by Marcy Voss
It was Christmas Eve at the airport. As the barista prepared his coffee, she smiled broadly and asked him a series of questions so she could get his coffee just right. She then asked where he was going, about his family, about his family’s traditions. When she gave him the coffee, she told him to have a safe flight and to go create some extraordinary memories with his family—and, when he came back to the airport, to tell her all about it. The man walked off, but after a moment came back, intrigued about the woman’s secret to making such meaningful connections while serving coffee. The barista replied, “I’m not serving coffee. I’m pouring happiness into people’s lives.”
I recently attended a training session where a video with the above story was shown. This got me thinking about my sense of purpose and how my sense of purpose affects the work I do. Have you ever thought about your sense of purpose? How would you describe it? I discovered that my sense of purpose was defined early in my life. I want to help others. And that is why I chose teaching as a profession. Teaching gives me direct access to many lives to help. I can help the students in my class. I can help the teachers on my team. I can help the campus administration, the secretary, the custodian, the librarian, the cafeteria workers. I have been able to touch countless lives over the years.
I also realized that our sense of purpose completely controls our work—whether we know it or not! You are either intentional about the work you do, making the most of every opportunity, or you let your unconscious purpose control your actions. Even if your unconscious purpose is a positive force, your life loses meaning and joy when this potential is not recognized and realized.
So, how can we be intentional about carrying out our purposes? Since my mission was to help others, I began to look for ways to do this. Obviously, helping students learn was helping others. But there were many other ways to help. Often, it was the subtle things that gave me a clue. It was the look on a child’s face that told me he needed encouragement, or a change in behavior that helped me realize something was going on at home. It was the sigh of a teacher that caused me to realize she needed extra patience. It was the harried look on the secretary’s face that averted my unnecessary question. It was the vacant spot on the volunteer roster that encouraged me to step up to help.
And the payoff was big! I learned that finding my sense of purpose brought meaning to the work that I do. It brought me joy when I got bogged down in the day-to-day grind. It gave me something to look forward to, even during testing days and other less-than-exciting work. It allowed me to work from the heart and not from the head.
So, how can you find meaning and purpose and let it define your work?
- Think about your sense of purpose. Spend time in a conversation with a colleague or alone journaling to help you discover it.
- Be alert to ways to carry out your purpose in your work. Look for the subtle clues around you that give you opportunities to carry out your personal mission.
- Reflect and focus on your purpose when life gets tough. Often we have a lengthy to-do list that seems to only get longer. We feel angst when our lesson does not reach a child in our class. We are disappointed if our administration does not notice our efforts. This is when we need to center ourselves and remember our mission and what’s really important in our lives.
So, as you get ready to start the school, take time to reflect upon your work. What is your sense of purpose? What brings you joy? What fills your heart? Describe it; define it. Then be intentional about letting your personal mission direct your work this coming school year.