Monday, December 6, 2010

On inaction

Friday morning, I posed a question to my students that was something I had asked them early in the term: How can young people today succeed? They wrote an essay on this topic, and most of them chose lovely-sounding characteristics such as having dedication, perseverance, and organization. Now that some time had passed, I asked them if they wanted to add or change anything based on their experiences over the last 11-12 weeks. Even though they weren't very specific, I could tell by their knowing looks that they had indeed come a long way.

After we discussed a bit, I had them write a letter in their journals to a high school senior that offered some words of wisdom on the subject of achieving success. They wrote for a very long time (I don't stop them until about half them have their pens down), and while the letters I've read so far vary greatly, I sense that they are finally seeing how far they've come in just this short amount of time.

As is often the case, I wrote along with my students, and, as is often the case, I arrived at an idea that I suppose is common sense but really struck me this time around. I wrote about the problem of inaction.

Let me elaborate. Everyone wants to be successful. That's what successful means; it's something desirable. But there's often a long road between wanting and having, and usually the road has some potholes. In fact, sometimes the road forces us to take a detour, and sometimes our vehicles break down completely. Still, with the right attitude, we can recognize that we are still on the road to success; it's just a matter of action.

Inaction, on the other hand, is a success-killer. It's one thing to actively reflect, plan, or otherwise take some time to think about your situation. The key, though, is that you must be active. You should come away from those quiet moments feeling like you have a better idea of the direction you're headed. If you're just replaying your failures, then you're indulging in inaction.

Inaction is also what happens when you start telling yourself, "If I just keep waking up every day and going through the motions, eventually, my problems will be solved." This kind of inaction is sneaky because it poses as action. You get up, you go to work, you clean your house, and you do everything else that's expected of you. You tell yourself you're being productive, yet you don't feel satisfied or successful. This is because while you're technically in action, the action is not helping you get what you want from your life.

I've been guilty of the previous two offenses many times. It's like I encounter an obstacle in my life, and instead of acknowledging it and working towards overcoming it, I do nothing or I do something that's unrelated.

So, as I wrote this letter to an imaginary high school student, I found myself saying, "Always be actively working on achieving your goals and solving your problems." On your path to success, you cannot control everything, you cannot plan for everything, and you cannot solve everything. You can, however, be conscious of your options and act in ways that get you closer to your goals. You might never reach the goal you set out to achieve, or you might find that achieving the goal doesn't make you as happy as you once thought it would. Still, if you've arrived where you are by deliberate action, you are less likely to feel defeated and more likely to say, "Okay. I'm here now. What can I do next?"