I'm a big fan of the idea that success is largely about attitude - if you're cranky about something, change it, and if you can't change it, figure out a way to deal with it, hopefully with some cheer and good grace. Students' attitudes have a lot to do with how much leeway I give them; if they're selfish and demanding, they don't get much, but if they're sincere and hardworking, I'll do anything I can for them. (Same goes for the rest of the world, now that I think of it.)
There's a student who graduated from here a couple of years ago who had the most irritating attitude. He was a work-study student in a nearby office for a while, but he made it clear to everyone that that sort of work was really beneath him (and thereby alienated everyone in the building). At one point he asked me for a recommendation for a post-graduation job that wasn't his first choice of occupation; his entire conversation made it clear that he wasn't terribly interested in the position, but that he'd do it if he had to. I gently suggested to him that that attitude made it hard for me to write the recommendation, since I couldn't truthfully write about his energy or commitment or willingness to work.
When he decided to apply to graduate school, we had some of the same conversations about his approach. He didn't get into his top choice school (which admittedly was way beyond his reach), and grudgingly applied to some other schools as backups. His reluctance hovers around him like a cloud. It's nice that he's confident in his abilities, but he constantly conveys the idea that he'd really rather be somewhere else, somewhere better. I've tried to suggest that successful students are the ones who dedicate themselves to where they are and what they can do rather than saving all their energy up for thinking about where they'd rather be, but his responses have only been defensive, insisting that he really is doing a good job at where he is, even if he hates it.
Our last correspondence was nearly a year ago, when I wrote him a recommendation for graduate school. Today he emailed me to let me know he'd begun his studies at a regional university, not one of his top choices, and his only two comments about that experience were to describe it as "a step down" and to say that although he was pleased to have a job on campus, he'd rather have a different kind of job.
Comments like this just grate on my nerves, and I always wonder how I should respond. Should I brush them off and wish him well? Or should I try to suggest that his attitude might really be getting in his way? He's truly a capable kid; he just doesn't realize that a little humility can go a long way, and that no one likes working with someone who thinks his job is beneath him. If he'd just bite the bullet and dig in to what he has to do, he could work his way up to where he wants to be, but he seems to think if he waits around long enough with an air of resigned suffering that someone will recognize his talent and reward him appropriately. I'm thinking that's not likely.