Oh how I wish I would finally ace this lesson!
I love learning something new. But I hate having to relearn and relearn and relearn the lessons that have been coming around again and again since I was a kid. I should be able to learn it properly the first time and then move on. (Spoiler: it doesn’t work that way.)
It doesn’t work that way because these lessons aren’t knowledge to acquire, but practices to undertake. The “new” part is how to practice them in this time in my life, in this specific (and especially this unique) situation.
Lesson 1: When to work: in the a.m.
I have never thought of myself as a “morning person”; I don’t wake up all cheerful and energetic. But I do wake up—and these days, I wake up early—clear-eyed and ready to get on with the day. What I’m re-learning is that if I’m going to exercise, I need to do it in the morning. And if I’m going to write, I need to do it in the morning.
I don’t necessarily feel full of pep and creative energy in the morning (who am I kidding, I am rarely peppy or high energy). But I do feel focused and calm. As the day goes on I seem to get more distracted and more antsy about all the various to-dos of life. The noise (audible and mental) of the day clamors. Mornings are quieter, in every way.
Plus, as the day goes on, I lose steam. Several days this week it’s been mid-afternoon before I could sit down to write… but by then I’m pretty much done. Once the day’s supply of energy is gone, it’s gone.
Lesson 2: How to work: by habit.
Probably most people are this way; it’s why there’s practically an entire section of the self-help department dedicated to forming habits. It sounds so obvious that it’s stupid, but: when I’m in a habit, I stay in the habit. As soon as I break the habit—it’s all over.
I was keeping up well with my middle-grade writing project; I wrote 10 chapters in two weeks (five chapters per week for a month was the idea). And then came the SCBWI conference, which took a lot of screen time and energy for five days, and my habit was broken. It has stayed broken. Even though I broke it for a good reason, and I’m not sorry, that education/inspiration lapse melted into a moving-preparations lapse, and now getting back into that habit is going to require a full restart.
I believe in the idea that the whole point of habits is to be on “autopilot,” to do these things so naturally that there is almost no choice involved. Like brushing your teeth, or making coffee first thing in the morning. But some things are impacted by the life going on around them, and it’s not as simple as toothpaste and caffeine. My exercise habit is impacted by the weather (96% humidity is killing me). My writing habit is impacted by my workspace (having no door to close, and my family home all the time) and by the items on our to-do list.
It’s apples and oranges; workouts and writing are just not the same as teeth-brushing and coffee-making.
Lesson 3: Why do the work? (Good question.)
This is the hardest lesson, the AP exam of personal growth. The prerequisite is, of course, the What—What do I really want to be doing? What do I feel called to do? (I’m still trying to answer that question, too. But only for the past 20 years or so.)
But the advanced class is the Why. Without the Why, I may never translate the singular lesson into the lifelong practice of meaningful work.
It occurs to me now that the What doesn’t even matter so much. The What could be anything, and it could change and shift over time. But the Why behind it, that foundation, needs to be steady. The What and the How can’t help but be affected by circumstances; in our case, where we live and what opportunities are available there. But the Why—the motivation, the sense of call—should come with me everywhere. It should underpin everything, from workouts to work, period.
I don’t think I have a clear Why right now. Definitely not a Why that is steady enough for me to hinge my Whats and Hows on. Not a Why that is strong enough to keep pulling me back to work.
Virtual learning and real-life work.
Learning has been on my mind because I’ve spent the last week emailing back and forth with my kids’ new schools about their schedules for the coming year. They’ll be going to school “virtually” for the first semester (at least), which is a pretty bizarre way to move to a new town and start new schools.
While they are schooling at home, I’ll be doing the same. Starting a new schedule, and schooling myself. They’ll be learning algebra, chemistry, school band. I’ll be relearning—once again—When, How, What, and Why.
Until next time.