6 Ways To Find Meaning At School
Going to school probably isn’t at the top of your list of favorite pastimes. Maybe it is, but if you’re like the vast majority of students in the world of education — college and high school, public and private — you’d probably rather be home sleeping or watching Netflix or doing virtually anything else other than homework and preparing for tests.
No one can blame you there.
However, if you want to make something of your life, you’ve got to learn how to find meaning in what you’re doing there. That means stepping outside of your comfort zone and daring to gain fulfillment from something as uncool as school. It’s not an easy process getting there. That’s part of why you have to go 13 years (counting kindergarten) before you ever get to a place where you’re ready for college.
If you go to med school and only live to be 60 years old — we know, not entirely an optimistic viewpoint — then you could end up spending half your life in classes. Point being: you’re better off finding fulfillment than slogging through year-after-year. To help you get to where you need to be in order to find meaning and fulfillment, we’ve put together a list of six things that school can help you to accomplish. Let’s get started.
1. Connect with others.
Our first social interactions with our peers begin at school, whether it be daycare in early pre-K or kindergarten or the first grade. From there, we start forming bonds of differing sorts. We establish close friendships, productive and not-so-productive acquaintances, and even archenemies.
By connecting with other people, we start to see who we are as individuals. It’s a learning process that can take many years to do right, but it’s entirely necessary in order to find meaning and fulfillment.
School is what puts us on the proper course, and it does so in the healthiest of ways by widening the arc of influence from just our home and religious lives. We have to live, work, and play in the world, and that means brushing up against many different beliefs and viewpoints. Without school, it would be difficult to function in the outside world. So embrace all the connections you make, both good and bad, because they will tell you more about who you are as a person.
2. Recognize milestones.
Milestones are important in all walks of life, but for the purposes of this entry, we’re going to focus entirely on milestones of achievement.
See, the goal to find meaning at school is not unlike the goal to find meaning at work. You go through a similar “story arc,” so to speak.
With that said, what kind of milestones can you hope to achieve at school? There are many.
Firstly, there are the academic milestones. On the broad scale, this could be something like placing in the top 10 of your class or achieving the valedictorian or salutatorian status at graduation. On the micro level, it could be passing a test of particularly difficult material or finally achieving understanding of a concept regardless of what grade you pull in the class.
Milestones should be recognized because they give you a sense of where you are in your development. But at the same time, you shouldn’t get entirely hung up on achievement. (More on that in a moment.) For now, let’s move to…
3. Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.
Your journey to find meaning at school is entirely dependent on knowing where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
Too often, students get caught up on the grade thing. They assign their value to what is on the report card instead of what meaningful discoveries and accomplishments they are making in the brain.
An honest C student will stand much more of a chance of finding success (and meaning) than any student, who games the system for the best grades but never really “gets” what he/she is trying to accomplish. When you are honest about your weaknesses, you are equipping yourself to address them.
To get a better handle on both areas, we always recommend that a student sits down and thinks about the commonly asked job interview question — What is your biggest weakness? This question has doomed many an applicant, but that’s only because people spend too little time thinking about the honest answer behind it, and the solutions they can unearth.
If you can take a few moments to be brutally honest with yourself, then you will be well on your way to identifying both areas and understanding how they can work for or against you in your educational journey.
4. Tie your motivations more to internal satisfaction rather than external success.
Margaret Heffernan’s TED Women Talk, “Why It’s Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work,” is a now famous internet talk in which the business woman shared the fascinating findings of a “super chicken experiment.”
Some key quotes from this talk to give you an idea of what is meant by “super chicken experiment”:
“For the past 50 years we’ve run most organizations and some societies along the super chicken model. We’ve thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars – the brightest men or occasionally women in the room – and giving them all the resources and power… and the result has been aggression, dysfunction, and waste.”
“What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks.”
“Social capital is what makes companies robust. It compounds with time.”
In other words, the best and the brightest employees — the ones who are driven more by achievement than anything else — aren’t exactly the people you want to have working on the team because they will work for whatever end suits them rather than the satisfaction of doing a job well.
This attitude creates a “pecking order” where the only thing anyone really focuses on are the results they can see. The idea they can find meaning in what they are doing is foreign, and it creates a mindset that will simply tear others down because of a false gospel that to find success for yourself it must be at the expense of someone else.
Don’t fall into that trap.
Measure your accomplishments by the satisfaction that you get from within, and you’ll be well on the way to find meaning and purpose.
5. Evaluate how what you’re doing connects to the outside world.
While measuring everything by external achievement is a bad idea, you should still know how what you love has a place in the world.
Evaluating where that place is, is much different from deriving all your satisfaction from visible results. When you evaluate, you just look at the situation as an outside observer.
This is how you connect the dots between what you love and feel passionate about and how to turn it into a career.
If you’re uncertain of how your skills and passions will translate, drop by your counselors office or listen to the personal journeys of people you admire and want to emulate. Maybe there is a podcast interview (if it’s someone famous) or perhaps it’s someone in your community you can simply sit down with for an hour over coffee and pick their brains.
There are more channels than ever before for researching how the dots connect, so put your research skills to use!
6. Remember what you’re in it for.
Not everything that you take on in school and life will be easy. Some of it will be about as fun as a root canal.
That’s okay. We all have to do things we hate sometimes in order to position ourselves to do what we love. If you are in one of those roadblock periods in your educational journey, try to have foresight and understand how what you’re doing now will move you closer to achieving the goal you wish to achieve, whether that means graduating and getting a job or simply qualifying for a great graduate school.
The journey to find meaning in school is not unlike the one to find meaning in work. And more and more often, the two are inextricably connected to one another. By keeping the six factors above in mind, you will place yourself on the right path no matter where you are in the process. Good luck!
[Featured Image by Funkyah/Flickr Creative Commons/Resized and Cropped/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]