I know what you’re thinking. “Has she looked at the calendar?’ But January 1st will never feel like the new year. Spending 19 years in school as a student takes its toll; Labour Day is New Year’s Day for me. Having experienced now 26 “New Years Days” as a teacher hasn’t changed that feeling, either. It has cemented it permanently in my psyche.
Let me provide some relevant context as well. I don’t handle transitions all that effectively, although ironically I enjoy change. Moving is hard, “final” things are tough, “endings” are painful and moving forward can be fraught with feelings of paralysis and inertia. My son is no different, and we have learned to articulate our struggle together although learning how best to support each other during critical transitions comes more slowly. We both endeavour to maintain our mental health.
Last year, I struggled with the yearly barrage of sharing through conversation and social media the amazing next steps people’s children were taking on their journey. Academic pursuits featured largely and prominently in the picture. And don’t mistake my intention; these events ARE worthy of celebration. I’m a teacher, for pete’s sake! Why wouldn’t I support new journeys in education?
But that year, I had a child who wasn’t sure of the next step in his journey. I have another child who sets the bar high when it comes to initiative and academic advancement. I’m a teacher and I spend a good deal of time with other people for whom success in an academic setting equals success in life. My son judges his choices based on a pretty rigid culture and I had to acknowledge that I was doing the same. I was trying to figure out how I had failed him, what I could have done differently or how he could have helped himself. His feelings were mirroring what he had always heard in our home and being exacerbated by the implied comparison to his sibling. I had to take a breath and reevaluate my thinking in order to help him reconfigure his own.
Success can be progress; moving forward. And the journey looks different for everyone depending upon their personal circumstances and readiness. For every student with whom I speak about pursuing the next step in their educational journey, I have to acknowledge that sometimes life gets in the way. Both the process and the plan sometimes have to change. But diverging from the expected path doesn’t mean failure and we need to re-culture ourselves to think of it differently. Paying attention to the journey can yield some revelations about where and whom we are meant to be. I acknowledge that that can be difficult in a world where post secondary education is viewed so highly and I don’t mean to imply that it isn’t valuable. It’s valuable if there is readiness and it’s the right pathway for the right person, at the right time. But journeys are about moving forward and making progress and we need to celebrate that with those for whom the path may have been more difficult because life got in their way.
I have learned to breathe and be patient; some things come in their own time. I have learned that it is important to celebrate non-traditional achievements because they are often personally monumental. Recognizing forward movement and personal growth in a cognitive way will go a long way to re-culturing what we view as success. Deep down, I just want to help my son. And I know his progress is important to him and what he will do to make him a happy and productive adult.
And so to all of the people who are brave enough to be moving forward; making progress; taking the next step, I wish you “Happy New Year”. Now go celebrate, dammit. And share it.