Fresh starts, external validation and progress

Joan Concilio |

I’ve always loved the beginning of the school year.

I think it ties into my need to see tangible progress and receive external validation, both things that I struggle with about myself.

The start of the school year is like some third-person omniscient narrator saying, “LOOK! You are a different person! You can now study pre-algebra! You have a new locker! And look at all those blank notebooks!” So concrete, so measurable, so full of potential.

And yet that hope only lasts a couple of days for most kids before the new year starts to feel like the same old thing, or maybe worse.

When we began homeschooling (really, unschooling) our son, we moved away from that mindset. We said things like he’s in eighth grade – “ish.” We “started” and “stopped” not based on dates but on interests. We read and learned tons of stuff, but not in linear progression.

It’s much more like real life, and when you step back, the progress is so obvious it’s almost overwhelming. It really worked for us.

But when I watch the parade of first-day-of-school pictures on Facebook, I sometimes get pretty depressed. Not for my kid and his more informal educational experiences, but for myself.

  • I love fresh starts.
  • I love making New Year’s resolutions.
  • I love new notebooks and their digital equivalents, new websites.
  • I love new ideas.
  • I love the idea of “leveling up” to some discrete new place.
  • And I especially love getting gold stars from people who notice me making progress.

Some of those things are healthy; others less so.

My biggest dream is to kindle my passion for all things new – and the hope that comes with it – without being so dependent on external motivators, whether people or times of the year.