As school begins again and the freedoms of summer fade, I always think of the Tom Hanks line in the movie You’ve Got Mail: “I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”
I usually love the idea of new beginnings, blank pages, fresh starts.
But this September, I felt scared.
I’m returning to school to finish up my last year of classes towards my degree and as I stepped onto the campus a few days ago, lugging notebooks, a backpack and the obligatory pencil case, I felt overwhelmed and timid.
Not only am I about ten years older than the average student, but I have a whole adult life outside of my full-time studies—a son who needs his mother present every day, a part-time job, volunteer work, a mortgage to pay, a long-term relationship, pets.
That first day, I felt like I had far too much on my plate.
I felt old. I felt tired. But mostly, I felt frightened.
All of the information coming at me that day seemed ridiculously important, and I couldn’t wrap my head around which vital thing to focus on.
Did I make a healthy enough lunch for Liam? Did I remember to sign his agenda and register him for soccer? Why hadn’t I received my utility bill yet? Where was the notebook I needed for my psychology class? When will I fit in my yoga and writing? When will I even see my partner? Did I feed the dog?
I realized, even while I was dwelling in my little frenzy of overwhelm, how selfish and ungrateful I was being. Every single person these days seems to have a thousand responsibilities, too much on their plate; bragging about how little sleep we manage to fit in or how full our day-timer has become is an all too common fad.
I spent almost a decade struggling with addiction and depression, and even though I’ve thankfully and remarkably been back amongst the living for some time, it still gives me a shock now and then to realize how much goes into a sober, happy life.
But that first day, I felt like a fraud.
It seemed that around every corner potentially lurked a god-like official of some sort who would call me out on my imposter status, pointing out that I really have no clue what I am doing on a day to day basis. Who am I to presume that I am good enough to be a parent? To even consider that I could complete a degree? Teach a yoga class? What, really, was I thinking?
I went home, scared.
Then I reached out. I asked a few friends if they’d ever felt similarly. I called my mom. I texted my boyfriend. I made a cup of tea and pulled out my journal and wrote about what I had accomplished in the last year.
Sometimes it takes a mini-crisis to realize that we are strong, capable and most of all enough.
Sometimes moments of doubt and fear are what we need to push us to find the resolve to overcome.
By reaching out, I learned what I now believe to be a key to success for many, many people: it is okay to not feel like we know what we are doing, the vast majority of the time.
We allow self-doubt to rise and we continue onwards.
We leap forward into discomfort regularly, testing boundaries, learning, making mistakes, fixing them.
All it took was a few phone calls to feel so much less alone on my journey—to hear “me too” and “oh, I’ve been there.”
It took a few moments of connection to spin my overwhelm into gratitude and my fear into excitement.
I can’t say I’ll stride into the classroom every day this year with absolute confidence, or that at my first PTA meeting of the year I won’t have sweaty palms and butterflies in my stomach. But I do know, deep down, as I approach all these tasks, new, daunting, challenging, that I have reserves of strength within me to conquer them. That the results that I get by giving my best effort are something to be proud of.
That I am not alone.
That I am enough.
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Photos: The U.S. National Archives/Flickr