It is important to mark the achievements and moments in our life that have had a significant impact, but we have to be careful not to hang our hats on our merits without allowing for movement to other significant possibilities in our future.
I have found myself to be guilty of this on different levels, sometimes reminiscing through extensively listed details when revising my résumé to find those areas in which I have demonstrated some competency or unique experience that I feel will help to set me apart from a crowd as a capable and interesting individual. Other times, I recollect personal experiences that I feel have helped to shape me as a person who continually strives to pursue diverse endeavors in search of excellence and development of character. I even find myself trying to vicariously live through some of the exceptional achievements of my children as if I somehow have some claim to their accomplishments as my own.
What I have found in all of these and other informal milestone surveys is something that I must refuse to accept with any permanency, which is the idea that I am somehow fixed by these relatively brief experiences. I can sometimes allow the milestones to define me and, in essence, become millstones that prevent me from taking courageous risks to accomplish more.
My challenge to others and to myself is to not expect milestones to mark the entirety of a path but to reveal only pieces of the greater puzzle which may extend in a variety of patterns and paths to places not yet entirely known. If we are too content to look only at the milestones, as amazing and wondrous as they may appear for ourselves and others, we may very well become burdened by the millstones of upholding a steady but unaspiring reputation that fits the previous predictable path but limits us from moving to unrealized potential. Such millstones may also overwhelm us as we try to explore new adventures.
What are the implications for educators and education leaders? We can’t allow our successes or mistakes to set up our identities, nor can we allow our colleagues and students to fall into this trap. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset digs deeply into the importance of not allowing our past failures and misgivings to contribute to a sense of meager means to accomplish present and future tasks. They can inform them, but ultimately, meaning is derived from far more than milestones, and some millstones can be set free if we don’t allow them to solidify as markers of a fixed fate.