I had to come to DC for eight weeks of classes this summer. My parents, my three kids, and our family dog came with me, which made for a fun couple of months running around the city.
University housing options weren’t going to work, so I found a home to rent for June and July not too far from campus. It’s an older home, with all the charm and quirkiness that older homes have. The owners told me that it had been built in 1930 from a Sears Roebuck model home kit. (Who knew? Apparently Sears Roebucks sold a wide variety of model home blueprints and kits from 1908-1940.) I found some online archives, showed my kids pictures of the different Sears homes, and we began trying to identify other homes in the neighborhood that might have come from Sears kits.
Our summer rental thus contributed to a theme that we continued to explore: change and consistency.
While my kids were talking about change and consistency between some of the Sears models, between the old homes and new homes, and between DC and our hometown of Pittsburgh, I was thinking about change and consistency in daily life.
I’m a routine-oriented person. I like knowing what time I’m going to wake up and go to bed and what’s going to happen in between. With kids, a full-time job and studies, routine equals sanity. Yet this summer has been anything but routine – and it’s been great!
My conclusion: shaking up your routine is good once in a while. Here are three reasons why.
1) You View Yourself More Objectively
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” (Aristotle).
When life is a mix of many circumstances along with our own manner of engaging with it, it’s sometimes tough to sort out what’s what. Taking a step back from your routine makes it easier to examine life, and our experience of it, more neutrally. Pay attention to the way you respond to new situations, and to what feelings and desires seem to follow you wherever you go. Look at both the good and the bad, identify what is life-giving and what is too draining, and decide upon some tweaks—or bigger changes—that you want to try when you go back to your normal routine.
2) You Reconnect With Parts of Yourself That You Have Forgotten
This is easiest to explain by example. I drove past a church this summer that I hadn’t been to since I was a child—I’d forgotten it even existed. The brick front hadn’t changed much over twenty years. Seeing it gave me pause, and a momentary awareness of how my faith has been a part of me since I was very young. So many things in life change, but some things endure.
I also walked to the grocery store and carried bags back home for the first time in a long while. Nothing monumental perhaps, but a good reminder that my pace of life hasn’t always been as frenetic as it is now, and maybe I need to reclaim some of that.
Memory is an important part of your identity, and tapping into it in unexpected ways can help integrate your past and present and let you draw more fully from your own wealth of experience.
3) You Experience New Dimensions of Other People
This is true of people you meet but perhaps even more significantly, of the family or friends you travel with.
At home, my kids live in the realm of the known. Away, they face an existence much larger than themselves, and their focus shifts from interacting with predictable variables to exploring the unknown—sometimes conquering it, sometimes feeling overwhelmed by it. In either case, they are learning to relate more broadly both to the world around them and to their own inner experience, which expands in breadth and depth. New situations have opened the door to great conversations about change and consistency, growth and values.
And I, who see all this, observe with wonder, and get to see new aspects of their personalities, new ways that they take on challenges or make decisions and handle conflicts.
So, if you have the opportunity to get catapulted out of your routine, go for it! Even if you can’t get away, try switching up your schedule or changing your surroundings where you are. Visit places you’ve never been in your own city. Go somewhere peaceful for a day. Meet new people and have different conversations. Anything that gives you a bit of distance from your humdrum reality can bring fresh insight and energy.
For me and my family, we’re ready for “normal” again. Classes are winding down, and I’ll soon be turning the key in on the old Sears Roebuck’s home. As my four-year-old reminded me, if we come again next year, there will be new changes to explore. In the meantime, it’s home again, home again, jiggity jig!