Walk into a classroom, and you’re likely to find many students either bored, disengaged, or feeling a lot of pressure, especially adolescents and teens. One poll found that a majority of teens viewed school as boring or associated it with fatigue.
Finding purpose and intention is challenging when you’re uninspired. However, purpose and intention can be a significant driving factor that propels students to success, making it vital to launch the next wave of leaders.
So how can engagement, real-world learning, and a sense of meaning be provided to youth to help them find their purpose? Experts suggest that finding one’s purpose requires four key components:
However, these are not skills that are typically nurtured in most American schools today, especially for disenfranchised, underserved students and those who face challenging circumstances. Instead, most school curriculum is oriented around external achievement, checking off boxes, and short-term goal fulfillment. Education fundamentals are critical, but equally important are life skills and finding purpose.
5 Ways to Help Students Find Their Purpose
Helping students identify their purpose involves an expanded mindset that opens the door to opportunities not always available in a traditional classroom setting.
The ranking system at most schools sends the message to students that their worth is based entirely on their grade point average, reinforcing the notion that external achievement is the means to success and the way to get rewarded.
But this is the opposite of what develops a sense of purpose: Students who are not motivated to achieve something simply because they can or because they will be rewarded or recognized for it. Instead, they do it because they have a deep internal interest in pursuing it—and derive pleasure from the process.
In no way is this to suggest that the fundamentals of education should not be taken seriously. However, while students need to develop skills and strengths in school, they also need to find out what they love to do and what the world needs, which sometimes won’t include external acknowledgments.
Part of developing a sense of purpose is having a vision larger than one’s self. Students who only concentrate on themselves and their advancement through school—a mindset reinforced by today’s education system—will be trained to care only about themselves. On the other hand, working in teams helps young people develop the skills and mindsets essential to thrive in today’s workforce and lead a life that feels meaningful.
What if grading was based on how well students worked with others and mentored and advised their peers? That measurement would much more accurately mimic most workplaces, where teamwork and collaboration are some of the main skills desired by today’s employers.
Students often start to develop a sense of purpose when pursuing opportunities that push their comfort zones and explore. It’s why taking students outside the classroom can be hugely transformative, whether it’s a trip to a new place or working on something important to them in their community—not doing it because they “have to” or simply for college admissions, but because they care about it.
The current school model rewards perfection and discourages risk-taking. In other words, students are either rewarded for being perfectionists or shamed for failing. But failure is how we learn—learning to fail builds up critical life skills. All successful people have stories of failing. In many cases, failure was often a catalyst for their eventual success. Learning how to persevere is often the most crucial part of this process.
Allowing students to fail without severe consequences is an essential part of learning. When students don’t have those opportunities, they can’t deal with failure when they get out into the real world.
Looking back, students remember a teacher, coach, or an adult who took a genuine interest in their well-being. Unfortunately, while most teachers would relish the chance to build meaningful relationships with their students, school systems, in general, are dominated by content delivery. That leaves little room for teachers to foster relationships that help young people find their way in the world.
Research on those who have found their purpose shows that they often had at least three “Spark Coaches”—people who took an interest in their passions inside and outside of school. The power of adult, non-parental mentors and role models in the lives of students can be significant.
Programs such as REAP’s multicultural youth leadership programs work with schools to provide opportunities for students, through civic engagement and entrepreneurship, to teach them valuable life skills and put them on a path to discover their passion, their purpose. One event is focused entirely on helping students begin that journey to find their purpose.
The Young Entrepreneurs Program (YEP), for example, enables students to explore their interests and passions while learning how to navigate the business world. In addition, it creates a safe environment for students to understand that persistence, resourcefulness, resilience, and a capacity for healthy risk-taking are necessary regardless of how success is measured.
Another REAP program, Solutions, offers a curriculum of interactive modules that incorporate civics, health, and business, focusing on academics.
Success isn’t the result of a single strategy that fits all young people. While it’s true that everyone needs to find their way, providing authentic support, honest guidance, and compassionate understanding that models intention for young people can set them on the path to finding their purpose. Your help enables us to continue to offer programs that benefit young people on their journey to success.