"I don't care what school I go to," my 17-year old complained, as I reluctantly dragged him to yet another college campus.
"Would you rather have your dad and I pick the school for you? Don't you want some input as to where you spend the next four years of your life?" I asked, clearly exasperated.
"They're all the same." my son countered. "This is boring." Rejected yet again, I slowly drove away from picturesque Santa Barbara. (This was not turning out to be the joyful experience I'd long envisioned.)
Undaunted, my sister and I took our teens to visit the University of California at Santa Cruz. Jill had thoughtfully arranged for a friend's daughter to give our two high school juniors a private tour. A recent graduate, her friend's daughter is now successfully pursuing a photography career in New York City.
"Santa Cruz is actually the largest campus of any of the UCs, has a smaller population than many of California's other universities and is broken into several separate colleges," she began. "Situated well above the ocean while enjoying spectacular views, you're likely to walk by deer you can practically pet (as we did) on your way to class." (Geez, she was full of poise and elegance. Surely, here was living proof of our own kids' hopeful future.)
Indeed, walking the fern-lined trails for the next 30 minutes with crystal blue skies above, the fog below, towering majestic redwoods lining our paths and deer aplenty, the verdant and serene campus spread out like a natural Buddhist retreat.
Scanning the quiet woodland setting for signs of life beyond Bambi, my son finally got down to the nitty gritty, "Uh, what do people do here for fun?"
"Most students are into surfing, hiking, mountain biking or skateboarding," she answered. "I spent most of my time running the dark room." Slam! This was never going to do. Too remote, too woodsy, too Zen, too surfer dude, too whatever.
"I'm not going here ," he leaned over and emphatically whispered in my ear.
Ah ha! So you do care. (I thought, but didn't say) A faint smile crept over my lips. Perhaps at last, a bit of clarity had seeped in. . .
House hunting often works the same way. Sometimes you have to figure out what you DON"T WANT, before you know what you do. While admittedly, it can be time consuming, I often encourage my clients to look at many properties that don't necessarily match their "wish list" when they first begin their hunt.
First, it educates you as the consumer; it gives you the opportunity to compare similar properties, to contrast different styles and to review the market overall.
Second, it familiarizes you with the neighborhood and the other architectural styles within it, the parks, playgrounds, and shopping districts nearby that form a community.
Third, it often surprises you! While I zero in on the "Brown Shingle Traditional" as instructed, it isn't unusual to hear that you have fallen in love with a Modern Contemporary instead. (Who knew? You didn't even know.)
Finally, it often provides clarity so that when the right house is finally identified, you recognize it as such. Walk into that same house on your first Sunday tour, and you are very likely to second guess yourself. Without eliminating the wrong choices, it's often tougher to ascertain the right ones.
For most of us,clarity can take awhile to seep in. Now go find your "Ah Ha!" moment (and I'll continue to work on my son).
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.