This blog is based on a book called “The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life” by William Damon, one of America’s leading writers on the lives of young people. Judging by the blurb on the book on Amazon.com, the book itself is the result of an extensive study of young Americans’ lives. The blogger, Eric Barker, uses material from the book to hammer home a useful point: “These days kids have limitless options — and no clear answers. A world with a stifling lack of opportunities has become a paralyzing flood of possibility. (Be careful what you wish for, eh?) We don’t want to go back to the old way but we did create a void that we need to fill. It’s hardly surprising that levels of anxiety and depression are far higher among young people these days. They have no idea what they want.”
Many of us raise kids so that they can go to a good university and get a prestigious degree and then an equally prestigious job so that they can live in an expensive flat in an upmarket neighbourhood and drink low fat lattes all their lives. Unsurprisingly, most of our kids don’t really care for this vision that we might have of their chino-clad, Powerpoint infused futures. So how can we do a better job of visioning for our kids? Eric presents us with a 3-step solution:
Part 1 is to “Fan the Flames” i.e. “Every kid has interests. Start noticing. Be open-minded and supportive. Listen. Be a sounding board. Don’t judge. Encourage. Fan the flame.
It is very very not-hard to get young people to talk about what they love. Be a Socratic coach, drawing out their thoughts and helping to slowly weave them into next steps and plans.
Take advantage of organic opportunities to open a dialogue. When the news is on, ask kids what they think about issues, about what is right and what is wrong, about what is important and what is not. Start slow at first but you can circle closer and closer over time toward:
What’s most important to you in life?
Why do you care about those things?
What does it mean to have a good life?
What does it mean to be a good person?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help them explore possibilities and derive goals from the instincts they already feel.”
If you are not feeling stressed enough by now, you can move on to part 2 which is to “Convey The Meaning You Get From Your Work”. This can be tricky if you hate your job. However, assuming you don’t: “Talk to your kids about the purpose and meaning you get from your job. Children need to understand what it is you do and that it fulfills a personal sense of purpose — not just pays the bills. What makes you feel good about your job? What gives you pride in what you do? Again, you don’t have to be curing cancer. How does what you do in some very small way make the world a better place, contribute to the common good or just make someone else happy?”
Part 3 sounds a lot of more do-able: “Introduce Them To Mentors”. Basically, find smart, emotionally intelligent friends and foist your children upon them. “You might not be able to explain to them what it’s like to be a surgeon — but your friend the doctor can.
This might sound like a simple “good idea” but it’s more than that. In Damon’s study of young people he found a number of kids that were highly purposeful. Most of them didn’t have mentors outside the home. Nope… They all did. Every single one of them.”
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