What Must We Do To Inspire Purpose?

What is purpose?

William Damon, the director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, defines purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”

Damon’s research breaks students into four categories on their path to purpose: the dreamers, the dabblers, the disengaged, and the purposeful (each of the categories representing roughly a quarter of the adolescent population). Extremely purposeful students exhibit high degrees of persistence, resourcefulness, resilience, and capacity for healthy risk taking.

The need for a new method of being with and educating our youth is one of great interest to our society today. It is the responsibility of the adults to take on educating our children in a way that is meaningful to them, and the current way just doesn’t cut it!  We have lost sight of the power of creating relationship with students, collaboration among students, and fostering intrinsic motivation.  Our teens need world adventure and a deeper understanding of what it is to fail as a healthy concept for growth.

I have long felt the competitiveness of our culture and bump up against it in my professional and personal life often.  I see the closing off of people who share similar offerings and gifts to the community but feel it is “mine” not “ours” to hold.  I see the competitive fight for clientele or goods; rather than coming together in the honoring of the gifts shared. I truly feel heartbroken in the witnessing of this.  Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “The next Buddha may take the form of community.”  How do we live into this? I notice my desire to constantly entice collaboration at the cost of the death of ego and when it’s done, the results are always one I cherish.  

I understand the battle of the ego in this world and I also see the need for it to loosen it’s tight hold in order to reach for something greater.  We have an opportunity as adults to teach our youth differently.  When I teach and an authority figure comes to observe my class, I notice how I grow small in the wondering if I check all the boxes to meet the criteria of a “good educator” all the while knowing that my methodology is outside the box in so many ways.  How can we stop checking off boxes and practice a more authentic way of growing into this world? Can we truly trust and believe that we can educate through conversation, experiences, and relationships over tests, lectures, and the meeting of some set criteria?

I hope that we can cultivate a way to do this that entices purpose to emerge beautifully and courageously, that invites exploration of the world with allies who support and encourage each others’ deeper knowing of Self.  And I hope, more than anything, that we, adults and teens alike, play bravely into this new design, that we test and cross the edges, willingly and purposefully, to create the much needed changes our world, through our youth, are calling into being.

Seven Ways to Help High Schoolers Find Purpose

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