“‘Lost’ is said in many ways. It is juxtaposed with both winning and finding. One can lose something and one can be lost.
When we lose instead of win, there is a permanence to loss that appears to make it different from losing, for example, the car keys. The keys, under the status lost, seem capable of being found. But the permanent loss of, say, the World Series can never be undone. Still, it is not the notion of competition—of winning versus losing—that is troubling here. It is this permanence. For we can lose our virginity to a loved one, lose a loved one to death, or lose a weekend to alcohol: all permanent losses with no mirror possibilities of winning. The issue, however, is still more complex. That which is lost can never truly be found. All loss is permanent. The lost dog who makes his way home is found to be a new dog” (Steeves, 2006, p. 55).
As a human, loss has been a large part of my existence. When I came out many years ago, there was a part of me that was forced to move forward. To progress. Like a snake shedding their skin, I took on a fresher outer layer, a slicker exterior, a mostly-new me. And as a result, I experienced an intense amount of loss – both literal and developmental. I lost friends and family members, yet gained new ideologies, philosophies, and world views. I lost (and gained) weight, left cities (and countries), and expanded my brain in ways that brought me to and from ideas – all only to leave me a better, and (re)new(ed) person. Like the lost dog who returned to its home (Steeves, 2016) or the snake with new, post-shed skin, the new me, albeit at one point lost, was still me…just newer, fresher, more seen and capable of seeing.
As an educator, I understand loss in the practical sense, and in the philosophical sense. Students attend and leave institutions. They learn and grow. And sometimes I am part of that learning and growing. Students develop. They fail tests, they get dream jobs, they disappoint, and sometimes they disappear. Some even continue to grow long after they leave campuses and classrooms. In that growth and development, I think of Steeves’ (2006) sentiments, and wonder, (how) is loss associated with growth? Even when found (or when we find), are we still, then, experiencing loss? And at this point, what have we left behind when we grow or develop? Are we growing and developing?
And is this, too, associated with the loss that Steeves (2006) highlights?
I apply this same frame of thinking to students and their development. This was an “aha” moment for me in a student development theory class last semester. In addition to growth and development, students also experience a sense of loss when they move into a new existence. They leave something behind. And at times, they leave some people behind. For example, as a student develops a religious or political identity different from that which they come from (“home,” or wherever), they might also grapple with turning their back on what they have always been taught – the loss associated with moving on from beliefs, and who or what gets left behind in those contexts. Ultimately, the student who starts to make decisions for their self – failing and/or succeeding – is on a journey to being more independent and autonomous than ever before.
When I left the world of full-time work to be a full-time student, I left parts of me behind. Now, with each academic semester, I leave even more parts of the old me – my former skin – behind. With each year, I try to become a better partner, friend, educator, and human. As I start a new and challenging semester of school, work, and life, I continue to process the connection between loss and growth.
Most notably, much of my experience as a student thus far has consisted of grappling with my perceptions of perfection, and what it means to fall short of that standard – to lose in the “game of perfection.” Papers and projects are graded; feedback is plenty. And while I resist perfection, a journey I will never fully conquer, the pressure still looms over me. What am I leaving behind when I acknowledge (and embrace, accept) the reality that I am not (and will not be) perfect? What does it mean to be imperfect? To get lost sometimes? And what does it mean to view perfection with a critical eye, and still embrace the finding that is involved within that losing?
As I (continue to) challenge what I thought I knew, and what is left to be known, I embrace that which will not ever be the same. Just as students fail, progress, and develop, I, too, am in that same space. Growing. Progressing. Developing. To lose (at perfection), in this case, is still to grow (as a student, friend, partner). It is still to find (that which makes me worthy; new strengths; myself).
While the threat of perfection was the skin I shed last spring, I am holding on to this same sentiment as I settle into 2018. I am holding on to growth, and to growing.
A better, new(er) person;
but still the same person;
still, sometimes lost.
And still, totally ok.
“This process of self-discovery is not easy; it may involve suffering, doubt, dismay. But we must not shrink from the fullness of our being in attempting to reduce the pain” (O’Donohue, 1997, p. 108).
O’Donohue, J. (1997). Anam cara. New York: Cliff Street Books.
Steeves, H. P. (2006). The things themselves: Phenomenology and the return to the everyday. Albany: State University of New York Press.