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Helping a Kid Find Their Purpose in Life

There's an old adage that says something to the effect of: "Find what you're passionate about and you'll never work a day in your life." Have you ever said that to someone?

For previous generations, work was appropriately named and it was seen as a means to an end. In more recent times, as more people have moved up the economic ladder, the higher order questions about purpose and meaning have come to the surface. That's a good thing, and yet, expecting people to discover their life purpose has unintentionally created another set of problems.

Our culture is obsessed with finding a purpose. 

Of course, I want my kids to be motivated by something deep within them that drives them to grow, strive, and show up. But too often, people who prioritize finding their life purpose get stuck in the abstract, esoteric ether, rather than finding clarity and a compass. They seem to be more lost than the people who just go to work and keep their heads down. 

Here is a tangible way you can help a kid think about purpose in their life. First...

Forget trying to find your purpose. Life is short, and you’re here to get to work and solve problems. Don't get lost thinking about your purpose. Instead, find a mission for your life.

For some, their next mission is clear and obvious: Dominate the college admissions process. Graduate on time. Find a steady job. Become a trustworthy friend. Get a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Move out of your parent’s house.

For others, your next mission is more ambiguous. You aren’t in any significant life transition, there are no immediate changes to your status, and the big ticket items like work, friends and where you live are stable. In that case, don’t wait for a mission to grab you or be painted across the sky. Grab one for yourself.

If you’re not sure what your next mission could be, here are a few categories to structure your reflections and some personal examples to illustrate each idea:

Something that matters to you. I really believe it’s important for people to discover their unique talents and strengths. It was incredibly meaningful for me in college to have a mentor come alongside me and help me identity who I am at my best, and I’ve found that most people need someone else to help them understand themselves. It matters to me that the people I come in contact with find an opportunity through my words and actions to feel affirmed and grow in their own self-awareness about who they are at their best. My mission in life is to help unlock the potential in others by giving them the tools to understand themselves and unleash a great story with their lives. What matters to you?

Something you believe in. I believe that youth sports are meant for kids to grow in confidence and character, learn about teamwork and resilience, and mostly, to have fun. I’ve noticed that many adults have forgotten that context and have ruined the spirit of sportsmanship and fun and replaced them with hyper-competition and drive for winning. I believe someone needs to help refresh people’s minds about the purpose behind youth sports, and invite other parents to return to a wholesome spirit. What do you believe in about how the world ought to be?

Something that is noble. Do you know what’s noble, in my opinion? Providing for your family. Choosing an easier load at work so you have more time and energy to invest in your kids when you get home. Deciding to be a stay-at-home mom for a few years. Giving your kids a stable home life and access to resources and opportunities that you didn’t have when you were growing up. To some ambitious people, those kinds of choices would be looked down upon. But you might find that your work is a means to another end, a far more important end. What do you consider noble?

Something that you think would be right. I have always had an affinity towards old people. I like the way they talk about the ‘old days’, the way they wink at you and get away with it, and say inappropriate jokes. Since I’m raising my kids in a town that was originally designed as a master-planned retirement community, there’s no shortage of old folks driving on the wrong side of the road near our house. The few times I’ve gone to a retirement home to visit some elderly people, I’ve heard a consistent theme: their gratitude for you spending a few minutes with them because rarely do they receive visitors who are interested in their lives and stories. It doesn’t sit well with me to think about old people who are rich with wisdom to not have the opportunity to be a gift to others through their time. I can imagine a mission where I invest my energies creating a structure for people to visit the elderly near them. What comes to mind for you that would be fixing something that just isn’t right?

Something that brings justice. If you’re going to fight for something and you’re not sure what to fight for, you probably couldn’t go wrong by fighting injustice in your hometown. If you’re paying attention, you’d have a hard time watching a local news segment without coming across a real injustice just a few minutes from your front door. What injustice have you noticed lately that keeps popping up in your point of view?

Something that creates beauty. My mom has an uncanny ability to create beauty in the spaces around her. She can see with her eye when a picture is hung too high on a wall, and when a cheesy looking table at at garage sale could be repainted to perfection. As a serial home shopper, she’s purchased and redesigned over a dozen homes and each one she leaves her stamp of beauty on for the next homeowner. When people have been smart enough to ask, she’s offered her talents to their homes and help them create beautiful spaces for their families. What could you do to create beauty for people in your life?

Something that brings order. I have a friend named Blake who radically changed careers to go into Accounting and Finance so that he could lend his knack for providing order and structure to health care companies that make devices used in hospitals for cancer patients. He wants his company to run efficiently because he knows that the more aligned structures on the backend will provide more life-saving and life-preserving devices for hurting people. His mission might not be as dramatic as a surgeon’s, but just as meaningful to him. What systems, organizations or structures in your world could benefit by having more order and alignment?

Someone who is overlooked. There are plenty of people who are overlooked. I have a friend named Sarah who moved with her husband and two kids to live in the inner city of San Diego to run a non-profit that develops youth to be leaders in their neighborhoods. She’s dedicated her life to redirect resources and create sustainable structures for overlooked youth to be invested in. Who do you think is overlooked in your community?

If you don’t have a passionate cause right now, that’s ok- a lot of people don’t. It could be that by picking a mission for the next 6 months to 6 years would not only organize your life but also galvanize your energies and efforts in a dramatic way. If you’re feeling a little stuck or a little lost, then try putting pen to paper and reflecting on the questions offered above?

Here’s a format you can use. First, we’ll show you an example to spark your thinking.

(Problem) It really bothers me that/when...young kids in the inner city don’t have the mentoring relationships they need to become strong and resilient…because…I never had that father figure I needed and spent a lot of time questioning my own worth and making the wrong choices.

(Reaction) It makes me feel...angry and sad. I feel so much compassion that I want to help them get what they need like I had when I was younger. 

(Solution) So I’m realizing that my mission use my experiences and resources to join forces with other like-minded people and create an inner city mentoring program for kids in my hometown.

(Future State) So that...we can see more kids graduate, go to college, get good jobs, and become leaders in our community.


Get started by thinking through some problems that irritate you. Once you've thought of a few, pick one and run through the full exercise. Then, try sharing it with someone else. Keep noodling on it, turning to over and around to see how clearly it reflects your heart.

(Problem) It really bothers me that/when... 

(Reaction) It makes me feel... 


(Problem) It really bothers me that/when... 

(Reaction) It makes me feel... 


(Problem) It really bothers me that/when... 

(Reaction) It makes me feel... 


Do you know?

For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

They're uncommon sense ideas, really.

Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).

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