This year, I've asked my seventh- and eighth-grade students to answer a question: "What do you love to do?" Or, put another way, "What makes you come alive?"
Some people might think it's too heavy or lofty a question for a thirteen-year-old kid who might be found, at any given moment, drawing on himself with a Sharpie or seeing how many bits of rolled-up paper he sneak into his friend's hoodie before being caught. Maybe for some, it is.
But I think there are enough kids who already have a sense of what they love to do, and who can answer the question even at age thirteen or fourteen. Regardless of how ready or not they are for the question, even if their current answer is "video games," it's my hope to inception their brains so that at some crucial points in the future, the question I've asked will come back to them.
I hope three or four years from now, as they're faced with what to do after high school, that a voice would speak to them from the dusty archives of their middle school years and say (ideally, in a more dramatic, more annoying version of my voice, maybe being sung with auto-tune for extra flavor), "What do you love to do? What makes you come alive?"
I hope they factor in the answer as they make decisions about what lies beyond the walls of high school. I hope they remember to ask that question a thousand more times throughout their lives.
It’s the same question that’s popped up at so many crucial times for me. I haven’t always known exactly what I should be doing or what job or career I should have, but asking what I love to do has always helped me get closer to finding meaning in whatever I do, wherever I am.
It's what guided me to make the decision to pursue an education degree at Penn State. I figured out that I love English and writing, I love to help people, and I love to help them figure out what brings them to life.
That question is what made me realize I love the outdoors and traveling—mountains and open space and traveling. Once that happened, I set out on a path that's taken me all over the country and the world.
And even as I continue to uncover new answers to the question of what I love to do, some of my answers remain the same.
I still love to help people. I still love to help them to figure out brings them to life. That answer keeps me grounded. It re-focuses me when I start to become distracted with all of my shiny, new passions (and that happens a lot). It sets me straight when I begin to lose my way.
My students have already answered the question, so now I'll ask you: What do you love to do? What makes you come alive?
This question has always served as a North Star for me. I hope it can do the same for my students. I hope it can do the same for you.