When my son Billy was 15, I was really struggling to connect and communicate with him. He was spending increasing amounts of time in his room on technology, doing the bare minimum to get through school and had no interest in sport or other extra-curricular activities. I was often at a loss as to how to get through to him or get him motivated.
So, I turned to the internet looking for answers. That’s when I came across The Path to Purpose How young people find their calling in life by William Damon (Professor at Stanford University). If you are a parent or teacher, do yourself a favour and get this book pronto!
The first pages provided instant relief and I inhaled the book in one sitting. I wondered if what Billy was lacking, was a deep sense of purpose? He didn’t seem to have anything that truly motivated him to jump out of bed each day (other than mastering World of Warcraft, that is).
“What is too often missing – not altogether absent but evident only in a minority of today’s youth, is the kind of wholehearted dedication to an activity or interest that stems from a serious purpose, a purpose that can give meaning and direction to life.” The Path to Purpose.
I wondered whose responsibility it was to give my son a sense of meaning? Was it mine as a parent, or was it the duty of his teachers and school? The answer for me, was both. So, I carefully crafted an email to Billy’s school principal suggesting the book be placed on the curriculum for teachers and staff. When there was no luck there, I attempted to seize the moment when it felt right to ask Billy some of the insightful research questions kindly provided in Professor Damon’s book. Again, I had not much luck. Clearly Billy had smelled a rat!
Frustrated, one day as I was journaling, the answer came to me. I wrote down my own purpose for being a mother… “To be a wicked role model for my son.” That meant living and working on my own purpose and leading by example.
Could this be the most important job of a parent? To do what really matters to us so that our kids can witness our own fulfilment and be inspired to follow suit? I know I’ve failed many times to live up to that purpose, but time and again when I fall off the beam, I try to get right back on again.
One thing has occurred to me as I write this. Perhaps I have it very, very wrong? Perhaps, today’s youth will actually be the ones to show us the real path to purpose? It seems so, with the likes of Greta Thunberg leading the way.
In 2017, on my book tour to the USA, I was fortunate to be invited to deliver a speech to Professor Damon and his faculty at The Centre for Adolescence at Stanford University. This photo is of me presenting him with a copy of The Purpose Project. It was quite a poignant and emotional moment to be presenting my book to the man who had inspired me to pursue my own purpose by writing it.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been deeply contemplating the idea of how to best serve teachers and parents/guardians in supporting youth to find purpose. I’m keen to know if there is a real need for this work and what would be of most service. In January, I’ll be exploring ideas with teachers, parents and youth. If you’re interested in making a contribution and sharing your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you.
Yours on purpose,
PS: Today, Billy is 22 and pursuing his purpose by studying law with an intention to work with marginalized communities. Today, I’m a proud mumma, yet I know it’s just the beginning. (NB: I have full permission from Billy to publish this story.)
PPS: Two for One & Pay it Forward. Purchase The Purpose Project Online Course for yourself and I’ll give you one to give to a young person in your life. Perhaps you can buddy up and do the course together over the festive season? Just buy the course and I’ll send you an email with a special coupon to pay it forward to your young one. (And of course, if you want to pay it forward to that old one who once a young one, no probs.) BUY NOW