Advice for Creating a Life Full of Purpose

Caitlyn Coley
Caitlyn Coley

June often marks the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another – moving on to the next school year, transitioning to college or to the workforce,  relocating to new cities, graduations… While this can be an exciting time, June can also bring a high amount of uncertainty, anxiety, and/or disappointment. Maybe you didn’t get into the college you wanted, or maybe you’re afraid your GPA is too low for you to obtain the career you want. Maybe you’re not sure you’re in the right major or on the right career path. That is normal, regardless of whether you are in high school,  college, or the workforce. Adolescence and young adulthood are hallmarked by the developmental period of self-exploration and identity development, so please remember you are not behind

This brings me to the focus of this blog post, which is to discuss a concept that drastically improved the quality of my life and is found by research to be a powerful contributor to overall well-being – feeling a sense of purpose. To quickly  address common misconceptions about purpose, no, you don’t need to only have one singular purpose, and purpose can (and often does) change or evolve across the lifespan. Additionally, feeling a sense of purpose is also not something reserved for those who are lucky enough to stumble across it – this is why I intentionally changed the word finding a sense of purpose to feeling a sense of purpose. Anyone can become purposeful, and it only requires an intentional, deep reflection and exploration of who one is. 

Purpose can often be confused with related terms such as passion, dream, or goal.  Although purpose is related to these terms, purpose is not the same. Dr. William  Damon, a Professor of Education at Stanford University, defined purpose in his  book The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life as “an active  commitment to accomplish aims that are both meaningful to the self and of  consequence to the world beyond the self.” In other words, something needs to be  intrinsically meaningful to you, aims to contribute to the improvement of the  world, and be acted on. 

There was an interesting research study published in 2019 by Gallup and Bates  College where they found that less than half of working millennials feel a sense of purpose from their work, yet roughly 80% reported that they very much or extremely value this. Furthermore, they found that individuals who reflected on their values, strengths, and interests were 3x more likely to find purposeful work. 

Most importantly, those who feel a sense of purpose from their work are 10x more likely to have high overall well-being. Wow! 

If you want to begin the reflection process but are unsure of where to start, here  are some guiding questions to help with your thinking: 

  • Values: What are your top 5 values? How do you see these play out in your life currently? How would you want these values to show up in your future career? If you are unsure of what your top 5 values are, there are a ton of value lists online – search one up and narrow the list down until you have your top 5 values. 
  • Strengths: What do you think your top five strengths are? What do those close to you think your top strengths are? You might find it helpful to look up a list of common strengths on the internet or take the free VIA Institute on Character’s VIA Character Strengths survey. How can you use your strengths in your life and in your future career? 
  • Interests: What are your interests? What do you enjoy learning about or doing in your free time? How could this correlate to a career? The Holland Code Test can be helpful to think about how your interests might transfer into a career. 
  • Past Experiences: We can use our past experiences to fuel our motivation to help others going through something similar. For example, I have used my experience with bullying as a catalyst for my career of helping young people create inclusive school environments for themselves and their peers. Your lived experiences are valuable, and there is no one better to tackle an issue than those who have lived it. 
  • Common Local, National, and World Issues: There are so many issues to become passionate about. Use the internet to research different local,  national, and/or world issues. Have any of these issues affected you personally or those close to you? Are there any that you feel drawn to? Write down 2-3 issues and begin researching them further. 

Again, it is okay if you do not know what path feels right for you yet – spend this  time deeply reflecting on who you are, trying new things, and researching topics  you are interested in. Then, act on it. Some good starting points are volunteering,  talking about it on social media, starting an organization, or joining an  organization that already exists. Continue learning about your topic through  higher education, books, or speaking with experts.

As a closing message of hope, a study by Making Caring Common found that  Generation Z may be the most emotionally intelligent generation to date and that young people are actively tackling some of the world’s most prominent issues.  

This generation has the capacity to make the world a beautiful place for  everyone – a place where everyone has their basic needs met, feels a sense of  belonging, and can meaningfully contribute to their communities. We cannot  fix the world alone, but together we can each use our own strengths and  experiences to contribute to its improvement.

Your Voice is Your Power (YVYP) Resource Hub is a mental health resource hub designed for young people like you who are looking to begin or continue to grow in their journey as a mental health leader. YVYP Resource Hub is the go-to destination in the Active Minds network to guide you along the way. 

Check out the resources we’ve put together here.