Finding Purpose and Working Toward It
Everyone, no matter how little, has things they haven’t done that they want to do–goals. As we grow up, our goals become more complex and longer term. They advance from grabbing our toes to walking to making people understand us to school and sports goals and eventually getting into college and getting a good job. These goals are usually related to whatever your purpose is.
What is Your Purpose?
What is a person’s purpose? Most often, when people think about this, they are looking for some grand life goal like “end cancer” or “write the Great American Novel.” If you have a great grand purpose like that in mind, that’s great, but it doesn’t have to be your only purpose, or even your main one. If you are like most of us, it’s better to think in more prosaic terms. Doing well in school so you can get into a good college and get a good job. Doing well at work so you can get a promotion. Earning enough to provide for yourself and those you love. Encouraging and teaching others. Each of these is a good purpose.
Children can have a purpose, even though most don’t know what their purpose is. There is a story about a fish out of water. The people who pulled it out of the water keep telling it to be happy, it can enjoy the grass, until a child comes by and shows them their foolishness. It’s a good story to read and keep in mind with your kids. Their purpose may not make sense to you, but that doesn’t make it wrong for them. Don’t try to force them to have a purpose that doesn’t suit them. As they grow, their purpose should start to become clear, hopefully to all of you, but it’s OK if it doesn’t. Many people live long and happy lives without having really found their purpose.
Everyone has more than one purpose in life. Sometimes we accomplish our goal, or purpose. Other times something else happens that makes it either irrelevant (being the first person on the moon) or impossible (physical infirmity, especially). For kids, growing up can change their purpose, but so can life experiences and friends, especially as they become teens.
There is nothing wrong with changing your purpose, or adding a secondary one. As our kids grow, a parent’s purpose evolves. When they were little, my purpose was to keep them safe and ensure they grew up healthy and strong. Now that they are bigger, my goals are more about what kind of person they are and helping them reach their own goals. Also, ensuring they learn life skills including laundry and basic home repair as well as financial skills, cooking something more complex than Ramen, and having faith.
Motivation and Working with Others
Once you and your kids have a purpose, what next? It is quite simple really. Whether you reach your goal or not is on you, not your parents, your boss or teachers, your siblings, or anyone else. It is your responsibility. Your kids will probably need some help from you to reach their goals, but the ultimate responsibility remains on them and so should most of the workload. You have to take action to reach your goals, and your kids have to take action to reach theirs. Even one step is better than nothing.
But they didn’t, they could’ve, why didn’t they…your little one wails, blaming everyone else. Well, why didn’t YOUR KID? If it was something they can’t do (drive somewhere under age 16, for example), was there another way they could’ve done it? Is there another person who would’ve driven? Mass transit (a bus or train) that goes there? Letting them experience the consequences of failure (within reason) is important. So is having them figure out ways to (safely) do things for themselves.
But that doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone. Small goals can be accomplished without help. Putting away one basket of folded laundry? Yeah, I got that. Washing, drying, sorting, folding, and putting away six loads of laundry? Hey, wasn’t that a squirrel outside?!? Let’s go look…..
Yep, you saw what I did there–and so would anyone else working with me. I got distracted and stopped working. Having a partner, friend, or parent there makes it harder for literal or figurative squirrels to derail your progress. Of course, there is always the chance that the other person will, themselves, become a distraction, so be careful to stay on track.
I Don’t Get It
But what if you don’t understand what your kid is interested in/wants to do/their purpose? The main thing to consider is simple: Is anyone being harmed by it? If your child has decided they really want to build bombs, that is clearly something they can’t do, unless they are eighteen and join the Ordnance Corps in the Army. If there is a way to do something similar but safe, such as having a kid who likes firearms join an air rifle team. (Air soft use pellets that are similar to BBs, and if they get good it could lead to a college scholarship.) Ignoring something they really want to do won’t make their interest to just disappear.
The second consideration is how realistic it is. If their goal is to be an Olympian but your family barely has any money, the reality is that trying to reach that goal may financially destroy your family. Of course your kid or you might find scholarships and more to make it feasible. Likewise, being a professional singer for someone with my singing…ability is unrealistic. It doesn’t matter how many years of training or filters are applied, I will never have that level of ability. I could, however, improve to the point that my cats don’t leave the room, possibly even to join a choir.
Whatever your kid(s) think their purpose is, the truth is that it probably won’t really hurt anyone else or cause financial hardship. If you take the time to explore this new area with them, you may learn new things and grow in new ways. When my kids were interested in learning about Buddhism because of a temple near us, we went their for several months and I learned a lot along with them. If I hadn’t followed their interest, I would never have had the experience of being blessed by a Buddhist monk, watching dragon dancers at Chinese New Years, or eating a variety of vegetarian meals. Also, as a result of our time there, we have hammocks hanging in our yard for warm-weather relaxation.
One of our boys has been passionate about trains since the first time he saw Thomas. Since his purpose in life for years was to learn all he could about trains, we have been to a lot – I mean a lot – of train museums. Seriously, they are everywhere. We learned a lot and visited many new places because we were following his passion.
Even if it makes you a little uncomfortable, give their interest a try. Follow where your kids want to go. It might lead to some great places and if it doesn’t, then you are there to make sure they follow the right path.