We hear a lot these days about “living the purpose-driven life” and “finding your purpose in life.” Knowing what suits one’s unique temperament and talents can be extremely helpful in choosing a career, contributing to society, and achieving an overall sense of contentment.
If you’d like to help your kids get started on living from a sense of purpose, here are some hints.
Sure, most kids get their first “what I want to be when I grow up” ideas from exciting and glamorous portrayals (firefighter, detective, supermodel), or perhaps from what Mommy or Daddy does. But even four-year-olds have some capacity to picture what they’d gladly do every day for life. Don’t stop at a casual “What would you like to be someday?” Ask them (and observe) what they most enjoy doing right now, noting such points as whether they do it outdoors or indoors, with a crowd of people or a few good friends. Start making connections between favorite childhood activities and what adults do full-time.
If you suspect you have a budding accountant, introduce him to math games and puzzles. If one of your children has the makings of a professional landscaper, help her start her own flower garden. Once the spark is lit, your kids will soon be discovering new ideas on their own—and be well on their way to purpose-based adult lives.
Of course you can involve your future housekeeper, interior decorator, or pet store owner in appropriate chores right now. But offer the chores primarily as suggestions—too much “Since you’re so good at this, I expect you to always drop everything else when it needs doing” can kill anyone’s passion for a job. And let your children use their skills in play as well as work: building blocks for the architect, colored pencils for the fashion designer.
Deciding early on what your kids should excel in, and constantly pushing them to focus on that, is a major “do not”—and it’s not a mistake exclusive to parents who are obsessed with their own lost dreams and blind to their children’s actual interests. Even if your dreams for your children match their dreams for themselves, they may want to approach those dreams at a different speed, or by a different path, than looks best to you. Whenever possible, let them choose the specific course of study, extracurricular activity, or part-time job they want to pursue.
While general temperament is usually given for life, tastes and interests do evolve. Don’t expect kids to make a fifty-year life plan by the time they’re ten years old. And don’t lay on the “does it fit your purpose?” questions for every little decision. Let their goals and sense of calling—like their physical bodies—grow up at natural speed for the best long-term results.