way to achieving them.  This ideal sounds simple enough, but if you think hard, I’m sure you can identify at least one person who isn’t always necessarily on board – whether it’s a teacher who doesn’t think that sending an application to an Ivy League school is in your best interests or a friend or classmate who is more concerned with pursuing their own success than they are about supporting you on your own journey.  Sometimes it’s even relatives who don’t think you’ll make much money on your chosen career path.

Now, perhaps the reality is that you’re not the kind of kid who is cut out for an Ivy League education.  Perhaps your friend or classmate has some really great opportunities that he or she needs to have single-minded focus on in order to pursue them fully.  That’s fair – but it shouldn’t stop you from striving to surround yourself with great people who make you feel good about yourself and whom you can support in return.  As you begin your search for the perfect college (and by “perfect college,” I mean the perfect college for you), you need to know who in your life is going to help invest in the search with you.  No doubt your parents want to help you reach your goals, most likely your siblings will as well (or else your little brother or sister just wants you to move out so he or she can steal your bedroom), and I’m willing to believe that you can come up with a list of other names of those who will be in your corner to offer support and advice along the way.

As you begin to identify those cheerleaders in your life, you should next begin to think about what each one of their areas of expertise is – or how their particular brand of support can be helpful as you move forward.  Moms are usually the best at moral support (though sometimes dads can fill this role easily too); teachers can offer a lot of assistance when it comes to identifying what abilities and characteristics you should emphasize in your college application (qualities they can also outline in letters of recommendation for you!); older siblings who have already been through the college search can offer insider’s knowledge; the list goes on…

And don’t just think that cheerleaders will be essential to your college search and nothing more; in college, you’ll seek (and find!) mentors and advisors to help guide you on your chosen career path; later on when you’re in that career field, you’ll have bosses and coworkers who can fulfill the cheerleader role for you.

I’d also be remiss not to mention the value of the riding instructor as a cheerleader, both for you as an equestrian and in your life in general.  (After all, how many of our riding lessons wind up also being life lessons in the end?  A lot – am I right?)  No one wants to be lecture to or yelled at or demeaned in their riding lessons, so we all seek out those professional horsemen and women who can not only educate us and improve our abilities, but are also as excited about our success as we are when it occurs.

For me, I’m blessed to have a great group of cheerleaders behind me, from my colleagues in the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), to my friends (many of whom I met during my undergraduate years), and my riding instructors and “equine pit crew” (vet, farrier, saddle fitter, etc.)  In addition, to demonstrate exactly what I meant about people in your life who are as excited about your accomplishments as you are, here’s a video clip from my December riding clinic with Olympic dressage team member Michael Barisone.  I’ve ridden with Michael several times now, and each time he’s become more and more of a supportive (cheerleading!) influence in my riding life – you can hear the excitement in his voice as my gelding and I grasp the idea he wants us to understand:

So students, if you’re setting out on that college search (or even if you’re halfway through!), sit down and make that list of cheerleaders so you’ll know exactly where to find support when the going gets tough.  (And if you’d like me to join your cheerleading team, let me know.)

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