This is Your Life: A Mid-Life Dream Check, Part One

I love Switchfoot’s “This is Your Life.”  Here’s the chorus, which is basically the entire song.

This is your life, are you who you want to be
This is your life, are you who you want to be
This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be
When the world was younger and you had everything to lose

I don’t want to ask these questions in my golden years.  What if I don’t like the answers?  I’d have little time, energy, or opportunity to make things right for myself.  I’m 45 years old and I think now is the perfect time to ask myself if my life “is everything I dreamed that it would be.”  So, I begin.

Why Digital Portfolios Have Become My Passion

I’ve done some digging and found a few things I wrote about goals and dreams when I was younger.  I will share those things in my next post.  For now, I’ve been thinking about a related topic.  I am quite jealous of all these youngsters growing up with a digital archive of their life.  What I’d give to have a accurate portfolio depicting my growth, perspective, hopes and dreams.  It’s really hard to conduct a mid-life dream check without accurate information from my formative years.

I’d love to refer to a Facebook timeline, a school blog where I had explained exactly why I hated Biology so much, or a Google Drive filled with all my high school and college resumes, papers, essays, letters, poems, and projects.  After all, we must admit that we remember things quite differently than the way they actually happened.  It would be so easy to make up what you wanted to accomplish or what you were good at doing.  I could just name the things I’ve actually accomplished and could try to fool myself that I’ve been successful.  Easy peesy!  But deep in my core, that won’t work for me.  I need to know what I dreamed.  If the purpose of this exercise is truly to conduct a mid-life dream check in order to redirect future actions, I have to begin with where I hoped I’d be.  I have only a school-girl diary, a tiny journal, and my memory for reference.  Not ideal.

Using Your Portfolio for Reflection and Redirection

I believe the process of self-actualization (becoming what you are capable of becoming) is deeply rooted in my youthful goals, dreams, and ambitions.  Though I didn’t know what I was capable of as a teenager, I dreamed big dreams.  Satisfaction with life begins with coming to terms with who I wanted to be.  I’m so jealous that I have very little evidence of who that was for me.

Imagine a world were EVERYONE has this sort of information as they mature. Imagine if it were protocol in every field for professionals to reflect on their life’s goals and dreams.  What if (within the context of their vocation/profession) these reflections were made in order to create plans to use their lives to achieve their youthful ambitions?  Am I crazy for thinking we should have that?  I can’t help but wonder what sort of innovation might be spurred, what problems might be solved, and what valuable perspectives might be gained.

A digital portfolio can make those reflections honest, thorough, and powerful.

Understanding Personal Needs

In some way or another, I have always found myself trying to understand people (and myself) along with my students in my English or history classes.  One way I help students understand human needs is to explain  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  I’m not expert in psychology or Maslow’s hierarchy, but this hierarchy has always made great deal of sense to me.

I find it useful on this quest to answer Switchfoot’s question.  Maslow analyzed characteristics of many who had reached self-actualization.  I’m not sure if these characteristics should be considered goals, benchmark measures, or what.  I simply find them fascinating.  If I’m going to seriously consider the answer to Switchfoot’s “Are you who you want to be” question, I must have something for contemplation.

Maslow found that they were:

Reality-centered: Differentiating between fake and real, dishonesty and truth.
Means focused: Not seeking just the end but enjoying the journey.
Problem-centered: Focusing on solving problems not bemoaning one’s troubles.
Self-sufficient: Not needing the company of others.
Deep relationships: What connections they had with others was deep and meaningful.
Autonomy: Not being driven by the deeper needs.
Socially aloof: Not being driven by social pressures.
Open humor: Able to laugh at themselves and life in general.
Acceptance: Accepting self and others without judgment.
Simplicity: Being themselves, without pretence.
Spontaneity: Reacting as themselves without pause to worry.
Respect: Accepting others as they are.
Humility: Not trying to be superior to others.
Ethical: A personal sense of right and wrong.
Openness: Being able to see things in new ways.
Creative: Easy identification of new ideas.
Peak experience: Achieving that state of nirvana.
(Maslow self-actualization source)

Teaching: Another word for Transcendence

I like that Maslow amended his original hierarchy with an interesting addition above self-actualization: Transcendence, which is helping others to achieve their potential. Now as a teacher and a teacher-leader, this really speaks to me.  It really isn’t going to be enough to know I did what I hoped to do as long as I live in a world where I care about the people around me.  It becomes about them, too. What will their answer to the song be?  If I can help them along their path, shouldn’t I?  Where do my needs end and serving the needs of others begin?  Teachers know.  It’s a beautifully complicated combination of the two.  We get it.  In fact, I think we got it long before Maslow thought of it.  And at its core, it’s the hardest part of teaching.  Not everyone wants to work to reach their potential.  But for us to reach the apex of our own hierarchy, we must motivate them to find a way.

Thoughts on Preparing My Answer

To become what we are capable of becoming is a personal quest for us all.  One doesn’t need to be aware that Abraham Maslow wrote a paper over 50 years ago on human needs to know that the needs are there.  Turns out that the lyrics to Switchfoot’s song resonate with most of us.  So, this is your life.  Are you who you want to be?  Is it everything you dreamed it would be?  Answering that question is something everyone will do, whether consciously or not.  Everyone will use some sort of standard and measure for reaching his or her answer.  I will use what I have – a diary, a journal, and my memory.  I will look at Maslow’s revised hierarchy and the characteristics of those who have reached self-actualization.  In the end, I hope to allow my heart to lead my head.

Then, I’ll work hard to build a digital evidence box for my End-of-Life Dream Check.  I expect I’ll be much less patient in my golden years and in need of a quick way to reference my life’s dreams.  Better a digital portfolio for half my life than for none of it at all.



One thought on “This is Your Life: A Mid-Life Dream Check, Part One

  1. wendian06 says:

    Thanks for a provocative piece, Jennifer. One of the things that really came to light this year for me has been what you highlighted as the beautifully complicated aspect of transcendence. It really is hard sometimes, though, to find that balance of our needs versus the needs of others. I wonder now if it is with my heart or my head that I lead the most…and when I think about it, that, too, is a beautifully complicated combination. I’ll be continuing my writing, but I think I’ll print this out for the reminders these questions provide.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s