“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love. ”
How much of what you do is driven by ambition? If so, these may be some of the questions that motivate you: What do my colleagues/ex-teachers/fellow students/parents think of me? How do I look in their eyes? Am I pushing myself enough? Do I have enough qualifications? How can I become successful? How will I know when I’m successful enough? Will I be happy then? Will I be famous? Will I leave a legacy? Who will remember me when I’m gone?
Recently, I’ve become more interested by a second set of questions: What is important to me? What fulfills me? What energizes me? What brings me joy? When am I truly happy? When am I contented? What do I love most about music? How can I share that?
One is externally motivated, the other internally. So much of what we do is driven by the need for approval and praise. Yet, have you ever noticed that no one else’s praise is ever enough if you’re feeling self-critical? It’s our self-acknowledgement and self-acceptance that truly satisfy us. And these come from living in integrity with our values.
My husband is a poet, and recently invited me to go with him to a reading in London by the renowned American poet Jane Hirshfield. I knew very little about her, and because of her international reputation, I was expecting someone somewhat glossy, hardened by fame, and rather distant. Instead, a modest–looking older woman appeared on the platform beaming shyly. As she gazed around at the audience, her happiness was infectious. She radiated a secret joy. Her poems revealed someone in love with words and ideas, open to the world around her and keen to observe it in all its strangeness, pain and beauty, and amazed and grateful at the opportunities life has brought her.
It was a revelation to me. Here was someone demonstrating a life lived from within, a juicy, satisfying life where what mattered was not winning prizes and garnering top-rated reviews, but making and sharing art for its own sake. She reminded me that this is what I value most.
What do you truly value the most? Self-expression, discipline, love, creativity, honesty, commitment, conformity, non-conformity, integrity, fun? The list goes on… and rarely do two people have the same list. If you want to begin to surface an idea of what yours are, here’s a fantastic exercise to try.
1. Jump ahead to the end of your life. What are the three most important lessons you have learned and why are they so critical?
2. Think of someone that you deeply respect. Describe three qualities in this person that you most admire.
3. Who are you at your best?
4. What one-sentence inscription would you like to see on your tombstone that would capture who you really were in your life?
(Exercise extracted from “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.)
Distill the phrases that come forward into key words, and your list of values will start to emerge. These could also inform your teaching, and your understanding of where your students are coming from. They might even want to try the exercise themselves. Enjoy!