I recently became a translator. It’s not something I set out to do. It just kind of happened. An acquaintance asked me if I would translate a twenty-page document for her from French to English and without even thinking about it, I said , “sure, why not?” I agreed so readily, in fact, that I surprised myself. I’ve never translated anything in my life, and although I speak both languages, writing in French is not my strong point. But I tackled the project, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. Then my friend recommended me to someone else and I took that job as well, which led to others: a study on tourism in Myanmar, a marketing study for an eco- hotel in Senegal, a warehouse fire investigation in Cameroon. And so without ever really meaning to, I find myself picking apart, rearranging and transforming other people’s words into another language and learning about different problems and solutions offered by people from diverse parts of the world in the process. And I love it.
Me. Who a few short years ago was terrified of taking personal risks–of failing or succeeding–in anything new; who would have emphatically turned down that translation job because it was outside my comfort zone; who would have insisted that I couldn’t possibly accept such a task because I wasn’t qualified. I had no training. No diploma. No degree in that particular field of work.
I once held tight to the notion that a formal education was the only way to learn; that the goal of an education was a diploma; that a diploma was a golden ticket to success; that success was quantifiable by the number of zeros on your paycheck; that the loss of that paycheck, or job, or business was a mark of failure; and that failure was in some way a reflection, not of circumstances, but of our efforts. I once defined myself according to these narrow parameters and relied on them for much of my adult life. Luckily, at some point, they began to crumble and fall away under the contrary evidence of my life. And I have my children to thank for that.
I thought about why I had said yes this time. What had changed? And that’s when I realized that something important had subtly but steadily shifted in me. In the process of giving my children the freedom to create and learn from experience, I had witnessed genuine inspiration. While I was helping them to erase “should” and embrace “can,” I had broken down old barriers. While I had observed them fail repeatedly without shame or discouragement, driven to find a different solution or try something new, my fear of failure had lost its power. And I had come out on the other side with a whole new perspective. I had unschooled myself.
I’m not sure we ever stop evolving as unschooling parents, particularly if we are in the process of shedding old belief systems that no longer serve who we are or how we look at the world. We are all works in progress. If we choose to, we have the fortune to learn so much when we accompany our children on their individual life learning path. But perhaps more importantly, we have the opportunity to unlearn false perceptions and negative ideas about ourselves, our beliefs and our capacities.
When we look at life and learning the way our children do, as limitless and attainable, we have the rare chance to redefine ourselves as well. When we are not bound by others definitions or desires, we can take two steps forward and one step backward and still see it as progress. Loosely translated . . . even if we occasionally trip in life, shift happens.