Guest Blogger: Letter to Millennials

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Rose’s Letter to Millennials fits well with that mission. I have been working with millennials my entire professional career; they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Rose is no exception: Her letter is insightful, powerful, and a must read.

millennials

Dear Millennials,

I would like to start by saying that I’m sorry for the bum rap our generation has, but it’s not entirely our fault we have been deemed lazy.

During this age of technology and smart phones, I will admit that we have become a sluggish bunch. The youth of today seem less involved in what is actually going on in the world, and more focused on what is happening in the cyber world. The constant yearning for likes and thumbs up have caused us to be a generation that craves approval and is therefore further let down by those around us when we don’t receive any. I must admit that social media is a huge contributor to the negative self-esteem experienced by today’s youth. Think back to when you were young and the world seemed full of backyards to explore and swings to jump from. Life was so much simpler when the only way to know what people really thought of you was to ask them on the playground. Those were the times of a No Harm No Foul policy, and if you didn’t like what that kid had to say about you, all you had to do was walk away from them. Today the struggle becomes not only what that person has to say to your face, but also what they say online after you have turned your back and walked away.

It has become harder to escape the constant scrutiny that follows every one of us around, so we can’t be blamed for feeling sad and wanting to avoid what is waiting for us outside the safe walls of our home. I will admit that human beings have become more hurtful with their words and actions, and empathy has all but disappeared. So I urge each of you to take the extra moment and think about how your words are affecting others, and together we can begin to end this cycle of nastiness. As stated in Psychology Today, “Millennials are reporting the highest levels of clinical stress, anxiety, and depression than any other generation at the same age” (Angone). Believe it or not, we are all in this thing called “life” together, so it is time to start acting like it. It is time to practice unity among our fellow people.

Our generation, the millennials, is the largest at over 85-90 million people in the US (Angone).  So it’s no wonder that everything we do is under scrutiny: If one of us makes a mistake, then the whole generation is blamed for it. You as an individual can’t control the quantity of our generation, but you do have the power to change the quality. If you expect to be shown respect by others, then take the steps to earn it. And I don’t mean just when you want something, or only to certain people, but with every single person you encounter.

I understand that growing up in this world hasn’t been easy, and it doesn’t feel fair for others to judge you because your parents took it easier on you than theirs did on them. But the world has become a lot more complex over the years, and the lines have been blurred between what is considered easy and hard. A huge complaint of many is that our generation is growing up entitled. One cause could be the participation trophies we have been given (by the previous generation that criticizes us, I might add) our entire lives. The common thought, and I have felt this way myself, is that “Millennials were given trophies for just existing” (Angone). Our elders created a double-edged sword—on one side, they had a desire to create equality among us, but on the other side they didn’t create a reason for us to deserve receiving something for nothing. As long as we showed up, we deserved to get a trophy, no matter how much or how little work we put in to earn it. The over sensitivity to equality appears to be both a blessing and a curse, but not in the way that people expected.

Participation medals, however, aren’t the only problem. Pair that with the dramatic change in what it means to win and be successful.

“When I look at the millennials, I don’t see a generation entitled to success, we are obsessed with it. And for good reasons. We don’t know how to fail. And when we do, we’re pretty sure we’ve actually won. We grew up in a competitive, bell-curve, wait-list society. Fighting for a spot on the team, in a school, at a job, for the win. We don’t want blue ribbons because we feel entitled to them; we want them because we’ve been in a cage match to win them our entire lives. Now, the stakes to win those blue ribbons are just slightly higher” (Angone).

Everything these days feels like a race to win, rather than racing towards a dream. We see this on the youth soccer fields and baseball diamonds when parents scream at coaches, officials, and players over bad calls and plays. It doesn’t matter what we are fighting for anymore because everybody just wants to come in first. That’s the way we grew up. It has been hardwired into our brains through example and experiences that the only ones who actually win are the ones who come in first. And in terms of morality, it doesn’t seem to matter how we won, as long as we did.

I would ask each of you to think about why, even though you have so much provided for you already, you still crave more. I think that there is a dual battle going on inside each of us. On the one hand, we know what it is like to already have the basic necessities provided for us, and on the other hand, we feel as if we still need the luxurious items that we realistically could live without. It is not enough to simply have a phone or a car, but now we feel as though we have to have the newest version of phones or the coolest looking cars. Why? Because to us, that is winning. Practicality is no longer important to us when we could have something better.

I know there are many people from older generations who are so quick to refer to our generation as lazy and spoiled. But a funny thing happens when you grow up: You have a biased view on what you were like growing up. It is so easy for older generations to call us the lazy ones, but they don’t remember that they used to be just the same when they were our age: “So it’s not that Millennials are lazy or narcissistic; it’s that young people are lazy and narcissistic, and as they grow older and more responsible those things tend to right themselves” (Burkus). The older generations don’t remember as clearly as we do all the pressures we have right now to find a good paying job, and how daunting it is to have your whole life ahead of you with seemingly no time at all to figure out what you want to do with it.

Not surprisingly, this generation is the most educated (Angone), but somehow that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Getting a college degree isn’t enough to get us in the door for a job, and to some it feels like the equivalent of a high school diploma. It seems that the college education we indebted ourselves to is just another way to try to win, to come out on top—not something we go into because we have a dream job waiting for us on the other side of it. It was always a goal of mine to go to school and graduate from college, though I didn’t know what for—only that I had to do it. I know that there are others who feel the same. But this is what we think it takes to make the proper transition from childhood into adulthood. But what if that transition has nothing to do with school and more to do with who we are?

The problem that previous generations have with ours is that it is taking us longer to get through this transition step, which makes us look lazy, but the world is a different place now than it was back then, and there are many other options besides school. A diploma no longer gives you a big one-up from other job candidates. I would agree that this generation may not be as motivated as the ones before, but there is so much provided for us that we don’t feel the need to go and get it ourselves. When parents, teachers, and bosses over provided for us, there isn’t as much drive to run towards the next step. When we don’t know where that next step will lead us, where we are is good enough. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls it “emerging adulthood.” He says, “as young adults today, [we] aren’t stepping full-force into adulthood, we’re backing into it….It’s just taking a lot longer than we ever could’ve planned” (Angone).

So how do we battle the unknown world ahead of us having grown up the way we did? I don’t have the perfect answer for any of you because to each of us, where we hope to end up will look different. I do know that it is hard to have the courage to do what we really want when we constantly worry what others will think of us if we do go for it. Here is the truth that we are too inexperienced to realize and the previous generation seems to have forgotten: This phase you are in right now is not your final phase. If you know you have long term goals, don’t push them aside for the short-term factors. As hard as it is for us to let go of what’s happening right now, it is truly the only thing we can do in order to move forward and reach those long-term goals.

My friends, accepting change and looking inside of ourselves to find out why we must do so are the only things we really can do to provide ourselves with a fulfilling life. Once you take those first steps, the rest will fall into place. The profitable thing you do that makes you happy (commonly known as a job), the kindness you show to others (such as letting others have a turn to win), and pursuing your true dreams (A.K.A. putting in the work) are the most important factors to having a successful life. If we as a generation all took these steps together, we would reflect a better light, and instead of looking down upon us, the ones who criticize would rejoice in the fact that we have become a generation to be proud of.

In closing, I would suggest to not let what our elders have to say about us dictate the legacy we will leave behind. We should not be giving in to the pressure of their hasty assumptions; rather, we should be making a new name for ourselves that we would be proud to embrace. It starts today with each of you. Don’t do what they expect of you, but do what you would expect of yourself. Do not settle into the title of “lazy millennials,” but go out and show them that you are better than that. Yes, presently we do not have the greatest reputation, but with a little change from each and every one of us, someday we will.

Sincerely,

Rose Doucette

The Problem with Choice

I know too many people who are not educators (and some who are) that are in favor of the choice movement in education. The biggest reason people want choice is to improve the education for their own children and then create competition so that other schools will be forced to improve or shut down. Unfortunately, both reasons are based in misconceptions about education.

I will concede that “choice” is not a bad thing when you are talking about businesses, service industries, and commodities. We definitely want businesses to compete for our money. Competition makes businesses strive for excellence. That’s why people, outside of education mostly, thought that “choice” would make all schools better, but it hasn’t.

Why? First, because education is not a business; it is a human right (Article 26) that is protected as part of our inalienable fundamental rights to which people are entitled simply because they are human beings, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour (sic), sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

In other words, if a business fails, the owners can start over, maybe poorer and a little wiser, but no real harm done. If a school fails, it has negatively affected the human rights of every child that went to that failing school.

So how does the “choice” movement hurt human rights? Bear with me as I try to explain this point.

If you are for “choice” in education, you want better “service” for your child. We all want what is best for our children–I’m not arguing that. But if your child is going to a failing school, and you have the money to pay for private schools, which is part of that choice movement, then you will no longer care about that failing school because you can give your child something better (unless your child makes a mistake which will result in an expulsion with no chance of return to that private school). That is great for you and your family, but what about all the other children who can’t afford to pay for private schools?

The next question is usually, isn’t that why people came up with charter schools, so that people who can’t afford private schools can still get a quality education? Yes. Charter schools, in general, are another great idea–on paper. You don’t have to pay for charter schools out of your own pocket—technically—but your tax dollars go to those schools. Our government gives charter schools a certain amount of money for every child enrolled in that charter school; so just like public schools, our government pays for your child’s education—that is if you are lucky enough to get selected, and your child behaves well enough to stay at that school. Most charter schools operate on a lottery system, so not all students will get in, and most schools will kick students out who make mistakes or make the school look bad in any way.

Once again, for those parents who want choice, this sounds great because those children who are selected have a great atmosphere for learning.

However, what people forget is that there are many students who will have to continue going to that failing school. If you can’t worry about someone else’s children, then just consider this: Pulling your child out of the failing school does not pull them out of the society in which they live. One way or another, the negative effects of that failing school will still affect you and your children.

Just to summarize the first point, education is not a business; it is a human right. Therefore, educational choice is about people only caring about their children—no one else’s. Those who can afford it will choose to pay for their children to go to private schools. Out of those that remain, some parents will apply to charter schools and a few lucky students will get selected. That leaves the rest in public schools because public schools will take every rejected and expelled student and do the best they can to educate those students within the confines of the system. Public schools also have incredible students who are successful despite the “choice” movement.

Is it any wonder our public schools look like they are failing if the wealthy and well behaved students are all going somewhere else? Along these lines, by eliminating the heterogeneous classroom in all three options, it makes it harder for those struggling students to see what work ethic, study skills, and perseverance looks like. On the other hand, a classroom that has students with different genders, talents, abilities, interests, backgrounds, and cultures will help all students work toward a higher standard. The students in heterogeneous schools can relate to the world better because they experience diversity on a daily basis. The homogeneous classrooms found in private and charter schools miss out on this necessary part of children’s education. Also, when you remove the top tier of motivated students, the learning culture deteriorates on multiple levels. Students with average ability, motivation, or interest lose that interest, and kids who struggle for whatever reason just give up. Remember, we want our children to be civic-minded and global citizens. How can they understand the global world or empathize with the struggles in our society if they grow up only relating to people just like them?

http://standardizedtests.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=4346 Denver Post cartoon satirizing the effect of standardized tests on public education.
http://standardizedtests.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=4346
Denver Post cartoon satirizing the effect of standardized tests on public education.

Second, it is important to note that private and charter schools don’t operate under the government’s watchful eye, which allows them to reject the highly controversial Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and refuse to participate in the corresponding state tests. Since these schools operate independently, they don’t have to participate in the very reasons that people are complaining about public schools. As a matter of fact, many private and charter schools saw the CCSS as a flawed document right from the start and opted out of it.

Remember, CCSS and the state tests are mandated for public schools by the government, while at the same time, the government is pushing for more charter schools that do not have to follow the mandates of the government. Does that make sense? So how can this “choice” movement improve the quality of all schools, when public schools don’t have the autonomy to fix their schools?

Third, to make matters worse, the government is giving money to private and charter schools because of that “choice” movement in the form of vouchers—money that could be given to public schools to improve those failing schools. Of course private and charter schools are going to appear as the right “choice” when they have money to purchase the newest technology, have the freedom to be innovative, and can reject the foolish educational reforms that are more about money than about our children.

privitization
http://www.hmleague.org/educational-political-cartoons/cartoon-privatization-tap/

Those outside of education do not understand that public schools cannot choose to change their operating methods, so it is impossible for public schools to compete in this so called “business market.” Besides the fact that education is a human right and not a business, the business competition model cannot change public schools because public schools are at the mercy of the government that continues to cut the budget of public schools to pay for tests and to give vouchers to private and charter schools.

Fourth, people and the government are not paying attention to the problems with some charter schools. John Oliver did this great piece on charter schools that exposed the problems with the government funding these unregulated entities.

 Many “nonprofit” charter schools are finding deceptive was to make a profit. Once again, if “choice” education is supposed to create competition and a striving for excellence among all schools, Oliver’s research shows how that business model is failing even in the charter school industry.

On the other side of this issue, though, I will admit, there are some amazing charter schools out there. This is my biggest frustration: If there are innovative schools that are working, why can’t we adopt those innovations in public schools?

If parents truly want choice, this is where we as parents and educators need to concentrate our efforts. In Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the statement that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” should be taken literally and used to fix public education for all, not to give choice only to the wealthy and the fortunate.

If we want true education reformation, we need to make sure the public tax dollars are being used correctly to create an actual choice movement within the public school system itself: Increase money being spent on public education to improve ALL schools, regardless of location; increase teachers’ salaries to create a true competition for quality teachers; increase public school autonomy so that principals and teachers can use their knowledge and experience to innovate and create the right learning environment for their students.

If people are really concerned about choice, they should make sure their local public school is doing what their children need in order to thrive. Imagine a public school that has the elite academic prep curriculum of Phillips Exeter Academy for those students who are college bound; the innovation of The Ron Clark Academy for those who are creative or learn differently; the care and nurturing of the Learning Skills Academy for those with learning disabilities; and The Independent Project (https://youtu.be/RElUmGI5gLc) for those who want independence and a nontraditional education. Using these innovative schools as models to transform public schools would meet the needs of every student regardless of race, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status—not just the wealthy and lucky few.

Joshua Katz’s TEDx Talk: Toxic Culture of Education

Joshua Katz describes perfectly the plight of American education, the damage it does to our lower achieving students, and the super villains behind it all.

“We need to pay attention to our students and who they are. . . . How can we help them be better students? . . . How can we help them with these non cognitive factors, like work ethic and character? . . . It’s the public narrative that must be shifted. We must talk about what is happening in the lives of our students–even our honors’ students–because we are simply creating a massive population of future citizens who are afraid to attempt anything challenging, unable to read or think critically, or unable to find a way to earn a meaningful income.”

I can’t say it any better than he did, so take the time to watch this video all the way until the end and pay attention to his solutions.

We can have an educational system that meets the needs of every child. We can change the narrative. We just need more people willing to stand up for our children, stand against the super villains, and demand an educational system that encourages success, not failure.

Friday Writing Challenge: 10 Interesting Facts About Myself

This week’s prompt: Ten interesting facts about yourself.

  1. _MAC8790I’m a first generation American, born from Macedonian immigrants. This fact, however, is not what makes it interesting. What is interesting is what I gleaned from my family and what I have tried to pass on to my children. My parents and grandparents experienced America in a completely different way than people who were born here. They came to America with nothing but hope and ambition; they were courageous and relentless. Because of that attitude, they achieved their American Dream. With pride, each of my family members became American citizens while maintaining their ethnicity; my mother still cries when she recalls the moment she became an American citizen. They respected the abundance we have in our country because they lived without for so long. Entitlement was not a word in their vocabulary. My family contributed positively to our society, modeling and teaching all of those characteristics to my brothers and me. For better or worse, this is also where I get my views on marriage…
  2. One and done–When I said my vows, I knew it was the only time I would ever say them. I had hoped to grow old with my ex-husband, but that’s not how things turned out. Regardless, I don’t plan on getting married again. I have no idea if this feeling will change somewhere down the line, but for right now, I am content with being single. I wanted so badly to hold onto my marriage that I didn’t fight for the other things I wanted in my life—honesty, fidelity, love, partnership, security. I lost my independence and became completely dependent on someone who didn’t value the same things I did. What’s worse is that I saw how different we were but did nothing because I wanted to stay married. I never want to betray myself again. Even though it’s been hard to start over with nothing, I am just starting to spread my wings. I want to find out what I can do, what I can accomplish on my own. I’ve never lived on my own before. I went from my mother’s house, to college, to my mother’s house, to living with my husband. This is the first time I’m responsible for myself. I also don’t want any man coming into my life and thinking he can decide how I raise my son. I did that before and wish I hadn’t…
  3. My only regrets in life come from the things I didn’t do. I wish I had stood up to people who were wrong and defended the people who didn’t have a voice–more than I did. I wish I would have understood, created, and defended my boundaries throughout my entire life, not just within the last few years. I did learn important lessons during those years that I didn’t stand up for myself, but those missed opportunities still haunt me. However, I don’t look at those regrets as a bad thing. They just fuel my fire to stay strong and help others to use their voices. Now that I know better, I do better…
  4. I’ve become a minimalist, out of necessity at first, but now I am choosing that lifestyle. I’m not making a lot of money and haven’t for the last few years. It can be stressful, but I like my life a lot better now than when we had more money than we needed. We wasted so much money on useless stuff—stuff that we gave away when we left Colorado. The money wasted on things that ended up in a garbage dump makes me cringe. Now, I know exactly what is in my refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. I don’t buy anything until we’ve eaten or used up every bit of what we bought. We don’t have cable, just the internet, which makes being a minimalist a lot easier–there are no commercials to remind us what everyone else is buying. Part of embracing this lifestyle is knowing the true value of things. Buying something that will last or give us better nutrition has improved our lives in so many ways…
  5. Ian and I are healthier now than ever before. Health and nutrition are simple—the more natural state the food is in, the better it is for our bodies. Some of the food might be more expensive, but our health is invaluable. These choices have made me realize that weight loss is not a mystery either: healthy food (not diet food), daily exercise, a solid night’s sleep, drinking water, listening to my body, and learning to enjoy every breathing moment have contributed to our well being. This healthy mindset has spilled over into my relationships…
  6. I can’t think of one person I hate. There are a few people I choose not to have in my life anymore, but I don’t hate them. I used to take things so personally that I could rattle off a list of people I hated. That hatred was only a reflection of my inner turmoil. I don’t have that anymore. Even people who have harmed me, I wish them well. I have learned that those people have their own issues, and their treatment of me is a result of their inner turmoil. I sympathize with those people, but I don’t own their behavior anymore. I have reduced my reactions to negative people to two choices: For those who want help, I try to help and support them. For those who aren’t ready for help and continue to negatively affect my inner peace, I distance myself from them. I have realized that I can only fix myself, which will help me be the best role model I can be for my children and anyone else watching, listening, or reading. I have removed negative emotions and people from my life…
  7. The art of letting go is a daily practice–I promise not to sing. (No one wants to hear that song in my off-key voice.) Knowing that I will never be a singer and being okay with that is part of letting go. I love Amy Poehler’s Yes Please for so many reasons, but most importantly for her “letting go” lessons: “Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.” I had to let go of pain, unrealistic dreams, and negative people, but I’ve also had to let go of things that I love for reasons that go beyond my personal comfort…
  8. I miss teaching high school English. My heart aches whenever I think about my students and the community I loved. I love keeping in touch with my former students on Facebook–more than half of my “friends” used to sit in my classroom, but I resigned from my position for many reasons–a few of those reasons make it impossible to teach in a public high school…
  9. I still get almost 100 hits a day on https://paulinehawkins.com/2014/04/07/my-resignation-letter/ –almost two years after I wrote it and posted it to my blog. I’ve noticed that around this time of year, the traffic to my letter increases exponentially. I struck a nerve with teachers, students, and parents. I think people (most of them at least) understand how much I love the profession, my students, and my colleagues. For that reason, people are drawn to my letter; for that reason, I continue to speak for those who do not have a voice…
  10. I have a voice, and I’m not afraid to use it. Writing is my voice. I write in order to encourage others to use their voices. I write because it is my exhale. I write so that others have healthy air to inhale.

 

Friday Writing Challenge: A Favorite Movie

Inside OutInside Out

I know. This is a Wednesday, but when I started writing about Inside Out last Friday, I realized this movie was a post I needed to write about, not for writing practice, but to explore why it impacted me so profoundly.

When I taught American Literature, I told my students that we study history to know the facts of a time period, and we study literature to know how people felt about those facts. That’s one of the reasons I love this movie. Inside Out goes beyond entertainment; it is film as literature. It’s a film that illustrates how we feel about the increase in childhood depression and parental over-involvement, and how we feel about creativity and imagination being replaced with rigid curriculum.

On the surface, Inside Out is a brilliant illustration of the way our emotions work to protect and guide us on our journey.

The story revolves around Riley, a young girl, and the emotions that work the control panel in her head. The first emotion we encounter is Joy with Riley’s first coo, which is immediately followed by Sadness with Riley’s first newborn cry. Next, we meet Fear; he keeps Riley safe. Disgust keeps Riley from being “poisoned, physically and socially.” Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair.” The personification of emotions lends itself to comedic situations.

The deeper level, however, illuminates two very real problems in our society today: depression and helicopter parenting.

Right from the beginning of the movie, we see that the battle between Joy and Sadness will determine what kind of life Riley has. What we discover by the end is that the key to a healthy, well-balanced life is to accept the importance of all emotions in our lives, and that Joy and Sadness complement each other, rather than cancel each other out. The other commentary is on helicopter parenting: Joy, as wonderful as she is, starts off bragging about Riley’s “mostly happy memories.” She wrongfully takes credit for Riley being happy, which gives her the false notion that she has to control everything in Riley’s life.

The movie takes us on Riley’s physical journey as she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents, as well as Riley’s emotional journey because of that move. With each disappointment Riley faces at her new home, we see that Joy pushes the other emotions out of Riley’s life. At first, it looks like Joy is right–always looking on the bright side of things is the best way to get through these problems.

It isn’t until Riley’s dad is angry on the phone and has to leave that we see Joy’s need to control Riley’s mood might become an issue. Riley is fearful and sad, but Joy won’t let Sadness take over. She insists on Riley being happy.

When Riley is remembering a funny moment from their travels, Sadness touches a gold memory orb, and it turns blue. Joy can’t turn it back, and she doesn’t understand why. Sadness needs to touch the happy memories, but because of Joy’s pride over her role in Riley’s life, Joy begins to make a series of bad choices that affect all of Riley’s emotions.

While talking to Sadness, Joy says, “Well…you know what? You can’t focus on what’s going wrong. There’s always a way to turn things around, to find the fun!” At first, it sounds like solid advice, but this might not be the healthiest way to deal with difficult and painful situations. Avoiding sadness implies that there is something wrong with that emotion.

Joy then wants the emotions to make a list of everything Riley should be happy about. At one point, Anger says, “No, Joy. There’s absolutely no reason for Riley to be happy right now. Let us handle this.” If Riley would’ve expressed her anger, fear, disgust, and sadness, she could have gotten the help she needed from her parents. But when Riley pretends that she is okay, it leads to more suppression of emotions.

Riley’s mom says something to Riley that seems innocent and appropriate: “Your dad’s under a lot of pressure. But if you and I can keep smiling, it would be a big help.” Asking Riley to be their “happy girl” and to be responsible for her dad’s feelings are requests we should never make of our children.

After this interaction, Riley falls asleep and Joy controls Riley’s dreams– Joy doesn’t think the dream is appropriate for Riley. This is such a powerful statement on helicopter parenting. I’ve seen too many parents do this to their children–from sports to careers–parents are choosing what they think is appropriate, regardless of what the child wants, loves, or excels at.

Here is what I have learned as a mom, teacher, and child advocate: Parents need to love their child as he or she is, not as the parents want him or her to be. I get it. Parents have dreams as well–dreams about their children living a happy, fulfilling life. Who better to help their child navigate through that life than the parents who know their child’s strengths and weaknesses? However, once they start this process, parents rationalize the control over every decision and direction.

But the reality is everyone is on his or her own path–our children included. We really don’t know what another person needs in order to learn and grow. I know that the control comes from a loving place: Parents are trying to spare a child from feelings of heartbreak and disappointment. But when parents jump in and try to manage their child’s path, feelings, or experiences, they rob the child of a lesson he or she needed in order to learn and grow. If parents don’t let a child have the experiences of heartbreak, disappointment, and failure, the child will never develop the ability to figure out how to do it differently next time.

A great illustration of this is when Joy plays the accordion loud and fast the day after the first major crisis. Joy says, “I don’t think of it as playing so much as hugging.” Joy is trying to distract Riley and the other emotions from dealing with the real issues. If everyone does what Joy deems as the correct path, everyone will forget how horrible life is in that moment.

Throughout, Joy also tries to control Sadness. Joy’s goal is to help Riley have a “good day… good week…good year, which turns into a good life!” But whose definition of “good” is Joy using? She is using her own, and she thinks she knows Riley better than anyone. Instead of being one emotion in Riley’s life, Joy is trying to become the only emotion in Riley’s life.

When Riley starts crying on her first day of school, she starts a negative spiral, not because crying/sadness was bad, but because Riley feared the judgment. Then, because Joy couldn’t accept that Riley was sad, Joy tries to control the core memories, which leads to something in Riley breaking. If Joy would have allowed Riley to feel the sadness and fear, it might have led down a healthy path. Instead, Joy’s controlling behavior led to Joy and Sadness being sucked out of the control room. Riley is then left with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust to control her emotions–definitely a recipe for disaster.

Riley now has to navigate her life without Joy and Sadness. Disgust helps Riley give an attitude to her parents in the form of sarcasm. Anger leads Riley to tell her parents to “Just shut up!” emotionally pushing them away while simultaneously invoking Dad’s Anger.

Dad adds to the problems by not having an honest conversation with Riley. He says, “Things just got out of hand,” and “Where’s my happy girl?” These are distractions and avoidance rather than helpful when Riley can’t communicate her pain. After this interaction is when “Goofball Island” crumbles. Then Anger destroys Friendship Island. Riley’s three remaining emotions fight with each other and can’t access the necessary emotions to open up and release the pain. The beauty of this interaction, as difficult as it may be to watch, is that it shows how Anger, Disgust, and Fear push people away. Sadness, however, draws people in. We just have to be willing and vulnerable enough to let people see our sadness.

The crumbling Islands of Personality is an incredible visual for what happens inside of a person experiencing depression. I can only speak from my own experiences with depression, but it does feel like something is breaking inside. It’s hard to access the good memories. Anger and fear control my thoughts and actions, which then pushes away the people who love me the most. If I can’t have a good cry about it and share my pain with someone who lets me feel my pain without judgment or trying to fix me, the depression will last longer.

Halfway through the movie, Bing Bong, Riley’s silly, long-forgotten imaginary friend, shows up. He helps and hinders the progress, but in the end, it is this imaginary figure that becomes the catalyst to Riley’s healing. He also adds humorous scenes. I love Imaginationland, where Bing Bong is “practically the mayor,” for all the beauty and creativity Riley, at one time, accessed daily. It is Imaginationland that saves her in the end. Again, Inside Out subtly points to the importance of creativity and imagination. We should be nurturing that in our children, not taking it out of schools and forcing children to grow up too quickly.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust try to help Riley with her hockey tryouts, but, seriously, how can anything go well when Anger, Fear, and Disgust have the reigns? As Riley is struggling even to skate well, Disgust says a funny but poignant line: “It’s like we don’t learn anything.” Learning cannot take place if the main operating strategies of a child are embroiled in anger, fear, and disgust.

This interaction results in Hockey Island crumbling. As Riley’s Islands of Personality crumble, her dream worlds in Imaginationland are also being crushed. It is here that we see what Riley’s dad should have done when Riley was angry earlier.

Bing Bong is upset that his rocket was tossed into the dump. Joy tries to make silly faces, just like Dad tried to do with Riley, but that’s not the appropriate response to anger, fear, or pain. What is the right response? Giving the person permission to be sad, sitting next to the person and listening, holding his or her hand, and understanding the pain. Sadness sits next to Bing Bong and says: “I’m sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. It’s gone forever (Joy hates this and thinks Sadness is making the situation worse). . . . I bet you and Riley had great adventures. . . . Yeah. It’s sad.” Bing Bong puts his head on Sadness’ shoulder and cries. Sadness puts an arm around Bing Bong until he’s done crying. After Bing Bong feels heard, understood, and has cried, he can move forward.

Even though Joy has seen how Sadness helps in many situations, she pushes Sadness away when they try to get back to Riley through the memory recall tube. This interaction delays their return to the control room. As Family Island falls apart, it cracks the recall tube and sends Joy and Bing Bong to the abyss of lost memories.

This leads to the most important, poignant, and heartbreaking scene in the movie. Joy tries to get out of the abyss, but it’s useless. Bing Bong states: “Don’t you get it, Joy? We’re stuck down here. We’re forgotten.” Joy falls to her knees when she sees the blue core memory of Riley crying in class. As Joy watches other sweet memories fade into ash, she cries, “I just wanted Riley to be happy. And now…” Joy finally cries a long, painful cry–Joy finally feels sadness. She wipes a tear away from a gold memory, which rewinds the memory orb to show that the joy Riley felt with her teammates actually started with sadness. It was Sadness that brought Joy–that brought her parents to her side, that brought her teammates to encourage Riley. Joy finally understands the necessity of Sadness. She also understands that Riley’s path is not Joy’s to control. With renewed determination, she has a plan to get back to Riley: Bing Bong’s Rocket. Bing Bong helps Joy get out of the abyss, but he sacrifices himself out of love for Riley. Another beautiful illustration of love.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust have realized their mistake and try to change Riley’s plan, but it’s too late. The console has turned almost black, and Fear states: “Guys. We can’t make Riley feel anything.” My heart aches here, not just for Riley, but for every student I have worked with who had that empty stare. For those beautiful lives that had stopped feeling well before they got to me. I was able to help some, but too many of them were too far into their depression to hear my pleas, to see me sitting next to them offering my shoulder.

Through a series of incredible steps and feats, Joy and Sadness get to the control room, but it’s Sadness that has the power to remove the Idea Bulb and change Riley’s path. Sadness touches all the core memories, turning them blue so that Riley can finally speak her pain to her parents. It’s important to note that Riley’s parents speak their own sadness–they are honest with Riley; they don’t try to cover it up or sugar coat it. It is at this point that the three of them are in an embrace, crying and comforting each other so that Riley can finally smile again. Sadness brought Joy.

The rest of the movie is filled with much needed comic relief moments. We laugh through our own tears and, hopefully, accept the necessity of sadness in our lives.

The Alchemist: #7-11 The Obstacle of Realizing the Dream

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The Alchemist

 “Having disinterred our dream, having used the power to nurture it and spent many years living with the scars, we suddenly notice that what we always wanted is there, waiting for us, perhaps the next day. Then comes the fourth obstacle: the fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.” (Alchemist viii)

It sounds like an oxymoron. How can we fear the very thing we’ve hoped for, fought for, dreamed about our entire lives? Continue reading “The Alchemist: #7-11 The Obstacle of Realizing the Dream”

The Alchemist: #4-6 The Obstacle of Fear

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Paulo Coelho’s words about the third obstacle we encounter when pursuing our dreams helped me stay strong during my own struggles.

The Alchemist“Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old excuse: ‘Oh, well, I didn’t really want it anyway.’ We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.” (vi-vii)

It’s not just fear, but the fear of defeat that prevents us from moving forward. I know this fear too well. What if what I write doesn’t matter to anyone? What if no one reads my blog? I’m just fooling myself; no one cares what I have to say. I am a nobody who will only experience a painful rejection if I put myself out there.

If those fears aren’t enough to stop us from moving towards our dreams, it seems obstacles are thrown in our path constantly, seemingly to stop us from moving forward, but in reality to build the stamina we will need to persevere, and, in some ways, to test our passions for the dream.

I have encountered many obstacles attempting to block my writing goals over the past seven months.

First, we canceled our baseball trip. I’ve written about this vaguely, which will have to do for now, but my travel blog’s URL, 32in32.com, became meaningless. The money I spent on the domain name, the name that represented our great baseball journey across the country became null and void. I almost quit before even starting my dream to become a writer over this fact alone. But I remember sitting with my dear friends, Jamie, Sandy, and Brittni, and they encouraged me to persevere, to not let this stop me. They helped me refocus my blog for a new purpose, appropriately christened 32in32: Keeping the Dream Alive. They helped me see that it didn’t matter what the URL said; what mattered was that I wasn’t giving up on my dream.

While my vision of our future was shattering back in December, my laptop was stolen by strangers who crashed a party my daughter had while we were out of town. As foolish as it sounds, my life was on that computer. It had pictures from Ian’s baby years on up that are now lost forever. All of my notes, thoughts, and drafts of future posts that I never printed out were on that laptop. I was devastated. In the midst of that pain, I was able to let go of it, thanking God that my daughter was safe. I started using our home computer, refusing to give up.

On the day I was going to publish my first post, a beloved student committed suicide. My world was turned upside down. I didn’t want to pursue my dreams anymore. I felt like a failure; obviously, I couldn’t impact my physical world with optimism, how could I dare to think I could influence the blogosphere? Instead of publishing on January 17, Ian’s birthday, a day that marked the celebration of Ian’s life, I published my first post the next day. With Jenny’s death an invisible current through that post, I published, not giving into my fears, but pushing forward, hoping to spread optimism through my sphere of influence. It worked with me first. I could not change the past; I could not prevent Jenny’s death. But I could work to prevent sadness and depression in others; counting my blessings pulled me out of the depths of despair. I hoped my posts would inspire others to count their blessings and feel the release of pain through choosing thankfulness over pain and regret.

Unbelievably, in the midst of an outpouring of ideas and writing bursts, I lost my home computer a few weeks later. At this point, I couldn’t believe that the universe was conspiring in my favor. How could it be? Everything that I needed to be a writer was being attacked or taken away. I was tempted to throw my hands up in defeat and walk away. But then, I was reminded of this Alchemist quote, and my resolve returned. All of the obstacles that I overcame up to this point made me stronger than I had ever been. I borrowed a laptop and continued to write. I was learning “to have patience in difficult times.”

Over Spring Break, I did a seemingly innocent activity that lead to months of unbearable pain: I went roller skating and fell hard, resulting in compressed and turned vertebrae in my neck. Essentially I had whiplash, leaving me unable to hold my head up for any length of time. I was in excruciating pain by the end of my teaching day, which left me unable to write or do anything when I got home. I went into physical therapy for two months. After a few adjustments, I was able to sit at my computer with a neck brace for short bursts of time. What did I choose to do, even while in pain, with these borrowed moments? Write. It was a clear indication that writing was my passion.

“Well, necessary or not, [defeats] happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” (vii).

No matter the circumstance, I pursued my dream. The obstacles, the fear, the defeats all lead to a greater conviction to pursue my dream. I fell five times, but I’ve gotten up six times. I won’t quit because I know I’m making a difference; even if it’s in my life only and no one else cares what I have to say, I have changed a life.

“Because, once we have overcome the defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence. In the silence of our hearts, we know that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight. We start to live with enthusiasm and pleasure.” (vii)

I know I am “worthy of the miracle of life.” I’ve never had more confidence than I do now. I’ve found my voice, and I like how it sounds. I’m excited about every day and look forward to the joy it will bring. I continue to stumble and struggle, but I am not afraid of what my future holds. I will overcome any obstacle that comes my way.

“Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.” (vii)

I have seen and lived with people who are entrapped by that bitterness. I will never become one of them because I have freed myself from the “bearable” suffering of pushing my dreams aside. Langston Hughes asks “What happens to a dream deferred?”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I am happy to say that I am no longer deferring my dream. I am free from the “what ifs” that once burdened me.

How about you? Look around you. Do you see the bitterness? Do you feel the pain of a generation who has deferred its dreams? When you look in a mirror, do you see it in your eyes? When you sit in the silence, do you feel it in your heart? It’s not too late; but be ready to conquer your fears of defeat. It is truly worth it!

Are you ready to follow your dream?
Photo by Carol Linn Hawkins

The Alchemist: #3 The Obstacle of Love

The Alchemist

“If we have the courage to disinter dream, we are then faced by the second obstacle: love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.” (vi)

I have to admit, the obstacle of love has been an excuse of mine for a long time. Love has justified why I couldn’t follow my dreams, why I couldn’t pursue my personal calling beyond the classroom, why I couldn’t take the gift God has given me and share it with the world. However, it was not real love that justified this inactivity; it was dysfunctional love.

I have lived in a dysfunctional world of my own making for far too long. I have said no to my own needs and purpose, so I can say yes to someone else’s. I put my dreams on hold for my husband, my children, and my students, not because they asked me to, but because I thought that’s what a loving wife and mother and a dedicated teacher does. I didn’t realize that my self-denial was hurting everyone involved.

Please let me make this clear: I’m not talking about hedonistic pursuits; I’m talking about pursuing a person’s purpose in life. There is a difference, and our world is suffering because it is blind to that difference.

If I never pursued my purpose in life, I would be an unhappy, shell of a person. Now that I am living my purpose and being who I am supposed to be—who God created me to be—I am showing real love to my family. My joy is sensed by those around me. I become a role model for joy. I promote the pursuit of joy.

Living with true purpose has another beautiful benefit: It promotes the healing of the world’s dysfunction. We have too many messages that tell us to do what makes us happy but then stops there. It can’t just be about me and my happiness. If I am not creating a loving home for my family, then I cannot be happy and neither can my family. If I am not encouraging the pursuit of dreams in my classroom, then I cannot be a teacher of value. I find my true happiness by sharing my purpose with others. I waited too long to discover this important truth, yet I have arrived at just the right moment.

This truth has helped me find my voice and has improved my understanding of love. Through writing I am living out my dreams and extending my purpose in this world. Through writing I have discovered who I am and what’s important to me. I have more love to give to myself and others because I know I have value now; I know that I can bring love and joy to the world because I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Through writing I have discovered how to forgive and love my father; I have solidified my stance on the importance of imagination and belief in self; I am healing my relationship with my daughter; I have been able to shower those I love with appreciation; I have shared my pain over a suicide and brought healing to those in need; and I have inspired others to be strong through difficult situations.

I have been so afraid to put time into writing because I thought my family would suffer; I thought they would feel neglected. Writing takes time. How could my family cope while I’m tucked away somewhere with my computer?

The truth is real love will understand. If my husband doesn’t support my need to write, my need to pursue my dreams, then he doesn’t truly love me. I am thankful that he does support my writing; he is proud of me, which motivates him to seek his own purpose. I was afraid that Ian would feel neglected. There are times when he has to learn patience (which isn’t a bad thing) while I’m writing; but he knows that when I’m done, I am focused on him. We have quality time that we both enjoy. I’m also a better parent and teacher because I know what’s important now. I won’t teach Ian or my students my brand of dysfunction any longer.

The result of this new me who has disinterred my dreams and chosen to pursue them: I have more love to give. I am a better role-model for my family and students. I follow my dreams and share them with my sphere of influence. I am content because I know where I need to be and what I need to do. Love is my impetus, and I can measure true love by those who accompany me on that journey. I will never again use love as an excuse for inactivity but rather use it as a springboard for fulfilling my purpose and encouraging others to do the same.

The Alchemist Posts

Understanding real love has created a fearlessness within me that seems to transfer easily to my son.

The Alchemist: #2 The Obstacle of Impossibility

The Alchemist
“There are four obstacles. First: we are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear, and guilt. There comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s still there.” (vi)

It’s impossible. I heard Ian say that today about his loose tooth: “I can’t wiggle it enough to make it come out, Mom. It’s impossible.”

Honestly, it hurt my heart to hear him say that. It reminded me instantly of this Alchemist quote. Has the negativity of the world already entered his young life? In a way it has, not just because of his loose tooth, but because people, children and adults, have been telling him his dreams are lies; his imagination is ridiculous; his desires for some day are impossible.

Every day he comes home with a new fear-filled question:

“Mom, did you give me the half-dollar for my tooth? Kids at school say there’s no such thing as the tooth fairy.”

“Mom, why doesn’t anyone believe that I’ll be a wizard when I turn eleven?”

“Mom, do you believe in magic?”

“Mom, do you still believe that I will be Spider-Man someday?”

I’ve been so torn. Part of me wants to fall to my knees and beg Ian’s forgiveness for allowing him to believe these things; the other part of me wants to reprimand the adults that have squashed his dreams.

Bottom line, I don’t want him to stop believing in the impossible. He’ll have plenty of time for that when he gets older. He’s only seven. Can’t he believe these things a little bit longer? We allow our children to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Leprechauns. Teachers and adults nurture these beliefs in elementary schools. Has it ever done any harm? If anything, we hurt our children more by exposing the truth before their minds are ready to accept the truth.

I remember Carol Linn being devastated one Sunday before Christmas when she was five. She came up from Sunday School early and sat in my lap, burying her head in my chest. She told me the teacher said there was no such thing as Santa Claus. She was crushed. Her dreams were shattered with a careless comment from someone who thought it was anti-Christian to nurture the Santa lie. I was livid. I have been able to blend the Santa tradition with Christian faith easily. But Carol Linn had the beloved tradition ripped from her; I fear that in some ways, it has affected her faith today.

I know that people will accuse me of feeding my child lies, that I’ll just end up hurting Ian eventually. But I don’t look at it that way. I’m feeding his imagination. I’m allowing him to be a child who will one day be so moved by his imagination and dreams that he will do great things because of them.

I refuse to tell him that something he thinks about or wants to happen is impossible. Three years ago I embraced the miracle of healing for him. Look at Ian now: Healed!

Throughout history we have inventors who have created the unimaginable for their time, not because they were geniuses, but because they used their imaginations and created the pictures in their dreams. We have telephones, computers, cars, and planes because people used their imaginations. These people were allowed to believe the impossible. Why can’t we let our children do the same?

Could this be why we have so little creativity in the world today? We have remakes of movies instead of original screenplays. Children imitate others instead of creating a unique self.  Have we been trained in reality so succinctly that we killed imagination? I have students who are so afraid of looking foolish, they won’t give an opinion about literature because it might be different from other students’ opinions. They are afraid of finding solutions to problems because they don’t want to be wrong; they want me to tell them the answers instead of thinking for themselves.

As an adult, I fell in love with the crazy movie The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl because of the message. Here are two of my favorite quotes: “Everything that is or was began with a dream.” ~ Lavagirl; and “So dream a better dream; then work to make it real.” ~ Max. Where would we be without our dreams?

Ian and I played Trouble today with Lovey, his purple stuffed gorilla. Ian talked to Lovey during the game, switching the sound of his voice when he spoke for Lovey. He helped Lovey press the pop-o-matic, and they discussed what move would be best for Lovey’s game pieces. I played along and gave Lovey a high-five for winning the game. Not only did imagination play a huge part in this game, but Ian said wonderful, unselfish things like, “I don’t care about winning, Mama. I want Lovey to win, since she’s never won before. I’m just having a good time with her and you.”

Do you judge me for letting Ian use his imagination in this situation? Of course not. To me it’s the same thing as letting him believe that someday he will have the ability to use magic.

As a forty-seven year old woman, I still remember an event that happened forty years earlier. I was in the front yard running in zigzag with my arms out to the side like a bird. I jumped in the air and flapped my arms just as a gust of wind hit my back. I flew for a few moments through the air, and I landed five or so feet away from where I had started. I flew. I still remember the sensation of floating through the air.

I ran in to tell my mother. She laughed and told me I didn’t fly. It was impossible. I remember being perplexed. I flew. I knew I did, but my mother’s insistance and others whom I told agreed with her; they convinced me that I didn’t fly. Did that moment start a trend of self-doubt? Can I base the last forty years of my life, a life filled with second-guessing myself, of doubting what I knew to be true, on this one impossible childhood memory?

You be the judge, but before you do, know this: Today, I allow myself to believe that my seven-year-old self flew like a bird on the wind. I am now confident in what I know to be true. I believe in myself and what I see with my eyes and what I feel with my heart. The fact that I have a blog testifies to this. Through this blog I have found my voice again. I am making the impossible dream of telling stories that change people’s lives come true one post at a time, because now I believe in the impossible.

So when Ian asks about the tooth fairy, wizards, and Spider-Man, I support his dreams. How can I deny him his imagination when I know the danger of not doing so? Who am I to say that Ian won’t someday invent a web-shooter, when he can already climb walls? Would I deny him the beauty of faith in an other-worldly being when I want him to trust in God? Should I stop the belief in magic when I know that true magic lies within our hearts? If we believe in ourselves, if we believe we have the power to achieve the impossible, then we will.

Ian asked me the other day, “Are you sure you believe in magic, Mommy? Nobody else does.”

“Do you believe in magic, Ian?”

“Yes.”

“Then that’s all that matters, Buddy.”

Ian threw himself into my arms and hugged me tight. I gave him permission to believe in himself, and that’s all that matters.

The Alchemist Posts

 

January 2010, after 5 months of chemo