The Grown-Up Guide to a Back-to-School Fresh Start

Summer break is almost over. The only upside to the pool closing and no more sleepovers during the week is that each new school year offers a fresh start full of possibilities.

When I was a student, I wanted summer to last forever, but I also liked the back-to-school rituals—of seeing the new school schedule, finding out who was in my classes and most of all, buying new school shoes. I planned to work harder, meet new friends and definitely be more organized. For kids, whose life is marked by each distinct school year, the start of school is like New Year’s for grown-ups. It’s a chance to start over.

Here are ideas for recreating that feeling you had on the first day back at school with fresh crayons inside the latest New Kids on the Block backpack:

1. Make two lists—“I’m happy about” and “I want to do more.” Remember, in January, when you thought about the New Year? You still have more than one-third of it left. What are you happy about so far in 2014? Remember the decisions and actions you took that were helpful to you and others. Also, write down what you want to do more of before the next January. Make time to lift up and think about where you are.

2. Lay out your Q4 calendar. Look at the big events that you know you want to make room for in 2014. It may be planning a visit to see friends over a holiday or visiting one of your company’s other locations. Lay out the big personal and work events you want to fit in, and save the time now—or the end of the year will make those decisions for you.

3. Create your own curriculum. When is the last time you felt uncomfortable because you had to learn something new? What topic or issue is calling your name? There are a number of resources to explore your interests: You can enroll in a class, go listen to a speaker, interview an expert or view a few of the thousands of presentations and TED Talks available online. These opportunities won’t knock on your door, so you’ll have to make time. What is your planned curriculum?

4. Connect with your “guidance counselor(s).” Meet with a mentor or advisor for their insights on your career and plans. In our busy lives, this step is often dropped as it never moves above the fire drill of the day. Make the request now or you may miss the chance this year.

5. Jump start how you plan and organize your day. If you are still keeping track of lists and your “‘to do’s” exactly as you did in your very first job or in school, you may need a refresh. Check out the new apps that can help you integrate tasks into other parts of your lives. Learn to use “rules” in your email so that you can spot your top priorities faster. Where do you need an organizational upgrade?

6. Look at your extracurriculars. If your life is only work and obligations, find the extras that will be meaningful and helpful to you. Take up yoga. Join a book club. Participate in an industry discussion group where you’ll learn and meet new people. Find one cause that needs you in your community. Perspective comes when we step out of our box and begin to see our world—and the world around us—differently.

7. Pick one thing you’ll drop. Identify one action or behavior that you will stop doing. Decide to stop checking your phone before you say good morning, stop feeling like you have to answer every email as soon as it arrives, stop the critical self-talk or stop letting others take control of your schedule. Find the one habit that you need to let go.

8. Make it the year of doing things different. Just a change in our routine causes our brains to wake up and see new possibilities. Routine can cause us to stop thinking, seeing or learning. Find the one change that helps you see things in a new light. Ride your bike to work. Start a journal. Go vegan. Experiment with your new business idea.

It’s back to school time. And you, no longer a student, can have a fresh start, too. Put on some new shoes and get started.

+ posts

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at

Leave a Comment