As I progress through life and the challenges that I face each day, both personally and professionally, this is a question I often ponder. I have found myself thinking about this question a lot recently, especially so within the last five years. The reason for this question is that of self reflection, maybe even jealousy to some extent. For example, when I see a young entrepreneur immediately hit the jackpot with a new start up business and brand new innovative products, I think to myself ‘Why can’t I do that?’. When I have worked with people in past careers that have been loving their day and have been full of positivity and motivation, and I’ve been consumed with negativity and lethargy, I’ve asked myself ‘Why do I feel this way…why can I not be like them?’. When I’ve watched amazing guitar players on YouTube, I have felt my self confidence and childhood dreams of being ‘the best’ slowly getting chipped away to the point of becoming atomic dust. This has previously led to me asking myself the question ‘Why am I even bothering?’. In recent years as a guitar teacher, I have had days where I have really disliked what I’m doing and I’ve had flighting thoughts about changing my career, and minutes later found myself thinking ‘But Jay, this is your dream job, what the hell is wrong with you?’.
I’m big on problem solving; I enjoy a good solution, and I especially enjoy feeling successful, like most people I’d expect. So this has led to me ask questions like ‘Why do I have these thoughts?’, and ‘What is the most important quality for a person to possess?’. The answer I have humbly arrived at time and time again is that I haven’t possessed a key sense during these times of deep reflection, negativity and low self esteem. That sense is a sense of purpose.
If we think about that for a second, purpose is a fundamentally important aspect of every day life that influences even the most mundane of tasks; purpose is behind every action we make every day. It is the reason we:
- Get out of bed
- Go food shopping
- Put fuel into our cars
- Brush our teeth
- Go out socialising with our friends and family, to name a few.
Purpose usually guarantees some kind of outcome, whether positive or negative, and I firmly believe that purpose is self fulfilling. For example, going food shopping fills our cupboards and fridges full of wonderful fresh produce that we can use to make meals for ourselves throughout the week. This in turn feeds us, fuelling our dietary requirements to allow us to function optimally each day.
However, going shopping itself can yield a positive or negative outcome, dependent on the purpose. If we approach our shops with the idea of eating healthily, our minds will be focussed this way, guiding our choices. If we approach our shops with the idea of making quick and easy food, this will most probably lead to the purchase of a lot of unhealthy foods that will be less effective at providing us with a balanced intake of nutrients, keeping our hunger at bay and fuelling us through our day.
Anyway, stepping away from metaphors and moving time forward to the status quo, my purpose in life is something that I’m very careful to consider every day, because I want to be happy, I want to be successful, and where I can, I want to try to inspire others. So, when I sit and have my morning brew (it has to be Yorkshire tea, slightly milky with no sugar), I have a quick think about the day ahead of me, both personally and pedagogically. (The purpose of this in itself is to make sure my day is not wasted. It is a known fact that life is short, and I refuse to let myself sink to the pits of wishing my week away in order to get to the weekend. I respect myself and my time on this earth more than that!) I find that this time planning a loose itinerary for my day gives me a focus, goals and a sense of ownership over my time, my life and my profession. Some example questions I may ask myself are:
- What do I want to achieve today?
- What challenges do I face?
- What did I do yesterday that I can do better today?
- Am I happy with my interactions with the people I encounter? If not, how can I make them better?
- Am I where I want to be in my life and career? If not, how do I get there?
- Am I being the best version of what I know I can be? Are people seeing that?
- Are my expectations of myself and my day reasonable, achievable and leading to personal and professional growth?
Once I have an idea of exactly what my goals are for the day, I set out to ‘work’ with clear purpose. From the minute I leave the house, I try keep myself aligned with those goals, which, admittedly, is the hard part. In both my professional and personal life – not unlike anyone else’s I’m certain – I encounter many people, which themselves can bring along other challenges and variables that cannot always be foreseen. This can cause my ship full of purpose to veer off course from time to time, causing me to end up in unchartered waters unsure where to turn to get back onto the correct heading. In these situations, I try to take a few seconds to have a few controlled breaths and rekindle the thoughts and goals I had that morning, then set back to work, careful to avoid disappointing myself. I’ve become even better at this since reading the fabulous book ‘The Art Of Being Brilliant’ by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker (http://amzn.eu/89rJEaT). As a result of reading this book, I stumbled across an excerpt of David Pollay’s book ‘The Law Of The Garbage Truck’, which looks at the principle of likening people to dumper trucks. (It is an interesting metaphor, but extremely worth reading about!)
Once my day is over, I have another brew and undertake another process, that of evaluation. This is the important part; I try to build a picture of how successful I’ve been in meeting my goals, where I lost track, and how I could better manage that situation the next day. I then take some time to feel proud about my achievements, and dream of where those decisions I have – or in some cases haven’t – made could take me and the people I have interacted with during my day. This makes me feel great, because I end up feeling that I have spent my time well and I have achieved what I set out to achieve. In the situation where I haven’t met my goals, I still look upon this optimistically and positively, simply because I have identified areas I can improve that will allow me to work on becoming a better version of myself. It all adds up towards my general positivity, my self esteem, my feelings of contentment and my enjoyment of life. It assimilates to form my vision of myself, who I am, and what I stand for.
Now, the meaty bit! The reason I’ve put the time into explaining my feelings this way is because of a realisation I experienced a few years back, and continue to experience each day now I’m aware of it; a perpetuating and intensifying epiphany, if you will. Like negativity, positivity is equally infectious. In the teaching profession, there is a quote – “teachers who love to teach, teach learners who love to learn”. Really, whether we teach for a living or we don’t, we owe it to ourselves to never loose sight of the fact that no matter where we are from, what age we are, what religion we follow, or how much we know, we are all students of life; life is our teacher and we are it’s learners. If we can see life for what it is, which is a fantastic, exciting, precious and limitless (yet limited – only 29,747.5 days based on the 2012 UK average life expectancy!) opportunity to grow and experience, we can learn to love every minute of it, learn to develop into who we want to be and learn to use this miraculous gift to get where we want to be. Furthermore, if we are all able to see life this way, we would have much more chance of passing on some of that extremely infectious positivity onto the next person looking up at us. Those people, whether they are our students, family, friends, colleagues or even strangers, have the right to see us at our best. I believe that as individuals, we have the right to show ourselves off at our best and lead by example.
To summarise, this mindset of encouraging myself to consider where I am and where I want to be, both personally and professionally, has begun to change my life. It has focussed my sights on what is important to me, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and more importantly, what areas of my life deserve my time and how that time is best invested for the best results. It has made me happier, more opened my mind, more aware, less competitive, more energetic and made me realise in deep way that life is literally what you make of it. My purpose – or in other words, the reasons I do what I do – tends to fluctuate slightly week by week, but ultimately, I simply want to be the absolute ultimate version of myself I can possibly and reasonably be, every day.
So, tomorrow morning, what will your purpose be? It could change your life and the lives of those around you.