I Hate That I Give Such Good Advice

January 12, 2024

It’s my own fault that I’m feeling so unsettled this week.

I am a big fan of adventures. And I love embarking on adventures where you are not quite sure what to expect. With all of the Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews we have access to now, that sense of the unknown and unexpected is harder to attain than ever. But I still seek them out. I believe that venturing into the unknown gets us out of our comfort zone, makes us more aware of our surroundings, and forces us to interact with people and environments unfamiliar to us. I have encouraged both of my sons to take such adventures. But this week I am remembering that my “expert” advice may make things difficult for parents!

Dawson is now on Day Five of his semester abroad. He has left his home in Malibu and his college home in Golden, Colorado, for a semester in Tokyo, Japan. How about that! It’s something I have encouraged not only for my own two sons (hence the ‘it’s my own fault’ intro), but for thousands of high school students heading off to college. 

There’s no better deal for college students seeking an adventure. On top of the regular college costs (OK – that alone may make that “deal” comment invalid), an airline ticket allows a student to live overseas and learn about life and our world in a way that no classroom or professor could ever teach. It’s a no-brainer. Still, as Dawson was heading out on his own adventure, my excitement for what his semester will bring was weighed down by a very healthy dose of nervousness for him. 

His mom and I tried to make sure all of the T’s and I’s were crossed and dotted, but once I dropped him off at LAX, he was on his own. I have full confidence in him, but I sleep a little better at night when I know I can help him if he needs it. I’m already a poor sleeper, so if I kept a sleep score, this week’s average would have been even more miserable than ever.

As I look back at my own experience, I can’t believe how laissez-faire my parents were when I headed off to Europe. I was talking with my Dad about it this week. It was a different time, and parents were not able to keep tabs on their children the way we can now. But it truly hit home when my Dad said he had confidence in me. He believed that I would figure it out. His attitude reminds me of Crush, the super chill turtle in Finding Nemo. When his son Squirt gets tossed out of the fast-moving East Australian Current (EAC), Marlin (Nemo’s Dad) panics and starts to chase him. Crush grabs Marlin and says, “Kill the motor, Dude. Let’s see how Squirt does flying solo.”

I was indeed flying solo in 1982, as I headed off to West Berlin, a western democratic city totally surrounded, in fact walled off, by communist East Germany:

  • I had no cell phone
  • I had no credit card
  • I did have a rail pass and a youth hostel pass
  • I had planned and had a blast on a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-bike-shorts-four-week-let’s-bike-Europe-before-our-junior-year adventure with four friends from college.
  • My parents let me drop out of school and stay another 5 months. After I dropped out, I made ends meet by working from 7 PM to 2 AM every night as a street musician. I made enough money to survive, but I lost about 30 pounds. If I had been any good, maybe I would have gained 30 pounds instead.
  • I communicated with my parents to let them know I was OK, but it was infrequent and nowhere near as often as I will try to communicate with Dawson. I don’t think he will communicate with me any better than I did with my Dad, but like my Dad, I will take the high road.
  • To his credit, my Dad did come over and visit in the winter, took me out to some nice restaurants, brought me some peanut butter I had been missing, and made sure I was OK. I didn’t need him to come over, but it was really, really, really nice. I hope Jill and I can do the same for Dawson.

Through all of it, I thrived. It was a transformative period in my life. I learned that my dreams of being a rock star were shooting well above my ability. And, using the new time I had for contemplation about the future, I decided to give teaching a try before I jumped into law school. I met so many people, had remarkably interesting travel experiences, and learned so much by living on a bare minimum budget. It was a total adventure. If my parents had known what I was going to go through, I doubt they ever would have let me go. But actually, knowing my Dad, it may have made him even more encouraging.

My oldest son, Ryan, also took my advice and had his academic adventure in Argentina. Ryan and I are alike in many ways, and one way is an exaggerated sense of confidence that everything is going to turn out great. I recently asked him how he felt as he was starting his adventure, and he replied, “I was nowhere near as nervous as I should have been.” It had been three years since he had spoken any Spanish, and he had to get back up to speed quickly. There was no one there to solve problems for him, but he persevered through it, coming out with some wonderful stories.  In the end, as he had predicted, it turned out great.

As Dawson starts his Tokyo adventure, he is the beneficiary of collaborative planning with his parents (at least we think so!). He has a credit card and a cell phone. We have communicated with the school and watched videos introducing the school and dorm life. All that being said, our snowplow/helicopter efforts can only go so far. Once he stepped into the airport, he was on his own. 

Unlike Ryan and me, Dawson was a little nervous as he headed out this week. To me, that is a sign of considerable intelligence. You should be excited about a new adventure, but you should also have a healthy dose of realism about the magnitude of what you are facing.

After all of this contemplation, I still think my advice is good. Whatever the emotional toll on me as a parent, I still highly recommend a semester abroad for students. John Shedd wrote, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” That speaks to my love of adventure for myself and our children. I have complete confidence in our children to find their own way far away from home. That being said, even with all of the advantages of modern communication that has made our world much smaller, I was anxious about Dawson’s upcoming semester. Anxious, but super excited. And, five days in, though I am not as chill as Crush the turtle, I can’t wait for the stories as Dawson flies solo on his Tokyo adventure.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Post #99 on www.drmdmatthews.com


  • To See the Crush and Marlin scenes from the EAC, click here.
  • Photos by Dawson Matthews – the top photo from walking around Tokyo, and the other with a new group of friends already made within the first few days. Why do I even worry? Marlin and I have a few things in common.
  • Also, as I prepare to publish this, Dawson is so far doing a far better than expected job of communicating. I have to give credit where it is due. Keep it up, Dawson! I love it.

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  1. Grant says:

    This is a good constructive comment to parents.
    How are you doing on your “daily, (weekly) masterpieces?
    Nice to have seen you after your nice day in the waves, then on the course.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I have not been 100% successful with my masterpiece days. At least one outright failure. But overall, it is making me think hard about how I’m spending each day, and that helps. Great to run into you and Judy as well. It made my day!

  2. Kevin Skelly says:

    Great stuff as usual.

    I am encouraging, of boys especially, to take a gap year before college. Boys are the inferior species, and an extra year before college gives them a fighting chance there. Further, I believe a gap year puts kids in a much better position to know themselves well as they find their voice. It’s a lot less expensive and it allows the student to have four full years of on campus learning. Yes, it’s a year of one’s life. When my son interviewed for a job after college, seven out of seven prospective employers wanted to talk about the gap year above all other things on his resume.

    I’m also a fan of gap time in one’s career. I was fully burned out in a job and went walkabout for six months. The years of my life run together but walking the Camino de Santiago and spending extended time with people I love is a time that stands out.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Kevin. Outstanding comments. I remember your late career gap year. It gave you the energy to fully immerse yourself into your next superintendency, and you’ve told me how much it helped you personally and your relationships. I don’t think people quite get the toll that a high pressure leadership position can have on even the finest leaders. “Boys are an inferior species.” That’s pretty funny. Even more hilarious because it’s true. I appreciate you, sir.

      1. Kevin Skelly says:

        And I you!

  3. Elizabeth Henry Garland says:

    I love this and know your feelings well! Our son decided to teach English abroad, ultimately Thailand, after college for an undetermined amount of time. I survived through Skype calls! This was before our family had iPhones, so Skype it was and such a great tool to talk to and more importantly lay eyes on our son!! He ended up staying for just over two years. What an adventure for him!

    Less than a year after his return, our daughter spent a semester abroad in Malta. She learned that not everywhere practices a type A personality, which was priceless for her! Then she went to Greece after college graduation as a Fulbright fellowship. One of the smartest things she did while living abroad was to travel as much as possible! The memory she has are fantastic.

    As the parent of these two, the best advice I have for you is plan a trip and go. It’s incredible to have your child be your your guide into their world and they know what you would like to see/do more than anyone!! We’ve had incredible experiences with our kiddos as our travel agents!! I agree 100% with encouraging students to study abroad for a semester or a full year. Our daughter’s college (Agnes Scott in Atlanta) actually requires it! And scholarship money covers it!! Travel certainly makes our world a more level playing field!!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Great advice, Elizabeth. I will do the best I can to heed it and head over there. Thanks for your stories that reinforce this concept. I too love travel and appreciate all that it can do for expanding human horizons. Great stuff!

  4. Lynn Johnson says:

    I grew up in Oxnard when there were far more fields than buildings. My folks didn’t have any money for travel, but they did encourage me to raise funds so I could become a high school AFS student in West Germany. That unique opportunity became one of the most significant experiences of my life! At 22, I returned to Europe to backpack for 4 months and have continued traveling ever since. We cannot deny that in travel, we will open our hearts and minds realizing there are no “others”.
    Cheers to you for sharing your value of exploration and adventure with your children!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Lynn. Good to hear from you. I drive by the fields in Oxnard quite often. They are still there. But I’m sure the acreage is dwarfed by what you grew up in. AFS is such a great program, and it’s very cool that you were part of it. My wife did it as well, and her family hosted many AFS students who attended Venice HS. Those students are all part of her extended family now. All of this speaks to your beautiful words – they “open our hearts and minds, realizing there are no “others.” Thank you for that, and for reading and adding to the conversation.

  5. Janet Johnson says:

    This post should be required reading for every parent of a high school or college age student. Letting our kids go out into the world is never easy. Knowing when to come to their rescue or to encourage them to work it out is a fine art. Our four children took very different routes to a study abroad experience but they all learned valuable lessons that will last a lifetime. The oldest, a son, struggled through high school and started and dropped out of college a few times before getting a degree from UCLA at the age of 27. He went on a six week study trip when he was 24 and it was just what he needed to get on track with his education. The next child, a daughter, did well in high school and university and did a semester at Oxford. It was a great enhancement to her education and to developing some life skills. The third child, a daughter, was not interested in a study abroad program. She met a young man from Norway who was on a semester abroad program in San Diego and they are now married and living in Norway (for 12 years). That’s the ultimate study abroad. The last child, a son, is still working toward a degree at the age of 34, but he has interspersed education, employment in a high-paying field, and world travel along the way. They have all discovered that their education is a lifetime pursuit.
    I enjoyed hearing about your time in West Berlin. I have a large number of relatives in East Germany that I have gotten to know in recent years. It must have been a very exciting time for you.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I love hearing all of this, Janet. Thanks for sharing and for your kind words. I love hearing about the different journeys our children take, especially when they have an international flavor to them. Raising four children who have maintained their love of learning represents a job well done. Very nice to hear from you, Janet.

  6. Pau Grisanti says:

    What a wonderfully engaging story.
    My college adventures were in Mexico and Canada., but taking on the responsibility of my own safety and well being was a huge growth experience for me and I’m sure it will be for your son as well. Congratulations on letting the leash go for a while…..

    All the best,
    Paul Grisanti

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, Paul! Very cool about your adventures, and well said about taking care of your own safety while enjoying everything else. We all do have survival instincts. I appreciate you reading and having your say.

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