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What's your advice for stressed-out Lea?

Tom and Ray can repair clutches -- but can they help with collegiate angst?

This week on Car Talk, we heard from Lea, calling from Mount Holyoke College, in our Fair State. You can hear Tommy share her plight right here and, then, you can hear Lea's ensuing call right here.

(Car Talk Plaza news flash: At this point, our producers insist that we remind you that the show was an encore presentation, and Lea's a bit older now.)*

Lea's question? What's a woman to do, when the stresses of grades, classes and achievement is sucking all the fun out of life?

Can Tom and Ray help her get a better perspective on what really matters in life, as Lea contemplates four long years in her looming collegiate career -- not to mention, those years beyond? Were our hosts right in telling her to forget about grades, forget about her parent's expectations, relax and have a little fun?

Have you ever been in Lea's Docksiders? What worked for you? Tell us what you think!

*and doing very well, thank you very much. We'll even ask her to chime in, right here.

For all the Lea’s out there. some financial aid may be dependent on your maintaining a better grade. A’s are a good way to prove that you are really working at the educational experience and are worthy of the assistance of the rest of us real taxpayers.

Leon Stark

Geez-you guys completely missed the obvious question: Who was paying her tution?
A. She paid her own way
B. Her parents paid

A. Lea paid, took out loans etc then you guys are NUTS! She needed to be 100% focused on nothing but A’s and choosing a good grad school.Fun? Nope, but poverty isn’t much fun either-just ask an Art History major. No place called Mt. Holyoake is going to be cheap-buckle down, grow-up and your horse is going to need to a job to help pay for books and student fees (maybe he can be hitched up to the MG and pull it around).

B. Drink. Sleep. Have fun! Hey, this might be the only chance you will ever get. You won’t have to sell your horse on eBay to make ends meet so relax. Be thankful, but don’t grow up too fast.

Yes, I’ve been in Lea’s docksiders. And I have to say first, I love you guys. I’ve listened to you for years, bought your CD’s as Xmas presents for my husband, and you are just a joy. That said, when I heard you read Lea’s letter and listened to the rest of the clip, I was dumbfounded. The problem with letters is they don’t convey nuance, and what I heard in that letter was a desperate kid reaching out for help. (The fact that my daughter went to Mount Holyoke, was on the Equestrian team, and had a serious meltdown in her freshman year probably skewed my response, as does my own history with clinical depression). But I came away from listening to your program in shock, very frightened that this was a young girl in serious trouble (possibly suicidal–she did mention “waiting for death”) and that the response of backing away and laughing–which please understand is totally in character with the show, and so I am not pointing fingers–might prove really dangerous. My husband had also heard the show and thought it was hysterical and was taken aback by my negative reaction. I came on this site and registered just so I could comment, but I had to leave the house to go to a meeting. Thank God on the way I had the radio on and heard Lea call in. I was reassured that she wasn’t in imminent danger, and very touched that you guys offered to act as “her mentors.” I know you will follow through, and I think you may very well be a lifeline to her.

KIds in their first year of college, as you astutely pointed out, are thrown into a maelstrom of new choices and new responsibilities. My daughter spent a great deal of her time at the MoHo stables, and she recounted many instances of young girls close to going over the brink. You are totally right that she is probably homesick and disoriented. When I listened to your talking to her, I was struck by her eagerness to connect with the tales you told of your son’s struggles in highschool, your advice to him, and your subsequent advice to her. I hope she can use that as a kind of beacon to help her reorient her priorities. I agree with just about everything you told her, but I’d add that going to the Health Center and getting a reference to a good local psychologist might now be a bad thing. My daughter had an excellent woman in the area whom she worked with and who helped her enormously in the four years she was there; please feel free to pass my email on to Lea if she’d like the reference.

I just read the part of your letter above that says that Lea is a bit older now and implies that you’ve kept in touch with her, as promised. God bless you guys–you have probably made more of a positive difference in her life than you’d ever guessed.

College is such a tough time. The more we can help those kids, the better for all of us.

You’re right on the money about 'A’s being overrated. One reason is because students focused on grades spend all their time trying to memorize what the teacher tells them and stop QUESTIONING the crap the teacher is telling them. After generations of students not questioning anything, the crap becomes dogma.


It has to be up to Lea. If she decides she want’s to be a straight a student, she will. She can continue her stellar record and have a social life, or she can allow her stellar record to degrade in favor of a more significant social life. It is what is in her heart that (ok stress point coming up here, please turn away if you are squeamish) that is important. In case she has not heard job potential may be based on scholastic achievement, though that may not be the best course of happiness for her life. There is no right or wrong answer, as if you look at choice a you never know what could have happened with choice b, etc. Gaudi turned into a great architect and was killed by a streetcar crossing the street. My inclination would be to encourage good grades as that leaves the most opportunities available, but if you are miserable because of it seek counseling somewhere besides a car repair site.

In Lea’s shoes I went for the A’s. I knew a lot of others who were also intensely focused on their studies. The A’s are worth it for two reasons. First, they represent successful commitment to exceptional achievement. Second, the pursuit gives you exceptional academic knowledge.

Without trying to sound judgmental, either you value that or you don’t. Fact is, some people go happily through life without either. Lea values those A’s and typically there’s little that can be done about that. Someone does, after all, need to try to cure cancer, or pick up Shakespeare’s dormant quill, or solve world hunger, or prevent cars from colliding ever again.

To keep her sane and making progress under that stress, Lea needs coping mechanisms, like periodic decompression cycles and keeping one eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.

She also needs positive reinforcement. Lea should look for that in peers and teachers who share her values. Such people aren’t rare but you have to actually find out who they are and seek them out. Lea is outgoing and personable so that should be no problem.

Finally, it may help to know that each challenge prepares you for the next. Your capacity for challenge grows over time if you do it right. But you really do have to pay attention to those other things I mentioned.

A person can just Obama it and forget about fun for a while. Graduate first and worry about fun later. A workaholic I once pretended to supervise says to make a game out of the work. He was kind of nuts for a while but after those four years he resembled a regular person. It comes back to you. I know some guys who stayed crazy in the Air Force and they have a nice retirement to show for it with cheap medical care.

First, after nearly half a century on the Planet, I am learning to have my own expectations. I lived nearly all of my life attempting to live up to others’ expectations of what I did with my life. That included college.

My suggestion (advice I don’t give: “Wise men don’t need it, fools won’t heed it”) to Lea is to find a way to create your own expectations, based on who you are and what your aspirations are.

That can be a tall order for a young person. (Did I do it? Nope.). However, you guys asked the question. Find a comfort zone for yourself between the seemingly daunting heights of what you think (and others expect) the future will bring and where you are and who you are right now. Be in the moment.

Some books have helped me, such as “The Power of Now”, by Tolle. Life is to be lived and enjoyed. School ain’t no fun, and it weren’t for me (obviously, I was an English major, cum laude at that), but having said that, there are plenty of healthy extracurricular activities to be enjoyed.

Let me go out on a limb here. This is a car forum, right? So, perhaps, one activity that might stimulate the neurotransmitters and let your ya-ya’s out would be to pool your resources with a couple of college mates, go to the local Hertz rental agency and rent a Mustang for some autocross or road trip fun. Just getting in an hitting the “go” button would soften any hardened stress edges.

If I had been more attentive at your age, in your situation, etc., that’s what I might have done. It won’t get you an “A”, by it might help allay some stress.

Hmmmm, that suggestion I might take to heart. Hey, good luck, I gotta go and call the local Hertz dealer (stress don’t end with youth, you know).

As I said in my original post entitled “Homesickness & Canine Safety”, Lea has many options open to her being so close to the I-91 corridor in Central Massachussets. There’s so much culture to explore in New England for a lifelong Nor’ Westerner. My guess is that her education is paid for since she mentioned her hobby of Riding (NOT inexpensive!). If she misses horses so much, I’m sure Daddy will (excuse me) pony-up a few bucks for her to go rent a horse for a day at a local stable so she can ride the many trails available. And has she even thought of taking a day trip to Boston? Hartford? Shelburne Falls? Lea, start mainlining coffee & go enjoy life!

I’m Almost Too Afraid To Ask, But I’m Curious. What Does …
“A person can just Obama it and forget about fun for a while.”, mean? Please be careful, I’m not a big Obama fan. You are talking about the guy that just won the election, right?

As a Mount Holyoke alum who is also from the Great State of Washington, I can attest to the validity of Lea’s experience. Mount Holyoke College is a tough place academically speaking and the first year is probably the roughest when combine with being homesick. Fortunately, she has reached out for help early. If only I’d thought to write Click & Clack!

I didn’t figure out how to enjoy college until my senior year, when after several years of meltdowns, I decided to stop completing all the assigned reading, wrote some papers on their due dates instead of two weeks before, and instituted a “no homework” policy Friday through Sunday. After doing that, I received my highest GPA at Mount Holyoke and I was having a great time.

I think the keys to my late-found happiness and reduced stress were: (1) focusing on what I was learning instead of what grade I would be getting; (2) implementing a strategy for assignments and a short time frame in which to complete them; and (3) introducing “free time” or “fun time” into my life.

I didn’t compromise my commitment to school and learning, I just figured out how to do it in a healthier fashion. Professors at Mount Holyoke (when I was there over 10 years ago), assigned an unrealistic amount of work. You’ve got to figure out how to work smarter, not harder. And finally, it’s important to keep things in perspective --which is a rule that comes in handy throughout life.

My girlfriend is about to finish (private) undergrad school and she is getting VERY stressed out. In her defense, she always gets A+s in classes. The downside is all that stress! I think it will all be worth it, and when she’s paying so much for it ($33k/yr IIRC), she needs to do nothing but study. I, on the other hand, go to a state college, run three businesses, and generally don’t have much time to study, so my grades slip a bit. It’s all just a matter of who is paying and how much they are paying!

Dear Tom and Ray

Your advice to Lea was EXACTLY the same as my granddad’s advice to me in my freshman year (a good 15 years ago.) Incidentally, I listen to you guys with him almost every Saturday morning. He is of Sicilian descent and is known far and wide as Nunzio of Irvine.

He is retired now, but he spent most of his working life as a teacher in trade schools, the only type he considered worthy of existance. (He taught electric, electronics, refrigeration, and air conditioning.)

As he is saying over my shoulder right now: “it is the exploitive MBA mind-set that is the reason for our present economic crisis.” Like you guys, he rants and raves a lot and I love him dearly.


‘Hello’ to all the Car Talk listeners out there who have shared their support, wisdom, and general advice in response to the letter I wrote Tom and Ray back in 1996. The letter struck a cord when it was first read on-air, generating thousands of emails from listeners across the country. I understand from Car Talk that the response from listeners has again been strong since the rebroadcasting of the show, with emails flooding in by the hundreds.

Many events have transpired since the letter, the details of which far exceed the capacity of the present discussion forum. What I will say, is that the story of my life so far is not as I expected or dreamed, but is far greater than my limited self could have ever imagined. Each moment is a supreme gift and I am tremendously grateful for the journey that I have been on, although it has not been easy.

The opportunities provided by life for personal growth and transformation are astounding and without end. When we as individuals learn to shift our perceptions such that we recognize the opportunities present in every situation, our lives and experience of life change as well. The distance from the state of ordinary awareness and experience to that of true liberation is short but the journey is long and arduous. Still, there can be no other response than “Thank you.”

Best regards,
Lea Frey

Oh my goodness the girl could be totally sane in an insane environment. She might need to just go somewhere normal. I went to MHC and did not have good time. First of all there are no men and any fun is a couple towns away. Secondly, everyone is so rich, there isn’t a firm grip on reality over there for sure. And then (this is back in the late 80’s), there was the thin element about not really being expected to succeed as much as to marry someone from Dartmouth or Harvard. Luckily I didn’t come from a family of Harvardites. My parents grew up on farms. The education itself was intense and fantastic, the library looks like a cathedral, filled to the brim on Friday nights. But there isn’t a lot of diversity.

enough said,

All this talking about Lea’s grades and who’s paying for her schooling, but Lea also said she didn’t know what profession she wanted to go into or even if she wanted a college education. Maybe Lea should take a year or two off to clear her head and find her internal compass. To do so she could join AmeriCorps Vista, or the Peace Corps, do productive work helping others, and when she’s ready, go back to school (or not) with a better idea of what she wants to with her life.

I have a tongue-in-cheek invention to help all those Lea’s out there with angst about growing up (and the rest of us struggling to remain young at heart). My invention, a take-off on Daylight Saving Time, is called “Childhood Saving Time.” It was unveiled in the seven minute speech I gave at the European Toastmasters Championships this year in Prague. Here’s the link to the video:

Enjoy. And feel free to pass it on to anyone who could use a creative new way to look at life.
Ciao for niao,
Bob in Paris

This is a topic of which I have quite a bit of experience. I graduated high school in 2002 and since then have attended 5 colleges/universities. I have changed my major 3 times. And at the ripe old age of 25 I am now a senior. I had decent grades in High School, good enough to get into one of the better engineering schools in the nation. I went there, and after a year, flunked out. It wasn?t that I was not smart enough to do the work or get good grades; it was simply that I was not happy there. I know there are some serious bummers that go along with becoming a ?responsible? adult but there are certain things that can not simply be chalked up to ?guess this is part of growing up?. College should not be the 4, or in my case 6 worst years of your life. There are going to be nights when you miss your family, miss your friends, and miss not being totally and utterly broke (as all college students are), but all-in-all it is supposed to be some of the best years of your life. This is what I have come to realize. I am not ashamed to say that thinking about the fact that declaring a major meant picking what I wanted to do for the rest of my life (or so I thought), but one day I sat down threw aside all the thoughts about, ?can a earn a decent living doing this??, ?does it make sense to do that??, ?what are my parents going to think?? and said what do I want to do? I figured it out and now here I am. I am doing well in all my classes, my parents are happy, and I am finally going to graduate, but more important then that, I am enjoying college. So I guess this is my advice to you.

  1. Find that thing that truly makes you happy.
  2. Pursue it with reckless abandon
  3. Be strong in your resolve
    Because if you think 4 years in college is tough, try an entire lifetime of a career you hate.

First thing is, Lea has to forget everything she was told by Tom and Ray. Remember it’s called car talk for a reason. Once she’s managed to erase her conversations with these two knuckleheads - their words not mine - I think Lea will find that her grades probably do matter, but she might never need them. A 4.0, with a degree in philosophy, doesn’t mean you’ll be the next Aristotle. You might be happier in another line of work. Also, if Lea remembers to never eat spinach with a stranger, she’ll be just fine.