Things You Can Learn and Apply from Your School-Aged Self, the First Day of School, and Your Career

Julie Jones
Do you remember any of your first days of school? Take a moment and write a few sentences about what you remember and felt on one of those emotion-filled days.  

Even after many years, I can still remember the excitement of back-to-school shopping, enjoying the new beginning that each school year offered, and waiting anxiously for my schedule to see if my friends were in my classes.  But, at the same time, I was apprehensive as some of my classes and teachers got harder each year. And sometimes the anxiety of making new friends or navigating the new lunchroom were a little overwhelming.

Unfortunately, as you enter adulthood and big people jobs, it is easy to have lost your first day of school mindset. Life has become a routine that repeats day after day. You focus more narrowly on your job role to be efficient and investing in your growth and development can go by the wayside as you juggle real life with families, careers, and deadlines. Take a moment to consider the following questions.

What excited you as you thought about your first days of school?

Was it the ability to start new, experiment, or experience new things? Remember those short classes lasting just nine weeks, or joining clubs, school groups, or sports? If you fell short last year, the new year was a time to begin school with a fresh slate. It was also the time to integrate learning across a variety of subjects.  As an example, teachers used math, science, geography, and perhaps reading to convey the relationship between water and ice.  This immersion (no pun intended) allowed you to view water and ice from different lenses such as math or geography, learning something different from each, and applying the information in varied ways. The coordination of subjects formed connections in learning.

Work carries forward as adults; it is not easy to get a fresh slate or a new start each year. Unfortunately, the boundaries of current jobs, real or imagined, become harder to break. Are there ways you can inject new opportunities into your current role, experiment with new skills, or experience your role or career differently? What can you do to make this happen? What are the opportunities or possibilities?

Carol Dweck, a famous American psychologist, calls these opportunity and possibility traits a growth mindset since you look for what can be instead of what is. People who approach their careers with a growth mindset are more satisfied and feel more in control of their career destination(s). A growth mindset is grounded in learning and possibilities and allows you to make the broad connections between the different subjects in your current role or career just like the connections between water and ice.

What do you remember about back to school clothes and school supply shopping?

I was always excited to think about new clothes and school supplies. Catalogs provided great inspiration. I had to shop wisely since I was one of five kids, so there were limits. My favorite school supply each year was a new pencil box. To this day, I still carry cool pencil pouches. I know many adults who have remained school and office supply nerds just like me!

Back-to-school shopping was a way to reinvent yourself each year. What was the new you going to look like, act like, and be?  What supplies did you need to be successful?

Have you considered what habits or actions hold you back from being who you want to be? How can you reinvent yourself in your current role or plan for a future role? What changes and "shopping" do you need to get closer to your new ideal, career transition, or skillset?

What was it like reconnecting with a group of friends in the lunchroom?

Whether you carried your lunchbox or bought your lunch, it was exciting to find some friends, an open table, and talk freely through lunch. Even today, I can feel the energy of my school cafeterias. They had their own heartbeat, especially when recess or a study hall followed lunch. The freedom to hang out with friends when you had limited unstructured time was a blessing. It was time to recharge your batteries for the rest of the day.

As adults, it has become easy to work through lunch and avoid connecting with friends and coworkers because time is limited or now because of COVID considerations. Somehow, finding time to play or have fun has become optional as "adults" as well. Unfortunately, the sense of connection and spirit that blends people and teams through relationships and play can be lost in the grown-up world.

Are you making time to connect with friends, families, and coworkers to strengthen your spirit and feed your soul? Are you finding ways to play and enjoy life? As the saying goes, you have to grow up, but you don't have to grow old. Young is a state of mind that must be fed.

What fears did you have to tackle?

On your first day of school, you met teachers who had different expectations and rules in their classrooms. Sometimes, you had to transition to new schools and perhaps find new friends. Comfort zones were pushed every year for twelve years, which forced you to adapt. Unfortunately, comfort zones get narrower as we age. It can be easy to seek comfort in what we already know and do. The risks feel more significant as adults - fear of failure, financial loss, the energy to take on something new as examples.  

What is holding you back? What steps can you take to grow your comfort zone? What do you want to try, but the fear of failure is holding you back? Can you find that can-do attitude from your first day of school that will give you the courage?

Take a few moments today to remember some first days and reset your first day of school mindset that includes excitement, possibilities, opportunities, and fresh starts.

Recently, while cleaning out a cupboard, I came across a school ID from my sophomore year in high school, which was more than forty years ago. I remember the excitement of getting this ID, my first photo ID for school, adding my signature, and having a way to prove my identity before I got my official driver's license. Do you have a picture from one of your first days of school or one of your school IDs? Post it near your computer to remind you of the possibilities of a new year, a fresh start, experiments, and experiences.

Ask yourself these additional questions:
  • How can I improve my mindset and approach to learning?
  • How engaged am I in seeking out new opportunities, experiments, and experiences? 
  • What is holding me back from being who I want to be or taking the next step in my career?
  • What support can I gather from others to help me?  


  • Create your personal growth or learning wish list. What would you like to start new, experiment with, or experience? Have a discussion with your leader about your list.
  • Share your personal growth goals with a friend. Committing your thoughts to words and sharing them with someone else can jumpstart your development process and give you an accountability partner.
  • Pick a topic that interests you – such as consumer behavior or retail trends as examples.  Find two or three different articles, podcasts, or books that describe your topic area from different industries.  What are the similarities and differences in the topic area in the different industries?  Can you engage someone in conversation about what you learned?  Have you gained any new perspectives?
Don't hesitate

Pick any course you are interested in to jumpstart back-to-school learning.