Experimenting with Life

In my day life, this girl who dared dares to teach kids. Over 150 students. 7 classes. 5 grades. And one of the things I dare to teach them is science (which is absolutely hilarious to me, a liberal arts grad, who hasn’t actually taken a science class since grade 11 biology approximately 15 years ago – but that’s elementary public education for you).

Anyway, at least part of my job has been as the science teacher for almost 5 years now. I’ve actually come to love it. Every year I tell the kids why I like teaching science so much.

“The great thing about science,” I tell them, “is that it’s OK to be wrong. Science isn’t like math where there’s one right answer. If you do an experiment, and it totally fails, that’s OK. If you make a prediction, and the opposite thing happens, that’s cool. Because in science, that’s how we learn.”

I love giving students a free pass to learn, explore, and try new things without worrying about being wrong or making a mistake. I even share with them times when as a teacher I’ve tried something and it didn’t work out (as a wise mentor once told me – even if the experiment doesn’t go like you planned, they’ll still remember that they got to do an experiment).

And speaking of experiments – nothing lights up my kids’ faces like when I tell them we’re doing one(believe me it’s not always fun and excitement – there are lots of days of photocopied worksheets too). When I ask for volunteers to come up and help, the hands fly up and some kids practically wiggle out of their seats. You should have seen them last week flying paper airplanes (to learn about how weight affects flight, obviously).img_0641

So why am I telling you this? Because it’s mid-January, AKA right in the middle of resolution season. #newyearnewyou (Anyone else want to puke when they hear that, or just me?). Late December, I was listening to Annie F. Downs’ That Sounds Fun Podcast and the subject of New Year’s goals/resolutions came up. Annie said that she doesn’t do New Year’s goals or resolutions, but rather experiments, and went on to talk about how people always abandon their goals, but who doesn’t finish an experiment?

I freaking love that. And it’s stuck with me. And thinking about how excited my kids get to do an experiment, what if I could feel that way about things I want to do or change in my own life? What if I didn’t look at things as a project or something I had to do? What if I wasn’t making changes out of self-hatred or loathing?

What if I got excited about doing something different?

I also like the idea of experiments because it doesn’t immediately imply permanency. Like, ok, I’m going to try cutting ________ out of my life and see how it goes. If I like how I feel, sure; let’s make it stick. Didn’t go so well? That’s cool. It was an experiment – so what did I learn?

I have the tendency to make myself and my life into a series of projects. And these projects become things I HAVE to do, deadlines I have to meet, problems to solve. While they can seem productive and positive, if I’m being honest; I cling to these projects because I make myself into a problem I have to fix.

Experiments seem more fun and light-hearted. Less high stakes. Less pass-fail. Less punishing. More just “try and see.” I don’t say this as a cop out. I still want to try new things and make changes.  But I don’t want to hate myself if it doesn’t work out.

I think seeing life as a series of experiments helps me to be kinder to myself and practice self-compassion. I’m going to delve a little deeper into the vulnerability realm here for a minute and talk a bit about my own life.

I’ve recently gained some weight, and am feeling pretty unhappy about it/with myself. I’m still working through it; and deciding what, if any is my best course of action to change things (or not). My old thinking is to hate on myself and tell me how much of a failure I am (’cause that’s super productive and always does the trick).

But let’s apply what I’m calling “experiment mentality” here. Ok, yep, you’ve gained some weight. Nope, it doesn’t feel great. But you’ve tried a bunch of different things. Some worked better than others. You’ve come to a spot where you want to do something sustainable over the long term that works for YOU. So now you get to experiment to find what that is.

See how the experiment mentality lends itself to a subtle shift in perspective? It’s turned a perceived failure into an opportunity for growth. Failure is making way for a chance to learn.

I’ve never been a resolution person. And I’ve written down some goal-ish things for 2019, made a list of things I’d like to be different. But I’m choosing to look at this year as a series of experiments. I’ll make some changes. I’ll try new things. If I like how they make me feel, I’ll make it permanent. If not – well, I’ll see what I learned and go from there.

And most of all, I’ll try to get even half as a excited about trying these things as my kids do on experiment day. After all, there’s more to life than projects.

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