The Power of Purpose
People whose sense of purpose stops at “getting ahead” make unpleasant company. They’re overly busy, overly competitive, and overly suspicious. They’re tense, irritable, and pessimistic. They put expediency ahead of integrity and self-respect. Often they wind up chronically depressed or even suicidal.
Sadly, it’s not just middle-aged CEOs who get into this condition. It happens to kids of high school age—and even younger.
Presumably, you’d rather have your kids at the top of the happiness curve than the top of the grade curve. Yet you may have fallen into the trap of emphasizing “achievement”—and never had a serious talk with your children about purpose.
At any age, a sense of individual purpose means:
- believing in oneself as unique and valuable
- feeling fulfilled even in the face of setbacks, as long as one has purpose-based goals
- looking forward to getting up each morning
- more years in one’s life and more life in one’s years
Helping Your Kids Find Their Purpose
If you want that for your children, the rules of helping them build a purpose-centered mindset are:
- Listen to dreams of “what I want to be when I grow up.” Even wild flights of fancy hold clues to real-world passions.
- Starting when your kids are about seven or eight, talk with them every six months about what will be required to follow their dreams. Help them get involved in relevant projects and activities—but leave margin for experimenting, informally and unsupervised, with other options.
- If an activity your child loves seems to be interfering with schoolwork, share your concerns, but also consider the child’s point of view. Try to work out a mutually acceptable solution, such as giving up television for a while. Or consider that the difference between an A and a B average may not really be that important.
- Don’t panic if young adults deviate from the “sensible” route of a college degree and steady job. Let them learn by trial and error; they’ll be better for it in the long run.
For serious long-term planning, a detailed self-evaluation is in order. One popular template was created by Rick Warren (author of The Purpose-Driven Life) and uses the acronym SHAPE:
Spiritual Gifts (a concept from Christian theology, but those from other traditions may apply it to insight-based and relational skills): What sorts of things do you know instinctively? How well do you relate to others? In what ways do you find it natural to help others?
Heart, or passions: What can you get completely lost in? What topics fascinate you?
Abilities: Are you an athlete or an artist? What topics do you get high grades in? What do people compliment you for? What do others ask you to help with “because you’re so good at it”?
Personality: Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Detail-focused or broadly imaginative? Logical or emotional? Spontaneous or a planner? (There are several tests, notably the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, for evaluating personality traits more thoroughly.)
Experience: Which past activities brought you the most joy? Which produced the most satisfactory results?
Helping your children find their purpose—and respecting whatever purposes they find—is a gift even more valuable than formal education.