I’ve spent the last week in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’m heading back to Minneapolis today, but I have had a great time visiting family and friends here. I’ve been staying with my parents, in the house where I grew up, which means I’ve spent quite a bit of time sitting in a great deal of my own history.
One of my tasks for this trip was to start going through my early life possessions to make some decisions about what I’d like to keep around. My parents have kept the overwhelming majority of the artwork, report cards, and various things I created or received during my youth. It has been quite an experience opening up the big tupperware storage containers and going through piece by piece.
Sorting through, it’s nice to think back and remember periods of my life associated with the things I’m finding. It’s really the reminder of the memory itself that feels much more significant than the physical thing that cues it. While the past can’t be changed, it is important–it holds a great deal of value in what we can learn from it. Whether good or bad, it’s all a part of the journey that we can reflect back upon to better ourselves going forward.
One of the more interesting things that I found is my elementary and middle school report cards. Although they’re nearly two decades old, they are telling of my current path.
The particular time of transitioning from elementary school to middle school was a difficult one for me. To this day, I don’t know the root cause, but sixth grade was likely the worst year of my youth.
To be frank, I failed, and I failed hard.
Within a few weeks of classes starting, the anxiety I felt was overwhelming. I had such a strong reaction that I would actually throw up upon entering the school building. In the first semester of that year, I didn’t receive a single passing grade in any one of my six classes. With the gracious help of my parents, teachers, and school administrators, it took almost the entire year to help me come back from that rough start.
Looking back through my elementary school notes, there is some foreshadowing from the prior years. I noticed a recurring theme when it came to assessments from my teachers.
“Anthony’s problems were his distractibility, impulsivity, and thorough disorganization. His attitude and demeanor were almost always pleasant and positive.” – 5th Grade Teacher
Who knows exactly why I had the difficulties I did, but I might guess that the increased need for organization and focus caused a lot of the anxiety at that point in my life. Having to manage moving between classes, a tight schedule, and homework from multiple teachers probably didn’t help.
The thing is, this is still long before the days of always-on computing, mobile devices, and all of the potential distractions they bring. If I wanted to browse the web, I had to boot up a computer, spend a minute or two dialing up, and browse at a painfully slow pace. It was a different time in our world, and things have gotten infinitely more instant and impulse-encouraging since then.
For the last eighteen years, my life has been a constant journey of finding balance, seeking greater alignment with my intentions, and designing my environment to succeed. Technology continues to develop and provide more tools for us to use in our everyday lives, and I’m grateful for that. I can’t imagine where I’d be without the benefits that many modern conveniences provide.
I often wonder where I’d be if I still had to file important documents in physical folders, or depend on notebooks to track my goals. Overall, technology has had a resoundingly positive affect on my life.
In looking at these old report cards and teacher’s notes, I’m fully realizing why minimalism, intentional living, and aligning daily action with long-term vision has resonated so deeply. For the same reasons, talking about this journey and sharing it with you is one of the most meaningful aspects of my life.
While today I am less distractible, less impulsive, (and I’d say still pretty darn pleasant), I’m still that eleven-year-old who couldn’t quite pay attention in fifth grade. It may not be who I am, but it is a part of how I got to be who I am now. While we should not define ourselves by our past, it is still part of how we become who we are in the present.
Had it not been such a rough year for me, I doubt I would have continuously sought solutions to the struggles and anxiety that I felt. At the same time, it is that distractibility, perhaps disorganization, the very things that technology can help, that allows it to take over our lives if we’re not careful. A continuous balance is how we can ensure that we are benefitting from all it has to offer, while keeping an intentional relationship simultaneously.
For me, this is why I write, why I make videos and talk about the things I do. It is minimalism and the pursuit of intentional living that have allowed me to focus, allowed me to create, and complete. It is removing the distractions in my life that has allowed me to truly align with my values.
Despite what anyone may think, we all have unique abilities, stories to share, and amazing things to create. While we can’t control the genes that nature gave us, we can work to nurture ourselves using the resources available to us–it is our prerogative to do so.
So that’s why I’m here. To share and reflect upon my own learning and personal growth in hopes that it is helpful in your own journey. It means the world to me that you’re here, and I truly appreciate the time we share along the way.