by Meilin Obinata
One of my students was telling me how much she enjoys her part-time job. It's a break from school and stress - it's her form of “me” time. She loves the fact that she earns real money, and, she even persuaded her friends to work there too. So she mixes socializing with working - a real two-fer. She told me proudly of her promotion also! That conversation made me think about how important it is for people, especially in the challenging high school years, to get little “wins” every so often to keep them MOTIVATED.
People don't like to lose - and in school, “losing” might mean an unsatisfying grade or test performance, not understanding material - or simply wasting time on subjects that are uninteresting. I have realized that for many students, school is just “there.” Yes, students can be fortunate enough to connect with amazing teachers or inspiring assignments - but they can also be neutral or just uninspired. For many, regardless of whether they seem like the perfect student or a troublemaker - school is simply something to manage. That doesn't sound like a big problem, or is it?
Here's the thing: because people LIKE TO WIN, you have to yourself have things to WIN AT. Those little wins are the many ways of hearing the the universe say, “you did something GOOD.”
Professor Amabile of Harvard Business School calls this “ the progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.” That professor was researching the motivation of adult workers, but, high school students are also hungry for making progress in meaningful work.
The reality is, they are spending a lot of time working hard. Their “workday” can include paid work, volunteering, caregiving, sports, music and an endless list of alternatives - which stretch into evenings and weekends. I've noticed something about students who essentially schedule their own sense of satisfaction and progress: they are better able to handle the rollercoaster ride of high school - by protecting those activities which help them continue to “win.”
Because my student's responsibilities are increasing in her part-time job, and because she's made it into something of a social and professional home for herself, she found a really creative way of combining her own growth - and - winning every time she shows up for work!
One of my students, despite being busy with leading clubs, performing research, and performing well in classes, always made time for his sport. He wasn't a captain, there was no pressure for him - he just loved the fact that being part of a team made it so that he was always spending part of his day with friends, socializing, while getting some exercise and decompressing. By making it part of his routine - by committing - he knew he would always have that sport to help keep him in balance - and get better “at” something.
Although these students were very different as young people, they had something in common - they successfully found their own ways to “win” - to make progress for themselves - and committed to those activities being in their schedule. Glamorous? No. The same as discovering the cure to cancer or pulling people out of a building on fire? No. Real? Yes, 100%.
These little wins, how ever small they might seem, are the very thing to help keep you going through the difficult times. When we reflect on them, the little wins are the small things that remind us of why we are doing what we do. I will close here with a quote by Admiral McRaven:
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. If, by chance, you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that’s made. That you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.