Finding Your Purpose, and Why it Matters

By Michelle Silver

Discovering your place in the world is no simple task, especially for an adolescent.  Yet it remains one of the most important processes of our lives.  Working towards establishing purpose helps youth travel a pathway to success, allowing them to form an identity, set goals, and eventually achieve those goals.   Adolescents with a sense of purpose are motivated individuals that are working towards something meaningful to them.  As a result, purpose driven adolescents are thinking about their future from a young age. This helps them overcome typical adolescent struggles and decreases the likelihood of participating in risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use and violent behavior.  Because positive purpose helps adolescents overcome risk factors, it has been termed a ‘promotive factor.’

Establishing a positive purpose during adolescents can lead to better overall well-being, as these individuals exhibit more pro-social behavior, dedication to school and activities, and higher levels of self-esteem and achievement.  These individuals have less negative outcomes and are more likely to succeed.  Youth with a positive purpose mentality are also better equipped to handle failure, changes to plans, and difficulties along the way.  Youth who have developed a sense of purpose are able to get through everyday tasks with less difficulty than those without a positive purpose, since these individuals are able to recognize the relevance of completing what some may consider boring or useless tasks, to their future.  While purpose is something that must ultimately be developed individually, it has been linked to perceived teacher and school support.

Purpose development begins by determining what you are passionate about.  You must also identify which goals are most important to pursue and learn about options to pursuing them.  For adolescents, discussions with adults, teachers, or even peers can offer insight and bring new ideas to the table.  After goals have been identified, the individual must then have the dedication to pursue the goal.  A few ways that motivation can be fostered are through engagement in meaningful activities or by keeping a personal journal.  Finally, adolescents take action which helps them get closer to their goals.  Some potential ways to do this are by participating in activities that are connected with the goals that were set, interacting with school and community members, and by reflecting on activities, which helps connect them with the larger goal.

Promoting the development of purpose development within a positive youth development framework is a growing area of research.  Stay tuned for upcoming interventions that the Pathways4Youth Lab is conducting about purpose in the future!  


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