I distinctly remember the moment I wanted to become a teacher.
There was nothing fancy or profound about the moment, but instead, there was a feeling I had.
I was going into my third year of college and was in between majors. I had been a Business major, an Accounting major, a History major, and had recently switched to an English major. (This was part of the reason it took me 5 1/2 years to graduate, but not the whole reason!).
West Chester University had a tutoring program for writers at a local high school. I was sitting in West Chester Henderson’s “Writing Zone” working with a student who was writing a memoir. It was my fourth time at the school working in the “zone” (as the kids called it) and I felt helpless.
Nothing I said seemed to correlate with the students. I talked above most of them and failed to really make a connection in our short 10 minute sessions. I kept trying to help with their grammar, structure, and overall style–but it seemed all their questions were about content, so I answered as best I could and went through the process.
In the middle of this session, a young man walked in from out in the hallway. I had seen him previously but it looked as if he was heading straight to our table to talk with the young woman sitting across from me.
He came right up to us, nodded a “Hi” to her across the table and then turned his face to me and said, “Hey, thanks so much for your help the other day. Just got back my paper, and Mrs. Reeves said it was my best yet.”
He flashed a “B-” grade my way.
We talked for a bit about the essay and then he moved on to the back of the library to talk with some friends.
It was less than a 30-second conversation.
And it changed everything for me.
I realized that even when I thought I was struggling and doing an awful job at helping these students, I could still make a difference.
I realized that it wasn’t about helping that student get an “A+” that would make a difference. It was all about helping him get better.
I realized my “WHY” for teaching was so simple: I could help people move from their point A to their point B. And I could help them even when I thought I wasn’t being much of a help.
Since then I’ve had that same WHY as a teacher, as a coach, as a staff developer, as a school leader, as a professor, as a writer, a speaker, and as a creator.
Finding Your Why
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, explains why it is so important to have this sense of “why” and purpose in what we do. He shares how it makes a difference for people, organizations, and just about everywhere:
About three and a half years ago, I made a discovery. And this discovery profoundly changed my view on how I thought the world worked, and it even profoundly changed the way in which I operate in it. As it turns out, there’s a pattern. As it turns out, all the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers, they all think, act and communicate the exact same way. And it’s the complete opposite to everyone else. All I did was codify it, and it’s probably the world’s simplest idea. I call it the golden circle.
This little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t. Let me define the terms really quickly. Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.”That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations —regardless of their size, regardless of their industry —all think, act and communicate from the inside out. They start with “Why”.
Let’s think about this for a moment. When we meet someone we often ask what they do.
During the conversation, we can sometimes get into how they do what they do. But, we almost never get to the WHY.
As a society, we tend to shy away from having those deep conversations about our work and our purpose. We often assume there is a why, but for many our occupation or work may only have a monetary value attached to the purpose.
In education, it is clear to see the what and the how emerge as students play the game of school.
For our students, the what is the work they have to do in and out of school. Depending on how well they do the work assigned, they can ultimately have different post-secondary opportunities (i.e. college).
They often say their why is college (or career). But, as Sinek points out, this is a result (just as getting paid is a result of work) not the ultimate why.
When we live in a state of compliance, it is almost impossible to find your why and live it out.
Compliance is the easy choice, not the better choice.
As Trevor Ragan of Train Ugly points out, we have the choice between easy or better all the time:
It’s easier to eat out. It’s better to cook at home.
It’s easier to play someone that you know you can beat. It’s better to play the person who might beat you.
It’s easier to read the SparkNotes. It’s better to read the book.
It’s easier to do it how it’s always been done. It’s better to challenge, stretch, and experiment.
It’s easier to talk about goals. It’s better to lace up and go to work on them – off stage.
It’s easier to enhance your strengths. It’s better to go to work on a weakness.
We’re presented this choice literally all of the time. The problem is: easy is fast, easy is fun, easy is comfortable – and we’re wired to lean in that direction.
But we grow by choosing better.
Finding your why isn’t easy, but it makes life better.
Finding your why takes time, but it changes the trajectory of your life.
Finding your why is empowering, because you own the choices you make and the things you do, design, and create.
These last few months have left me reinvigorated with why this work is so important. It is driving me to do some things differently, and double down on who I serve, and how I serve through creative work.
What’s your why, and how does it impact choosing between easy or better?