Back to school. It’s a phrase which tends to send shivers down spines and cause hearts to sink. And that’s just the kids of the world. But what if we just change our minds about it? And see it as a massive personal growth opportunity.
Because this isn’t about the kids. That’s right, it’s about you and me. The “grown-ups”, as we are also referred to. Because for us (and them actually) – I want to make a bold statement. It’s actually pretty cool to go back to school.
And I don’t mean cool in that “yes let’s laugh at all the kids traipsing off to the world of academia” kind of sense. I know, whether you’re a parent or not, this can be amusing (and sometimes hilarious). It’s cool for those two magic words: personal growth. Anyway, just hear me out.
Goodbye grindstone, hello personal growth
With the dust just about settling on the first week of the return – and very first days for the younger ones – to education for students here in Greece, it got me thinking. Why does hearing the words back to school instill a feeling of dread?
I mean I understand the anxiety and worries of children. But let’s not beat about the bush, the term is also used as a heavy metaphor for us adults. It’s the time when we have to forget about the carefree days of summer. To get our heads down. To get [back] to work.
In Greece there’s a popular saying “Ta kefalia mesa”, which roughly translates as “get your head down”, or “back to work”, or – worse still – “back to the grindstone”. Whichever way you look at it, there’s no doubting its negative connotation. People even say it with the enthusiasm of a sloth, with sad eyes and a heavy heart.
I challenge you to think again. What if it can instead serve as an empowering call to action. To refocus. And, to give yourself an autumnal epiphany. See it as a chance to welcome the new, as well as old, personal and professional challenges ahead with fire in your belly.
Less ‘wake me up when September ends’ mentality, and more ‘times like these’ if you like. I’ll be honest. I’m cheating a bit because this is something that comes easy for me. Why? Because I love this time of year. And no, it’s not because of the bloody pumpkin spice lattes.
September carries more significance for me than New Year’s day in terms of being the catalyst for a new start. Maybe it’s because it always reminds me of returning to school or university for a new semester. And I loved school. Everything about it. In no way was I an A-student. But the learning, the environment, and the social and sports aspect had me hooked.
Of course, there was uncertainty, anxiety and nervousness. But the stronger emotions were always happiness, optimism, excitement. Mostly I felt like a young Bilbao Baggins in “The Hobbit”, preparing to go on one of his adventures. New opportunities to learn, new goals to achieve, friendships to solidify, and new interesting people to meet.
And that’s why I say no, get your head up. After all, we’re not a bunch of ostriches with our heads meant to be in the sand. Wake up and smell the coffee – or covfefe as Donald Trump might say. Better still, rise and inhale the aroma. Not just the coffee, but life itself. And last but not least, look up.
Easier said than done for some of us I know. Especially if you have miserable memories of your days in academia. All I’m asking is to give it a try. Let September – and autumn in general – be your alternative New Year’s Day. Trust me, it’s much better to make life plans when sober.
Redefine your meaning of back to school
Back to school means many things to many people. The trick is to redefine what it means to you. This is where you start. Don’t see it as saying goodbye to relaxed summer vibes. Seize it as a chance to enrich your life professionally and personally. A personal growth pick-me-up.
I only have to look to friends and work colleagues for inspiration. Some are trying new musical pursuits, others are taking drone-flying courses or learning a new language. So yes, again, look up. Inspiration is all around you.
The great thing is that you don’t need a detailed blueprint. There are a boatload of things to suggest but since I like lists, I’ll narrow it down to five. Yes, I love Top 5 lists, especially this Top 5 Dream Jobs list from the novel High Fidelity. Must be the affect of reading too much Nick Hornby.
So here we go. Attack autumn with one or more of these:
- Start that course you’ve been meaning to. It could be to enhance your knowledge of digital marketing, learn a language, or master a musical instrument. Whatever it is, get on Udemy, Udacity or the Open University (or wherever you can find a suitable course), sign up and start.
- Scale up that side hustle or side project. You’re earning some pocket money and a lot more enjoyment from a side hustle, or hobbyworking© (yes that’s mine you can’t have it) as I call it, you’ve got going. Or you are about to start one. Make this autumn the time you focus more on it and/or do something about it.
- Read more. Whether its on the subway, the bus, the office break room, or at home just before bed-time, read. And not just books on businesses or personal development. Any book. Maybe you want to catch up on a load of classic literature titles or history books. Beg, steal and borrow (or buy if you want) and get started. It’s a wonderful habit which helps you relax as well as stimulate your brain.
- Go outside. Get fresh air as often as possible. Making a few minutes available every day for a quick stroll outside is not only good exercise, it also makes you feel good. Fact. So, whether its in the morning, on a lunch break or in the afternoon or evening, keep walking. Take this into the weekend and get yourself to a forest. Or a mountain. Anywhere you can connect with nature. It revitalizes you without you really knowing how much.
- Make time for that hobby. Whether its going to the gym, running, playing the drums or tap dancing, make time for it. Or start it.
* Secret tip: actually make use of that summer nostalgia for positive reasons. How? With a bit of photo therapy and planning. Meaning? Organise all those great pics you have, or better still, print some out and get them up on your walls. And, plan you next holiday! This means you’ll have something else to look forward to.
If all of the above seems too much amid the humdrum of everyday life (family obligations, bill paying, etc), then just try for this one, realistic goal. Use time to your advantage, not as an excuse. Because like Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say in Rework, there’s always enough time if you spend it right.
“The perfect time never arrives. You’re always too young or old or busy or broke or something else…it’s entirely your responsibility to make your dreams come true.”
5 reasons to do it (yes, another top 5 list):
- You’ll learn something new (and useful)
- You can boost your motivation
- You’ll feel better, happier
- You will get a sense of achievement
- It could actually help you career-wise and in your personal life (hello personal growth)
Live like Ferris
On a final note I’ll say this. I like (love, more like) having a day off as much as Ferris Bueller. I mean don’t we all? The trick is to try and make your everyday life a bit like that of Matthew Broderick’s lovable rogue. Because in the end, Ferris is right about one very important thing. Life moves pretty fast. And if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. So don’t.