Yesterday, I posted a Tweet and then a Facebook post about the concept of teaching/coaching being either “a job, a career, or a calling” based on ideas in Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion & Perseverance.
Today, I want to expand some on the concept. It comes from the chapter called, “Purpose.” Consider that concept first. What is your purpose as a coach, teacher, parent, or leader of people (young or old) in any other way?
Purpose is what drives us. It’s what gets up in the morning and helps us decide how to go about our day, what’s important for us to focus on.
Another great book, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, is all about the concept of purpose—our Why—for what we do. He says that every organization has its “whats” that the organization does, and its “hows” of how they do the whats. But everything in the organization starts with its Why.
What is your why when it comes to coaching, teaching, parenting, or leading an organization? If you want to be truly successful, you must figure that out first before you start figuring out how you will do what you do.
The same holds true in coaching, teaching, and leadership in any way. I will focus mainly on coaching in the rest of this post, as that is my largest audience. However, the concepts work for any type of leadership.
For over 20 years now, I have said that if I had to boil down my philosophy of athletics and coaching into one sentence, it would be this – We are here to provide kids the opportunity for a positive athletic experience.
There is no earth-shattering, knock your socks off, “Oh my God, did you hear what Scott just said?!” level of hashtag-to-go-viral worthiness about that statement (although if you want to start it down that path, be my guest!).
But what is in that sentence is a purpose. In fact, it has been my singular purpose for my entire 30+ year career as a coach. While I didn’t have it verbalized that way for the first 15 or so years of my career, for the last 20 or so, it has been the single sentence that I have tried to live by.
I have filtered EVERYTHING I say and do through that sentence. Of course, I am at first talking about everything I say and do with regards to coaching.
But as I back away from it a bit and think about it, I realize that I even let that sentence guide me in other areas of my life and my communication with people because I know that other areas of my life can have a way of sneaking back around and being part of, or at least having an effect on, the coaching/athletic area of my life.
Opportunity is the Key
While most people will focus on the “positive athletic experience” part of the sentence (and they should), I always make sure I point out that the word “opportunity” is just as important. The reason is that I cannot guarantee that every kid in my program is going to have a positive athletic experience. As much as I try to make that happen and as much as that is my goal with every kid, I know that I don’t have total control over that.
However, I do have control over whether or not I provide the opportunity for it to happen. That starts with my desire for kids to have the positive athletic experience that is the focus of the sentence. It then moves to me trying to figure out what kinds of opportunities give us the best shot at that happening and then figuring out if those things are feasible to try to do.
Therefore, I feel that as coaches, we must seek to figure out and then offer opportunities to our kids that will help them have the best chance possible at having a positive athletic experience.
Once I came up with that sentence as my philosophy of coaching/athletics, I started making sure that everything I did was geared towards providing kids that opportunity. I realized that I had figured out my why— my purpose—for why I coached. After that, every day of my career has been all about figuring out the best way to do that.
While I have been marking up my Grit book with my yellow highlighter all throughout the book, when I started reading the chapter on “Purpose,” Duckworth really had me highlighting.
Her definition of Purpose when it comes to grit is “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.”
Oh my gosh! Isn’t that EXACTLY what teachers and coaches are all about?! At least, isn’t that what teachers and coaches say they are all about? Isn’t that what teachers and coaches should be all about?
How about this gem? “My guess is that, if you take a moment to reflect on the times in your life when you’ve really been at your best—when you’ve risen to the challenges before you, finding strength to do what might have seemed impossible—you’ll realize that the goals you achieved were connected in some way, shape, or form to the benefit of other people.”
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Time and time again, that concept has been at the heart of most of my endeavors and most of my successes, especially in teaching and coaching. This is just like when we try to teach kids, “When we surrender the me for we, the truly great things happen.”
Duckworth uses a famous parable about three bricklayers working on building a church to explain her point about the differences between a job, a career, and a calling. I imagine you’ve heard it before, but if you haven’t, it goes like this.
Three bricklayers are asked: “What are you doing?”
The first says, “I am laying bricks.”
The second says, “I am building a church.”
The third says, “I am building the house of God.”
This is where Duckworth then frames (pun intended!) her point about a job, career, and calling. The first looks at what he’s doing as a job, the second has a career, and the third has a calling. She says that in about equal numbers, workers identify themselves with each of the three.
The Most Important Calling
For those of us in teaching and coaching, I imagine there is a mixture of those three as well. However, I also imagine that the percentages would not be fairly even for teaching and coaching like they are in the general population of workers.
I have found so many teachers and coaches look at their profession as a calling. They look at it as one of the most important things in their lives. They also see it as important in the lives of others, mainly their students/athletes.
Teachers and coaches often feel that the work they do has lasting value and that they are making an impact on the lives of the young people they teach and coach.
And they should.
I have long felt that there is no more important profession than teaching. When saying that, I lump coaching into the same profession. To me, teaching is coaching, and coaching is teaching.
When I was a young teacher and coach, I hadn’t figured out that it was my calling yet. I knew I was doing important work, and I knew I was making a difference in kids’ lives.
But after my 17th year of coaching, I stepped out of it. The next year, after year 18 of teaching, I stepped out of that, too. I was burned out and needed a break from them. I wanted to try something else.
It was during that next year, while missing both elements of the profession, that I realized that I needed to get back into it. It was then and there that I knew that teaching/coaching and working with young people was my calling.
The following year I got back into it, becoming an athletic director and getting back into coaching basketball. And I have never looked back.
I can’t ever see myself not being involved in some way in working with kids, trying to help impact kids in a positive way through teaching, coaching, speaking, and writing.
And that’s how it is when you find a calling. You find something that becomes such a part of you, you can’t fathom your life without it.
How About You?
I don’t know if you are there yet. I don’t know if you will ever be there.
But I hope you will be someday.
Because when you find your calling, you will see life in a new way. You will approach each day differently.
You get up with a new sense of purpose. You look forward to your day and what it may bring. You are excited to do what you do because it is your calling to do so.
You are also able to withstand the tough times and difficult days (and you will have tough times and difficult days, even if it is your calling) a whole lot better than if you are just doing a job.
When you find a calling, life is a whole lot more meaningful, a whole lot more inspirational, a whole lot more fun.
And you help make it that way for those you lead, too.
Here’s to finding your calling!
Leave a comment below and let us know if you have found teaching/calling (or something else) to be your calling.