August 19, 2013

Lessons From Back-to-School: What Everyone Can Learn About Life.

I can always tell when the students at the University of Virginia are back by looking at the empty or almost-empty shelves at the local Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

I’ve lived here for over a decade and like a lot of “townies,” I cheerfully grumble about how I can never find “any damn parking” when the kids are back and how a grocery store run that took 10 minutes in the summer now takes 30 minutes on a good day.

Despite this minor inconvenience, I look forward to back-to-school time.

Even when I was a kid, I looked forward to it even though I was never a popular kid or heavily engrossed in school activities.

It isn’t that I thought I was magically going to become the most popular kid in school or become class president, but it was nice to think that there was at least the potential for positive change and/or growth.

Therefore, whether you are in school, a senior citizen, a parent, or happily child-free, there are certain lessons we can all take away from the start of a new school year even if you were one of those people who absolutely hated school the entire time you in it.

These are in no particular order:

1. The promise of a new beginning.

I have always liked the fact that the 1st semester occurs in the fall towards the end of the year as opposed to the beginning. The reason being is that it proves that one can start anew at any time.

Think of all the people who put off doing things until the start of the new year. How many times have you heard or even said yourself, “I’ll start exercising regularly in January” or “I’m going to start looking for a new job in earnest next year.”

How many times does January 1st roll around and you either still haven’t done it or have abandon it by the Spring only to say, “Well, maybe next year?”

The truth is, the actual date is arbitrary. Anytime is a good or right time to accomplish something as long as you are committed.

I used to make New Year’s resolutions only to never actually accomplish them. It took me awhile to realize that rather than help me, this was actually a way to avoid making difficult changes in my life.

I doubt I am alone in that.

The start of the school year always reminds me that there is the real possibility that things can be better. How many of us ever had a class, teacher, or professor that we loathed but once we were finished for the year or the semester, we knew we never had to see them again? It’s a great feeling, and one I think we often forget as adults which brings me to #2 on the list.

2. That things are temporary.

Going back to that example of a loathed class, teacher, and/or professor, there is a comfort in knowing that things are temporary. The amount of time we spend in school is finite. Even those who don’t finish in the traditional four years eventually know that compared to other things in life, the amount of time we spend in school is relatively short.

Looking back, I am amazed at how fast my entire elementary, middle school, high school years, and college went by. While not all of it was wonderful or easy, it was overall a positive experience. Even the bad things helped me to grow and taught me valuable life lessons.

3. That there are no real endings, only new beginnings.

By the time I was ready to graduate from graduate school, I had heard the statement, “This isn’t the end, but the beginning of your life!” so many times that I am amazed my eyes didn’t fall out of my head from rolling them so much.

However, it was true.

The school adventures were ending, but new ones were coming to take their place.

All to often, I have heard people ask, “Is that all there is to life?” Many consider having a nine to five job, a family, and a mortgage to be the end of any new life adventures.

It isn’t true, though.

Even if that does seem that is all there is to life, things can and do change. The company you work for may go out of business. You may switch careers. At some point, your children will grow up and probably move away.

This isn’t meant to scare anyone. Rather, it just shows that life’s adventures never really end until the day you die.

In closing, the start of the new school year can be a great time to reflect on all the possibilities that life has to offer. In reality, we never stop being students in the sense that life is the ultimate learning experience.

When I see the new and returning students, I often marvel at how young most of them appear and the sense of optimism and hope many of them have.

Sometimes, I wish I was that age again and had all those options, but then I remember it’s never too late to at least have the former, no matter what age.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise


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