Formal education teaches us to focus on the product: turn in your work, get a grade, those grades will be averaged, and you'll get a piece of paper that tabulates your averages for a term, and then, once you've accumulated enough pieces of paper, you will receive another, even fancier piece of paper in an equally fancy ceremony that says you are graduated! Yay! You're finished!
Not by a long shot.
I wish someone had told me this when I was a teenager and totally obsessed with pieces of paper that quantified my education in what turned out to be utterly meaningless ways.
My grades on those pieces of paper were generally quite good, and I used to be proud of this. If real life gave us grades, however, I'd have little to be proud of. In fact, I suspect I'd be dead from the pressure of it all, mulling my life over in Purgatory (let's pretend I'm Catholic), deeply disappointment with my performance. I'd be obsessing over all the C's, D's, and F's I'd made regularly in the years since I earned my masters degree with all those A's. Oh, how nice it would be if life were like graduate school.
But it's not. It is what it is. My Stephen Ministry friend Barbara taught me this saying. Y'all know how much I like a pithy aphorism, and this one has it all: poetic rhythm and symmetry, terseness, wisdom, and the wonderful ability to really piss me off when it's at its most true.
It is what it is.
And grades are what they are...artificial measures of small bytes of progress in a process that goes on and on in entirely unquantifiable ways until we breath our last.
Why don't they teach that in schools?
Watching Nick go through eighth grade right now dredges up all sorts of thoughts about what it means to learn, to be successful, to grow, to live. It reminds me how utterly stupid I was at his age, and how utterly stupid I am now. Funny thing is, it doesn't bother me much to be stupid now. Back then, it was torture.
So what's the difference? How do we move from grade-grubbing our way through life to happiness, balance, peace, success? How do we learn those real and valuable lessons that allow us to put one foot in front of the other each and every day, mostly with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts?
Lots of pithy aphorisms claim to answer these deep and complex questions, but at this point in my life, I'm a big fan of this one:
Life is a process, not a product to be evaluated, graded, ranked, and graduated. Think about all the truly meaningful life lessons you've learned. How many of them happened in school and how many came with a grade?
For the past five years, I've taken a Tuesday-morning Bible study at our church. There are no grades. You'd think after five years, I'd know something about the Bible. Graduate school was just two years, and I'm considered a Master of medieval literature, but truth be told, there's an awful lot of medieval literature that I've not read...still an enormous amount to learn. Thus it is with the Bible. The process of learning about the Bible shows me just how little I know about it. It's delightfully complicated and weird and confusing and sometimes I feel a bit like I'm beating my head against a brick wall, but in a good way.
That doesn't really make sense, I suppose, but it is what it is. Because as I learn, I change, and how I see the Bible changes, and my relationship with God stretches and deepens. The process of coming to know God through Scripture leads to dizzying heights of understanding and incredible humility and awareness of our ignorance at the same time.
In other words, the more I know, the more I know that I know nothing. And this is the very best thinking that could happen to a person, to understand that it's not the knowing we should aim for, but the learning, the doing, the process.
The depression I suffered in my teens was incredibly educational. Retrospectively, of course. When you're depressed, it just sucks. When you come out of it, you realize that life is what it is (which is not so bad after all), that depression is what it is (which sucks), and you're walking around still breathing and grateful for it.
You stop worrying about results...about getting good grades and being a success. You start the process of living well. And you fall in love with the process. You fall in love with waking up and breathing and walking around. You fall in love with eating peanut M&Ms and fresh strawberries and drinking coffee. You fall in love with people and places and doing stuff that has meaning for you. You fall in love with learning and growing and failing and succeeding and just being alive.
What results from that process of loving life? Good stuff. Some bad stuff, too. You'll get hurt, you'll stall out at times, you'll lose your way, and you might even lose faith occasionally. It's all part of the process.
Sometimes, I trust the process. Sometimes, I don't. Sometimes, I just want a grade so I can graduate and move on. But life doesn't work like that. It is what it is...a process.
And that's why my word for March is Process.
Do you love the process? Where in your life could you use more process-oriented thinking? Where in your life is results-oriented thinking getting you down? What can you do to remind yourself that loving the process leads to better results?