They hear profoundly impressive stories of people who dedicated their lives to purpose like Harriet Tubman or Gandhi or Jane Goodall, and though they feel inspired, they get intimidated. They perceive purpose as having to be huge and world-sweeping, and they give up before they start, or they save it for adulthood.
But purpose is a life practice. It’s one foot in front of the other. It’s a path that is illuminated just a little bit at a time. For most people, it is humble, small, and often quiet.
And it’s extremely important.
Living with purpose leads to better health, happiness and society. Kids who feel purposeful have higher self-esteem, better grades, and healthier friendships. Yet, according to a recent Stanford study, 80% of youth have not found something meaningful.
So where do they begin?
One of the easiest places to start is with their interests.
I often tell kids, “Start with what you love.” This is the point where I hear in various ways that what they love has no value. For instance, at an orphanage in a Mexico, a young girl told me that she didn’t have any interests, that she really only liked doing her hair. Countless kids in the United States have told me they only like Minecraft. One child in Michigan told me he only likes cupcakes.
So, next, I ask them, “How can you use that interest to contribute to others?”
It is so beautiful to see how these kids transform when they figure out the answer to that question, when they realize that the interests they thought were useless or even self-indulgent can help others. They feel so important!
The child in Mexico ended up braiding my hair in the most beautiful braid it’s ever been in. Then, countless young girls at the orphanage wanted one, too, so she spent the afternoon brightening their day.
Many of kids I’ve met who love video games have decided to invite new students over to their houses to play. Some others have chosen to help younger kids learn how to play. Others have decided to gather up their old games and video game-theme clothes, toys and books and donate them to children’s charities.
Some of the kids who love cupcakes and other treats have hosted bake sales to raise money for charities that speak to their hearts.
The interests of children can change by the day. They outgrow things. A love for braiding hair today could be knitting or painting tomorrow. The point is not to demand mastery or lifelong passion. The point is to give kids a taste of purpose. Every child has something to offer.
When they start thinking how they can extend their interests to serve others, they feel what it is to live with meaning. They realize they have the power to create that feeling for themselves and they grab it.