Personal Development

Reliving the Past to Release it

I set out in the beginning of the project to sort through the stacks of keepsakes. I’ve tended to romanticize the past and get very attached to people and experiences, and I’ve kept almost every piece of memorabilia possible: movie tickets, school projects, and letters. They fill whole boxes and drawers. I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was about ten, so collectively they take up half a bookshelf.

I’ve finally decided that having hung on to everything has held me back from moving forward, and it’s time to let go of “the good old days.” I’ve been so busy gathering new experiences at school that I haven’t devoted time to processing the past, but I’m realizing how important and urgent this is. I keep meeting resistance from myself as I strive to move forward, and my instincts say that I’ll be able to bring fresh experiences into my life more easily once I clear out the old. Over the next few days, I’ll post snippets of writing, some old photos and other keepsakes, and reflections on what I’m remembering.

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.

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Madly in Love in Middle School

This week I’ve become consumed by a powerful obsession that has precluded all other activities. I haven’t been blogging much. I don’t want to sleep. I forget to eat — which hardly ever happens. I want to do nothing else but spend time with the object of my affection. I’ve fallen in love, as middle schoolers tend to do. I have only recently become acquainted with the guitar, but I am completely, head over heels, crazy about it.

My introduction to the guitar was a fluke (or perhaps, as you romantics may believe, it was destiny). The other day, when I was on campus at my elementary school, one of my best third grade friends, whom I’ll call Lisa, pulled me into an after-school guitar lesson. Lisa is the most adorable little blond creature I know, yelling my name with glee whenever she spots me, giving me bone-crushing bear hugs, and swinging my hand as we walk down the halls. She insisted, “You HAVE to come to guitar!” and since I’ve always wanted to try it anyway, I attended my first lesson with the Little Kids Rock program. The nonprofit trains schoolteachers to give lessons at their sites and, stunningly, provides instruments — in our case, guitars — that the students get to keep. The Little Kids Rock programs, as well as programs run by foundations like VH1’s Save the Music, have often filled in the gaps that have been left by budget cuts in public schools.

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Assessing Old Habits As a New Chapter Begins

I’m back home, and after a week of balanced living on the east coast, I’m finding myself already getting sucked back into an unhealthy routine. For the past few years it’s been this way: extreme relaxation on vacation, then extreme stress as soon as I went back to work. I would love to find a balance someday soon.

Right now I wish I’d scheduled in a few extra days to recover from jet-lag and finish processing my elementary school experiences, but I’m scheduled to start middle school tomorrow. I had also hoped to start rested and energetic instead of draggy and coffee-fueled, but alas, it will not be so. Sigh…it’s true that old habits die hard. At least I’m making progress in other areas, which helps keep the little setbacks in perspective. Perhaps starting a new chapter of the project will help me make some positive changes. Here’s today’s progress report.

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Reschooling Tool #6: Choose the Ridiculous Interpretation

This post continues the story begun in Reschooling Tool #5: Accept Things As They Are.

I find that when I pat myself on the back for an evolved reaction to a situation, the universe tends to respond by kicking up the intensity, as if to say, “Congratulations, you were worthy of that challenge–now try this one!”  My last entry described how I drained the car battery of my anxious grandpa in Maryland one night, and here’s how the story continued.

As promised, the AAA tow truck operator arrived and jump started the dead battery; he informed me that it would charge completely during the 20-minute drive home. As I steered the Mazda toward the parking lot exit, I called my grandpa to tell him not to worry, that I was finally on my way. Mid-sentence, I came to the parking lot exit and realized that I could leave only by swiping an electronic “Smartcard,” which of course I didn’t have. I wasn’t allowed to pay the $4.25 fee with cash or credit card, so I would need to go back into the Metro station on foot and buy a Smartcard there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t park the car again so soon after the jump start, or the battery would die again. As the toll booth was empty, I couldn’t ask a staff person for advice. During this series of realizations, my grandpa was on the other end of the phone asking me what in the world was going on. I hurriedly explained the situation and told him that I’d call him back.
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Reschooling Tool #5: Accept Things As They Are

I’m on the east coast this week, visiting my grandparents in Maryland and my college roommate outside of Boston. This entry was hand-scrawled the other night and transcribed.

I’m making history tonight: I’m paper-blogging for the first time. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my grandpa’s 1990 Mazda in the parking lot of the Greenbelt, Maryland train station, writing under the dim light of a lamppost. I parked here four hours ago when I took the train to D.C. to meet some girlfriends. My fretful Chinese grandpa had cautioned me about 20 different possible dangers, including pickpockets and car thieves. He requested that I phone him at every turn: when I arrived at Greenbelt, then at D.C., and again upon my return to Greenbelt, and when I arrived safely at my car.

I gently told my grandpa that I’d lived in a fairly rough neighborhood in San Francisco (the Mission District), and I knew how to handle myself. I didn’t want to stress him out and planned to say at the end of the night, “See? You had nothing to worry about.” I would have succeeded in doing this, if not for one threat that neither my grandpa nor I had foreseen: Headlights that don’t beep when you leave them on as you exit the car.
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Giving Up The Struggle

You might have wondered how I feel to have all this “time off” while launching Reschool Yourself, given that I’m used to such a packed schedule. Since I left my full-time job in June, my planner has been almost appointment-free. I don’t need to be anywhere, though I keep my commitments to spend time at school. I could be using my afternoons, evenings, and weekends to catch up on all that I’ve missed during my workaholic Spark years. I could be investing it in getting healthy, balanced, and informed, as I’d hoped when I first conceived of the project.

I could be, but I haven’t been. I’ve actually used much of my time like this:

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Five Things to Do Every Day

Today I had a breakthrough. I ended up doing many of the things that I want to incorporate into every day.

1. Catch up with friends.

Weeks ago, I’d logged out of Google Talk instant messaging, so I could focus on my writing without chat windows popping up every few minutes. Unfortunately, this also coincided with my moving back to Sonoma and unknowingly waving goodbye to my social life, so I was left without even an e-friend to call my own. (This is where the world’s tiniest violin begins to play just for me.)

Today I signed back into chat and caught up with several people. Ahh, Google, organizing the world’s information AND making me feel loved? You anticipate my every need.

In the past few days, I’ve also spent time with a few real humans. Until now, I’d been relieved to have a break from my social calendar, but not watching Friday’s debate with friends put an end to my life as a hermit. I decided that it was time to hang out with people who have never seen Hannah Montana or High School Musical, and I called ‘em up.

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People-Pleasing, Perfectionism, and Ten Reasons to Reschool

I’ve been drafting an official project proposal for Reschool Yourself bit by bit for months now, and intensively for the last week. As hard as I’ve worked, I’ve been unable to craft my countless notes into a cohesive, inspiring proposal. The very reason it’s taken me so long to craft a full project proposal is evidence for why I’m reschooling myself in the first place.

I have invested hours and hours detailing measurable goals and outcomes, doing research to support my arguments, and shaping the proposal into the format that most funders require. The result? Writer’s block in the attempt to communicate my ideas perfectly. Several drafts of lifeless rhetoric devoid of the passion that fuels this project. Exasperation with my inability to speak from the heart when I know I’ll be evaluated. School has trained me so well that I can’t stop behaving like an overachieving student even when it doesn’t serve me. And in adulthood, it doesn’t serve me very often at all.

In fact, the two qualities that were keys to my success in school have limited my success as an adult: people-pleasing and perfectionism.

People-Pleasing

Early in childhood, I learned to sense what people – especially authority figures – wanted from me, and that I would be rewarded for giving it to them. Now, as an adult, the rewards for people-pleasing aren’t so great. I often say yes to commitments just because I’d feel guilty saying no. I regularly sacrifice my own well-being for the sake of others, a story shared by many fellow nonprofiteers and educators. I unconsciously seek a “Wow” factor in the things that I do to replicate the affirmation that I got in school.

I know that I could be more effective, and generally happier, if I could just determine what I wanted to do, and then do it. It sounds simple, but after spending around 20,000 hours* in school doing what was expected of me, I’m out of touch with what I actually want to do.

* A very rough estimate of time I’ve spent in school from kindergarten through college, based on an 180-day average school year during K-12 and a quarter system in college.

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The Questions That Reunions Raise

Today at brunch, I ran into one of my high school teachers and her partner, Burt. I mentioned that going to my 10-year high school reunion had raised some questions for me:

* At graduation, what were my hopes for the coming years? How close have I come to living out what I had envisioned, and how do I feel about that?

* In what ways did school help me get to where I am now? In what ways is it holding me back?

* How might I have turned out differently if I’d been able to do what I wanted in school instead of what was required of me?

Burt said that he’d attended his 35-year high school reunion this year, and he and his classmates had been having similar conversations. They’d been talking about how their education had shaped them, and what effects it was still having on them. It fascinates me that these questions are coming up not only 10 years after high school graduation, but 35 years after. It reminds me of how important it is to reflect on them throughout our lives, so they don’t occur to us for the first time at our 50th high school reunion, or our 70th.

How would you answer these questions yourself? Leave a comment.