Seventeen years ago, I made a bold decision for our family that many, to put it politely, questioned, and some, not so politely, thought I was downright crazy and irresponsible. I took my three kids out of school to homeschool. Well, it wasn’t homeschooling exactly. It was something a bit different; edgy even. I took my kids out to unschool.
Unschooling is a sub-set of homeschooling, where we used the world as our classroom rather than our dining room table. Sometimes referred to as natural learning or child-led learning, unschooling is based on the fundamental belief that learning is a natural basic instinct. When kids are allowed the freedom and time to play and explore, to dream and imagine, and to follow their own interests and passions, learning happens. In other words, living and learning are inseparable.
Although I did my research before making the leap into this radical educational model and believed wholeheartedly in my decision, I admit that it did not keep me from the occasional late-night panic attacks. “Will my kids actually learn?” I fretted. “Will they get into college or get a job? “What about the SAT? Friends? The prom?” The exact questions Dr. Phil asked me a few years later when my family appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, The Great School Debate. (You can see it here: https://youtu.be/Co8UbJE4Ucw)
Of course, in front of several million viewers, I answered with confidence, believing success was indeed possible, that my kids would pass the SAT with flying colors and get into their college of choice. I wouldn’t actually know this for certain, however, for many years to come. None of us would. In fact, we would have to live in this ambiguous place of not knowing for a long time, while at the same time life threw some major curve balls at us: the loss of our home in the 2008-09 recession, breast cancer, and the end of my 27- year marriage. But I endured, we endured, through it all. It is what Joseph Campbell rightly calls the hero’s journey.
Before I continue, I suspect that you have already guessed that this article is not about unschooling. And it is not about my story, per se. No, this article is about the art of turning trials into triumph. It is about persevering and staying the course, no matter what. It is about how people achieve success, and it is an integral part of any journey to mastery.
Everyone is on a journey, some more difficult than others, but all sharing inherent characteristics of fortitude, hope, trepidation and yes, defeat. These are the things that make a journey a journey. Hills and valleys and giant peaks that take our breath away, time and time again. We put our best foot forward and continue, nonetheless. Day by day, minute by minute, because the alternative is…well, there is no alternative.
And as we travel farther and deeper into no-man/woman’s land, something happens.
- We begin to fathom the unfathomable and make possible the impossible.
- Obstacles become stepping-stones, and hurdles curious challenges.
- We become adept at turning problems into solutions, and crisis into opportunity.
- We persist instead of resist.
- And we believe! Our faith keeps us going when we do not think we can take another step.
- We learn we can, and we will.
- We are no longer afraid of fear. We use it to our advantage, turning dread, anxiety and resentments into resilience and agility, letting go of the way we think things ought to be, as we accept things as they are.
We also start to understand others, the world, and ourselves, who we are, what we want, and how we are going to get it.
- We speak-up and speak-out.
- We listen closely to our inner voice and trust our intuition, knowing in our heart, and gut, and veins, and bones, we can do it.
- “Yes, I can” becomes our mantra.
- Mountains become molehills.
- The rain, a chance to dance.
- And we gain the grit, courage, honor, and resolve essential to learning, growth, and even re-inventing one’s self when necessary. We become ourselves, one day at a time, one yes at a time.
That’s what happen to me anyway. I suspect if you ask my kids, they would share a similar story. I also suspect that if you look close enough, you will see patterns of The Hero’s Journey in your own life. No one gets through this life without a challenge or two. But that’s a good thing. Because it is these journeys that shape us. They become our stories and our stories become us. They form our thoughts, make up our memories, and alter the way we live our lives. And it is within these stories that we learn, heal when necessary, grow and transform.
Looking back on that day on the Dr. Phil Show, his questions were valid. My friend’s and family’s concerns were valid. My fear was valid. Taking a risk like unschooling was scary. Who wouldn’t be nervous about making such a bold move? But you know what? I did it anyway. In fact, that is my message to you. The ultimate secret to success:
You do it anyway!
You don’t let the fear hold you back. You do the research, put a plan in place, work hard, pivot when necessary, attach to a community of like-minded fellow travelers and continue onward—rough patches and all—always with the ultimate goal in sight until you succeed! As Odysseus reminds us in his hero’s voyage:
“I will stay with it and endure through suffering hardship, and once the heaving sea has shaken my raft to pieces, then I will swim.”
In a few days, I will be driving my middle son to the University of New Mexico where he received a full scholarship to pursue his PhD in Medieval History. My oldest just graduated from Cal Poly Pomona. He is a Geologist. And my daughter is a 4.0 college student pursuing her degree in Comparative Literature. Yes, Dr. Phil, my kids passed the SAT's, graduated from college, and went to the prom! For me, I am 8 years cancer free. I live in a beautiful home, recently graduated from Goddard College with my Masters in Clinical Counseling and Psychology, and have an amazing job here at Online Trading Academy, all because I didn’t let fear stop me. I did it anyway.
Casey, Deanne, Maggie, Kalie, Riley, Irving and Luna