Happy new year! The start of 2017 begs the obvious question - did you set any new year’s resolutions? - inspiring me to spend a few moments thinking about goals, resolve and perspective.
The morning of January 1st found me enjoying/enduring one of my most treasured activities: going for a (slow but steady) run in New Hampshire while catching glimpses of Lake Winnipesaukee. It was chilly indeed, and more than twelve inches of snow had arrived just three days prior, but the roads were clear enough for my pace. “This is exactly how I want to start the year,” I thought to myself, and I began to reflect on 2016 and envision what might lie ahead.
I passed two friendly couples who shouted out: “Way to get going on that new year’s resolution!” I think I smiled and wished them a happy new year, but their comment reminded me that, in fact, I had not made a single resolution nor started the day with one in mind. Rather, at some point in my twenties, I shifted from crafting detailed goal lists each new year to embracing an approach of ongoing review with a commitment to growth. The explanation for that pivot is largely grounded in my teenage years.
Those who spent time with me in high school know that the thread of perfectionism that wove its way through virtually every aspect of my life was both inspiring and suffocating. The anecdotes are unlimited, but relevant to this topic is that my annual list of new year’s resolutions became a source of anxiety, both in the determination of what was worthy of the list as well as how I could possibly achieve what I had put in writing. Though the occasional superficial/silly resolution made the cut (e.g., “finally find a great hair style” . . . think: New Jersey in the 1980’s!), my memory is that most focused on weightier issues: grades, athletic performance, college outcomes, relationships, etc. The lists grew each year, and they felt like an anchor despite being tucked away in my desk drawer.
Just to be clear - I am certainly a fan of self-reflection and goal-setting. What I eventually learned, however, was that the pressure of a new year did not work for me; rather, I needed a running conversation, a shift in perspective, and an appreciation of challenges and strengths, goals and accomplishments. As one of my wise cousins notes whenever she updates the family on her children: “Everyone’s working on something.” Indeed! We are all on that continuum, every day, every new year.
So back to being a high school perfectionist. I realize that adulthood offers the time, space and gravitas that simply cannot exist for teenagers, and that it is now “easy” for us to tell our children and students that perfection is both elusive and a goal unworthy of pursuit regardless. We need to tell them anyway. On several occasions this year, I have reminded Cbury students that my expectations are high . . . that our School demands a following of rules and a collective commitment to taking care of one another . . . and that it is a privilege to be a member of the Canterbury community . . . but I do NOT expect them to be perfect. Adolescence is wonderfully messy and wholly about growth; a perfect storm but never perfect.
And so, as we lean in to 2017, I welcome you to join me in seeking self-awareness and resolve and putting perfection on the shelf. Yes, we are all working on something - as teachers, parents and kids - and keeping that in focus is a critical first step. Here we go!
Rachel E. Stone
Head of School