Many people have given up on New Year’s Resolutions and instead focus on a word or two as a motivational tool for the year. In that spirit, one Monday a month as part of our Motivation Monday series, I will be exploring a different word and looking at how we can apply that word as teachers as well as in our personal lives. Our January word is PURPOSE and specifically how to find your purpose.
Words to Live By: Find your purpose and increase your happiness
By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
Living a purposeful life leads to fulfillment, contentment and joy.
The definition of the word purpose is intimidating, so much so let’s break it into two parts. Purpose: “The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” (Oxford Dictionary)
Find the reason why you do something
The first half of the definition is to find a “reason for which something is done or created.” This is your WHY behind the reasons you do what you do. This first half gives us a direction.
If you have raised a three-year-old you know their favorite question is why, and honestly, maybe they are onto something. If we cannot answer why we are doing something, what is the point in doing it?
So why do you do what you do? If you keep your purpose in mind, the decisions you make and the actions you take will become easier and more meaningful.
Consider this in practical terms:
- In your personal life you make your children go to bed by 8 p.m. The why is that they need the rest or they will be tired and cranky the next day.
- You read a book instead of vacuuming the floor. The why is that you need a physical break from activity after a busy day.
- On the way home you pickup pizza instead of cooking a meal. The reason is that it is already 6 p.m. and your family is hungry. They cannot wait another hour to eat without needless snacking or meltdowns.
When you decide to do something or are asked to do something take a minute and see if there is a purpose for what you decide to do. If you can think of no good reason, then your answer is just as clear as when you can think of a good reason. Just because someone asked you to do something is not enough of a reason why!
Use purpose in your professional life
The same is true in your teaching life. Teachers make hundreds of decisions a day. If you make those without an educational purpose, however, you may be making your life harder for yourself.
- When you assign homework decide the ultimate purpose. Will it be a true benefit? Will students learn from it? If it is busy work or something that will take you forever to grade with little educational purpose, then your decision is easy.
- You assign seats alphabetically. Is there a purpose for that or is that just how you have done it?
- Students talk you out of giving a test that you have prepared them for. Is there a good reason for agreeing to do this or do you just not want to make them mad?
One of the best steps to do in any situation is to ask yourself if there is a good reason for the action you will make or decision you will take. If you cannot find your purpose then hold off. Having a purpose for what you do makes it understandable to others and also makes it easier on yourself.
Find the purpose for which you exist
The second half of the definition of the word purpose is “a reason for which something exists.” This is much more complicated and requires a much deeper look into yourself. What is your purpose? What is the reason for which you exist?
To explore this with you I am going to have to dig deeply and personally into my own life. My purpose for 32 years was to teach. It was a calling, and it was what I was meant to do. I never questioned that purpose and felt fulfilled doing it.
My purpose was to work with high school students, to help them develop, to create meaningful relationships with them and to be a mentor during their teen years. Teaching brought me great pleasure, and I loved it immensely.
My second purpose was to be a good mother and raise my sons to be good people who found their own purpose in life. That too, was a fulfilling job from which I derived much pleasure.
Like most things, however, over time our purpose changes. I retired from a career I loved last spring. Although I cannot pinpoint an exact moment, in late spring I felt my purpose changing. I did not feel the same enthusiasm and excitement when I went to work. While I felt called to do something else, I had no idea what.
My second purpose as a mother has also changed as I learn to parent adult children ages 22 and 26. They have turned in to good people with purposeful lives that they are happy in, so now I must figure out what my new purpose looks like as mom.
“IN THE END… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” – Lewis Carroll
A life without purpose is meaningless and unfulfilling. We wander aimlessly, looking for that purpose. After teaching teenagers, I can attest that many of them agonize over this because they want their lives to have meaning.
The average person will change careers 5-7 times in a lifetime. If you are questioning your career choice, you are not alone. There is also no shame in deciding you need to make a career change. Or, maybe you need to make a change in another area of your life.
If you are questioning life choices and feel that you are unfulfilled, it is okay to make changes and to take chances. I love the Lewis Carroll quote, “IN THE END… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”
What make your heart sing?
Part of finding your purpose is finding that which makes your heart sing. I have preached to my students and my own children that they need to find a life that they are passionate about and that brings them joy. The same is true for all of us.
Starting Time Out For Teachers is one way I have been led to a new purpose. I am able to use my passions to mentor and support other teachers in a new way. It brings me joy, and in this season of life, it is fulfilling.
It is important to know that a purpose does not have to be singular. There are multiple ways in which we can have purpose. This article in Psychology Today suggests five ways to find your life’s purpose. Two I particularly suggest are finding something you love and and that energizes you.
As I have studied the word purpose and applied it to my own life, I have often felt like my high school students as I start over. I have searched for the meaning and reason for why I exist, not in a negative, defeated way, but in a hopeful, what is next in my life way.
I challenge you to do the same in your life. If you are unhappy or questioning your “why” try something new. Life is short––pursue your passions and find your purpose. When you do that, you will also find your happiness.