Before I begin this article, I must share the following: It is not lost on me that we are in a crisis. That there are children at home, suffering with shaky environments and an even shakier future. This article is by no means a piece to turn a blind eye in ignorance from all of the hurt. I send peace, wellness, love and support.
I did sit down, however, to address this: In the wake of a virus, one of the most connected, fast paced and achieving groups of students are paused at home. It is in this moment that many may find a silver lining in the chaos. A break in the constant cycle to earn good grades, achieve more, reach higher and not just get into college, but a good college. The pressure to succeed, to push further, to move faster is now on pause. And many of our students, for the first time in a long time, can finally breathe.
It is in this pause that the student who hasn’t slept in years, can get a full night’s sleep. It is in this pause that high achieving high schools across America have and are considering ditching grades for a pass/fail system, giving breath to what often was suffocation.
It is in this pause that families are sitting together at the dinner table more, cooking together more, cleaning together and walking together more as a unit.
We are in a global crisis. And that changes a lot. For some students, it is a saving grace of solitude, challenging them to find peace beyond academic measures. Beyond achievement and within themselves.
As we began our time at home questions started flying about home learning. How to keep up academically. How will colleges see and evaluate our students? How do parents and guardians, beyond parenting, now become the chef, the teacher, the coach and the counselor? And what is to become of our students? The pressure to keep up amidst a global pandemic.
You can research anything. Become an expert in whatever you desire with a simple dedicated amount of time and energy. You can earn degrees, obtain a knowledge that begins with the ABCs and ends with philosophy. You can climb a ladder and follow a path to a heavier bank account, gain an accolade as you walk across the graduation stage and carry your degree in hand stepping towards the rest of your life.
But you cannot research yourself out of depression, anxiety, or a hidden passion you ignored, because going to college or becoming a lawyer somehow became your only measure of success. You cannot become an expert when you haven’t taken the time to be an expert in your own self.
Your feelings, your foundation, healthy boundaries in relationships, tools that help you when times are difficult, strategies to push forward when you get stuck, pitching in when the work needs to be done, even if you don’t want to.
These are the makings of a successful human being. An individual that has the ability to be an expert in yourself. And you cannot do that with achievement alone.
For the first time in recent history we have a group of students so used to measuring success by grades, the number of AP classes, the amount of volunteer hours and accomplishments that are all. now. on. pause.
As a college counselor, it is my role to support students in their growth and connect them to post-secondary options to obtain a college degree. While college is a space for growth, development and a path towards adulthood, I also see the detriment when students go for the wrong reasons, attend an institution that doesn’t fit their needs, but fits a perception. I see the detriment in the students who have worked so hard by the time they make it to college that their mental health dives and they have little to no coping skills or belief in oneself to succeed.
Children need, early on, to have the space to reflect, to feel their challenges and see that they can succeed. Not be saved by others, but believe in and save themselves.
This is what time allows. And now, we all have time. You have time.
The thing with time is, when you have enough of it, and you allow yourself to get quiet, to stop the race of achievement and expectations, you might catch a sliver of who you really are and who you really want to be.
Our students have been led down a path that may feel all too calculated. When you stop to reflect where you have been and where you are going, you allow growth to occur.
Use this time. Be creative. Do chores together. Try different coping tools when things get difficult and note the ones that work. Go on safe walks together. Respect each other’s space. Get to know your children. Most importantly, students, get to know yourselves.
At some point, we will return to our lives and the pandemic will be over. The classes and APs will pick back up, after-school activities will all be filled with students, and college admissions will be in full swing.
So, my challenge to you will remain: don’t forget to pause.