On journals and diaries

I recently read this post from Bukky Yusuf, on Linked In:

and I also saw this tweet from Martyn Reah, which references the ‘Reimagining the Diary’ project headed by Lucy Kelly:

As a result, I thought about my own diary writing – something I have done for many years – and reflected on what I have gained from the process.

I started writing a diary in the 1970s, as a teenager. I found it a helpful way of thinking through and processing my experiences: the ups and downs of teenage life. Because it was a satisfying and useful habit – useful in the sense that I could look back and reread earlier entries with the benefit of hindsight and, in time, growing maturity – it was a routine I sustained through my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s and now, in my 60s, I still record a diary entry for each day.

I talked about keeping a diary in my TEDx Norwich presentation in the summer of 2019, and explored how it had helped me to reflect on my life. I think it has made me appreciate some things; see other things in perspective; and give myself credit for what I have achieved. The focus of my TEDx talk was being able to see the best in yourself, and in others. We can be harsh critics of ourselves, sometimes.

A few years ago I decided to revisit ‘this day in history’ and to reread the corresponding diary entry from that day as recorded in my diaries twenty, thirty and forty years before. This has been a fascinating experience! It’s currently enabling me to consider what my life was like in the early eighties (beginning life as a teacher); the early nineties (when I was a Head of Department) and, currently, in 2001, my first year of headship. Memory can be quite unreliable – it’s selective, I think, and we all rewrite our own personal narrative to some extent. So rereading what I actually wrote, and recognising exactly what I was thinking and feeling at that point in my life, can be revealing. I share these memories with my husband, who has been part of my life during all these decades. It encourages us to talk about what we remember vividly, and to discuss the details we may have forgotten.

I don’t believe in living in the past, I have to say. I’m a person who likes to focus on the present, and anticipate the future! But I see that the past is important, as every experience we have ever had has contributed to who we are now. We make mistakes – we learn from them. We experience disappointments – we (I hope) get over them. We achieve things we can feel proud of – and it’s good to revisit those.

So I see what a challenging, but also a rewarding, experience starting my teaching career really was. I marvel at how much energy I had as I started my Head of Department role (while also teaching a three-hour nightschool class each week, doing some individual tuition, and working as an examiner each summer term!) And I appreciate the reality of early headship. As the summer break came to a close in 2001, I wrote:

Sometimes when I think about school and what’s ahead, I experience that panicky sensation – but I know I just need to remember to deal with each individual challenge one at a time and try not to let a sense of the enormity of the task I’m facing overwhelm me. I can do this.”

And I quoted this to a new head I’m mentoring in a session on Zoom recently.

Writing my diary now also helps me to value the choices, time and freedom I have in my life at this point. I loved headship. But I love my life now even more, I think, and it’s important to take stock and to remember that. I recorded an interview for David McGrath’s Teacher Hug Radio Leadership Surgery this week, and we talked about life beyond full-time work and how rich and full it can be. I understand why some people fear retirement, but I know it can be very enjoyable and fulfilling. #lifeafter is something to look forward to, I would say – not something to feel anxious about.

Maybe it isn’t too late to start your diary/journal? To go back to Bukky’s original question, I would say writing can certainly help your well-being. If physically writing on paper isn’t your thing, blogging may be the answer? Could the 2021/2022 academic year be the time you start your blog? Best wishes with it, if so!

Photo credit: John Berry

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