When Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” came out – I was a total geek about the book.
In 2016, as a principal, I shared the book’s ideas with my staff of teachers. I tasked them with looking internally at their “why” for entering the education field. We even used the “Golden Circle” to do some self-discovery. We used the messages from this book to create a theme for the entire school year. We had big hopes that reconnecting to the reasons that we entered the education field would reignite the fire of excitement for learning. It may help bring some passion back to those who may have become jaded or complacent. Or, it can be a reminder of the good work that we do for the community in our job as educators. Overall, if we connected with our “why” we may even be able to positively impact student learning! That was our thought; that was our goal.
I’ve been in many meetings since this presentation for which I am tasked with reconnecting with my “why.” And at every presentation when asked to share with a partner, or out to the group, I am forced to lie.
Let me explain.
I can remember the first time I actually had to grapple with wondering what my “why” was in a training setting. In this type of setting, there are time limits, and because we are teachers, we force people to think, pair, share everything. Therefore, at the end of this thinking, I knew I’d be telling someone else my “why.” I remember sitting there thinking, “what WAS my why?” Taping back into that 17 year old girl who applied to the teacher’s college within Western Michigan so long ago. Man, what was she thinking? I could not put my finger on it. So, I wrote something on my sticky note to share with a partner like, “I come from a family of educators.” As we stood to “mingle” through a collaborative activity, again a normal activity if you live in the education field, I met with my partner and allowed my partner to share first. My partner began to share a story of her life which was very emotional. She was even moved by her faith; she used the word “calling”, as a part of her “why.” She paid dear and extremely sentimental tribute to her role models who guided her into the educational field as well. Not that this would happen, but if this activity was a graded activity, she would have earned a solid A+. Her “why” was romantic. Her “why” was for the movies. Her “why” was inspirational, emotional and down right moving.
Then it was my turn to share…I said, “I come from a family of educators.”
That was the last time I answered with honesty. I have been tasked with reconnecting with my “why” at least a dozen times in the last 4 years. My stories get more and more elaborate each time. My lies are a bit more bold and I probably have begun to believe some of my own storytelling. I don’t make up entirely new versions of history or anything, but I grossly elaborate on what may be concluded as factual.
During the preparation for a recent mindfulness presentation, I had been asked to use this activity with the audience. The request was from a good place. If we can reconnect with our “why” maybe we can reengage as employees and reclaim our bigger meaning in the world. But I just couldn’t shake the truth this time. As the presenter myself, I just couldn’t do it. I again thought of my real “why.”
The truth is that I was 17. What do 17 year olds know about the next 30 years of their lives? I didn’t want to work in an office. Teaching IS in the family. (When I write that it seems like a disease. Like, instead of early onset hairloss running in our family, we are all suffering with teaching. Haha! I digress.) I really thought I would graduate college, marry a rich man, and quit my job. I would be a stay at home mom – that was that. Well, I didn’t marry a rich man. I married Nick, a teacher. He is rich with love, encouragement, confidence, goodness, heart, humor, generosity, and adventure, but not with income. So, that’s my “why”.
Can you imagine me sharing THAT “why” in a think, pair, share?! I’d get kicked out of the presentation. (Not the first presentation mind you that I’ve been kicked out of, but again, not on topic…) Lying is one of my least favorite things, and if you know me at all, you know I am a bad liar. So, I just take the truth and embellish a little, simply to survive the activity counting the seconds until the presenter asks us to return to our seats. Meanwhile I am tourtured by these movie versions of all other people’s stories of how they entered the field to change the world, etc., etc..
Instead, I thought about the root of Simon Sinek’s message. It doesn’t have to be about my “why” then…maybe creating a “why” now could help people to get up in the morning. Maybe looking at their current position can meet the same goals of engaging employees and supporting the retention of our highly qualified staff. Maybe creating a “why” now can help your staff put their jobs into perspective and alleviate a little bit of stress we suffer from the drudgery of the daily tasks.
So, my “why” now is something I can connect to. Maybe it isn’t for the movies. Maybe Sandra Bullock never plays Allison Carmichael. But, at least it is something better than, “I was planning on quitting.” My “why” now is that I get to be a helper. Not only do I get to be a helper, I get to interact with children who hug me daily. On my worst days, I can always walk into a kindergarten class and remember the world is good. Everything is going to be OK when looking at those 5 year old faces full of hope, kindness, endless love, and even the qualities of justice and so much self-pride as they are so eager to show me EVERYTHING they had accomplished in one day at school! Kindergarteners adore their teachers and strive to be good people. Kindergarteners want so much to make others happy. It is a true blessing that I get to interact with 5 year olds as my job. And in that job, my role is to help them. It is an opportunity. It is a mission. It is more than a just a job, it is a blessing. This is a good “why”. It is just my “why” NOW…not my “why” THEN.
If I can connect on a Monday morning with my “why” now, I can be excited to go into work. If I can remember these good parts of my role, it can make the bad things I have to do not so bad. I can always put the difficult aspects of the job into perspective. Then, in times of high need, and I become so overwhelmed with the tasks or the challenges that come my way, I can always walk down to a kindergarten class and bask in my “why” now.
Even if you are one of the lucky ones with a romantic and inspirational “why” then story, you can also gain some insight from this activity. Your “why” then may have lost its power. You may be in a new role now. You may be a different person now. You may have experienced challenge and have become a bit jaded or maybe a realist having run out of your idealism of youth. I challenge you to consider what your “why” now is. I have provided you with some questions to help guide you. Leave a comment on this blog if you are willing to…you know, because educators MUST think, pair, share.
Your “Why”…Now Activity
- When I applied for this position (your current position) what were you hoping to get from this role? What were you hoping to do?
- When you interviewed for this position (your current position) how did you describe yourself in the interview itself? What did you promise your employer about yourself?
- What are your job perks?
- If you were to leave this job for any reason, what would be the aspects that you would miss?
- Can this current position help you get to a future goal? Is there something about this role that is helping you to move forward in your career?
- What things about your job are good for the community?
- What things about your job make your employee’s lives better?
Now…write it down. When your mind takes you away to those negative spaces – find your “why” now. Break those second arrows so they don’t break you!