Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Dear Students,

I think we worry way too much about school things going on in our lives. How many times have you been unable to fall asleep at night or focus on your homework because of anxiety-filled thoughts preoccupying the very actions you need to be working on the most? (Like sleep or homework.) Only the next day do we realize that most of what we were worrying about was not nearly as big of a deal as it seemed the night before.

This past Labor Day I began my day worrying about how I've already fallen behind in my grading, how I'm struggling to write a quality essay for Graduate school, how I'm lost in organizing the finances and logistics of the Senior Class trip, and how there are a million other tasks I need to accomplish before my good friend's wedding next weekend in New York. And this was all my worrying before 9 AM! By noon I still felt unproductive and stressed-out. But then it hit me, the "ah-ha!" moment I've been waiting for: It's Labor Day and there is no school, therefore I'm going to the beach! The beach is my personal "no-worry zone." One thing I have learned about worrying is that the vast majority of it is pointless and a terrible waste of time. We need to recognize that to worry is not a productive or helpful response to anything. After all, those of us who waste so much time worrying usually have a pretty good head on our shoulders anyway.

I know far too many excellent students who worry like the world is going to end tomorrow. For example, Jonathan Adams (Class of 2013), a student formerly enrolled in my world history classes, worried for days beforehand about the possibility of mixing up two countries on a geography quiz. And then there is Julia Cournoyer (Class of 2014), who first entered my class two years ago in my 8th grade Civics class only to bomb on her very first quarterly project as a result of procrastination. Consequently, Julia, who is currently a 10th grader in my world history class, worries like a mad hatter every time a quarterly project due date looms.

Back in Costa Rica, my former 8th grade English student Karol Brenes (Class of 2013) constantly worried about the mechanical errors in her writing. Karol, ever the academic worrier, always attempted to improve her writing even though English is her second language. For my former U.S. Government student Drew Leaderman (Class of 2010), U.S. politics is her second language. Although Drew worried about understanding government to the point of bitter frustration, she worked extremely hard to acquire a foundation of the political spectrum. Finally, no student I currently teach worries as much as Jane Sallen (Class of 2012). The irony, for those of you know her, is that there is no student more equipped than Jane to handle the responsibilities of honors classes, college classes, SGA leadership, swimming, softball, and so much more.

The reality is that all of these students worry too much, yet all of these students are all-stars who know how to become aware of their authentic desires by making outstanding choices in the moment. Jonathan never mixes two countries, let alone fail to label them on a map. Since that first quarter in my class, Julia has produced some of the best quarterly projects ever by any student. While Karol continues to improve her writing, her multilingual skills will only enhance her scholarship opportunities as an extraordinary artist. Drew's understanding of politics in U.S. Government gave her perspective and a new voice at her family's dinner table. And Jane serves as a role model for all students and teachers as she perfectly balances a seemingly impossible schedule.

Grading, homework, projects, essays, and tests distract us from the fact that life is too short for worrying, especially when success and achievement are right around the corner. Let's agree to shrink our worries back down to size and concentrate on what's important in the moment. And in the likely event that this task proves too difficult, then pull a Labor Day Mr. Berey and just go to the beach.

Thank you to all my amazing students who remind me that the stuff that does deserve our attention probably isn't getting it--precisely because we are worrying so much about everything else. Don't worry, be happy.