Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Three P's of Success - What makes a full life?


When I taught high school seniors in a class about life goals they would often talk about wanting to "live life to the full".  The phrase turned up on mission statements and final presentations but it was rarely defined.  

What does it mean to live a full life?  

Certainly a full life would be defined differently in specifics by each of us, but I didn't like that being an excuse to get away with a throwaway line.  

Wasn't there something we could agree on as a basis for discussion or written reflection?

I knew from their conversations that their vision of a full life looked like crazy vacations with friends over spring break and having a nice house and car.  I hoped to get them beyond superficial dreams that would cost more than they realized (almost all of them lived with parents).  I wanted to get them thinking about responsibility too.

After weeks of reading and hearing their thoughts, I put together a few activities and presentations that I called the 3 P's of Success.  I could tell from engagement and comments that it connected with many of them.  I'm not teaching that class any longer, but the themes still are apparent in my work.

Here are three P's with a little elaboration.
Passion - A student can spend a lot of time in school without experiencing much passion.  It's a shame that I was discovering this while working with seniors, kids that had been in the system for almost 13 years.  For this "P", it was an exploration of figuring out what good things they liked to do.  I developed a few questions to let them write about that.

Purpose - If passion is what they liked to do, purpose is what they should do.  While our passions almost certainly come into play, purpose is what we're meant to do even if we don't really feel like it in moment.  It's the piece I think students were forgetting when they envisioned lives of fun and material possessions.  

It's also a realm that can touch on matters of faith.  A lot of teachers won't go there, but I refused to back away from this vital concept that I know is an important component in the lives of many successful adults.

This was my approach.  Using thought provoking questions I encouraged the students to consider their purpose in writing.  I told the classes that for some questions, this topic will bring up matters of faith, religion or spirituality for some people.  I made it clear that they were in no way required to include those elements in answers.  At the same time, however, they should feel completely comfortable expressing those thoughts on the assignment.

For writings like this, I never cared if my students expressed very different religious beliefs or if they had no beliefs at all.  I just wanted them to consider the basis of their worldviews and how they affected their purpose.  Many of the comments I read from students as they expressed this important part of their lives surprised me in a good way.  I concluded that they needed to consider their lives in this way.  I decided I would never rob students of the chance to express their personal beliefs, but that I would encourage it in non-threatening ways.

Potential - Passion fuels us and purpose sets the direction, but potential is the final measure.  Did we achieve as much as we should?  Of course, potential is impossible to define in detail because our skills will always improve and often we'll be surprised by what we can do.  I just encouraged students to dream about what they could accomplish.  I hoped it would be the exciting start to a never ending process of discovery.

Here are two resources related to these ideas.  I discovered them long after teaching the class, but they provided some thoughts as I continue to develop my work:

  • This is a great blog post about finding one's passion in three steps.  It combines the three elements together in different ways than I do, but it's well worth the read if this sounds useful to your work in teaching.  I particularly like the Three Movie Exercise for use with teens.
  • And check out Seth Godin's book Poke the Box.  It is a quick read.  He has a few paragraphs on p. 64 about why he believes it is our moral obligation to seize an opportunity.  It's a great thought for discussion and it fits well with the three P's.

I'll be glad to hear other thoughts you might have on this or activities you use with students.

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