One year ago this week I made my first independent decision in five years and left “school”. I would like to mark that anniversary in this post and check in with one my intentions in writing this blog: to sort through and make meaning out of this experience and understand why I chose it and stayed in it for five years. Here are my conclusions:
Why I chose “school”:
As a woman who had been feeling lost since adolescence, I bumbled into adulthood, clinging to artistic dreams, but without the tools or confidence to realize them. I ached for guidance and sought direction and purpose at every turn, but a longing for something unexplainable (and seemingly unattainable) clamored relentlessly. Ah, but along came “school” – with “aim”, ideas and teachings that touched on everything from the universal, to the personal, to the cosmological, to the historical, to the spiritual and to the psychological. And it came with “help”. “Thank God,” I remember thinking after attending my first classes at the Belmont Lion’s Club. “I have finally found ‘help’.”
“School” may preach that confidence is a fallacy; that it doesn’t exist. I would argue that confidence, or lack thereof, determined my vulnerability to cult marketing; had I the confidence to trust my inner counsel, I may have tried the “five-week experiment”, but I would not have been sucked in for five years.
Why I stayed in “school”:
Given that I lacked confidence and sought guidance, I was “school’s” almost perfect target demographic (if I had money, I would have been perfect). Hope fused me to my newly discovered adventure; I longed to believe it was something real. My new “education” addressed body, mind, heart and spirit comprehensively as nothing else had. Over the first two years, I matured in many ways and my life began to reflect that – I went from temp-worker to decently paid copywriter, single to engaged and from seeing myself as intellectually limited to realizing a passion for history, literature and even the previously dreaded sciences. The teaching was helping; the help was working — until it didn’t.
By that time — had I some level of confidence — I would have thought, it is time to move on. Instead, I fell into a common syndrome – the “I’m not trying hard enough” stage show. Many ‘students’ entertain this stage show and the longer one attends “school”, the more “school” exploits the insecurities that orchestrate, cast and choreograph it. “Teachers” reminded us consistently “If you weren’t in school, you wouldn’t have [FILL IN THE BLANK — the marriage, the new job, the lovely home, etc.]”
Fear replaced hope; not trusting my perceptions, I turned to their tutelage, even as my life was deteriorating into the life I never wanted. The more my life deteriorated, the more I questioned my ability to make choices, instead of their guidance – I turned to “teachers” more and more, in fact. I didn’t ask the obvious question: Why am I afraid to say no to instructions given by “teachers” when they feel wrong to me? When I was laid off in 2010, and in a financial quandary, my prevailing thought was,“ Thank God, I have ‘help’!” instead of the more sensible “I can no longer afford to pay the $350 a month ‘tuition’.”
“How did my life get so off track?” I bemoaned myself, “Is my internal compass so out of whack that I can never trust it? Will I have to ask for ‘help’ forever?”
This type of skewed and fearful thinking makes possible the paralyzing dependence fostered by “school”. The leadership reminded us consistently, “Everyone needs help. The student who asks for the most ‘help’ is the student who evolves the fastest.” Thus each day of my tenure, I abdicated more responsibility and inevitably a constant uncertainty replaced my initial optimism. There is no graduation date. Once you’ve entered the den, you begin the march into an unspoken life-long commitment, and “school’s students” “evolve” into indebted bundles of dependent insecurity.
Deriving Meaning – If You Meet The Buddha on the Road, Kill Him:
With one year of “school”-free perspective, I can see that “school” became a mirror reflecting my internal beliefs: I had believed myself incapable, the joy I sought beyond me, my natural strengths and aptitudes for the arts, compassion and empathy unimportant and/or unattainable. “School” was happy to reflect this back adding the unspoken message of you can become a real woman, but only with ‘school’s help’. Otherwise you are doomed to circle the same track of unfulfilled potential until you die.
Thus I turned to false prophets and let them yank me around. The real woman woke up the moment she recognized “school’s help” as a prison with bars constructed from fear and dependence. I became that real woman the moment I said “no” to “school’s” instruction of “Tell your husband to mind his own business.” I finally recognized the blatant disregard for my life, husband and family communicated through this instruction. The real woman had to embrace the responsibilities and consequences that came along with saying no – this is real freedom, with all of its challenges and rewards.
I have come to believe that every person has an internal compass and it cannot be dictated externally. Once upon a time, mine led me into a false “school” and then – with real help from my husband – it led me out of this “school”. It may have been a mistake, but do we not learn the most from our mistakes? The moment I said, “No” changed and defined me anew. Today, when I fall into old habits of doubting myself, I can look back at life while in “school” and see the fearful woman who dreaded the sunrise and compare it with life now that every cell in me welcomes each new day. Through my “school” experience, I released myself from the lifelong and constant search for mentoring and meaning; the very mechanisms that led me into “school” fell away the moment I said “no” to it.
Now each new day presents a chance to practice honoring and following my internal compass, for better or for worse. And as I bumble along, sometimes flying, sometimes crashing, I accept my “school” days as the necessary foray that pushed me into a corner that offered two choices – to follow the route whose road signs are constructed and orchestrated by “school”, or to follow this internal compass. As I choose the latter, I see that life is a perfectly imperfect and lovely journey and its meaning comes from within.