Ahhh, the first week back to school. Parents may have mixed emotions of relief, separation anxiety, disbelief of the rapid passage of time, elation, and a sense that it is time to focus again. As I sat at my laptop this morning trying to decide what my “back to school” message would be, it occurred to me that maybe that was just exactly it…back to school. In school, we were able to choose electives that interested us (economics, photography, Mandarin, and more). We were expected to choose a major. We graduated with a degree and a diploma stating as much.
And then what? What if when children return to school (or start for the first time), we also take at least a nano-second to check in with our own life’s curriculum. Are there electives that we would like to take? It doesn’t mean that you have to go back and get another degree in the middle of working and raising the children and trying to find the left sock, but maybe a drawing class or a cooking class or a golf lesson would fire up our spirit as we mastered new information that was of interest to us.
Along the same lines, we don’t need to change “majors” or to declare a new major in the middle or latter part of our lives. But we might enjoy the process of stepping back and taking a look at what the major of our life would be. Does our life have a focus? Does it have a goal? And if it does, are you happy with that focus or goal? Maybe you have gotten off course and need to revisit the core curriculum.
As I have been on a million college campuses (or so it seems) in the last few years to help my 3 children find their college destinations, Brown University struck me as a place of interest in that the students choose and design their own major. I thought that adults should be able to do the same thing in life. Pick something wonderful. Imagine a life purpose that defines you. As your advisor, I would not allow you to declare a major in laundry, nose wiping, or mundane-dead-end jobs. Even if you currently spend the majority of your time in those pursuits, there has to be something bigger, more meaningful, that makes you yell “yes” to the moon because it inspires you to the center of your core.
Design your own major for your life. What do you love? If all of the repetitive assignments of the year were stripped away, what would you choose to do with your time? What would make you jump out of bed fearlessly in the morning so you could get back to the source of your passion?
Now, here is where my three boys will start rolling their eyes. Just watch them….there it goes. Yep, big eye roll. But they will remember these words some day and know that I was right. So, what is my “thing?” How do I jump out of bed at 4 am? How do I keep bouncing back from adversity? Well, I am living a life in my “major.” I choose electives that I love and that interest me. My life has a mission statement and everything else falls into place around that, and this keeps me centered and smiling.
My major: “I love you like a lighthouse.” There’s vague for you, until you examine it a little closer. What do I love to do? Helping people get healthier, happier, more hopeful. I want the people around me to feel loved unconditionally, even if it is just for the moment that they are with me or getting a text or an email. Unconditionally. That means even if I don’t get anything back. In fact, getting something back is not the point here at all. It also doesn’t mean that I am a door mat. A lighthouse blasts out light as brightly as it can through the deepest fog. It is there whether you need it or not. The lighthouse doesn’t need the little boats or the large vessels to thank it or to do anything in return. It just wants to send the light out in case you need it. This seems to be my major or my mission: I am blaster of light. I am compelled to try to brighten up the world. It makes me feel centered to spread kindness. If you don’t need or want the help or light or love, that is completely fine. I wish you all the best. I’m still going to be sending it out, as brightly as I can for as long as I can.
One of my brothers works on the NYSE. If I asked him how love and hope are doing on the stock exchange, he would probably tell me they are in the toilet. Not a good business to get into in this economy. Look elsewhere. And yet, I have built my life and my career on this bedrock, and it has done pretty well so far…because I am following the major that I was meant to choose. It is with purpose and intent. So, don’t make your decisions about what fires you up based on the reports in the WSJ. Follow your gut.
And do you know what has happened in the last decade or so since I declared my major and made this my life’s work? I have attracted the most wonderful, creative, supportive people all around me. I don’t do it for that purpose, but it has been a most unexpected and wonderful result. I never have to ask for help because help is always all around me. Because there is such a flow of constant good energy around me, I am so much stronger and able to raise my boys in an environment of steadfast love and stability. All day long, I have personal training clients and life coaching clients and children and friends to whom I can send light and love. And the more I send, the more I get back.
Do bad things still happen? Do my feelings still get hurt? Does my heart get pummeled? Do I still get knocked down and have bad days? You bet. More than I would ever choose. Sometimes I have to go into my cave for a few days and lick my wounds. And then, even if I think I would still prefer to stay in my cave, the love and happiness starts bursting out again and I have no choice but to get out there and start being a lighthouse because the major that I have declared for my life fits me, at least for now. If circumstances change and I have to change majors, I will. Change can be terrifying but it can be thrilling and rewarding as well. But for now, my major directs all of my life’s choices and so almost all of the time, everything fits into place. I land back on my feet because I am centered. The boys’ father said to them one time, “the thing about your mother is that she is happy wherever she is.” True! That’s because it doesn’t really matter where I am, I am there, and I bring the happy with me. The outside doesn’t matter when the curriculum is cohesive and is launching you in the direction of your dreams.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect you to trade in your business suit for white robes and to start dancing through the streets yelling that you love everyone. My suggestion is more that you look at what you want most out of life…your legacy…and also to declare your major…how will you get there? What information do you need? And if you were to become a professor in your major, what information would you disseminate and in what way would you communicate it? Does your work life and your home life and the way that you speak to the gas station attendant and the grocery store clerk and your physician express your moral compass, your empathy for humanity? If it doesn’t all line up and you feel uncomfortable or numb, examine whether all the courses in your curriculum are supporting your major. You might have to speak with your advisor and make some changes so that your life can be more cohesive. There is no dress rehearsal. Whatever major you choose, implement it in every part of your life. Be yourself. You may have to be a more formal version of yourself at work than when you are waterskiing, but see if you can find that curriculum that allows you to still be true to yourself wherever you are.
In the meantime, I am here and I love you. And, like a lighthouse, that love doesn’t ask anything back. I just need to shine it here and try to add a little kindness and health and balance to the world. If I can help you, let me know. If not, I wish you enthusiasm and exuberance as you pursue your dreams, design your major, and graduate to the greatest adventure!! Welcome to the new school year!!