When meeting a group of adult learners on the first day of their return to education, I give them this piece of writing to read:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson

I invite those who feel comfortable doing so to read this poem aloud in segments. I then invite them to choose a word, a line or a phrase that speaks to them about their return to education as a mature person.

Some learners choose the line: “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us”, referring to the possibility that they may excel in their learning, discover sides of themselves and abilities within they never knew they had. They then wonder how others will accept them as their talents unfold.

Others choose the quote: “Your playing small does not serve the world…” They comment on how for most of their lives, they have kept themselves ‘small’. Sometimes, they talk about the negative messages they received in primary school that reduced their size in this world. Learners usually agree that they have a greater role to play in the world. This might mean serving others, helping others or stepping up in a grander way. Many laugh at the line: “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be?” This thought loosens everyone up and the giggles take over, usually from the females in the room!

The word “shine” in particular grabs people: “We are all meant to shine, As children do”. A discussion then follows about what life might be like if we were to shine and have less inhibitions, just as children do. Learners discuss how free and confident the children of today are. Others gravitate towards the lines: “And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same”. Some agree that as parents, the more they study, the more their confidence grows, the better the role models they will be for their children.

I tell the learners the story of how a young woman, a mother of three boys (aged nine to fourteen) went back into education and learned to ‘Shine’. She herself left school at fourteen with no Junior Cert in order to work in factories, as her family needed additional income. In her late 30s, she returned to education to study Community Care. Before her return to education, her three boys’ career aspirations amounted to leaving school early to drive a tractor on the farm. This woman’s sons watched in awe as their mother applied herself rigorously to her studies. On her return to education, she discovered that she had a great intelligence within. She not only completed her course but also received distinctions and has now set her sights on Nursing. Based on their mother’s example, the boys broadened their horizons and changed their career aspirations. The eldest is now looking into Agricultural Science; the second is considering becoming a Vet and the youngest has set his cap on college.

The mother of the three now sees herself in a whole new light; she has discovered a strength within and is focused on possibilities not barriers. This story prompts discussion on how removing our fears and dropping our insecurities can really liberate our friends, families and the people in our community.

“And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same”. Keep this inspiring quote in mind, it reminds us to show up, step up and shine.

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