It’s fall, and students everywhere are starting back to class. But there’s one course none of us ever graduates from in this life. Here are ten pointers for how to pass it with flying colors.
Today we feature a guest post by Bev Godby, Senior Consultant at The Giftedness Center. Bev specializes in college students and young adults, as well as women in various kinds of transition.
It’s that time again! The end of summer, officially announced by Labor Day weekend, and also by children everywhere pulling on backpacks with new supplies inside, carefully (perhaps overly so) choosing first-day outfits, and otherwise getting ready for another year of academic learning.
But sooner or later, the day comes when we no longer walk those halls lined with lockers and rooms with waiting desks. We graduate—from elementary school, from middle school, from high school, from college, some even from post-graduate studies. Once we often heave huge sigh of relief at being done, never again having to turn in a paper, sit for a test, or recite in class.
However, there is one learning assignment we really never complete: finding the road to significance and making our days count for something particular, instead of adding up to nothing special or worth remembering. The bell rings only once to signal the end of that class. And there are no do-overs, no make-up tests, no way to earn extra credit at that point. Whatever we turn in, we turn in.
The tricky part is, that course is offered every single day we’re alive. But sadly, many of us cut class way too often. Then before long we find ourselves waking up to the realization that whole parts of our life have passed us by, and we are haunted by the fear that our lives are being written as if in water. Sometimes we still aren’t all that sure about what we even have to offer. Our days move faster and faster, yet it may have been a long time since we experienced joy and a compelling sense of meaning as we fall into bed each night.
That’s not good! A final exam in this course is inevitable, and here’s what the questions will be: Why am I here in this space and time? How do I fit in and add value in this vast world? What is the unique contribution and character of my singular story?
As it turns out, the answers to those questions are cumulatively derived—but definitively revealed only when class lets out for the last time.
So what better time than with the advent of another school year upon us to ponder how well we are using our time in this master class—and get ourselves back to basics? The clock is ticking, so let’s get started!
No matter how long it’s been since you began this journey we call life, today—this day that you are in—is the only one you have to live on purpose, and with purpose. And so this class will always be about your very next choice, each and every time.
So here we go. Ten guidelines to finding your own pathway to significance and being the class act you were born to be.
Choosing Your Life Forward Every Day
1. Look on your own paper
We live in an age bombarded by social media, and if we are not careful, we can become experts on the lives and preferences of others, and oblivious to what matters most—living the creative best of the person we have been uniquely designed to be.
2. Read the assigned text
Whatever has formed and shaped you thus far in your life story is worth reviewing. But all too often, looking back becomes an occasion for blame or shame, which only leaves you mired in the past, shackled to what can never be changed, unable to move. So read your past again, but this time move beyond the inevitable and unquestionable brokenness to mine out what is right with you and which part of your story has brought you great satisfaction and joy.
3. Study the evidence
Life reveals us for who we are and how we intuitively, instinctively function. By becoming a student of the life story we are in, we can learn how to glean essential insights from the past that can give us guidance, a kind of GPS to use for strategic navigation.
4. Connect the dots
There is a pattern to the way you function at your best. When you reflect back on the times in your life when things seemed to work for you, what were you doing? Who else was present? What was the environment surrounding you? What was the satisfaction for you? As you look across those snapshot memories from your past, do you see any connections? Any similarities? Any patterns?
5. Accept tutoring when you need it
Let’s face it, we are all “special needs” learners at times. In some areas we need a person to come alongside and give us encouragement and/or support. Knowing when and how to ask for that help is critical. So often other people who care about us can see us with a perspective we cannot get on our own. The best tutors are always people you know who believe in you, champion your efforts, and want you to succeed.
6. Do your homework
Practice what you learn about yourself. For instance, if the evidence from your life story shows that you seem to do your best in a team environment, then think about the presence of “team” for you in the realities of your life—e.g., at work, at home, at the gym, etc. And think about how your lifelong affinity for teams may have affected your experience, whether positively or negatively. What kind of responsibility might you need to take to alter your circumstances to fit you better?
7. Take notes in class
Keep an accounting of how your life is going in its various areas. Where are you struggling? Where are you succeeding? Where do you seem to be stuck in neutral? For each of those outcomes, ask yourself: what is my part in that? As much as possible, avoid the traps of blame (“It’s just that my boss is a complete jerk!”) or shame (“I am such a failure as a mother.”) Instead, try to rehearse each of the individual choices that you have been making that could have led to such outcomes.
8. Sign up for lab
Think of one area you would like to really focus on. Oftentimes, it helps to begin with an area where you are already experiencing some success. In that case, write down everything you enjoy about that activity and what specifically gives you satisfaction in the doing of it. Now go back to the evidence you collected from your life story about when you seem to function at your best. What overlap do you see? Does that give you any insight into those other areas in your life that create constant struggle or boredom for you (keeping in mind that no endeavor will ever be a perfect fit for you)? Move on to embrace those areas, even if they present significant challenges for you. In doing so, expect to be frustrated and discouraged at times. But that’s okay. It is the ability to persevere and stand up to obstacles and limitations that builds needed competencies and stimulates growth.
9. Do extra credit
Review some additional stories from your life, and work the discovery process again with each one, looking for all those elements that seem to be in place when you are in your “sweet spot,” loving life and enjoying the ride. Try to name some of your best stuff, the things you see yourself doing in a particular moment. For example: “I enjoyed trying to understand both sides, and get everybody to listen to each other.” Or, “I loved being able to figure out what no one else could and getting recognized for doing that.” Those golden nuggets describe the person you most want to be, and in fact the person this world needs you to be. Think of every decision facing you as a chance to either choose to make that uniquely heroic contribution and be the best of you in truth relentlessly, or else to shrink back into something less, something unseen, something unworthy.
10. Pursue graduate independent studies
Every day you are faced with a series of choices. The most important one is always the next choice. Some days you’ll face the big, monumental choices—what job to take, whom to marry, what is the right and most ethical way to behave in a situation, etc. Then on other days your choices will seem as basic as how to spend your free time, or how much money to save for a rainy day. But every single choice leads you down a certain path that writes the part of your story that awaits you, the part that’s about to be written. Once the ink dries on that decision, it cannot be changed or canceled. It’s like payments you make over the phone nowadays: they remain on your permanent record. Only in the case of your daily choices, your permanent record is the one that not only follows you in this life, but also, as it grows over the years, begins to bend the arc of your life, tilting it either upwards, or sadly, somewhere else. The next choice—that’s the one to focus on! And the more you know about—and have practiced acting on behalf of—who you are at your best, how you optimally function, and what you’re here to contribute to this world, the more likely it is that you will intentionally make life-giving choices—one at a time, choosing your life forward.
Question: What’s the hardest thing you find in “studying” for the daily course called life?
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