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Whole Girl Whole World 2022: Key Takeaways from Julie Lythcott-Haims at Crofton House

Julie Lythcott-Haims, a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and public speaker, was invited to campus as part of the Whole Girl, Whole World speaker event - a collaboration between the School and the CHS Parents’ Auxiliary. On Thursday, October 6, Julie spent the day at Crofton House and filled the campus with laughter, compassion and valuable insights about what it means to be an adult. Her presentation focused on addressing specific topics:

How can we help guide children and young people through transitional periods, and still ensure they have the independence to learn and grow individually? How can parents support their daughters without overparenting?

Julie shared advice from her books, Your Turn: How to Be an Adult and How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. Throughout the day, she gave talks to the whole school community with sessions for the Junior School and Senior School during the day and an evening presentation to parents, staff, and alumnae. 

She offered personal experiences from her time as Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and practical strategies on how to develop the resilience and resourcefulness required to launch a young person into adult life. 

Here are key takeaways from Julie’s talks at Crofton House.

Challenge Ideas about Success and Happiness

When she was Dean of Freshman at Stanford University, Julie increasingly encountered students who experienced burnout and felt unhappy. She recounted a meeting with a student named Faith who told her that she believed fulfilling her family's wishes to become a doctor was the only option she had for a successful future. 

After years dedicated to this goal, Faith approached Julie because she felt deeply unhappy. She said she was torn between her love of working with animals and the pressure from her family to give up this passion in order to take on a medical internship in the summer. Faith continued with her pre-med courses, but not before signaling how she was under tremendous emotional and social pressure connected to a career path she didn’t wholeheartedly choose. 

Julie expressed to students that happiness is difficult to sustain if it is based on fulfilling the external expectations of others and that it is essential to reflect on what activities give them inner fulfillment. For parents, she explained that placing fixed ideas of occupational success can affect a child’s overall happiness. Her recommendation is that parents should explore their child’s interests and ultimately expand the notion of what success looks like for their family. 

Exercise Self Reflection

To encourage students to practice being honest with themselves, Julie shared a simple exercise she used to find a career that combines what she is good at with what she loves. 

Make a list with two columns. In the columns write: 

  1. What are you good at? Record all your answers.
  2. What do you love? Record all your answers.
  3. Combine the answers from the two columns and explore the career possibilities.

For Julie it was ‘helping people’ and ‘Stanford’. Combining what she was good at and what she loved gave her the determination to apply for a job at Stanford University. After three years of applying while working elsewhere, she was hired as the Dean of Freshman.

Julie has developed a four-step method for parents that helps foster a young person’s self-efficacy. 

Step 1: Do the task for them - lead by demonstration.
Step 2: Do the task with them - the opportunity where you teach.
Step 3: Watch them do the task - still being present to supervise.
Step 4: Let them do the task without you - allow them to practice.

She noted, if parents focus on Step 1, and forget Steps 2 and 3, but still expect Step 4 to be accomplished, it will be difficult for students to successfully enact tasks or life skills on their own when they begin to lead more independent lives away from their families.

Apply Open Communication

When navigating sensitive or deeply personal issues or considering future careers, positive communication and affirming language help establish a healthy and constructive dialogue. Developing familial honesty and trust relies on both the child and the parent to practice mutual respect and a shared responsibility towards goals. 

For some students, it can be difficult to share their feelings with a parent. While independent thought is important, Julie encouraged students to share their anxieties and inner conflicts with their parents/guardians to help define and manage expectations around academics, co-curriculars, and careers.

Julie asked parents to build a crucial habit of checking in emotionally with their children, and warned that good grades and excellent performance are not necessarily accurate indicators of well-being. Families are encouraged to empathize and empower children and young people, and to resist a desire to solve problems on their behalf so that they can have the opportunity to develop the agency and confidence to work through obstacles.

When saying goodbye to Crofton House, Julie closed with a quote. 

“Tell me, 
what is it you plan to do
with your one 
wild and precious life?”
—Mary Oliver

To learn more about Julie’s books and access links to her website and topical newsletters, read our blog.