The Dream

jungle-gym

At age 28, I went after my dream of reliving my education and writing a book about it. Nearly six years later, I’m rebooting that dream.

One afternoon in November, I realized that my life was heading in the wrong direction. I was scrolling through photos on my computer when I noticed one of myself and stopped dead. In the photo, I looked stressed out, exhausted, and miserable. It was as if I could suddenly see my own face through someone else’s eyes, and I didn’t like what I saw.

I went home that night and made a decision: If I didn’t want to see any more photos of myself like that in the future, I had to shake up my life and do something else. I had no clue what that would be, but I had to trust that it would be the right thing.

I drove out to the coast and holed up in a hostel so I could figure out what was next. The ocean air and the solitude finally brought to light what I wanted, deep down: I wished that I could do school over again.

School was where I’d gotten so good at doing what I was supposed to do that I had lost sight of what I wanted to do. It was where I’d put aside the things that I loved  — like reading, writing, art, and music — so I could focus on doing calculus and chemistry and other things that would get me into a good college. I was haunted by the question, “How much happier would I be now if school hadn’t gotten in the way?”

Then I had a crazy idea: Why not ask my old schools if I could return to the classroom, this time on my own terms, in the hopes of coming out a happier person?

So I wrote my schools to ask, and to my surprise, they said yes. Over the next few months, I quit my job and moved back in with my parents. In the fall of 2008, I spent a week in each grade, starting in kindergarten and ending in college. I fingerpainted with first-graders, went to a middle-school dance, took algebra tests without studying, and stayed up late talking in the halls of my old college dorm. After years of not drawing or playing music or writing, I began picking them up again. I called the project “Reschool Yourself” and kept a blog throughout it.

People responded to the project — not just my dear friends and family, but strangers, too. They sent me donations to help with my expenses and left comments about how what I was doing resonated with them. A lot of them said, “I wish I could do this, too.” Many times, these comments kept me going when I was struggling, because digging up your past is not always pretty and often very dark.

Even though the Reschool Yourself project was the hardest thing that I’d ever done, and I was making it up as I went along, it accomplished what I’d hoped it would. I finished my days in the classroom feeling lighter, as if I’d been able to make peace with what I’d resented about school. Yes, school had led me away from who I really was, but it also helped me find my way back again. I felt old resentments and regrets and what-ifs dissolve. I was ready to move on.

In the pictures of myself from the end of the project, I’m smiling again. My face, once pinched with tension and tiredness, looks relaxed and even joyful.

My hope is to share my story, to help other people stop dwelling on the past and move on, so they can find the same kind of peace.

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