How to Guide a Kid Who Has No Direction


Not too long ago, I spent the better part of a year doing research into the challenges young adults had in making the transition to self-reliant adulthood. Every single one of them shared challenges they faced in figuring out life on their own. They even shared the same refrain when I asked them about the trajectory of their lives: “I don’t know what I want to do yet; I just know it has to be meaningful.” Have you ever heard something similar?

There’s a book that came out nearly thirty years ago called Halftime: Moving From Success to Significance by Bob Buford. The target audience is successful executives who are nearing retirement age and yearn for something to change in their lives. The core premise is to finally spend time putting the interests of others ahead of their own career advancement and financial success. 

Full disclosure: I can’t stand that book. Always have. It’s such a stupid concept, and I’m sorry it had to be written. (Can I tell you another secret? Many years ago, I got the author’s email address and sent him a note that said the same thing. I told him my life’s mission was to put him out of business. He never replied.)

I don’t like the implied idea that the first half of life is supposed to be about advancing your ego. Research has proven, actually, that people who make it their aim to improve the welfare of others will experience a greater degree of well-being. In other words, serving others makes you happier. Speaking more broadly, the contents of your goals matter. We want young people to be motivated and have an internal drive that manifests in self-sufficiency and taking responsibility for their lives. But not all pursuits are created equal. Putting others first works better.

Some people don’t figure that out at all. Some people have to wait until they’ve climbed the success ladder to give it a try. But I see young people realizing the same thing from the get-go. I think they need to be inspired to pursue those intrinsic impulses, even if we fear they might not make as much money as a software engineer, investment banker, or doctor would. 

But if the career path that makes the most sense doesn’t implicitly say “civil service,” we can still encourage young people to find a servant motivation within that field. I had a good friend who was an accountant who chose to work for a healthcare company because he had a personal experience with cancer. He saw the extension of his work with spreadsheets and reports as a way to care for people in hospital beds. I dare say he’s an incredibly satisfied accountant, plus he can pay his bills and then some. 

When your kid isn’t sure about their career path, don’t hesitate to ask them questions about how they might serve others with their lives. There are thousands of ways to make money doing good. But it would be a real bummer if they paid their bills and felt a hole in their heart.

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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.

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