“The psychic entropy peculiar to the human condition involves seeing more to do than one can actually accomplish and feeling able to accomplish more than what conditions allow.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
What is Success?
There are individuals who dare to dream the unimaginable and achieve the impossible. We read about them, study their upbringing, read their books, make a checklist of success, then place their books back on our shelf. We become fascinated and stand in awe of individuals who are living an authentic life who turned their passions into careers. We float through this life trying to define our success by those around us, failing to understand that each of us has a different track. We encounter individuals or experiences that throw an unexpected wrench into our toolkit and attempts to wipe out the ground from underneath you.
The wrench negates everything you thought about what success is supposed to look and feel like. In a blink of an eye, you find yourself questioning your abilities, intent, actions taken, paths you did not take, and how to move forward. You feel like a failure and begin to believe you aren’t worthy and assign your life value to this one moment of failure. We have this idea of success and what to do with our life that is defined by others and the world around us.
I see this scenario play out with students I work with in education. They have this idea of what college would be like and the career path they will take. Or, their parents possess this image of what their student will study and career choice. They get to campus, take their classes, and begin to shadow professionals in their field to gain insight into their future career. Students come to my office and ask, “Mr. Bradley, I thought this is what I wanted to do with my life but I’m just not sure anymore.”
I tend to their spirit and help them pick up their self-confidence off the ground in that moment. I normalize their experience and emotions and share my own experiences in figuring out my life, the major I chose, and the career I pursued. What I noticed in most of these interactions with my students is the way in which they had a hard time letting go of the image of themselves or career path they wanted versus the one the universe is trying to push them towards. This can be a particularly challenging time in a student’s life and I try to remember how I felt when I was in their shoes.
I give students the resources and information in my efforts to empower them to make the choice that is right for them. What students do not see is my efforts to cultivate a degree of resiliency; to view moments of failure or uncertainty as essential elements to their road of success. Although the worry and fear about their major and career trajectory are valid and real, my undying faith in them is what really resonates with students and motivates them to step into their learning moments. I try to show my ethic of care in ways that will give them their confidence back and help devise a plan to get back on the path of making their dreams a reality.
Now, everyone has to understand their own darkness, feel it deeply, and respond based on their unique circumstances. Working in education, I had to own my darkness and develop my own meaning, resilience, and motivation in order to grow from it. If I did not get ahold of those aspects of myself…I would unknowingly project my insecurities and life issues onto the students I serve. I realize more every day how important it is to be aware of your bias when working in a helping profession. I still believe the universe gave me the ultimate cosmic joke of pushing me into a profession of educating individuals given the particular background I have. But, maybe that’s why I absolutely love what I do and why I’m so damn good at it (trying to give myself unfailing confidence here).
We as educators have to rethink the way we interact and approach our work with students in education. We have to take the time to listen to their concerns, incorporate their perspective in decision-making processes, and believe in their hopes and dreams with unshakeable courage and conviction. We have to cultivate curiosity, creativity, and courage to pursue their life purpose, once we help them discover what that is. We have to get to know our students to personalize the content and delivery of education. We have to teach them to get to know their authentic self from the inside out and match their strengths to gainful employment.
A Call to Action
Colleges and universities need to encourage this inside-out approach to understanding who you are and your place in the world. Educational establishments are living and breathing social organizations that yield tremendous power and influence. But just as we need to engage in our personal self-care, organizations need our tender love and care as well. We have tremendous power in reinstating the purpose and promise of higher education in the way we structure ourselves in the 21st century.
We cannot continue with business as usual or justify our motives with “we’ve always done it this way”. We do a huge disservice to students if we do not encourage the bending of the status quo and create space for students to understand their authenticity and unique talents. We also have to be careful to not view students from a deficit perspective only. “Student’s today lack this or that” or any other choice words that view students in what the lack rather than appreciating their strengths. We have to find a way to acknowledge our individual biases because sometimes we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. Sometimes, it is entirely possible that your opinion of something or someone is more about you in how you view yourself than the person or thing you referring to.
I believe we can cultivate a strong sense of individuality in the space we provide for students, faculty, and staff where we become the lighthouse; a place that allows students find their way back to their purpose by following the light among the treacherous sea of life. A place where students turn their dreams into a reality by searching for their light back home. We should teach students the ability to dream and chase them with conviction and purpose. Higher education needs to be a place of hopeful optimism where we teach individuals about overcoming adversity, creating innovative ideas and ways of thinking to solve some of the most complex social issues of our world.
We seem to have lost our sense of wonder and belief in anything is possible. We should strive to inspire students to reach for the stars rather than allowing them to reserve themselves out of comfort and convention. Humans are wonderful creatures full of so much hope and light….but we also have dark and despair to grapple with. How do we help students balance the spectrum of light and darkness in a way that allows them to be fearless in the pursuit of their dreams? We need to teach students to reach into the void and pull out the miraculous; to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
There is enough corruption in politics, environmental disasters, bad teachers, and monsters of the world that take on human form. The seduction of evil is tempting, but we must not give in to its temptations. Understanding perspective and developing radical empathy are the first steps in the creation of a new world process. Higher education should become the “land of what if’s” and help students see the power in the cultivation of something more and larger than themselves. What if my dream is to help individuals find or create themselves and chart their dreams? What are your dreams and aspirations in life? Comment below and let’s share insight!
“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light” -Dylan Thomas