To the grads of 2021 – spend this summer driving with music: and other lessons from Lisa Damour

Hi All,

It should probably comes as no surprise by now that I am a big fan of Lisa Damour’s writing and work. I recently had the good fortune of watching her speak to our grads at Lakefield College School School; Lucky us! Whenever I interact with Lisa and her work, I feel inspired to write about it and this instance was no different. I also couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that this time last year, I was writing a teary letter to our class of 2020, naively believing this would be our only class to endure such bizarre circumstances in their graduating year.

This is why I was so grateful and emotional when Lisa began her talk by simply saying “I’m sorry” to our grads; sorry that this pandemic was happening in one of the milestone years of their lives – again. For us adults, this year could be like any other; we could put off applying to that new job, writing that book or buying that house until next year.For our grads, however, this will be the only time that they graduate from high school and move onto their next big chapter. This apology from Lisa was authentic and moving; I found myself emotional and could tell our grads were as well.

Lisa guided our students through a talk about what mental health means to her and, as always, it was refreshing because it took the pressure off feeling great all the time as the anecdote to being ‘well.’ To Damour, mental health means ‘having the right feelings at the right times’ – and this year, the right feelings were often that of sadness and anxiety, as we all grappled with the state of the world and what that meant for our everyday lives. It is how we manage these emotions that dictates our mental health; do we have the tools to cope when we feel these adverse emotions? THAT, is mental health.

Damour also mentioned her qualms with the commercialization of wellbeing; something I have thought and written about a great deal as well. We should all be weary of an industry that preys upon a definition of wellbeing that demands perfection and misses the messiness of real mental health – much like the weight loss industry misses the real meaning of holistic health and wellbeing. We should teach our young people to be critical consumers of any industry that promises the gift of wellbeing as wellbeing is mostly discovered within. So then, what does that look like for us and for our young people today?

Weightlifting & the Pandemic – Unrelated you may think, but Damour’s analogy to this pandemic is pretty similar to spending 365+ days at the gym without a rest, and that can take a toll on the body. We build resilience, though, in these trying times, and Damour believes this generation will be one of the toughest in recent memory because of this fact. But resilience needs to be balanced with rest to really sink in and be sustainable, much like the body needs recovery days to build muscle at the gym. She reminded our grads that this summer they were ‘off the hook’ and could get ‘out of the gym’ and take that time to really recover. What does this recovery look like? It represents different things to different people; Lisa recalls the JOY she experienced as a teenager driving with music; one of those visceral experiences you can almost palpate 20 years after the fact.

Soft Fascination – These activities such as driving with music, gardening or walking/running tend to take up only a small slice of our ‘bandwidth’ or mental capacity unlike a ‘hard fascination’ activity such as getting lost in a book or your work. This psychological term really stayed with me; this idea of doing an activity that helps us to begin to ‘close tabs in our mental browser.’ I do all my best thinking on runs or when I garden and I love to be able to make sense of it in a more concrete way; maybe you will as well. My hope for our grads is that they locate these soft fascinations in their lives and continue to create and connect as they have been though this bizarre time.

University is NOT the best 4 years of one’s life – Lisa concluded by sharing that she really doesn’t love when adults tell young people that university will be the ‘best 4 years of their lives.’ How awful to think that the best years of your life are over at 22; and it’s just not true. She shared that she actually finds her current life to be the best; she found the partner, the job and continues to thrive in her passions. I couldn’t agree more – being a university student is a special and fun time, but I wouldn’t go back; I love my life too much now. University is, however, a good time to have a blast and, more importantly, it is a mental and emotional exercise in gaining capacity – capacity to take out into your life and thrive as an adult. There shouldn’t be so much pressure on it though.

Lisa, thank you for this talk – you connected with our grads and with us adults. As always, I felt as though I could have been sitting in a living room having a cup of tea with you; this is how accessible you are. To our grads, take this advice and take those rides with music this summer – you deserve it!

Dr. E šŸ™‚

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