Labor Day weekend has come and gone, and the new school year is in full-swing. My schedule was very full this past weekend, despite the opportunity to pay homage to this national holiday of rest. Instead of spending the day at the requisite BBQ or basking in summer’s-end poolside, I felt called to spend the weekend laboring for the joy and finding joy in the labor. Especially this time of year, I find myself inspired and energized to spend time working with some of my most bright, creative, and diligent students. I cannot help but be impressed by their willingness to give up their time-off from school to work on perfecting their college application essays, getting ahead on Week 2 assignments, and honing their techniques for tackling SAT sentence completions. A former proactive, type-A student myself, I find it captivating and worthwhile to see what drives my students’ inclination to push themselves and achieve greatness. I wonder if their motivation to succeed is self-affirming and stems from their own intrinsic curiosity and desire to make an impact and pursue their passions, or if they find themselves driven to succeed by external pressures. I want my students, too, to labor for their joy and find joy in their labor, setting them up for a sense of fulfillment on their own terms, as opposed to a punitive trajectory of stressful, fear-based workaholism. It’s not in the WHAT they are doing, but more in the HOW they are doing what they do and, most importantly, WHY they are choosing to put forth the effort. Is it out of love and enthusiasm… the desire to grow and tap into possibility? Or is it because they feel beholden to some mandate from the college admissions powers above? My inclination to work now stems from a deep love for what I do, and the fulfillment I feel while helping others tap into their own personal why’s. I want to ensure that they, too, are working for the right reasons.
It is true that we all want our students to realize the happiest, healthiest, and most authentic versions of themselves. We equate these qualities with success. Sometimes, however, success harbors an ugly side. The achievement-based culture we live in can often make us forget that happiness comes before productivity, and we unwittingly allow that nagging voice in our head — the one that reminds us that we’re not doing enough — to takeover our lives. Acting from this place can prevent students from finding true fulfillment in their work, leading to a sense of emptiness once the initial high of an A or acceptance letter wears off. Some may fear that by not focusing on achievement, they may “fall behind” or not become successful, but I believe that there are infinitely more benefits to focusing on fulfillment rather than achievement. Below you will find my top 5.
1. Sustained Happiness Comes From Internal Validation, Not External Praise
While it may feel good to receive attention or praise from others, relying on external validation for a sense of self worth is very dangerous. This is because it is impossible to control how others perceive us. If we learn to be our own source of validation, we can sustain feelings of self-value, because we allow ourselves to remain in control. Focus on only making yourself proud, and you will always succeed.
2. When You Focus on What Matters To You, You Become Fearless
Releasing a desire to impress others allows us to truly follow our dreams. You realize you only have one life to live, so you might as well spend it doing that which matters to you most — even if those pursuits seem risky. You will ultimately grow all the more excited to see how far you can push your own limits, and how you can use your gifts to give back to others. You do not fear messing up because you realize the great potential for growth that lies in mistakes.
3. You’re Never Tempted To Lie or Cheat
When you no longer desire to please others, you become much more honest. Lying or cheating is less appealing when you base your actions and decisions on your own happiness, and realize that everyone benefits when honesty prevails. Achievement-based thinking tells us we need to be better than our competition, which can make it tempting to take short cuts and sabotage others. Alternatively, fulfillment-based thinking tells us we must do what is best for ourselves, and when we are truly living in an authentic way, being true to our word and that for which we stand proves all the more easy.
4. You Perform At Your Best
Nothing is more inspiring or motivating than another day to explore your potential when exploration is the end-goal. It is easy to get discouraged or depressed when you compare yourself to others or strive to achieve in an effort to please parents/teachers/society; however, when you are working only to feed your soul, you automatically put your best, most enthusiastic foot forward. This also decreases the risk of burnout, because when you are in tune with yourself, you know when to push and you know when to rest, which inturn makes you the most productive.
5. You Be Yourself
Magnetism, X-Factor, je ne sais quoi — these are all rooted in authenticity. It is easily one of the most attractive qualities a human being can possess. When you focus on building your strengths and doing that which lights you up from the inside out, you become a beacon to all that yearn to do the same. Being yourself not only makes life easier and more enjoyable, but it also breeds success in school, work, and relationships. When you are you, you become inspired and inspiring.
So, do you find yourself focusing on fulfillment or achievement? How does this serve or hinder you, and what do you think you can do to shift your motivation in a more positive direction? I’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our Rainbow EDU Facebook page!