Well, at least DE can admit it. Touché, Kali. Touché.
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In today’s Vlog
I got a letter from my past self. What lessons have I learned in finding a middle ground between perfection and failure?
Dear Future Self,
It is my intention that I open this in a few years time, although, knowing me, I probably forgot all about this letter. Perhaps I, or you, rather, are stumbling on it decades from this date with a cry of “Oh yeah!” or “What’s this?” A mysterious artifact from a by-gone day.
The idea was prompted by an activity in Mr. R’s classroom at Bromwell Elementary. This is my second year there, although (if all goes according to plan) it will be the last as a paraprofessional. The fourth graders with whom I now work are writing letters to their future selves. Some of them are quite moving and beautiful. I read them, and often find my eyes pricked with tears, imagining what a gift that would be, were I to read a letter like that now. A little girl named Carly, for example, wrote about having a broken heart from a wrecked friendship. “Never let this happen again!” she declares, at which a part of me smiles inside with a wry sense of knowledge that every person endures a myriad of hardships that cannot be avoided. Carly doesn’t leave her instructions to her future self there, but continues, “YOU ARE SO STRONG!!!” That’s the piece that moves me. And she is. And they are. And it’s so easy to lose that knowledge. I felt I lost it when I was young and am still finding it.
Carly, if you don’t recall, is a round-faced girl with a preference for big boots that fidgets as a near constant state of being. Her hair is a deep brown, with a lovely natural wave. She seems to like pale green and pink, and has an abundance of creativity and amazing initiative in starting and completing projects. Over the Christmas holiday, she and several friends made a CD of carols, which they sold for $1 a piece, the enterprising souls. The songs were, much to my surprise, actually not that bad. They even had some harmonies or stylistic lilts added in for extra flair. (The kids at Bromwell tend to have a lot of extra flair.)
I am including these details, because we’ve been trying to encourage the kids to be specific in their descriptions. It seemed only fair to hold myself to the same standard.
I have only been in Mr. R’s classroom for a few months, after a desperate transfer out of Mrs. Matt’s class in November. It has been a much more rewarding experience and I’ve learned a lot about teaching in such a brief period of time. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve seen how even he, with all his experience, does many iterations on a lesson plan. It doesn’t go perfectly every time, and often he’ll revise a lesson from one group to the next. Little tweaks, to bridge gaps where assumptions of a group’s understanding proved inaccurate to the reality of their knowledge. I try to keep this in mind with my own struggles creating Enrichment courses. As usual, perfectionism makes it difficult for me to accept that not every lesson plan will be a winner right out of the gate.
I am currently on a break from LeyLines, which is something I have never done before, but I am so glad for it. It has been a difficult time lately, with too many things to juggle, and too many things shifting in my mind.
My enrichment courses are currently at Stanley British Primary School and Bromwell (although the latter was a last-minute affair). Five kids in one group, four (I think?? Some parents have yet to confirm) in another. The plan is to stop being a para this year (come September) and start enrichment classes instead. I calculated that if I could get four kids in four schools each session, I’d be making the same amount as I do as a para. However, that is proving more difficult to achieve than I initially anticipated. I am starting to get very scared.
Okay, “starting to” is wholly inaccurate. I continue to be in a state of constant terror that I have ruined Cory and I financially, and that we will never recover from my irresponsible risk-taking.
That fear is just more SPECIFIC at the moment, in regards to the classes.
Hopefully you are looking over these fears and sighing or smiling at the panic of your younger self. Maybe it all worked out brilliantly. I bet you were far more excellent that I could hope for, or you will likely acknowledge. If it was anything other than the complete disaster that you fear, I hope that you will take a moment to give yourself a high five. If it seems nigh-on impossible right now, and by some miracle you made it work, then logically it stands to reason that you have magically done the impossible. And that is a fairly wondrous thing, no?
We did taxes yesterday, with a new accountant. He seemed better than the old one, but very fast. I had a hard time keeping up, which made me feel as though I was a failure. That I wasn’t good enough. I had a very abrupt depression dive. I’ve had a lot of those lately, but at least this time I didn’t hurt my hand, like I did earlier in the week. I am in this strange place, between myself. I know that the old way of thinking doesn’t work, but don’t know what else to try. I see the two extremes and acknowledge the middle zone as existing despite my false dichotomy, but am unable to define that nebulous gray area for myself.
I realized, in this dive, that somewhere along the line perfectionism had acquired “Good Enough” as a mask. A way to make itself seem attainable. So I knew that was one end of the spectrum, and on the other end was a pathetic, worthless state of failure. What lies in between?? I couldn’t think of anything. It had to be one or the other.
“Cory,” I mumbled dejectedly from the bathroom, “What’s in between ‘pathetic’ and ‘good enough’?”
“Uh…I don’t know,” he said at first, “Mediocre?”
Great, I thought to myself, Somehow I will have to resign myself to mediocre.
“How about aspiring?” He continued. “Learning? Trying?”
I liked those much better than mediocre.
So that’s where I am, right now. Aspiring. To become something. Something that I haven’t found the shape for, still. Maybe I will never find that shape. Not entirely. Although I suspect that you are closer to it than I.
I feel there are good things moving, but in spaces I cannot yet fully perceive. I get glimpses of them. A young woman, Jenna, told me at a convention that, “you write the way I think,” and her mother has made a point to email me, to thank me for being a good role model for her daughter. When I went on this break, rather than the recriminations I’d expected, I had readers express pride and joy and excitement that I was taking time for myself. The thought of it still boggles my mind. That someone would care, and care to tell me so. It seems unreal. I am starting to work with more people on editing and coaching, and I feel hesitantly excited about the prospect. I would like to think that I can help them grow. Give them the assistance and encouragement I so would have wanted in my past.
So I suppose it would only be fitting to end this with encouragement and assistance to my future.
To quote Carly, YOU ARE SO STRONG!!!!! Of all the things Cory sometimes reminds me of, this is by far the one that moves me the most. That is something that will endure. And it is true, though even in this moment, I struggle to state it unequivocally. To accept it. You are strong. I am strong.
You want to help. You want to grow, and help others grow.
You won’t always make the right choices. You won’t always write or say the right things. Express yourself in the right way. You are challenging a lot of yourself right now. Trying to find the blind spots. Sometimes, this creates a sense of shame, but do it anyway. And keep doing it. Keep trying to evolve your mind and your spirit, until your dying day. Be as open to change as you can, although part of you will want to fight it every step of the way. That part of you is afraid. That’s okay. It just wants to be safe and secure, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to want. It just doesn’t have the context to see the trap of that. So be gentle with that fragile heart, but push past it, for it is also a strong heart.
Endeavor to choose who you are. There will be a million and one patterns that will want to chose for you, but try to hear them in their proper places. Know where they belong, so that you can solve the actual problems. Address the actual fears.
And please. Please keep going. I know that sometimes, now, you feel so hopeless. You feel as though failure is an inevitable outcome, and often the idea of not having to live through it feels appealing. But you, or rather, I, in this moment, want to believe in a future of hope for you. Even if I can’t believe in it for myself, I want to believe in it for you. I want to believe that you are happier, more confident, more sure of yourself in my future. That you have gone through the unknown, or perhaps even the failure you fear, and have still found a way to be satisfied and content with what you have made.
I love you. I want the best for your future. And I’m proud of you, for all that you feel joy for, as you read this letter.
To quote the kids, “write me back!” and send a new letter to your future self. Let’s pass this tradition on. Let’s build a legacy forward.
Best regards, all my love, and hugs,
Write your own!
The service I used is called FutureMe.org and it’s very simple. Go on and write your Future Self a surprise note. We think all the time of the things we would tell our past selves, but it may be that our future selves can gain just as much benefit from the wisdom and encouragement of the past.