The What to the How

We’re all looking for a purpose for our life. A purpose which will guide us, make us happy when we are true to it, reprimand us when we are not, and give a simple, straight answer every morning, especially on those sluggish ones, to the question of “Why should I get out of bed today?”

I didn’t have a clear purpose for a long time. Several times I thought I found it, but inevitably I would slip back into what the vast majority of people are – people being pushed around by life, instead of pushing in the direction of their choice. And because I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about my purpose, I easily become unhappy once I see I’m not doing things because I see how they clearly fit into some bigger Make Things Better (MTB) scheme, but rather ‘cause of circumstances making me do them. You can imagine that this often makes me quite unhappy.

However, for the first time in years, I am, I believe, on the verge of defining my purpose. This is because I am finally merging the two important things in my life: MTB and languages.

Ever since high school I’ve had this urge to help people, to improve the status quo. When I see a problem, my first reaction is not “How do I avoid it?”, but rather “How do I fix it?”. While I believe such an attitude is extremely important and very lacking in today’s societies at large, it can only take you so far when you’re not certain where it is that you want to go. Yes, MTBing is cool, but what does the B look like? What is it a part of?

On the other hand, in the past 5 months or so my motivation to learn languages has been on a strong rise. In January I even postponed my exams in order to spend one month doing nothing but studying Japanese and Spanish. This was also the first time in a long time that I had a clear motivation to improve myself in something.

You see, a lot of the things I’ve been doing in my life in the past 2 or 3 years have been in line with the MTB philosophy and, even better, have given me skills and experience good enough to land me an excellent job practically whenever I want, even while still being a student, which is very atypical for a young person in Serbia. However, all of these things still haven’t given me a clear purpose, a goal to strive for, whether it’s for the next 10, 20 or 40 years, or a whole lifetime. Because of this, all the skills I’ve gained over time are great for my CV, but are not integrated within me in a meaningful way.

So, this newfound motivation for languages was a much needed breath of fresh air for me. Furthermore, besides learning them, I’ve realized through some work I did that I also really enjoy teaching them. However, while I can see myself standing in front of a class teaching languages using a method of my own, I know that this was not anywhere near the maximum I wanted to give in this area.

So, I had the following things to work with: a strong and still growing love for languages, the awareness that the current generally accepted method of language teaching is abysmally inefficient, a lot of ideas about how languages should be taught and learned, a desire to teach, and a strong desire to MTB.

In retrospect, I can only laugh at my inability to connect the glaringly obvious dots.

I want to find a method for easy, effective and fun acquisition of foreign languages. I want this method to be approved by the scientific community at large and to become commonplace in classrooms around the world.

This is the one thing I can now clearly call my purpose, or maybe more precisely my mission. It stems from my basic, firm beliefs that the world can and should be a wonderful place and that people have the capacity to make it even better than any one of us can dare to imagine. I cannot explain the reason behind these beliefs in a few simple words, but I do know that I draw all my strength from them.

As for my mission, well, I know I am not the only one doing this and I know I am not able to achieve it on my own. However, I know that I can contribute to it and that I dearly want to do it. I will still do other things which are important to me but might not fall under this purpose, for they need a purpose of their own, but I now know what my primary focus for a long time will be.

The important thing here is that this mission and its definition puts practically all the things I do, whether small or big, in perspective, simply by asking myself the following question: “How can this help me in making my mission a reality?”. For instance, now I know why I want a PhD in linguistics. It’s not because I want to, say, become intimately familiar with the nuisances of the phonetic characteristics of Anglo-Saxon simply because I’ve got the hots for long extinct vowels. Rather, I’ll learn the fiddly little bastards because they might be a requirement for getting a PhD in linguistics, and the reason I want a PhD in linguistics is to get not only useful knowledge, but also recognition from the scientific community when I present my theory. I won’t be just some guy with what might be a good idea. I’ll be a guy with an excellent idea and a PhD to back it up. Anything else concerning the said knowledge of phonetics, including enjoying it, is nothing less than a lovely bonus.

So, that’s it. I’ve got nothing to add. Time to get back to work.

On a final note though, I failed that Japanese exam. However, when my good friend asked me how it went, I sent him the following message:

I’ve lost the battle, but I’ve finally found my war.

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