Back in the teaching saddle this fall, I asked my Wayne State University English composition students on the first day of class to write a paragraph for homework about Who You Are. Tell me what you want me to know about you, I said.
The answers ranged, from relationships that define these fresh-out-of-high-school adolescents to jobs to goals and hopes. I was looking both for how they write and how they think.
Truly, I don’t know that I would have had an easier time with the assignment – though I can guarantee my sentences would be complete, my punctuation correct. But it’s a hard question to answer. Who are you? What defines you?
In this country, we define ourselves by attachments – what we have, whom we love, who loves us, who hangs on our arms. Or what we do for a living – what we do to bring money into the picture, not necessarily what we do well or what our goals are.
And how many of us even have life goals? “Every human being’s fundamental obligation is to find his true identity in his lifetime.” Swami Parthsarathy, in his new book, Governing Business and Relationships.
When I was in college, no one asked me to set a life’s goal or an ideal to shoot for. I am only now trying to do so! And it’s a backwards task – here’s what I’ve been doing in the work force for 17 years, so ok, let’s figure out what I’m trying to accomplish based on what I already do.
I help people tell their stories, communicate better. It’s a goal everyone needs to shoot for – for miscommunication is at the root of unhappiness, failure and anxiety.
Now that I know the goal, I can tailor my work toward it. Looking at the work I do from an angle of helping others is so much more uplifting than looking at it as a way to get a paycheck. It’s freeing to shed the gimme-gimme-gimme attitude tha pervades our perspectives on work.
Yesterday was my first day as soccer coach for my 4-year-old’s team. On that field, they kicked the ball, they ran, they pointed to the sky and exclaimed, “Look, an airplane!” We cheered for our team. We talked about the fundamentals.
But overall, it was damn fun. Sunny blue sky, fragrant pine needles and grass, beautiful peaceful faces eager to learn, eager to play, full of love. How lucky am I? How lucky am I.