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The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life Paperback – April 7, 2009
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The Path to Purpose is a beautiful and important book. William Damon takes on one of the most hidden and yet important elements of child development today and provides warm insight and clear advice." -- Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys and The Wonder of Girls
"If you are a parent, a teacher, or a policy maker, this is the book to read. Damon socks the crucial problem of our youth -- purposelessness -- right in the jaw and offers us a way out." -- Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness
"As a leading authority on meaning and moral development, Damon writes a timely and important book on one of our most pressing social issues -- how to instill a sense of purpose in the lives of children. Damon gives us a fresh and useful way to look at both education and character development." -- Dr. Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia and Writing to Change the Worlds
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This work led me to examine how young people find their purposes in life. Do adolescents have purposes, and if so, how do they learn them? What kinds of purposes, in addition to those related to careers, are inspiring today’s young? What happens when young people are unable to find any purpose at all to devote themselves to? The present book is the first account of the insights that I and my students have been gaining through our initial research into these questions.”
~ William Damon from The Path to Purpose
William Damon is a Professor at Stanford and one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of morality and child development. (This is the third Note we’ve created on his great books. Check out Noble Purpose + The Power of Ideals.)
In The Power of Ideals, he profiled six “moral exemplars”—truly world-changing humans who embodied the best within us. (The sample included such luminaries as Nelson Mandela, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt and Dag Hammarskjöld.)
In this book, William offers us insight into how twelve remarkable young people have found and expressed their purpose—giving us insight into how we can help our children discover and express theirs.
Basically, it’s a scientific look at Purpose by one of the world’s leading developmental psychologists—a powerful look at how to cultivate purpose in our children (and, for that matter, ourselves) and why it’s so important.
I'm excited to share some my favorite Big Ideas:
1. Life Purpose - Let's define it.
2. Short Horizons - Is what gets in the way.
3. Urgent Project for Parents - 9 key things to consider.
4. Entrepreneurial Spirit - Keys to cultivate.
5. "You Can Do It!" - A worthy mantra for parents.
Here’s to helping our kids (and ourselves) live lives of deep meaning and purpose as we optimize and actualize.
More goodness— including PhilosophersNotes on 300+ books in our *OPTIMIZE* membership program. Find out more at brianjohnson . me.
The Path to Purpose is based on some studies that Damon and his students have done about kids and purposes. What they found is alarming: "In our interviews and surveys, only about one in five young people in the 12-22-year age range express a clear vision of where they want to go,what they want to accomplish in life, and why." (kindle location 234) Some are "drifters" who don't have much direction to their lives, while most are "dabblers" who have toyed around with a few ideas as to what they want to do and why, but haven't found any clear direction yet.
The first part of the book focuses on the problem and why it matters. Why a purpose? Because cultivating a sense of purpose gives kids (and adults) a reason to try hard, a passion about which to learn, and a reason to endure both good and bad. Just like working a meaningful job versus a meaningless one, students tend to excel when they are working towards a goal and feel that goal to have meaning.
The second part will be the most interest to those already convinced that a problem exists. Here, Damon gives advice on how parents and teachers (with focus on parents) can help kids find purpose. Some answers are obvious: be there for your kids, listen when they talk, expose them to ideas, support them even when you may not agree with their chosen purpose (within reason, of course). Other answers are less obvious: tell your kids why you do what you do, expose them to outside influences, talk ideas through with them Socratically rather than solving problems for them, let them know the importance of persistence.
The one thing I will deduct a star for, however, is that Damon doesn't focus nearly as much as he should have on the data showing that having a purpose tends to lead to success in most areas (academic, social, etc.) He tells us this repeatedly and there is no reason to doubt him, but I was curious as to what the data show: how much more successful are those with purpose versus those without?
Also, I really wish Damon would have addressed a question many of us (especially teachers) have about how we can talk about purpose in a way value-neutral enough to be appropriate and not preachy. How can we guide kids towards purposeful lives without imposing certain values on them (when a child, say, chooses a purpose we may feel is maladaptive)? This would have been a helpful discussion to have and his book suffers for lack of it.
But all in all, this is a very important book to read for teachers and parents. As a teacher, I would like its message to inform my future teaching, and to take time whenever possible to allow kids to reflect on what their purpose is or what they'd like it to be.