7 Back-to-School Life Lessons

“Labor Day is a glorious holiday because your child will be going back to school the next day. It would have been called Independence Day, but that name was already taken.” ~Bill Dodds

You were a kid once, so you must remember those last few weeks at the end of summer before the start of the new school year.

It was a strange netherworld of feelings during that time — excitement about new beginnings tinged with anxiety about long days of structure and work. And of course there was the inevitable  sadness that summer was coming to a close.

For parents, the feelings aren't quite so mixed. After several months of togetherness, wet swimsuits and towels, and complaints of boredom,  the sight of the old school bus makes our hearts go pitter patter. There was a great back-to-school tv commercial a few years back showing a very happy dad with two very glum kids, strolling through Office Max tossing school items in the cart, while the background music played, “It's the most wonderful time of the year . . . .”

The start of the school year creates a mental and emotional shift for all of us, whether we are students, parents or professionals.

The wind changes and there's a new feeling in the air. It can be ninety degrees outside, but you just know that summer is over. It's hard to put your finger on it, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

So what can we learn from this time of year, other than how to cope with earlier rising, more traffic and busier days? What does the annual pilgrimage back to the books remind us about life? Here are a few thoughts on the subject:

1. You keep growing. Every new school year is an opportunity for growth. Intellectual growth and learning, of course. And for young people, physical growth continues. But also growth as a person, a friend, a student, a mentor, a teacher. Once we are out of school, our growth doesn't stop — or shouldn't.

  • What have you learned in the last year?
  • How have you grown and evolved in your personal and professional life?
  • Where have your stagnated?

2. You can always begin again. So maybe last year wasn't so great. Perhaps you didn't make the grade or reach the goal. Maybe you didn't like the subject matter or the teachers or the group you hung around with. The start of a new school year is a chance for a new beginning, for improvement and achieving new goals.

  • What do you want to accomplish this year?
  • What kind of person do you want to be with your friends, class or workmates, and family?
  • How is this year going to be different and better?

3. The anxiety goes away. Change cause anxiety. We don't like to disrupt the status quo or shake ourselves out of our summer reverie. The idea of strange new teachers, a new group of friends, and harder courses, is daunting at first. In fact, we'd avoid it altogether if we could. But as with most things in life, once you begin, the anxiety melts away. Don't hold yourself back from new people or situations because of fear. Fear is a temporary discomfort, but some opportunities may be permanently lost if you don't seize them.

  • How will you face your anxieties and fears this year?
  • What opportunities will you let pass you by because you don't want to deal with the fear?
  • What will you accomplish in spite of your fears?

4. Relationships change. During your school years, friendships are always morphing and shifting. Your best friend today is your worst enemy tomorrow. Only to be your best friend again next month. Navigating relationships is hard during the hormone-driven years, and not much easier when you are an adult. Once you accept the often mercurial nature of relationships, it is easier to let go of the perceived slights of others and focus on the person you want to be in all relationships.

  • Who do you want to be with friends and family?
  • How do you treat your relationships?
  • Do you nurture and tend to them lovingly?

5. Achievement takes work. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, right? Especially as you get into advanced learning, academic excellence requires discipline, focus and motivation. You can't do mediocre work and expect stellar results. Teenagers often don't see the purpose in acing chemistry when they don't plan to be a chemist. But the jewel of the lesson is this: it is not mastering the subject matter that matters. It's mastering yourself. It is the process of achievement that provides the rewards.

  • How do you intend to do your work this year — with excellence or mediocrity?
  • What connections do you see between the person you are and the work you do?
  • How do others perceive your work?

6. Popularity doesn't guarantee success. Kids can spot them right away. The popular kids. The cheerleader or football star. The beauty queen, the guy with the great car, the girl with the best clothes. And they can spot the losers and geeks just as quickly. When you are in school, being on the inside means everything. Being an outcast is hell. Popularity is defined by superficial things and rarely by the content of one's character. Happily that usually changes as we get older. At the twenty year reunion, it's the geek who is running the multi-million dollar computer business, not the homecoming king. Looks and money are nice, but kindness, authenticity and integrity are the glue of a happy life.

  • Where is your focus — on things and money or on experiences and relationships?
  • Do you look for approval from others constantly or do you know and like yourself?
  • Do you feel empty or fulfilled in life?

7. Extracurriculars are important. In school and in life, it is good to have balance. Not just to relieve the stress and energy drain of work, but also to develop the whole person. To be diverse and interesting and balanced, you must have variety to stimulate your physical, emotional and spiritual sides. For students that may include sports or dance or music. Adults need extracurriculars too — especially exercise, beauty and fun. We need to reconnect with all parts of our selves to be healthy and whole.

  • How do you find your balance?
  • Where do you feel out of balance and what can you do about it?
  • How do you have fun?

Over the next few weeks, you will start seeing the big yellow school buses, kids with backpacks walking home, and parents in carpool lines. Think back to your own school days. The feelings you had, the fears, the excitement, and the fun. Ask yourself what the start of school means for you. Today is your first day — you are walking through the doors and down the hallway. Who do you want to be? What do you want to achieve? How can you make it happen? Now go grab your books and backpack. Oh, and don't forget your apple!

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 9 comments

Hey Barrie! What a great post!

I always try to think of a new academic year as a fresh start. It gives me a new chance to be the kind of student I want to be – one with good grades and good friends. I also try to do something new every year, like you said, with extra-curricular activities. I’ve met so many new people and have gained some really valuable skills this way.

Keep up the fab work!
.-= Jessica´s last blog ..5 high school myths you should debunk today =-.

Scott McIntyre

Hi Barrie,

One of the biggest things I learned as I progressed through school was that friendships – as you say – are always changing. How many times I got upset because my ‘best’ friend one year was only an aquaintance the next.

But, it kind of prepares us for the real world and teaches us that good relationships do come and go. It also makes us appreciate a solid friend when we have one.

PS Why can’t we have the wisdom of hindsight when we’re actually children going through it?!!!-)


Hi, Barrie – thanks for an insightful and well – listed post. My birthday is in September. It is when I tend to make my “new year’s resolutions” rather than on Jan. 1 or thereabouts. The Bill Dodds quote is good but he dates himself as he and I remember going to back to school after Labor Day. Now, kids to back to school in the middle to end of August :(. I am going to use this post to help in my life audit (http://blessedsilence.wordpress.com), so I can realistically and without personal flagellation prepare for the “new year.”
.-= Roberta´s last blog ..Coonhounds- Bossy- Laid Back and Adolescent Pup- Oh- My! =-.

Joe DeGiorgio


Reading this brought back memories of fading summers of my childhood replaced with an an anxious feeling of that return to school…and I went to a military academy, so I think I was more anxious than most!

I’m excited for my kids every year when they go back to school. I’m sure they have the same type of butterflies about a new session that I had, but I encourage them to enjoy these years. They do go by so quickly!
.-= Joe DeGiorgio´s last blog ..On Posting More And Shrinking My TV Time =-.


Awesome post! I just tweeted about it! I think we all should keep these questions going in our head throughout the year and onward. It doesn’t just apply to school and that’s what makes it so poignant!


Barrie, I just love how you wove a story of back to school and turned it into valuable lessons for all of us students of life. Wonderful, thoughtful, inspiring and useful post. Thanks so much.
.-= Katie´s last blog ..How to Colour Your Life with Shades of Joy =-.


Hi Barrie,

Great posts and tips. Loved reading them.

School I find brings many challenges. Friends, work and choices to name a few. So its confusing and troubling to many youngsters. You hit the nail on the head though with the tips and pointers. Thanks for sharing 🙂


Great post Barrie.

It reminds me that we must all continue to be students of life. That’s the only way we’ll really advance.
.-= carolina´s last blog ..Working Girl =-.


“Popularity doesn’t guarantee success” is a so true but such a shame that younger kids do not realise this and the cheerleader or football star are such favorites at that age. I constantly strive to teach my kids that looks are not everything and you must look inside the person to see what they are really like.


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