After years of struggle, anxiety and attempts at intervention, I’ve taken my eleven year old son out of school and made the leap into unschooling. It’s a big deal and feels both exciting and scary. Going so clearly against a rigid, cultural status-quo (kids go to school!) is no small thing.
But this feeling of fear is noticably less than the fear I was experiencing around putting him in middle school. For an undeniably intelligent boy, who was having a hard time staying in a single classroom, the shift to a multiple classrooms and teachers model was halted, overwhelming, laced with dread.
Taking him out of school is an entirely different kind of fear. It is electric, butterflies and a tsunami of ideas about how we might proceed. Night and day, you guys.
Tsunami of ideas.
I assumed that when I started telling people that I was doing this unconventional thing, that I’d be met with loads of resistance. But that isn’t what’s happening. Instead, I am inundated with curious questions, similar stories, requests to let people know how it goes so they can consider it for their children. More than anything, people are calling it a “brave move.”
And I know it is, but it doesn’t feel brave. In a way, sending him to school seemed like it required all the courage. This thing just feels right.
All the feelings are pretty confusing when you get right down to it. Which is why we spend so much time trying to avoid them. Emotional intelligence has to be learned and practiced and there are too few words to describe the subtelties within them. It can make their recognition and recounting daunting. It can make the nachos and Negro Modelo look extra appealing. Am I right?
For example, there is a huge difference between growing pains and the pain of injury. If you were to make a fist with your hand and squeeze for long enough, releasing the fist would be painful for your fingers as the circulation returned. But that pain wouldn’t be warning you of injury or illness, it would be indicitive of something necessary and important – circulation.
But both of those things hurt, man. Pain is just pain. Except that it isn’t.
It is the same with fear.
One of the coolest things about unschooling is freedom. I have worked hard to build a location-independent business. My office is, essentially, my Macbook and I can take client calls from my phone of Skype where ever I am in the world. Now that my son is not in traitional school we are both free to travel. So, last I was able to say yes to my friend, brill author Kerry Cohen, who had procurred a beautiful borrowed beach house at the Oregon Coast for us to work and write together, for Aidan to play in the sand and soak up that last of the summer sunshine.
The importance of being able to change your surroundings in order to be creatively productive cannot be overstated and could be the topic of its own post. (authors who work exclusively in hotels) Not being surrounded by reminders of your daily responsibilities clears space for great ideas.
Anyhow, I was thinking a lot about bravery and how this decision didn’t feel like bravery to me because I was so sure that it was the next right thing. Later, when Kerry and I were sitting outside in the sun, talking about what we’re writing –content and process — the conversation about bravery came up.
“The thing I hear most about my writing from people is how brave they think it is,” she said. “But I don’t really think it’s brave. I’m just telling the truth, telling my story the way it happened.”
“But, in a way,” I said, “that is brave. In order to tell the story objectively, you had to face your own fears. That kind of clear articulation makes a personal story into a perennial one. It’s why your writing connects so deeply with people.”
“That’s true,” she said. “The best compliment I’ve ever gotten from my book was that I made needy attractive.” (Kerry’s most successful book, Loose Girl, is a memoir about her struggle with her teenage sexuality. It’s a topic that has been triggering to many people. Also it’s a topic that has opened up difficult conversations and, as a result, liberated the shame from countless others, whose stories were similar, but they were unable to talk about them freely.) “That meant the world to me,” she said, “because I have spent my entire life feeling so ashamed of my neediness.”
“I can really relate.” I said. “It took me a long time to feel comfortable asking for what I need from others, from the world. In fact, I spend a lot of time with clients talking about the same thing. People are so afraid of being needy that they actually deny their basic needs for fear of coming across as too demanding. But when people deny valid human needs, try and pretend they are unimportant or don’t exist, they end up being so sad and desperate. Those needs come out twisted and scared and ultimately, really needy in the worst way. Having needs is not synonomous with being needy.” I said. “So it seems really brave to me that you were able to face your own fear of neediness in a way that allowed you to open up and write about it.”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s big work, but the payoff has been huge. Being able to do this, as an author, has been very rewarding.”
I’ve often heard the definition of being brave as being afraid but doing it anyway. But I would add that it is being clear of what kind of fear you are feeling — whether it is nervous excitement of something new, or a genuine warning signal. When we take healthy risks, it makes sense that we feel fear. We are facing uncertainty, the unknown and unpredictable.
Thinking of bravery brings up mighty acts like slaying dragons or saving lives, but bravery is also, and more often, the small choices you make every day – all of the ways you show up for yourself over and over to create the life you want, to be completley responsible for yourself.
I can testify to the fact that, sometimes, being brave means getting out of bed just to face the day. (tweet)
Every time you open your heart, kindness, all of the ways you choose love — that is bravery. (tweet)
Bravery is a combination of skill and honed intuition. It is knowing when to make a decision and stick with it. Bravery is also the ability to do an about face when a decision needs altering or editing.
Kerry’s writing is brave and connects to her readers because she continues to do the inner work and trust herself. My decision to unschool my son is brave because I did the research, and trust myself.
Bravery is the willingness to be honest. (tweet)
Bravery is deep faith in your own experience and wisdom. (tweet)
Bravery is being able to navigate the subtelties of fear, and know whether it is signaling you to stop or go forward.
Bravery is being able to make choices, out of all your available options, with confidence.
Just do something. Make a move. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Featured image from the boy’s favorite game, Skyrim. That dragon is getting ready to lose its soul, yo.