Habits Over Goals


Greetings Jazz Education Network –

It’s been a while since I’ve given a presidential message and that is because I decided to take a step back and do some assessing of my own life and career. And the reason I decided to do that is because around the turn of the year I started to reflect on the past. I started to reflect on things that were going well and things that weren’t going so well. And it led me to a series of events to make changes in my personal life and my life and my career. 

Now, many of you may have heard this story that I’ve shared in the past about this letter that I wrote to my mother around the age of 16. I wrote a letter to her, it was a part of an English assignment. And I wrote this letter stating three things. There were three goals. I didn’t know there were goals at the time, but I’m sort of in the moment because of the assignment, the nature of the assignment, I was prompted to tell my parents what I’d be doing 10 years from that moment.

“Dear Mom,” I wrote. I wrote three things. I wrote that I would be a college professor. I wrote that I would be a jazz recording artist, and I wrote that I would be Wynton Marsalis’ friend. Well, when I wrote those things out, they became goals without means and really realizing that they would become goals. They became real in my mind and it set me on a path to create habits in order to get to those goals. And that was the gold standard for me for a long time. 

Well, I reached the age of 26 and with much trial and error, those things happened. In many respects, that was a blessing and a curse, because once I achieved those goals, life started to get a little wishy-washy for me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it did.

I decided that I was going to become a professor. I was going to record albums. And that’s what I did for the next several years, over a decade. During that time, I found myself living in those goals, but not necessarily living in the habits that got me to those goals in the first place. So the habits started to wane because I didn’t have more goals.

And so, I found myself sort of living two lives in a way. And that all came to a head this past year, when I realized that I needed more habits to keep my personal peace and to keep long-term sustainability in life. 

So I read this book by James Clear called “Atomic Habits.” And in reading that book, I realized that the goal isn’t the destination, the habits are the destination. What you do every single day to fulfill your purpose, to keep your peace and to be the best human being that you can possibly be, no matter what circumstances go on in your life, including the achievement of goals. And so it made me realize that perhaps, perhaps as an educator, specifically in the arts, it’s important for us to start focusing on the habits more than the achievement of the goals.

The habits can be something that you choose that sustains you for periods of years, versus a simple goal that you achieve, that happens, you did it and you move on. 

So now at this age and time in my life, I’m realizing that in order to find my peace in order to find my joy and my purpose long-term, I need sustained habits to keep me going for the rest of my life, no matter what I achieve or what I fail at. 

And so that being said, I recommend that everyone read that book, “Atomic Habits,” by James Clear. I recommend that we put our students on paths that give them habits to sustain their person, their whole person, regardless of what the goals may be, and regardless of what their failures may be,

I’m a living witness that it’s not just the goal. It’s the habits that define who you are. Long-term. 

Thank you so much. And I hope that you all are well in your lives. 

Much love,

Sean Jones