The Things that Matter

favorite things 1When we think about “things that matter” to us, we have been taught to try to think of those things that don’t hold any monetary value: family, friendship, love, and even time. This morning, I watched Nate Berkus talk about his new book, “The Things that Matter.” While he focuses on the objects in his life that hold meaning, in essence they represent the very things I mentioned above. As I began to scan my own home, which is carefully scattered with important possessions I have gathered along the way, it was easy to pick out those things that were most meaningful to me.

What is it that makes us hold on to things: old pictures, family heirlooms, shells and beach stones? Sometimes it’s the sentiment behind the object; the fact that someone important gave it to you and you couldn’t possibly part with it. More often, what gives objects meaning in our lives are the stories they tell of who we were or who we have become. They make up the layers of our life and, in some cases, are gentle reminders of those intangible things that make life rich and truly meaningful. For me, the “things that matter” are all too often reminders of lessons learned, journeys I have taken, and moments that needed remembering.

favorite things 3When I graduated from university, I was given a memory box. It has my name engraved on the front and it contains many of the things I hold dear. There are old black and white photos of family, my aunt’s small book of poetry about “Hope,” and all the letters and postcards I sent to my family while abroad only to have them given back to me one Christmas tied in ribbon. There is a heart shaped necklace given to me by dear friends when I left my teaching job in Finland. It was never really meant to be worn. Rather, the necklace came with a note attached asking that it serve as a reminder to always hold a space in my heart for the place and people I had grown to love. There is also a leaf, a beach stone, an old coin, a book mark, a few newspaper clippings, and a small glass rosary. None of the latter would mean much to anyone else, but each tells a small part of the story of my life.

favorite things 2In the past, I have had my students reflect on the objects that matter to them. I give them a few days to think about it, eventually asking them to bring their object in. Bringing in their item generally narrows the field down to things that can fit in a backpack, although I did have a student bring in his dog once. Each time I do this activity, I am surprised at the variety of important possessions that come into the classroom. I have seen beach stones, shells, an arrowhead, pieces of jewellery, handmade gifts, photographs, and ornaments of all shapes and sizes. You can tell a great deal about a child by the thing that matters to them. You find out who they care about and the things they value in life. Just like each item in my memory box tells a story, the object in each child’s hand tells a story of significance to them. With our prized possessions, we mindfully look at them and carefully examine the physical attributes not previously seen before. We then draw them, paying attention to the detail, and use our illustrations as the jumping off point for writing about the significance of the item we hold dear. Oftentimes, we then share our stories. Every single “thing that matters” has a story attached.

I encourage you to take a moment to look around at the little things that matter most to you. What is it that makes these simple possessions so important and meaningful? I also encourage you to try this activity with your students or even your own children. No doubt you will find it is not only a revealing look into their lives outside of the classroom but provides you with an opportunity to see beyond simply the object they hold in their hand and into the heart of what really matters most.

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A Mindful Look at Making a Resolution

new years blogIt seems as if this time of year the hot topic for bloggers is New Year’s resolutions. There is the group that write about the many resolutions they will make. They start the year with a renewed sense of optimism and hope that what they learned in the previous year will serve as the foundation for further growth and development. Then there is the group that write about the resolutions they should make but refuse to do so as it sets them up for imminent failure a month down the road when the resolution is a distant memory.

Each year, I fall into one of those two categories. There are years I whip out a new journal and record the list of resolutions I know I should make: exercise more, get more sleep, cut out bad carbs and sugar and so on. Other years, I wake up on New Years Day, give thanks for a new year, and motor on with life as I am currently living it. This year, I know I should exercise more, get more sleep, and cut out the bad carbs and sugar but, since I tell myself this on most days, it seems futile to put them down on a list. Instead I want one resolution, something that can serve as a beacon for the journey through 2013.

When coming up with a New Year’s resolution, I think we need to take time to be mindful of the experiences that come into our lives and the lessons we learned the previous year. Lately, it seems as if most things I read, stumble upon, or am sent by others revolve around the importance of making mistakes. About a year ago, I watched Brene Brown’s famous TedTalk on her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I ordered the book shortly after but only just started reading it after the book repeatedly came up in conversations, in book recommendations from friends, and even while flipping through magazines. This is just one example of the many reminders I have had to learn to be more comfortable with making mistakes. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something, or perhaps my discomfort with even the thought of making mistakes has made me more sensitive to the message. Either way, I have been listening.

When I was searching for a quote regarding New Year’s resolutions, I stumbled upon the wise words of Neil Gaiman. This is what he had to say:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

So this is my one and only resolution, to become more comfortable with making the mistakes that come with taking risks and to be more forgiving of myself when I do. Each day I remind middle school students, when I am teaching them in the classroom or they are sitting in my office because they have made some sort of a mistake themselves, that life is all about making mistakes, being accountable, and learning from them. I then sometimes get to remind their parents that the purpose of childhood is to make lots of small mistakes and to learn from them so they are hopefully better equipped to handle the big ones that come with being an adult or an emerging adult. I also remind kids that mistakes are a part of life and they are a risk we take if we truly want to push ourselves out of our own comfort zones, embrace challenges, and strive to be more creative and authentic people. Somewhere along the way, some of us, including myself, forgot that the same message we give kids is equally as important in adulthood.

So my wish for you this year is that you take a chance on yourself and try something new. Maybe it’s a new idea you have wanted to try out at work, maybe it’s a new hobby, or maybe it’s a trip you have wanted to take. As Robert Schuller said, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” As Nike said, “Just do it.”