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Eavesdropping at Starbucks

I am not an eavesdropper.

At least not most of the time.

But in some situations, eavesdropping can be quite conducive to learning.  And the best place to do so is at Starbucks.

Last week, for example, I was doing some work at a Starbucks in an affluent part of town when I noticed a high school boy and a young woman sitting next to me.  The thing that caught my attention about this couple was the woman had on a nametag.  Initially, I thought she was the boy’s older sister but – upon listening more closely – realized she was some sort of tutor.

I got bored with their conversation pretty quickly but was drawn back in when the young man got up to leave and another boy sat down almost immeidately.  “Good for her,” I thought, “she must have a nice little tutoring business.”  And then I went back to writing.

Over the next 30-40 minutes, I caught bits and pieces of their conversation and realized she was no ordinary tutor, but rather a SAT Prep Coach.  My assumptions were confirmed by the large stack of SAT prep books scattered on the table.  “Oh no,” I thought, “another race to nowhere.”  (This isn’t where I go off on a tirade about our educational system; that’s actualy a post for next week.  Insert smile here.)

After realizing who she was, I transitioned into full eavesdrop mode, aka Defcon 1.  Since I’d never had the luxury of working with a tutor, I was curiuos how it all worked.  I was especially intrigued with the SAT prep stuff.  Unfortunately, I tuned in at the wrong time as they were nearing the end of their session. They wrapped up the conversation by discussing the boy’s interest in pulling together his resume and it went something like this:

Tutor: What sort of work experience do you have?

Student: (long pause) Um, I’ve bought groceries for my dad’s business.

Tutor: Oh, ok.  Well, you can always “spin things” on your resume so don’t worry too much about that.  What would you like to study in college?

Student: History.  I got like a 98% in History last quarter and I’d to study it at Stanford it if can get in.

I’m not sure why, but I found this part of their conversation to be quite intriguing.  I asked myself, “will this young man be prepared for the challenges of the world once he gets his $250K degree from Stanford?”  He probably will, however, I was personally having a hard time getting from point A to point B

After this young man packed up and departed, I quickly introduced myself to the young woman and told her I had overheard some of their conversation.  I admitted I was curious about her business and ended up asking a slew of questions.  In summary, she told me to encourage my kids to become entrepreneurs because academia has gotten ridiculously competitive.  “Don’t get me wrong, the test prep market has been very good to me.  But in many ways, I’m like the people who sold pickaxes during the gold rush.  Families are investing a lot of money in their kids just to prepare them for taking the SAT.  I could just as easily coach them on starting a small business, and it would probably be more advantegeous for them in the long run.  But right now, the focus is on the SAT.”

I’m glad I am not an eavesdropper.  At least I am…most of the time.

Are you an eavesdropper?  If so, have you ever learned anything interesting?  What are your thoughts on SAT prep courses?

Next: How to Raise Your Kids to Be Entrepreneurs

Previous: Lessons from Father’s Day

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dave #

    Some nice insight Paul. I would have to wholeheartedly agree. The education obtained by getting ones college degree is extremely important(a must), but the money saved by attending a non-prestigious university(and investing in learning how to set-up a small business or some other entrepreneurial undertaking) would be a very wise move. This is especially true when one considers the prospect of getting a job right out of college is just not going to exist. This planning needs to originate in the latter years of high school and incorporated into the educational goals at the college level.

    June 21, 2012
    • Dave, thanks for your comments. I think there will still be jobs available at graduation but the approach needs to be refined from the way so many kids have done it in the past. If mom and dad are footing the bill, that’s one thing. But if students are relying on loans to pay their way, that’s a whole other story.

      June 21, 2012
  2. Another nice post today thanks. I really enjoyed reading it very much. Have a great day.


    June 22, 2012
  3. Heather #

    Agreed. You can pick up quite a bit at Starbucks, especially from people who are jacked up on caffeine. That was a very interesting conversation you picked up on. My bet is this young man will not be footing the bill for the Stanford – assuming he gets in.

    June 22, 2012
    • Perhaps I should have asked him…although that might have been a little strange. 🙂

      June 27, 2012
  4. Ann #

    I applaud those young men for having a goal and sticking to it. It’s unfortunate they’ve become the exception and not the rule.

    June 22, 2012
    • Goals are important. I agree with that. I just hope they’re aiming at the right thing.

      June 27, 2012

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