There’s been a lot of ink spilt in the past decade about young adults’ “failure to launch,” wherein 20-somethings who should be progressing into independent adulthood, end up spending that decade of their life in an extended adolescence. Several reasons have been given for this phenomenon, from the economy to helicopter parenting. After conducting a landmark 25-year study, my guest argues that a major factor in young adults’ failure to launch is actually rooted in their difficulty in finding a purpose for their life. His name is William Damon, he’s a professor of education at Stanford University, and today on the show we discuss the results of his study and the importance of having an overarching aim in life — which are the themes of his book, The Path to Purpose.
We begin our conversation discussing the criteria of a good life’s purpose and why fewer young people have one today. We then discuss why more young people are prioritizing fame and fortune over public service compared to their peers a half century ago, the new places many young people are finding purpose today (and why that’s led to a decrease in civic engagement), and the benefits that come from having a clear purpose in life. We end by talking about how a young person — and even those longer in the tooth, who still feel adrift — can find a life’s purpose and what parents can do to help their children find theirs.
- The impetus behind Damon’s 25-year study on young people and purpose
- The definition of “purpose” in one’s life, and the 3 factors that go into it
- The importance of purpose as one ages
- Generational differences as to young people’s purpose
- The challenges young people face today in finding their purpose
- How technology, social media, and individualism impact purpose
- What surveys say young people find most important in life, from 50 years ago to today
- Why young people today are more likely to eschew a purpose related to civic service and politics
- The rise of family and work as life purposes
- The benefits of having a clearly-defined purpose
- How do you go about finding purpose in life?
- The importance of non-familial mentors
- How parents can facilitate helping their children find purpose
- Advice for people on what they can do to find their purpose
- The danger of remaining static
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
- My podcast with Matthew Crawford about living beyond your own head
- Breaking the Smartphone Habit
- Theodore Roosevelt on Citizenship
- My podcast about finding the work you were meant to do
- AoM’s series on building your resiliency
- How to Hack Your Flow
- 3 Families Every Young Man Needs to Grow Up Well
- Good News! Your Life Isn’t Limitless!
- Don’t Waste Your Twenties — Part 1 & Part 2
- Meditations on the Wisdom of Action
The Path to Purpose is a book that dovetails nicely with So Good They Can’t Ignore You and The Defining Decade. Professor Damon’s research provides insights on why having a purpose in life is so important and what you can actually do to find yours. If you’re a young man in his 20s (and even if you’re older!), I highly recommend picking up a copy.
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