Self-Directed Life Newsletter: Essential self vs. social self
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Hey guys,

How was your week?

Big question this week: How do you stay focused on your deepest goals? How often do you audit how well your daily choices are aligning with those goals?

I use journaling for this. Your journal is a way to get a handle on your child’s interests and work but it’s also a simple tool for touching base with yourself:

      Are you doing your most important work?

      Are you giving some of each day to your biggest goals?

      Do you feel okay with how things are going?

When we don’t feel okay, we can slide into avoidance — don’t look, it’ll just make you feel worse.

That’s why journaling has to become a habit — something you do automatically, without thinking about it. Because if you’re already leaning toward not looking, you’ll find a million other things you need to do before glancing in that mirror.

Personal productivity presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness. And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days. — Why time management is ruining our lives

One of the things I recommend is advertising to yourself — recognizing that the world is determined to grab your attention and with it your time and your money, so you need to fight back by boosting the signal of your own ambitions.

      The ambition to build a close family.

      The ambition to learn and share and do meaningful work.

      The ambition to feel better and create more.

Whatever it is you want to do with your life, your goals are more worthy than the ones being shouted at you nonstop by our culture: Earn, Buy, Consume, Win.

So give them better product placement in your life.

We often talk about the game of school — how kids get sucked into focusing on what’s required for good grades and positive adult feedback vs. real learning and productive challenge. (Why work harder once you’ve earned the A? and so on.)

After we graduate, the game of school is replaced by the game of life — we’re upgraded to focusing on chasing our society’s version of success vs. doing our own meaningful work. And who is going to assign that work to you? Who will reward you for working on it? Who cares if you do it, other than you?

If you don’t advocate for yourself, who will?

I was putting my essential self aside and I was living my life through my social self — the part of me that learned to value what the people around me valued. — Katherine Wintsch

How do we get to know our essential self? How do we excavate it, explore it, and learn to differentiate it from our social self, our need to fit in and please others?

We can help our children do this through their self-chosen meaningful work: playing, building, collaborating, learning, and sharing around a topic that engages their interest. By pursuing what they care about, they learn about the world and themselves.

We can help ourselves do this through doing our own self-chosen meaningful work — and we can stay on track by building a tiny, powerful habit of checking in with ourselves.

You don’t have to write pages of text — you can write two sentences, you can doodle, you can paste something in or tape something on. Anything works, as long as it wakes you up from the spell of sleeping through your life, chasing goals and rewards other people say you should chase.

Maybe your check-in isn’t a journal at all; maybe it’s a conversation you have with yourself when you walk the dog or take a run. Whatever form it takes, what’s important is that it happens every day — even for a few minutes — and that it focuses on what really matters: the essential you that exists inside the social you … the things that truly matter to you vs. the things that seem to matter to the people around you.

How do we stay focused on our deepest goals? How do we help our children focus on theirs?

By reminding ourselves, every day.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard

If you want to spend more time doing the stuff that really matters to you, you have to get good at saying “no” to the constant stream of invitations and requests that come your way. In my experience, being good at getting things done increases those asks exponentially — which means if you’re going to prioritize your own priorities, you have to learn to say no clearly and on the spot. (But if that’s too hard for you, say “I will check my calendar and get back to you ASAP” and then email and tell them no.)

“Many of us have an intuitive desire to please others, to explore every opportunity, to take on more than we can handle, and worry about the consequences later. But if you can master the art of saying ‘no,’ you can prevent your time and focus from being held captive by a constant barrage of requests and distractions.”

[Y]ou can’t do it consistently without a plan.

“If I wake up with a clear picture of my key priorities, I’m infinitely more productive and relaxed. What’s more, I’m also much better at deciding what not to do and which requests to turn down, because what I need to do is already mapped out — I’ve already decided. By contrast, kicking off the day without a plan opens you up to working reactively, letting other people’s demands dictate what you do with your day.” — Five ways to say “no” so you can finally reclaim your focus

Note: You can’t do ANYTHING important without a plan. If you care about it, plan it — prioritize it, put it in your schedule, protect it. And have a plan for remembering to keep on doing it, no matter what.


Turning from a crushed schedule to ponder and reflect in your journal may seem impossible — going from 60 to 0 in a few seconds.

Does your day have periods of calm, rest, focus? Does your child’s day?

Have you build in enough white space to process the things that happened during the busier times of the day?

Time not just to have an experience but think about that experience and what you might do with it or add to it to make it something more?

When you think about lying down during the day (as recommended by this article), do you automatically recoil? Does it seem lazy? Ridiculous? Impossible?

Do you invest in recovery? The wandering thoughts that often precede inspiration?

“With the advent of smartphones, hardly any vertical or horizontal position is safe from the disturbances of the outside world. We ruin our sleep by exposing our retinas to the bright blue light of our screens just before bed. We put our phones next to our pillows or on the bedside table, and our first action in the morning is to reach over to check the messages that have arrived overnight.”

“What do you do to put yourself in a reflective, unhurried state of mind?”

“We relax our state of hyper-vigilance, and our thoughts soar.”Here’s to the lost art of lying down


We often talk about giving our children big chunks of uninterrupted time — and eliminating as many jarring transitions as possible, so the best play and work can continue as long as possible.

(Have you ever found yourself interrupting something you value in order to hurry on to something you actually value much less?)

“What are your hours like? A pile of pebbles  —  fragmented, shattered, a collection of short work moments? Or are your hours like a big rock  —  solid, whole, uninterrupted?

Do you have 60 minutes? Or do you have 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 25 minutes, 5 minutes, and 5 minutes?”

“If fragmented time was seen as the disease it is, it would be labeled an epidemic. No wonder people are putting in 80 hours just to manage to sweep up 30 good ones.

Time is the most precious thing there is, yet we split it up and give it away like there’s an endless supply. And whatever time you do have, you have even less attention.” — What’s an hour?

Remember, too: When children are trained to live their live in short segments, constantly interrupted, knowing that soon they’ll have to stop what they’re doing now and do something else, why would they relax, get into the flow, and invest in creating, thinking, problem-solving?

Many adults will tell you that children have short attention spans, but we *train* them to have short attention spans. Children can easily become engrossed in things that interest them, if we give them that uninterrupted, protected time.


What work could children do if they were given time and materials and supported by adults who valued their interests and ideas?

“…Dewey’s vision was that children learn by doing. Specifically, they learn by experimenting.

At the Lab School, this meant that children, from a young age, did laboratory-style work across a range of subjects. They did chemistry by working in the kitchen; botany was learned by growing plants in the garden.

Throughout, Dewey and his colleagues used terms such as ‘experiment’ and ‘laboratory’ capaciously. To them, every act of learning was seen as experimental in an important sense.”

“It should be obvious, in a sense, that children learn new material in ways that mirror the progress of scientific research.

What needs explaining is not how children came to seem like ‘little scientists’…but how they ever 
stopped seeming that way.How the scientific method came from watching children play

Children’s capabilities are enormous — we just need to support them.

Thank you as always for your continued support!

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Have a great week!
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