• Date November 16, 2011
  • Author Paul Thallner

New York City was quiet near Washington Square Park during the weekend of September 11, 2011.

The weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that caused so many Americans to take stock of their lives, figure out what really matters, and start doing more of it. Indeed, many people dramatically changed the course of their lives and careers as a result of the attacks. As Annie McKee writes about in her book, Resonant Leadership, many of us faced a “wake up call” on that terrible day.

Ten years later, on September 11, 2011, The Future Project launched. It is a national education reform movement to inspire America—starting in our nation’s public schools. It unites students in urban public high schools with volunteers from their community—young professionals and students at nearby colleges and graduate schools—in partnerships and teams and challenges each pair to spend one year building a passion-inspired project that makes a powerful difference in their school or community.

The Future Project is a wonderful example of a young adults compassionately working with high school kids to help them find their true passion in life. Countless research studies have proven that people who love what they do are more engaged, more productive, have better relationships, and are healthier and happier. It’s a great gift the Future Project is giving the world. Imagine when The Future Project is successful: we will end up with thousands of young people out in the world who love what they do. We all will benefit from their inspired stories of success and positive outlook on the world.

Many of us did not have a mentor, coach, or guide helping us find our inspiration. It took an event like 9/11 to shake so many of us into consciousness and face tough questions about the very purpose of our own existence. Of course, not all wake-up calls are that big. In fact, most of us experience wake-up calls on a much more personal scale: chest pain, a close call while driving, getting fired, failing on a project, not being included in groups anymore. But I’m convinced that most of us really want to be like one of the passion-inspired members of Future Project! We all want that feeling – that energy – that comes with doing something we love.

If you don’t have that feeling, and instead have a nagging sense that you need to take better care of your health, your relationships, your career path, etc., you might do well to take a page from The Future Project’s playbook. Find out what really matters to you and what you really want and get some help to bring it to fruition.

But, how would you really do that? You do it the same way The Future Project inspires its students:

1) Start with yourself.  “Know Thyself.” The ancient Greek aphorism is just as true today as it was then. Self-awareness is critical in setting a course for your future. Discovering your Ideal Self (who you truly want to be) and putting that side-by-side with your Real Self (who you are now) will help you come up with a plan to move in the direction you want to go. You could try this on your own, with the help of a book like Becoming a Resonant Leader, or with a certified coach.

2) Experiment. Change is hard, and people tend to fail at it often. Try small, safe experiments that move you in the direction of your ideal self. Be selective and deliberate about where you experiment. For example, if you are experimenting with voicing your opinions at meetings, try it out with your family around the dinner table first. Use the same pre-planning process you’d imagine using at work, and be an active observer of the process you’re also involved with. Think about how you approached the topic, what people’s reactions were, your emotions during the process, and how you might do it differently under different circumstances.

3) Integrate change. The most important part of experimenting is taking the time to extract the learning from them. So, after the experiment, reflect on it to see if it worked and if you’d be willing to try it again in a slightly higher stakes environment. For instance, voice your opinion at a neighborhood association or church meeting. Use safe environments to calibrate your skills. These incremental changes and small wins up front will help you build momentum to try bolder change later.

What future will you write for yourself? What is YOUR future project?

For more on discovering what you love and loving what you do:


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