Editorial Notebook

Everything I learned in a day

The favorite question of parents, the moment their kids come home from school: what have you learned today? Whenever I’m posed this question, I think “Well, I haven’t figured out the correct milk to batter ratio for the new pancake mix I’m trying out. I haven’t found time to read the book that’s been on my desk for weeks. I have yet to remember that song I forgot the name of. And I haven’t decided how I’m going to put my life in order, executing my endless to-do list in the process. How could I have possibly learned anything today?”

So one day, I paid attention. I wrote down every piece of information I encountered that I didn’t know before. What I noticed were small things, many small things. It turns out that if you look close enough, you can learn a million different things every single day, such as:

  • Apparently, mice like humane traps better.
  • My roommate can’t get a mouse out of a humane mouse trap without letting it back into our house.
  • My backpack is too small.
  • I have too many things.
  • It’s possible to make a disposable camera go off by picking it up.
  • The reason this seat wasn’t taken was because every time the door swings shut, it blows all of your papers off your desk.
  • She was waving to the person behind me.
  • I don’t make eye contact as much as I think I do.
  • I should use the phrase “canary in a coal mine” more.
  • If you stand next to a tree, it will dump snow on you to get you to move.
  • I need to be closer to remote-start my car.
  • You should wear gloves when shoveling snow.
  • It’s hard to Google “symptoms of frostbite” when you can’t feel your hands.
  • If you get a mug at Disney World, it will end up at Goodwill.
  • If you want a Disney World mug, go to Goodwill.
  • Valero makes you manually hold the pump the whole time you’re getting gas.
  • In snowstorm weather, the sky is the same color as gutter snow.

More than just a chronology of how I spent my day, this list provides insight into how I was feeling at each moment. What I deemed important enough to notate, along with what thoughts spur which others, leads to a better understanding of myself. For instance, after I misunderstood someone’s greeting as meant for me, I became self conscious, realizing that I shift my eyes when conversing with people. Without this exercise, I would have never discovered this facet of my personality.

You may no longer come home every day to face your parents’ same interrogation, but you can still ask yourself the question. We don’t all have the big things figured out. But if that day has taught me anything, it’s that progress—like things you learn—may seem insignificant on its own, but viewed together, is quite substantial.