Saturday, June 24, 2017
The #FutureSelf: Mission Driven Life, Goals, and Equity of the #FutureSelf
I will begin by saying this is a general editorial as I reflect on life this Saturday morning. My hope is our students can draw something from my experience to better their experience.
As a school leader mission is on my mind constantly. Missions are the driving ideas for which we do things. Missions are what get us up in the morning, keep us hungry, and give us fulfillment. I carry a card in my wallet that has my missions:
- Be the best father and husband that I can be.
- Be the best friend and colleague that I can be.
- Lead schools where students can become the best version of themselves.
That may sound corny, but it works for me, and has worked for me since I was a teenager. I truly believe being able to define your missions is what can make you successful, and fulfilled. This is a personal process that you control, and define. Everyone’s missions will look different, and should be different. We derive purpose from our missions, and define the future and current self by our missions.
My mindset comes from a few different people who impressed it upon me throughout my life. I credit my parents, some coaches, and mentors who in various ways expounded on the worth of a mission driven life. I think the two keys to a mission driven mindset are goals and reflection. Missions require goals, both small and large that you set and attain, or fail to attain, and then reflect on and try again. I have found that small and large goals are a key to my personal drive, and I believe that our students can benefit from this mindset. I have found that when I am honest in reflection, then I can attain what I want in time. I will say that it can be very hard to honest in reflection. It is hard to look in the mirror and say, “I didn’t do enough. I did not work hard enough. I didn’t make the right choice.” However, if we are willing to do that, I believe the rewards reaped are worth the honesty.
I try to compartmentalize my life in my various missions. Today I got up early, went and lifted and did cardio not because I enjoy it (this fatboy hates it) but because my primary mission is be a good husband and father. It is hard to do that when you are out of shape. I was doing well for about two years, and then a bulging disk happened. Time took off to “heal” became an excuse, and in reflection I had to change what I was doing to give honor to being more fit, and therefore more able to live longer and be effective in my mission. Reflection on my weight, health, and mindset found that I was making excuses. “I’m too tired. It is hard with three kids, and a job that can be brutal. I’m too old.” These are all excuses that from deep reflection, I need to remedy. As I write this piece now, it is a result of mission. I think that perhaps some of our students may read it, and be able to internalize some of the tools I have used on my journey thus far and be better prepared for their future self. With that thought, I am going to expound on the first essential part of a mission driven life, looking to the future self. Setting goals.
I set a goal in my practice to be a principal by thirty. I laid out in a spreadsheet what I needed to do to make that happen. This included big goals, and small goals. I lined out training's I thought I needed, people I needed to listen to, experiences I needed to have, and work I needed to undertake if I wanted this goal to manifest. I followed my plan, adjusted it, consulted wiser people, learned from mistakes, and by hard work and fortunance, I was a principal by thirty. I set a goal to move my second school to at least “proficient” status. I laid out what I thought needed to happen, consulted wise people, adjusted the plan, and in a year we were not proficient, we were distinguished. When I was in high school, I set a goal that I wanted to be a state champion in weightlifting. I laid out my workout plan, consulted with my coaches, and put in the work. By the end of it, I was a state champion. Perhaps the most important goal I ever laid out was to get a date with this amazingly gorgeous redhead, and twenty years later, we now have three kids and a life worth living.
I do not say this to “humble brag”. Nothing that I have done is truly exceptional or world changing. I am a normal guy, living a pretty normal life. I haven’t cured cancer, and I am not terribly bright or talented. I firmly believe that any success I have had is solely due to hard work and setting goals for what I want my future self, and what I want out of the life I have. I want to impart the importance of goals in a mission driven life. I have, from a young age looked at what my “future self” will be. I have spent time writing down who I want to be, what I want to do with my time on earth, and what I want to accomplish. I have made mistakes, poor choices, acted the fool, and done risk prone things that distracted from what I want to be. Reflection is what allows me to learn from poor choices so that I will not repeat them. I will not pretend it always works, we are not perfect beings, and I am far from perfect, but I will say that I know intrinsically that when I truly look in the mirror and look deep, I can see my faults and try to improve upon them. We all face that struggle. I try to reassess, change poor behaviors, and reset my goals for the future self that I want to become.
Some of the goals are audacious and perhaps I will never see. Some of them have shifted, or life choices have rendered them null. An example would be a goal I wrote down in my third year as a principal “to be a superintendent by 37.” That goal changed when I was fortunate enough to come to Moore, because after doing a year as an assistant superintendent I found that my passion was still at the building level, and Moore had always been the dream job. Therefore, the goal shifted. As we grow, what we thought we wanted years before can and will change. That’s OK and part of the human experience. What I think we need to guard against is that the choice doesn’t come from convenience, but from a deep desire for what our missions truly are.
In my life, there have been goals I have failed, by my own choices or lack of work, and some outside of my control. An example inside of my locus of control was around age twenty-eight I was competing in submission wrestling tournaments. I had entered in a contest in TN, and had in my mind I would make my way through the bracket and come home with first. In the weeks leading up my training slacked, I got complacent, and came down to TN nowhere near as prepared as I should have been. I was gassed after the first two rounds and met an opponent in the semifinals that I felt was inferior. I was dead wrong. The guy was about nine years older than me, and much better prepared. Not only did he beat me, but also he embarrassed me for my lack of preparation. After being humbled, I was so gassed I went into the bathroom and wretched for a solid half hour. Walking out of that bathroom to the friends who had driven down with me, listening to my confidence was a humbling experience. An example outside of my control would be the Naval Academy. I was to be appointed to Annapolis by Senator Mazzoli, but health issues precluded me from final selection. This dream I had was dashed by a fine man named Dr. Stout who said “Sorry, but there’s nothing you can do at this point.” Hard words for a headstrong seventeen year old to hear. Both of these examples I consider pivotal reflection points in my life.
Goals are just pretty words unless they are coupled with reflection, and changing behaviors and work ethic to achieve the goals. Reflection is a huge key to a mission driven life. I believe this is a learned skill, honed by practice. To the students reading this I recommend you start here: take your most recent failure, big or small and write down the reasons you think you failed. What was within your control, and what was not? In my two examples, I could not change anything about my health for the second example, but for the first, it was within my control. After lining out these things, how then can you improve your response to that which you can control? What actions can you take to make sure when you next are tested, you do not fail? Failure is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s essential to growth, and in our darkest moments, and lowest points we can find a clarity we would never see otherwise. Do not bemoan failure, embrace it, reflect upon it and learn from it.
What I think you will find is that often, the actions you can take to not fail will be hard. They will require work, effort, and giving up some of the more fun things in life. It may be hard to see, but the payoff in the end will be worth it. I have found that when I achieve goals, I feel better, more confident, and I approach life with better purpose. A wise man once told me “You forget the long days of climbing when you stand at the top of the mountain.” As students, I want you to think about that in terms of anything in life. I realize I use some examples from sports, because that is a common frame of reference but if you take it from the lens of other areas, it will serve you well. If you are a member of the band, no one sees the hours you spend perfecting your instrument and only you will know whether you spent a few hours, or the amount truly necessary to shine. They will see the product, but they will not know if you put in a day worth or work, or a year. You will, and you can reflect then on whether or not it was enough. In your studies, the same applies. Only you will know if you spent time mastering the content before you. If your goal is to be a doctor, then you are going to need to master biology among other things. Are you spending the time today to prepare for your future self as a doctor? Or are you just saying “I’m going to be a doctor.” The first step is making that statement and good on you for the goal, but if there are not smaller goals, and the work that accompany them leading up to that, you will never be a doctor. You will only have said you wanted to be, but you have cheated your future self because you did not do the grind necessary to become your future self. Do not cheat the grind as you will never win. It will catch up to you.
Existing outside and often against the mission driven life, and your future self are barriers or societal conditions outside of your control. I recognize that I came from a middle class family that afforded me certain privileges. I think it is important that as we lead mission driven lives we recognize this and how it affects our future self, and those around us. I recognize that not all of our students have this background. If you are born rich, you will have more opportunity. If you are born white in America the reality is you will have more opportunity. The reality of our world is that we do not start from an equal place. In high school, I saw it in that some of my classmates had so much more than me. They would bemoan that they were driving a used lexus, and I am thinking dang I am still on the TARC. When I was younger, I resented it. When I grew older, I found that I did not resent their stuff, but the fact that they were willing to use their stuff to put others down and come across as being ‘better’ because they had more things. It dawned on me then that there was something that no one could put down, take from me, alter, or otherwise have any say in. My missions were my own. My goals were my own. The work I would do to achieve them were my own. I have the locus of control over these things. As a school leader now, I see this among my students. They are not coming from the same place, with the same things, the same advantages, or opportunities. However, they can control what they want their future self to be and I can do my absolute best to provide support and opportunities to get them to their future self. I believe deeply that education, and the system around it is the vehicle in which we can bring equity to people to pursue and achieve their future self.
This to me is the basic mission of education. I think that often we must lean on wiser people to help achieve our goals, and later hopefully we are in a position to be that wiser person for someone else. In the pursuit of your future self, you may need to call upon the help of other folks to navigate the barriers of life. At our school, you have tons of resources: teachers, principals, FRYSC, social worker, therapists, counselors, coaches. Access these people and articulate what you want your future self to be, and ask how can they help you reach that? Lean on the advice and help of folks whose role is to help, and have been through it before. We all need aides on our path. We all need guidance to our future self. It is the inherent role of the educator to guide. We must take this mission so seriously that it keeps us up at night.
We can control ourselves, our mindset, our mission, and our goals. That is one area where the locus of control falls squarely on our shoulders. We can achieve and be what we want, by adhering the vision of the future self we want to become, setting goals to achieve it, and putting in the work to become who we wish to be. Here is where I also think it is extremely important to have part of your mission be to change inequity. We all deserve to pursue the future self we want to come. We all deserve to pursue a life that we want, and fulfillment from that life. I will flat out admit it both angers me that not all of our students start from the same place, but also motivates me in my work. I believe as educators we are in the dream buisness. It is our job to get students to be their future self, no matter what may complicate it or stand in the way. It is equally our job as educators to build the new generation with the mindset that they must break down inequities and barriers so that the next generation has an easier time to get to their future self. This is a progress of our people worth working towards. Editorializing here: I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to work towards a society of equity, where we all have an equal chance to be the person we want to be. We are better as a people when we are mission driven and fulfilled. I will suggest as you examine what your future self will be to make sure that you want the same. We are better off as a world when we build each other up, help each other become the best future self we can become, and lend a hand to those on their path to their future self. Greatness does not come from tearing people down, and I think when you do this, you tear yourself down.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read): Define your missions, set goals, reflect, and be kind and helpful to other’s on their path to their future self.
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