Only you can define you.

I was recently asked to talk to a group of 7th grade students as a part of our area “Leadership Academy.”  The invitation was specifically to share my thoughts on “happiness,” which is understandable because “happiness” has been my “schtick” at work for the past few years.

At work, I basically have a bully pulpit and can talk about happiness, purpose, and so on whenever I want.  I can break the topic down and smash it back together any way that suits me or the point I am trying to make. But for a group of students with a limited amount of time, I knew I would have to distill my message in a succinct and meaningful way.  

Truthfully, I’ve felt that my message was getting stale and the opportunity to share it with a new audience was just the impetus I needed to rehash my message. So here goes…in three specific points:

  1. Only you can define you. Whether in school, in your job or in your personal life, no one has the right to judge your actions or the things that you value.  The things that trigger happiness, curiosity and creativity are deeply personal and meaningful only to you. While parents, bosses and friends will often advise you based on their opinions and emotions, only you can give up power or allow others’ judgements to affect you.
  1. Celebrate the now.  “Some people wait all week for Fridays, all year for summer and all life for happiness.” On average, we have 29,000 days to live–and only 23,000 after high school graduation.  To think that only weekends, holidays or other special occasions are meaningful is sad. It is natural to have things to look forward to. However, be careful to not fall into the trap where your focus turns away from enjoying every day.
  1. Align what you do with your purpose. Regardless of what you do–whether it’s being a student, an olympic athlete, astronaut, volunteer, parent, teacher, lawyer, accountant and so on–make sure it aligns with what fulfills you and makes you feel joy.

The challenge is that the world is not set-set up to promote these things. Adults are constantly asking young people what they want to do when they grow up. We (adults) unconsciously promote some careers over others and we define happiness in terms of achievements and destinations–making the team, getting good grades, getting a job and so on.  

We give a lot of energy to establishing expectations for what’s next rather than what’s happening in the present. And in doing so, we often mislead young people to believe what they do is their purpose. It should be the other way around. 

The good news is that defining yourself, living in the moment and aligning what you do with your purpose is learnable.  And as goofy as it sounds, start every day asking yourself three questions:

  1. What is 1 thing I like about myself right now?
  2. What is 1 thing I am happy about right now?
  3. What is 1 way I will nurture my purpose today?

Here’s a tool you can use for reference:

And if you’re not sure what your purpose is, here is a tool you can use to determine it:

Regardless of your age, it is never too late to develop or revise your purpose.  There’s also no age limit on the “daily three” exercise.

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