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Posted on: December 1, 2019

Developmental Asset of the Month - December 2019

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Tips to Help You Implement Asset #39: Sense of Purpose

  • Ask your youth what matters to them, what gets them excited about each new day? What are their dreams, interests and passions?
  • Give them the opportunity to explore different types of sports, art and music classes, community service, trips to different schools and colleges, etc.
  • Talk about family values and the purpose of each family member in the home.

View the 2019 Developmental Asset of the Month (PDF) calendar.

Finding the Meaning of Life

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates. And with the wild schedules and frantic pace we live today, it’s easy not to take the time to find out what really matters. Yet for young people to have a sense of purpose in life, they need to look within. What gives their life meaning? What gets them excited to wake up in the morning? What dreams do they have for the future?

Each person - including your child - gets approximately 170 hours a week to choose what to do with her or his time. Which subjects is your child taking in school? Are they meaningful or easy? What extracurricular activities does your child do? Are they giving your child purpose or are they just something to pass the time? What about your family time? Is it meaningful interaction time, or is everybody so tired that you’d prefer just to veg out together in front of the television?

The difference between young people who have a sense of purpose in life and those who don’t boils down to one thing: They take charge of their lives. If they don’t know what gives them meaning or purpose, they set out to find ways to contribute to the greater good. If they know what gives them purpose, they are out there doing it - every day. As a family, you can encourage that journey by giving family members time to reflect, discuss, and try new things of interest. Together you can find purpose as a family and as individuals.

Helping Them Be Who They Want to Be

Never mind the tired old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While career choices will reflect parts of a youth’s personality and strengths, it is not the whole picture. Start asking, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” 

Answering this question is a challenge far more daunting and far more gratifying than making a list of possible professions. It forces youth to be reflective about their actions and choices and the image they present to others. When a youth begins to understand what type of person he wants to be, his life will naturally begin to have a purpose: the purpose of becoming that person.

Remember that a sense of purpose can be grand (“I will be president someday”) or simple (“Someone cares that I’m alive”). You don’t have to be the sole guardian of that purpose, but do provide for them the extra support they may need to find and focus on that purposeful life. Quick Tip: Tell your child what gives your life purpose.

Time Together

Three ways to help your child find a sense of purpose:

1.    Identify how your child would like to contribute to the family and to others in the community. Then help her or him get started.

2.    Network with other adults and young people who have similar interests. See if you can participate in some meaningful activities together.

3.    Remind your child often that he or she was created for a reason and has a special purpose to fulfill.

Tips that help your child find a sense of purpose:

• Cut down on television, computer, and telephone time to give your child time to develop her or his own interests.

• Model having a sense of purpose. Do the things that matter to you. Contribute to the family and to the community.

• Compare passion lists. Have family members each write down five things they’re passionate about and then talk about them.

Talk Together

Questions to discuss with your child:

• What dreams do you have for your future? For the family’s future? For our community’s future?

• Which mentors or role models who have a strong purpose in life do you admire? Why?

• If you could do only one thing with your life, what would it be? Why?

Words to Ponder

“You may have a success in life, but then just think - what kind of life was it?” said Joseph Campbell, scholar and professor of mythology. “What good was it - you’ve never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and don’t let anyone throw you off.” Joseph Campbell called this sense of purpose “bliss,” and advocated that people take time to identify what their bliss is. “Follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be,” he said. What bliss are you following? What about your child?

Final Word

“To live means to have . . . a mission to fulfill - and in the measure in which we avoid setting our life to something, we make it empty.” - José Ortega y Gasset, philosopher

 About the Asset-a-Month Program This article was provided courtesy of Project Cornerstone’s Asset-a-Month program. The goals of the Silicon Valley Asset-a-Month program are to help align adults throughout our diverse community in their efforts to promote positive youth development by fostering developmental assets. For more information about the Asset-a-Month program, contact Project Cornerstone at (408) 351-6482 or

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