First day of school pictures. The bright shiny faces. The anticipation. The excuse to buy new notebooks. I have been so jealous.
I have spent more than 30 years of my life as a student, teacher, professor or coach—which means that for most of my life, the real New Year began in September and I can feel the pull each year as the summer draws to a close.
When you aren’t on an academic schedule, there is no restart. There is no infusion of the ‘new.’ No way to come at the problem with a new view, a new team, or as an ‘older, wiser, version of yourself.’ In the academic world you get to start your year in September after a summer of gaining back some energy and connections with friends, family and nature—you actually have the resources to tackle the old thing in a new way. In the non-academic world they give you a New Year in the dead of winter following a long string of holidays. You aren’t so much interested in a fresh start as you are in a really long nap.
I was especially envious of the ‘first day of school’ pictures because this week I was feeling stuck about a project that has been long underway. I was wrestling with the problems that come midway through a big project and I wanted some of that ‘start up energy’ that kids get every single year. A new school year acknowledges change and growth and a shift in understanding. You get the reassurance that something has shifted. You get to start again.
And in big projects, or big struggles, in grown-up lives, there aren’t always opportunities for a new start—and in fact, that’s not really what would be best. We need to, as one rowing coach shouted at us once, finish the race you started. But we all need fresh energy sometimes. And we all need to see how much change has happened. And we all need a way to bring a new view to places that feel stuck.
So I decided to listen to my desire for new school year energy. No I couldn’t start a new year. But I could do the next best thing: buy a new, bright notebook. My colleague and I decided to head into the store next to the hotel, buy a brand new notebook and take the project we have been working on for a long time, and start with a new blank page. We each took a series of questions that we usually ask the people we work with, and we became beginners again. We let the blank page allow us a fresh start—not from the beginning, but a fresh start from where we were. An afternoon with a new notebook and the ability to have a new conversation were enough. A simple low-tech, high yield intervention.
A new notebook is magic. For less than a dollar, you can still start again. You can ask new questions, or old questions. You can write or draw or scribble your way back to your center—and your excitement. Notebooks allow for messiness and scribbles and cross-outs. They allow you to play again with ideas. They require that you use your hands in old fashioned handwriting—they connect your body to your brain.
So let September bring a new start to whatever you are facing. Let it bring its energy for beginning and growth. Grab a bright, shiny, new notebook—and be a student of your own work and passions again.
© 2015 Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD