Going Back To School (Sort Of)

Back To School (Sort Of) - Gretchen Hydo InternationalIt’s September, which only means one thing: back to school. Even before I had kids there was always something about this month that made me want to run to the nearest drug store and stock up on Trapper Keepers and Number Two pencils. September is a gentle wake-up call to buckle down and become a little more serious, a little more attentive to one’s inner life. For me, paying attention to my inner life usually means looking at a way that I can grow and stretch myself. Whether it’s learning a new subject, trying out a new hobby, or deciding on a new morning routine, I love the opportunity to start over in September. And the best part? I get to risk failure.

Risking failure was, for me, one of the best parts of school. Each year I had to learn a new subject which I either had a natural aptitude for or not (like math). And then I had to prove how much I’d learned about it by writing papers or taking exams. It was a constant process of becoming uncomfortable, struggling with something new, attempting mastery of it, and then surrendering to the results. In short, it was pretty awesome, and I think it’s a shame that after we finish our schooling we don’t get to live that cycle out any longer. Most of us tend to stick to the things we’re good at, or at the very least, don’t fill us with dread or fear. But before we know it, our lives can feel rote, unstimulating, and a little boring. When we constantly avoid failure or looking stupid, we can start to feel like we’re living half a life. Now I’m a little envious of my kids and the new challenges that face them at the beginning of the school year. If only we all could continue to test our limits and stretch them every year.

So I’d like to try to bring the best parts of back to school back into our adult lives. First, what is something that you can try this fall that may make you uncomfortable, or daunted, but that makes you grow in some way? It doesn’t have to be a class. It can be about signing up for a monthly dinner where you don’t know anyone and you meet new people. Or learning a new language. It can be taking adult extension classes at your local university. It can be finally publishing a new website or contributing to somebody else’s. It can be trying a new sport. It can be joining a knitting club. Or it could be deciding to get back into doing the New York Times crossword, and not just on the easy days. As long as it’s something new that gets you out of your comfort zone and offers some mental discipline, it qualifies. Being amazing at it isn’t the point. It’s just there to keep your mind open, engaged, and hopefully, disciplined.

And guess what? You may be incredible at your new endeavor, or you may not be. In fact, you may wish that if you’d know exactly how crappy you’d be at this, that you’d never left your house. So what? Let the results be what they may be. That was the beauty of school. All you could do when all was said and done was try your best. And who couldn’t use more of that in their adult lives?

Of course, you might say that school in and of itself is, and will always be, about results. After all, our grades do play a (small) part in the direction our lives take after school, in terms of our higher education choices and where we initially start our adult lives. But as most people over forty will tell you, our high school grades have little to do with predicting career success. Tenacity, an open mind, and pure desire to be, get, or achieve something are much more effective. Allowing ourselves to try things knowing full well that we may have less than stellar results is how we learn as children. It’s the only way we learn. If it helps to have results tied to this new routine, then that’s great. But knowing that you’ll have to accept the results, no matter what they are, and that it won’t take away from your enjoyment, is crucial.

Here are some more steps to treat this month like your own Back to School:

    1. Clean out your cobwebbed cabinets and finally get rid of all of the clutter. The only way you could really study was when you had a clean desk, right? Use that thinking here. If you’re like me, you allowed summer clutter to take over. Take control of your living space now.
    2. Change your morning routine. Remember those first few days of school when you’d be in shock at waking up early, getting yourself fed and presentable at a way earlier hour than normal, and then out the door? But then you’d marvel at how much you were able to get done in a day? Experiment with waking up earlier, going to bed earlier, making your lunch the night before…anything you can think of to streamline your life.
    3. Get some new clothes already. Fall fashion exists for a reason: the cooler temperatures are a good reason to take stock of what items you desperately need. Ditch the pajamas that are threadbare and the socks that have holes in them. A few new things you really, really need might help you get in the “new leaf” mode.
    4. Carve out some time each day for a spiritual endeavor. Exercising our mind and bodies are important – but so is exercising our souls. Now could be the perfect time to start a meditation practice or keeping a gratitude journal. If it’s a journal, make sure to get yourself a beautiful notebook – just for the heck of it.
    5. Commit to achieving one goal by the end of the year and let go of the results. Done is better than perfect, as the adage goes. If there’s something that’s been gnawing at you all year, then this is the one thing you probably ought to get taken care of before the holidays. We all had plenty of pop quizzes and tests that we didn’t study enough for and we did fine. Let yourself off the hook with the preparation. Just get it done.

For more ideas on how to harness the energy of back to school in your own life, or more help in setting intentions and goals, contact me for your complimentary 30-minute phone session here.

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