Young adults are in a time of their life when many questions, ideas, and insecurities can emerge. It is at this time when you can help them think about the meaning of what they do and what they are interested in.
“An emerging adult who takes the time to deeply reflect and raise their own self-awareness about their innermost desires can be guided by them if they have at least some clues from listening to who they are and what they value,” education consultant Jennifer Miller says.
Simply asking “what is your purpose?” or “what is your passion?” may not be the best entry point for helping young adults find a meaningful path in life that is both fulfilling and sustainable. Jane Horrowitz, a career coach for young adults, says she has found that it’s unrealistic to expect young people to know what their passion is. “They don’t have enough experience yet to really figure it out,” Horrowitz says. “The idea of finding their passion puts too much pressure on them.” Instead, start a dialogue that gets your young adult thinking about why exactly they like what they like, what their strengths and values are, and how those fit in with possible careers and life goals. Questions about their contribution to the world help get them thinking about direction. “Jobs come and go but asking how you want to make a difference offers a trajectory,” Miller says.
It doesn’t matter what it is, but your kid has something (or many things) that they care about. At first glance, they may not see a connection between these interests and purpose. By pointing out interests like reading crime novels, hiking, sketching, or volunteering at an animal shelter, you can help spark some thoughts about how they may be able to translate those into a career they really care about. National Urban Alliance scholar Yvette Jackson suggests thinking about all the different areas related to one specific interest. “For instance, if the student is interested in comic book design, the related studies include graphic arts, literature, computer graphics, political science, psychology, logic, writing,” Jackson says. “This leads to a discussion of professions and broadens a child’s frame of reference of possibilities that they may not have considered as future study, college majors, or occupations.”
Jennifer Tanner, developmental psychologist and co-founder of the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood, emphasizes that there a million ways to make a living, but asks, so what? “The missing piece is purpose,” Tanner says. “How are you going to contribute yourself - your gifts, your passions, your interests - to the world? We need every emerging adults' energies focused on what their contribution is going to be. It is absolutely critical for an emerging adults' sense of well-being. This feeds their intrinsic motivational needs for autonomy, belonging, and competence.
And it engages the young adult as a citizen who can become a capable contributor.” Encourage them to think about their various experiences and how they may have made a difference. Then ask, how do you want to contribute to the world? Who do you care about impacting? “Kids who have the most purpose are the ones who lead with their values,” Malin says.
Horrowitz says she shows the graph above to young adults she works with to help them visualize how their strengths, values, work, and impact on the world intersect as their purpose in life.