They say things come in threes!
A toddler trapped locked in a car, a car key lost on a trail run and a bike accident.
A warm week in June 2020 saw: a work colleague’s toddler lock himself in the car (he enjoyed the fire engine that came to free him), another work colleague losing her car key while running in the woods and then myself coming off my bike while out on a bike ride.
What does this have to do with man’s search for meaning I hear you ask! Well Initially after my accident I thought I was just a little beat up as and had a bruised ego. However, as much as I tried to resume my normal week I continually struggled to function. When working I would experience severe migraines and when exercising I would become dizzy and even lose might vision when my heart rate became raised. At one point when I was open water swimming, I completely lost all sense of orientation and had a very flappy moment!
After this, I decided to drop exercise and just focus on work however the severe migraines persisted. Being a stubborn 24-year old I aimed to go about my work as the new school term approached but eventually I organised a doctor’s appointment where I was signed off work for 6 weeks due to post-concussion syndrome.
Now to describe where I was physically and mentally is hard to comprehend. I essentially spent the next 2 weeks in bed. The severe migraines were triggered by multiple stimuli; noise, light, anxiety, and stress so the solution was a dark room, lots of sleep and as much of an audiobook as I could manage before drifting off again.
At this time, I was completely offline from work, with no emails, no session planning, pupil & parent check-ins, just my thoughts and me. For most of my life up to this point, I had always been in connection with work, but it took a head injury for me to take a step back and take stock of my work-life environment.
For everyone, it doesn’t take a bang on the head to gain a bit of perspective but for me, it was a blessing in disguise. The recovery process was 6 months of gradual exposure to stimuli until I could get back to the things I love (coaching, teaching, exercise) but during this time I realised that
“As important as we like to think we are, the wheel keeps on turning.”
This can seem quite pessimistic but the realisation of it is quite liberating, to know who you are is more than an organisation or institution. That your life extends beyond your work and you have a responsibility to live the life you want to live!
This posed a new problem, What was my purpose in life? & What life did I want to live?
These aren’t small questions & they take time to contemplate over, but luckily, I had the time to do so while on my road to recovery.
What is your purpose in life?
The ultimate philosophical question was a strong place to start & a key book to work through my thoughts was Viktor Frankl’s “Mans Search For Meaning”
During his time at the concentration camp, Viktor Frankl deliberated on the meaning of life. A man plunged into an environment where he no longer had a name, he had a number – 119,104, who no longer had a life or a career he was a prisoner. In an environment designed to strip you of your humanity, Viktor Frankl kept his by deliberating his purpose on this planet.
Frankl writes –
“The majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. We all had once been or had fancied ourselves to be ‘somebody.’ Now we were treated like complete nonentities. (The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?) Without consciously thinking about it, the average prisoner felt himself utterly degraded.”
Now Frankl’s example is an extreme one but from it, we can ask ourselves does my sense of inner value stem from the need to be somebody or from a higher purpose? For me, my job was my identity and it took a bang to the head to gain perspective and make a shift in my professional career to become more aligned with my guiding principles & core values.
Frankl understood that the meaning of our life is a dynamic process, changing as our needs and wants develop over time but to make meaningful progress towards discovering meaning in life by;
Creating work or doing a deed –
To discover meaning in life we all need action in our lives, a deed or goal to work towards. If you are unsure what you want to do in life the solution often isn’t to stay stationary. One must take informed steps towards a direction in the hope it leads to where you want to go (if it fails at least you have learnt what you do not enjoy)!
Experiencing something or encountering someone –
Only through experiences can we learn what we value, what brings us joy and what grinds our gears. We are fortunate that we have a lifetime to experience new things and generations of previous life experiences from those before us in the form of books. Despite knowing we need to experience something new we can be guilty of being idle!
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein
The attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering –
The approach you have to unavoidable tasks can either draw out the unenjoyable experience or you can help get it done. For example, we all have to do the washing up and laundry despite it not being an enjoyable process (well it may be for some), despite this we still get it done because we know we have to.
Now take this to the work environment, we have to work to make an income and support ourselves. If we are fortunate we can make a living doing a job we enjoy but for most, the reality is, this isn’t the case. However, if you are aware that it isn’t something you would like to do then rather than complain or gossip about your situation you can plan meaningful steps toward where you want to be.
What life do you want to live?
In trying to figure this one out I sought help from mentors who have been through similar thought processes to try and gain clarity. These discussions broke down into 3 key questions;
What are my wants and needs?
If you haven’t ever made a list of these things I would highly recommend it as it allows you to develop a picture of what direction you would like to head in.
Your needs are the non-negotiables that are strongly tied to your core values, whether that be spending time with family, weekends to see friends, etc they are specific to you. Your wants are what you desire such as financial freedom, buying your first home, etc.
For me, professionally I wanted to continue to develop my teaching & coaching skills while I wanted more sociable hours to see the people important to me (family & friends) and financial freedom to do more of the things I enjoy (travel, live events etc).
Does your current environment meet your wants and needs?
While I enjoyed my previous role, I was aware that my wants and needs were different to when I first started and that for me to continue to make progress personally and professionally I needed to make a change.
By establishing your wants and needs you can then see if your current environment meets them. If the answer is no it is unrealistic that you will be in a position to just walk out and leave! As previously mentioned you know that you would like to change your environment to become more aligned with your wants & needs which led to the next question.
How can you achieve the skillset to make steps towards this life?
When planning to take the next step to align your environment closer to your wants and needs you need to establish the skill set needed for the new role you are after.
In my case, I wanted to swap from being a coach to becoming a teacher. I knew that I wanted to continue to have a positive impact on the physical development of youths while also obtaining a better salary, more sociable hours and holidays.
To do so I had to obtain my PGCE while also developing familiarity in sports I previously haven’t coached (Rugby, Cricket, Gymnastics). I subsequently really enjoyed this period of learning as I now have a deeper understanding of a broad range of sports technically and tactically which only aided my practice.
It is important to note that there is nothing wrong with enjoying working long hours as it is possible to be content as long as it aligns with your wants and needs. At times I have been happy to fully immerse myself in work but as my wants and needs changed, I needed the environment to change too.
Perspective provides an opportunity to take stock and assess where we are at. From the accident, I now can step back and assess when I need to make changes to live the life I want to.
From this blog I am not suggesting everyone experience a major event to gain perspective, it should be something that you go too frequently to ensure you are living the life you want.
We know that action, new experiences and the correct attitude are required to discover meaning in life. To live the life you want, establish your wants and needs then seek the skills required to create an environment aligned with them.
N.B. Josh shared his framework alongside Collab Sports at a pivotal moment in this transitional process allowing me to shape the next steps of my career and for it, I am ever grateful.