Failure is inevitable but failure is growth. It is important to understand that you are going to make mistakes and experience perceived failures as you grow, it is part of the growth process. It has to happen, so when it does, acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on! I had a freshman student take my general psychology class and he ended up failing it. Miserably. Much to my surprise, he decided to re-take the class with me two semesters later. Much more to my surprise, he excelled in the course, passing with over a 100%. When I asked him about it, he shrugged his shoulders told me he failed with me so he needed to succeed with me and then added that it made him get his life together and fulfill his purpose.
Dr. A.J. Marsden is a former U.S. Army surgical nurse who now serves as an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., the first accredited college to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities and ADHD, where she teaches courses including theories of personality. She has served as a psychological coach for professional mixed martial arts athletes. She also has 10 years of martial arts experience, actively trains Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, and has been an active weight lifter and yoga enthusiast for 4 years. She specializes in motivation, emotion and attitudes, nonverbal behaviors, abnormal psychology, including PTSD, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and eating disorders, human sexuality and health psychology. Dr. Marsden earned her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After some of my experiences in graduate school, I left determined to be a different type of professor than what I witnessed there.
What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?
There are a few ways to live your life “on purpose”. First, be mindful and present in the moment. Appreciate where you are and where you are going. More importantly acknowledge what sacrifices you will need to make to get to where you want to go. Be patient with where you are and find humor rather than annoyance in obstacles. This mindset helps to achieve the second way to live life “on purpose” — setting and achieving goals. Setting realistic and challenging goals motivates us to develop and grow as a person. Self-reflection and being honest with oneself during the growth process will help us set holistic goals — goals that benefit us and others — which will make living a life “on purpose” more meaningful.
Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?
There are several stories that I could share from my graduate school days. They all have one thing in common and that is unfair and unreasonable — almost tyrannical leadership which ultimately lead to a collapse in the program’s infrastructure. Nevertheless, these experiences inspired me to be a more thoughtful, compassionate, and logical person. It forced me think about what my real purpose in life was and which path would lead to my happiness — not the happiness prescribed by society. Through these experiences I was able to find my life’s purpose and now I can live it daily.
The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
We are a materialistic society. We value things and stuff. And thanks to social media we are inundated with it all day long. We are also taught about materialism from a young age. A study by UCLA found that 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but own 40% of the toys consumed globally. We value materialism more than education. We spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than on higher education and we have more shopping malls than high schools in our country. We spend about $1.2 trillion annually on things we do not need (nonessential items). We value things even though multiple research studies have shown that materialistic individuals are not as happy as non-materialistic individuals. People who place more value in things are more impulsive in their spending, have more debt, and less money saved than people who place less value on items. Furthermore, materialistic people also have a higher chance of depression and anxiety. When we focus on experiences, we are happier. Until our culture learns to let go of things and live in purposefully in the moment, we will continue to rank low in happiness.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve always enjoyed learning and helping others. As a college professor and an organizational consultant, I am able to do both. I appreciate that I have an opportunity to share my knowledge with others and pass on what I know. I enjoy academic discussions with my students and clients. They inspire me and remind me of all the reasons why I wanted to work in academia. As a professor, it is a truly wonderful feeling to see a student’s sense of accomplishment after completing a difficult research project or giving a particularly nerve wrecking speech. As a consultant, it is rewarding to see months of hard work yield life-changing results.
What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
Strategy #1: Do something active upon waking up, smile, and have a routine. By smiling as soon as we wake up, our facial muscles feedback into our brain and influence our emotional experience. This is called the facial feedback hypothesis. Much research over the years has demonstrated that when we smile, we feel happier, so wake up with a smile! Shortly after waking up, do something that will stimulate you both physically and mentally. A morning jog or yoga session can help wake up and activate our bodies and minds. It releases endorphins which helps us feel energized and ready to start our day. Plus, having something active built into our routine helps to create a healthy habit for dealing with stress. Exercise helps alleviate stress. Developing this healthy habit is easier than many think, too. It only takes about 22 days to create a habit, so try this strategy for about a month and you’ll feel the difference.
I use this strategy every day. Depending on the day of the week, after waking up I either go for a run or go to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu class. Both are stimulating and provide me with an sense of accomplishment early in the day so that I am motivated to live the rest of my day with purpose.
Strategy #2: Be grateful for the day’s experiences. We learn every day and we should be grateful for those experiences. Research has shown that we are happier and more productive when we reflect on positive experiences from that day. By keeping a gratitude journal and jotting down three positive experiences a day, we can learn to look for the positive in every experience and appreciate it more. When we appreciate life, we are living with purpose.
This is another strategy I’ve incorporated into my daily routine. After watching Sean Achor’s TED talk, I decided to try keeping a gratitude journal and found it incredibly uplifting.
Strategy #3: Failure is inevitable but failure is growth. It is important to understand that you are going to make mistakes and experience perceived failures as you grow, it is part of the growth process. It has to happen, so when it does, acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on! I had a freshman student take my general psychology class and he ended up failing it. Miserably. Much to my surprise, he decided to re-take the class with me two semesters later. Much more to my surprise, he excelled in the course, passing with over a 100%. When I asked him about it, he shrugged his shoulders told me he failed with me so he needed to succeed with me and then added that it made him get his life together and fulfill his purpose.
Strategy #4: Treat your body right. Not only is it important for your body to be active, it is even more important to properly fuel it. There are lots of theories as which diet is best and which foods will help boost immunity or metabolism. In reality, it is best to remember everything in moderation. It is okay — once in a while — to stop at McDonald’s for a treat. It is not okay to eat at McDonald’s every night for dinner. It is okay — once in a while — to have a piece of pumpkin pie. One piece! Everything in moderation. Try to get a healthy balance of whole-grain carbs, healthy omega-3 fats, and lean proteins. I would also recommend using a calorie counting app to keep yourself honest. When your body is properly fueled you have the energy and motivation to live your life with exuberance.
My husband, who travels and works with professional athletes, has a hectic schedule. He has every excuse to eat unhealthy and let himself go. But he doesn’t. He practices a martial art or runs every day, sometimes twice a day. Even when he’s traveling, he sets up times to train jiu-jitsu at local gyms. However, he still enjoys himself with an occasional glass of scotch or a nice cigar. Sometimes when he comes home from a long international trip, he enjoys a big bacon cheeseburger. But he also understand that everything is in moderation. It is okay to indulge every now and then. But in general staying healthy and fueling our bodies correctly gives us the energy to face each day with purpose and a positive attitude.
Strategy #5: Set professional and personal goals. Almost everyone has to set professional goals, but we often forget to set personal goals. Goals give us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Research published in the Journal of Gerontology found that young adults who set challenging goals and experimented with different ideas were more reflective and well-adjusted as older adults. They were also more likely to report having lived their life with a purpose. By having specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely goals, we will be more motivated to start each day with energy and exuberance. We will have something to work towards. There were several instances during my graduate school training where I seriously contemplated quitting my doctorate program. However, I persevered because my goal to teach the next generation of young adults was more important to me than the temporary unpleasantness I was experiencing at the time.
Strategy #6: Take time to meditate. The research is clear about the benefits of meditation and living in the moment. Taking a few moments throughout the day to focus on breathing can help bring new energy into a project. It can be used to generate new and creative ideas and it can be used to decrease stress and anxiety. It can also boost productivity. When we are aware, we can be present in the moment and make sure that we are living each day with purpose. An excellent example of the benefits of meditation is a current study being conducted by my colleagues and me on the use of meditation and student grades. We have found a positive correlation between student grades and attending meditation group sessions.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?
Many of Jocko Willink’s podcasts are inspirational and remind me of the importance of self-discipline and setting challenging goals that have meaning. But one book that inspired me to live my life the way I want to is An Embarrassment of Mangos by Ann Vanderhoof. This book inspired me not to sail down the Atlantic coast and live a life of freedom in the Caribbean, but instead to live life adventurously — to approach each day with positivity and gratitude and to live my life the way I wanted to — not the way society thought I should.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You’ve done this before and you can do it again.” This mindset helped me succeed during my undergraduate education and became a rallying cry during my graduate education. Even if I hadn’t done something before, I would find a comparable experience and convince myself that if I could do that, I can certainly do this. I still use this quote as I work toward my personal and professional goals now. I remind myself of how far I’ve come and I compare myself to my performance yesterday. This comparison is the key to being able to live with a thirst for life. If you constantly compare yourself to others, you will always be unhappy because someone out there will always be better than you. However, if you compare yourself to who you were yesterday, you can continually improve your self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. You can then enjoy the process of growth.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Currently, I am working on a few research project examining the effects of mindfulness, critical thinking, and learning disabilities. I am hoping that the results of these studies will help educators such as myself be better able to service this population of students.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The practice of ethical and responsible leadership. Yes, it is being practiced by some, but we need more of it.