Even if it’s 85 and humid as the rainforest where you live, those small people carrying enormous backpacks and wearing brand-new clothes are proof that autumn is coming. And even if your (9:00 – 3:00) days aren’t filled with new faces, expectations and even new buildings, it can still be a season of newness. With the lazy hazy days formally over, we can’t help but feel a little more purposeful, a little more focused. Soon we’ll stash our shorts and flip-flops and put back on our grown-up clothes. Before we know it the holidays will be upon us (for some they start in September) and the accompanying preparations will go beyond firing up a grill. But before we get all ‘chain drugstore Christmas display in August’ let’s focus on September.
Try to remember that feeling of hopefulness that comes with a clean, blank notebook and the spelling out of an instructor’s expectations. In chalk, on a syllabus or on-line; we were told what was expected of us and in those first few days we had done nothing to diminish those expectations. We believed we could achieve; long division, macroeconomics, modern European history or organic chemistry. Before we forget to write down an exam date, or procrastinated or let anxiety rule our studying, we felt we can do this thing. Feeling something is possible is invigorating. Is it the clean notebook, not yet a jumbled mess of missing notes? Is it the confidence and authority of a teacher assuming we can do what is asked of us? Is it the fact that everyone else (unless they’ve been left back) is in the same boat? Is it the fact that the very nature of education is that the content is always new? The majority of adult life is not filled with newness. Yes, there are at times new; partners, homes, jobs, or family members. But there is nothing cyclically new about adulthood. But there could be.
What if we all went “back to school” every September? Not literally of course (whoa! take a deep breath; you might want to put your head between your knees for a few minutes.) What if we pledged (to ourselves) to do something new every September? Something we need to “learn?” It needn’t be academic, but it shouldn’t be easy either. What about…
- Learning to see things from someone else’s perspective?
- Learning why we do something that troubles us (i.e., shop, drink, or eat excessively)?
- Learning the difference between our needs and a loved one’s needs?
- Learning to look at ourselves in the mirror and love what we see?
No doubt there are dozens more examples that are relevant and achievable. Let’s find one that feels slightly daunting yet not wildly out of our reach (we don’t teach calculus to second-graders now, do we?) Let’s give ourselves the whole academic year to finish the assignment. Trying something new, regardless of the outcome, is hopeful. It is in essence a declaration: “I’m here and I’m engaged with the world!” But first things first, let’s go out and get ourselves a brand-new notebook.