On the Long View of Purpose

Taking a long view towards the development of purpose.

Truth be told, I don’t watch much TV. Primarily because there are so many other things I would like to do instead. But another reason is that I find the shift of TV culture to reality-based shows disturbing. I’m doubtful there is any “reality” being portrayed on the screen, but more than that I don’t like the message these types of shows represent – that there is a quick route to success and material wealth that is worth taking at any cost. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not really that much of a curmudgeon, and I know there are examples of a few who have had their sparks fanned into flames by reality opportunities, but let’s face it: most do not.

But you know what? We live in a culture now that promotes quickness, often with the goal of financial wealth and personal security in mind. William Damon, in the Path to Purpose: How Young People Find their Calling in Life points out that we have changed from a society that values the development of a meaningful purpose in life to one that values monetary gain in just the last 50 years.

Dr. Damon also points out that we now live in a “nervously competitive” world; a world made even more so by carefully-curated social media that presents a false sense of reality to young people. FOMO (fear of missing out) drives the anxieties of many youth.


Let that sink in.

One of the real dangers of fear as the driver of development is foreclosure on a purpose or identity to which a young person is not fully committed. The great developmental psychologist Erik Erikson presented the development of identity as the number one task of adolescence. Erikson emphasized the process of gradual identity formation, not out of fear, but out of exploration based on one’s interests and emerging sense of moral self, which combined lead to one’s purpose. Erikson’s description of identity formation feels almost luxurious in today’s fast-paced, fear-driven world! His message is slow down! Be idealistic, try on your roles, take your time. This is what adolescence is all about.

A young person’s sense of purpose does not develop overnight; rather it is a longer-term evolution as childhood turns into adolescence and then into adulthood. Built gradually, but always beginning with a spark.

On what ground are you helping the youth you work with develop a hopeful purpose?

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

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