The Storm Before The Calm: The Dark Side of Reschooling

It’s been one of those days when I wonder if I’ve become any happier and more evolved than I was ten years ago. I sometimes conclude my blog posts by reflecting on how I’ve thankfully become more confident, socially skilled, and calm in challenging situations than I was as a student. I recognize that I’ve made progress in those areas. Unfortunately, I still face some of the same struggles I had back then, especially perfectionism, overachieving, and a hyper-awareness of my “issues” and their causes. I still have melancholy tendencies, have trouble taking care of myself, and avoid taking risks because I’m scared to fail.

Though I may not always express it in the blog, this fall has been one of the hardest times in my life. I’ve had to structure my time completely on my own and am facing my past head on, almost every waking minute. I’ve shared only glimpses of this process. I tend to write instead about the highlights of my reschooling, which I’ve found entertaining and fascinating, like learning guitar with the third graders and doing P.E. with the middle schoolers. I’ve written about frustrations in retrospect, once I’ve taken a lesson from them. However, it’s the times in between these moments of enjoyment and learning that are the most difficult. I’ve been hesitant to write about these times, and about re-experiencing the parts of the school system that I desperately want to change. These things are not only tough to describe accurately, but they’re also so important to me that I want to do them justice.

When I began Reschool Yourself, I felt so hopeful that it would help me enjoy life and learning again, like I did as a child. I thought everything would steadily get better: my health, my happiness, my knowledge. I thought that I would do things that I enjoy more frequently. Instead, I’ve allowed myself even less downtime than when I worked full time, and I’ve regularly sacrificed my health for the sake of productivity. Because my reschooling and writing aren’t yet earning me an income, and aren’t yet backed by an institution or publication, I don’t ever feel that I’ve earned time off. So I work on the website or proposals around the clock.

As much as I’ve enjoyed most of the time at my old schools so far, it’s also been painful for me, because I regret so many things about how I approached school as a student. I regret becoming addicted to rewards and other people’s approval. I regret buying into the idea that I had a lot of potential, and working myself into the ground to live up to it. I regret investing so many hours — too many to count — stressing about memorizing material I forgot soon after the test, and working for grades that I grew to find meaningless. It’s to the point where I find it difficult to see old photos of myself looking youthful and happy, because I have to face how far off track I’ve gotten, and how much time I wish I’d spent differently.

It’s also hard to see some of the current students falling into the same achievement trap that I did. I want to warn them, to save them from suffering now and in the future, and to prevent them from having the regrets that I’m having now. Sadly, the school system is much more powerful than any caution or perspective I could give, especially for kids who identify themselves as top students above all else.

I keep wondering if I’m getting what I want out of Reschool Yourself, which is to make peace with my schooling and move on. Lately, I seem to be dwelling on the mistakes and regrets of my past. I’m not quite sure how to process them and let them go, but I’m doing my best to take positive steps like these:

1. Exercising.

When I feel so worked up that I can’t do anything else, I listen to music with a fast beat and sprint. When I’m done, I can breathe more easily.

2. Socializing.

I haven’t done much of it since moving away from my friends in San Francisco. Laughing with people gets me out of my head and reminds me that no one’s got it all figured out, not even the people who seem to have it together.

3. Starting the morning with five to ten minutes of meditation.

I light candles, strike a bell, sit on a cushion, and count my exhalations from one to ten. Even if my thoughts are distracted, the practice helps ground me.

4. Decluttering and repainting my room.

My bedroom is a museum to my childhood, full of so many piles of old papers and books and keepsakes that I can’t think straight. My bedroom walls, ridiculously, are still painted with the rainbow and clouds that have been there since I was one year old. Being 28 now, I know it’s time for a change (I’m sure both Obama and McCain would agree with me).

5. Reading something inspirational every day.

Lately, when I’ve felt down, I’ve read from Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. It’s uncanny how I always open to a page that speaks to what I’m going through at the moment. Today I read:

We hear a lot about the pain of samsara [the material world and endless life cycle], and we also hear about liberation. But we don’t hear much about how painful it is to go from being completely stuck to becoming unstuck. The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA.

If my very DNA is changing, it’s no wonder that I’m having growing pains. I’m still unsure whether I will end up a happier person from this experience, but I’m doing my best to make that happen. Before I started Reschool Yourself, my instincts told me that this project was just something I had to do, so I’m going to trust that this is true and finish what I started. I don’t know exactly where my reschooling will take me, but I know it will be somewhere.

Comments (4)

  1. Mr. Hsu

    I’m reading The Last Lecture right now, and it’s a fantastic read. Highly recommended. I mention it because there was a passage in the book where the author is talking about setbacks in his life and how he has dealt with them, and i thought I’d share it with you.

    “But I kept my mantra in mind: The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

    I think I mentioned to you a time or two about how my learning to detach from things has been a blessing. It’s one of the most vital skills to possess, but one of the most difficult to accomplish because of the perfectionism we possess and our perception of importance we place on things. Hang in there, you’re doing awesome.

    Reply
  2. Melia

    Timely comment. I’ve spent literally all day detaching from my early years. I threw out bags of old keepsakes, which I thought I’d never be able to do since I’m normally so sentimental. It’s so liberating to remember an experience and then let it go. I hope I can do the same with “the way I used to be” — both the things I liked about myself and didn’t — and focus on who I want to be. Sounds like some advice I once got from a very wise friend…

    Reply
  3. sally

    Betty Sue Flowers — beginning a workshop asks you to see your life as a victim, then as a hero. I think this is a very good exercise to try.

    Certainly gives you a different way to look at yourself and the stories you tell yourself.

    I reccomend a try

    Reply
  4. Melia

    I found Betty Sue Flowers’ commencement speech from last month at the University of Texas. What an inspiring woman. She clearly gets what life is all about, and is making a big life change at 62. I love that she encourages graduates to reject external measures of success. This is a great passage:

    “Flowers remembered a magical morning, long ago, when her son — then a little boy — suggested they linger, walk to the hill above their house, and merely appreciate the wonder of the day. Turns out the son was late to school, the mother late for class. But it was a sublime experience.”

    Reply

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