The Incredible Power Of Purpose

By Hank Pellissier, March 2, 2022 | Great Schools.org

Creating a life of meaning makes all the difference for your teen's health, well-being, and success. Here is how to help them find purpose.

Creating a life of meaning makes all the difference for your teen's health, well-being, and success. Here is how to help them find purpose.


High school senior Sophia Ware recently emailed me her own epiphany: “I watched the documentary Racing Extinction about species destruction caused by humanity. Afterwards, I cried. My heart was physically hurt. I was filled with a sense of urgency and responsibility, so I assumed co-leadership of the campus Green Club.”

This teenager and my long-deceased ancestor both experienced a strong sense of purpose. We hear their divergent stories and understand a single takeaway: having a sense of purpose can bring meaning and direction to our lives. But what many people don’t know is that the purpose is a concept that has been defined, measured, and researched for decades.

William Damon, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, provides a clear definition (with his associates Jenni Menon and Kendall Cotton Bronk) in the 2010 study, “The Development of Purpose During Adolescence.” The authors define purpose as a “stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self.”


The study lists three foundations of purpose:

1. Purpose is a goal of sorts that is both long-term and far-reaching. Day-to-day goals, like studying hard for the calculus exam, or long-term goals, like becoming fluent in Spanish, could be done in service of a bigger goal, like becoming a pediatrician or joining the Peace Corps. But these alone aren’t purpose. Achieving these goals could be in service of a purpose of ending childhood cancer or reducing famine.

2. Purpose is “part of one’s personal search for meaning.” But purpose also includes a desire to make a difference in the world, contributing in a way that serves others and not just one’s self.

3. Purpose requires a skill set or talent which can be applied toward this goal. “Purpose is always directed at an accomplishment toward which one can make progress.”

Put more simply, purpose is defined as “a long-term goal for the common good, that one has the skills to succeed in”, and the passion to pursue.

Why is purpose important?

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