Reflecting takes guts. I mean real reflecting. Not just the “that was a (fill-in-the-blank) experience” kind of reflection – anybody can do that cheap seat reflecting. I mean the authentic, deep, squishy, tingly reflecting. When we reflect, we need to do serious work, to learn from experience. If we succeeded, let’s learn so we can repeat it. If we failed, let’s learn so we don’t repeat it.
What To Reflect On
The act of truly, deeply reflecting isn’t easy. By “reflect” I mean to think deeply about something from the past. And through these reflections, we get a better understanding of how we made it to where we are in the present moment. That is a powerful, VERY powerful, gift we can give ourselves. One of the hard parts of reflecting is to know what to focus on. We all make mistakes. Lots of them! You know you do – own it, be cool with it, share it, learn from it. When reflecting, the most powerful lessons can be gleaned from the most uncomfortable and awkward experiences. Go to the dark corners of memories and experiences that scare you. Find where you took risks and failed, or where you succeeded but the goal was disingenuous. That’s where the gems are – go searching for them, and bring them into the light.
On the fun side, it is also powerful to reflect on the questions we ask. The learning that paves our life path comes from the questions we ask. Therefore, reflecting on that life path requires us to reflect on those questions. Think about why you asked those particular questions. What was so important about that question at that time?
I am not good at reflecting. I do not spend much time or energy looking back, but instead choose consciously to look forward. I often tell myself that’s because looking forward is more intriguing. But honestly, I think it’s because my past frightens me. Some of the choices I made, and the resulting consequences, are scary. Reflecting on those is quite emotional, and I don’t like emotions, I don’t like feeling them, talking about them, or confronting them. But I know I need to get more comfortable with this.
Because I don’t like the icky side of reflecting, I start with the questions. I ask a lot of questions (at least the voices in my head have lots of question-based conversations). When I was younger my questions had to do with hustling. I wanted to know how to get more drugs, quicker and cheaper. I wanted to know who could help me with this singular purpose. My questions were very shallowly focused on this pursuit. As I got older, my questions switched focus from destructive to more constructive, from self-focused to other-focused.
As I emerged from my drug fog, I began to ask questions about how to help others, about how to balance the karmic scales that I put well out of balance. I asked about my career path and other self-focused pursuits, but they were productive pursuits, not destructive. Once my wife helped me find my career path and pushed me down it, my questions focused on disrupting education. How can I enrich the classroom experience of students? How can I expose youth to entrepreneurial thinking? How can I destroy NCLB and Common Core and other destructive efforts? Why do we not let students have a voice in education? The questions are endless (it’s really a hassle sometimes!) I work every day to collaborate with others who can help answer these questions. It’s a grand existence!
But that existence is tempered during those few times when I reflect on the dark corners of my past. To be honest, it’s not often I go there. I don’t like to; I am scared, but I also do not see much point in that. I stole from many people, I cheated people, I lied to people, I manipulated and conned people. I was selfishness and greed defined. I sold drugs to many people – from very young children to very old adults, from people who had never used to people who desperately needed to stop using. I didn’t care who I sold to, as long as they had money. Period. Some of those faces I can still remember. That’s scary. But what happens when I reflect on these times in my life is that I become more passionate and energized about my current state and my current path in life. I do not do what I do because of my past, but my past does help fuel my desire to make a positive dent in the universe. I can make that dent through infusing entrepreneurship into education, at every single level. My reflections remind me of why I do what I do. They scare me into staying on this path. They are good and bad, they are light and dark.
My question to you: What do you reflect on? How does reflecting benefit you?