“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” ~Henry David Thoreau
Recently, someone asked me about my favorite part of the semester. I smiled and said, “The end of it!” Of course, I was joking, but I hadn’t exactly thought of it before. As this new semester gets under way, I can honestly say my favorite part is the beginning. The semester opens with a positive view of all we can learn and accomplish, and we look forward to becoming better people and moving closer to our goals.
Like spring, the beginning of a new semester is full of possibilities. My students are excited to be in class, and they are looking forward to accomplishing their goals and dreams. They believe that all things are possible: it will be a good semester, they can beat their bad habits, they can do well in a subject they historically “hate,” and more.
These are some of the tweets that show up in the first two weeks of classes:
“My mother called me today and asked if I was enjoying my classes. I actually am!”
“These journals are going to be fun!”
“So true we’re gonna be new people by the end of this class.”
And the most common comment: “I’m very excited for this semester.”
This is one of the reasons I teach: every semester opens differently and with a new sense of excitement. I try new techniques, introduce new material, and get to know new students.
Learning new things can be exciting, but it can also be scary and frustrating. We’re placed outside of our comfort zone, and we find ourselves somewhere we’ve never been. No matter how many years I’ve been teaching, anxiety accompanies the beginning of the semester: the fear of the unknown; questions of what will come; fear of failure.
These worries inhabit my brain as well as my students’. But the excitement and joy of dreams and possibilities carry us through this initial fear and anxiety, and we move forward despite our trepidations.
Later in the semester, these anxieties can resurface and derail the excitement that carried us forward in the beginning. The bubble bursts and we suddenly realize, “Wow! This is a lot of work.” For some, the fear is too great, and they give in and go back to what was comfortable: bad habits, dropping a class, or even dropping out of school completely. For others, it’s a matter of just surviving–finding the minimum and doing it just to get through.
This is when it’s important to stay focused on our goals and realize that the hard work is worth it. It is also important at this point to accept our limitations and not be too hard on ourselves when we’re not perfect. For me, I have added new teaching techniques, a new role in the Writing Center, a new exercise routine, a new graduate-level class, a new weight-loss plan, and I’ve taken up guitar.
All of this is very exciting, but it is also very stressful because everywhere I turn, I am out of my comfort zone. I realized that I have taken on too much change too soon. I need to focus on my goals, but I also need to stay in my comfort zone at times: no matter how small that may be. The old comfort zone helps maintain my confidence and reminds me of past successes and rejuvenates me to work towards my goals.
Change is necessary for growth, but it is also important to recognize that it doesn’t come all at once and that we don’t need to be perfect. Even in small doses, change can lead to success and a fulfilling life. The old cliché holds true: we need to take it one step at a time, keep our goals in sight, and forgive ourselves when we stumble.