Teaching was the how of my why?
Years ago, I developed an acronym which eventually turned into a workshop and keynote speaking topic: P.R.I.D.E.
I challenged my audiences to act with
In a 2010 post on this blog, I described PURPOSE as such:
Know your direction and act with specificity. What is it that drives you? Why do you put your feet on the floor each morning? What pulls you from bed day after day? While I find long-term goals quite motivating, they can be rather intimidating to others. In our fast-food-I-want-it-now-world, they lack immediacy. And they require work. Don’t sabotage yourself with shortcuts and—dare I say—laziness. Evaluate your goal and the steps you must take to make the goal a reality. If you really want it, start with one step—even if it is a small step.
But what happens when that purpose is lost or obfuscated? What happens when you find nothing compelling enough to pull you from bed each morning other than a list of projects? Do you still have a purpose?
For instance, during my four decades of classroom teaching, speaking, facilitation, and writing I saw those activities as conduits for my purpose to help people build relationships, resources, and resilience. For me, easily identifiable.
Six years ago I retired from classroom teaching. When I walked away from campus on that final day in May of 2015 I still had my purpose to facilitate conversations through workshops and writing. I would make a difference on a larger stage with more people. I thought.
Two years ago, I made the conscious decision to step away from traveling to national speaking engagements. I wanted to focus my efforts on my writing, pet therapy, and local community issues. This time, my focus turned to a smaller stage.
Somewhere, though, my thoughts got jumbled and distracted. The further I moved from classroom teaching and speaking, the more I felt like I had lost my purpose. Had I become an invisible soul creating and completing little projects with no connecting purpose?
Serendipitously, last week I re-read Viktor E. Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning and have come to question the concept of purpose. Or more specifically, the manner in which I have used the word.
Frankl made the case that “man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life….” In essence, a person’s why for living. Quoting Nietzsche, he wrote “He who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.”
Perhaps I had come to confuse what my purpose was with what my ego desired. If the stage I stood on was not large and visible to many, then (in my devolving way of thinking) I must have lost my purpose. The incessant drive of ego confused my true meaning. As I reflect on that now, I can see the error in my thinking. Borrowing the words from an Abigail Johnson post, “I decided not to hide any longer.” I needed to confront the dilemma: Had I lost purpose or had I lost ego-satisfying opportunities?
Some of the most poignant and purposeful moments of my classroom teaching came in one-on-one conversations with students after class, in the library, walking down the hallway, in the cafeteria, or during office hours. Connecting with another human being. Small stage with consequential results.
For me, the why was not speaking or teaching, it was in the authentic connections achieved through those activities.
Teaching was the how of my why? The same with speaking and writing.
I have come to see that my meaning remains to forge connections. What has changed is my how. Especially when times get tough (like a pandemic). In the video below, you will hear of Frankl’s take on the connection of suffering (a how) and meaning (the why).
It can become easy to confuse ego, purpose, and meaning.
As you evolve, perhaps your stage (your how) gets smaller. You may even feel invisible (compared to a previous period in your life). That does not, however, indicate you have lost your meaning for life.
One last example to drive this home. Yesterday I got a phone call from a 90-year old former professor of mine (from undergraduate days). She needed help with something in her home. I drove to her house, took care of that issue and helped her with a computer issue as well. Small stage AND big impact for my mentor and myself.
Video recommendation for the Week:
Make it a great week and HTRB has needed.
My latest book can be found in
eBook ($2.99) and paperback ($9.99) format. Click here.
Roxie Looks for Purpose Beyond the Biscuit.
Well, actually, my dog Roxie gets top billing on the author page for this work. Without her, there would be no story.
Click here for more information about the book. In the meantime, check out her blog.
And you can still order:
- Community as a Safe Place to Land (2019, print and e-book). Available on Amazon. More information (including seven free podcast episodes that spotlight the seven core values highlighted in the book) at the above link.
- Stories about Teaching: No Need to be an Island (2017, print and e-book). Available on Amazon. One college’s new faculty onboarding program uses the scenarios in this book. Contact me if you and your team are interested in doing the same. The accompanying videos (see the link above) would serve to stimulate community-building conversations at the beginning of a meeting.
My podcasts (all 50 episodes) can be found here.
You will find more about what I do at www.stevepiscitelli.com.
©2021. Steve Piscitelli
The Growth and Resilience Network®