Book Review: The Path to Purpose: Helping Our Children Find Their Calling in Life by William Damon

by Gary Gilles

Path to PurposeI frequently hear parents talking about their high school or college graduates who either never leave home or have come home to stay “for awhile” to get their life on track. The problem is, a large number of these adult children never seem to find their path. What’s a parent to do?

If you are one of these parents trying to nudge your adult child out of the nest or want to groom your younger child to be more ambitious, this book is for you.

The Path to Purpose examines the some of the most prominent issues of young people today. Core questions addressed:

  • Why are so many young people unable or reluctant to launch their adult lives?
  • Why does living at home for longer and longer periods seem to be a reasonable alternative for many young people?
  • Why do so many young people feel fearful of choosing and establishing a career?

The author, William Damon, a professor at Stanford University and Director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence draws from an extensive study of young people to reveal some insightful answers to the above questions.

Damon argues that children want to understand their interests and know how to pursue them.  He believes that most children need guidance to gain clarity on what they are interested in and how to find their path or “calling” as he puts it. He takes a close look at how young people today are sidetracked in their search for meaning, and how concerned parents can help them find it.

Of particular interest is his designation of four categories to understand the motivations of today’s youth. He breaks them down into those youth who are:

  1.  Purposeful (those who show initiative and have defined interests that they actively pursue)
  2. Disengaged (those who show no clear interest or direction for their life)
  3. Dreamers (those who express some ideas for their lives but do little to test them out)
  4. Dabblers (those who engage somewhat in purposeful activities but don’t commit themselves and lose interest over time)

Not surprisingly, only about one-fifth of young people fall into the purposeful category. What makes one out of five young people highly engaged in finding their path to purpose? That is the main focus of the final chapters of the book. Damon identifies nine key factors that characterize purposeful youth and explains in clear and practical ways how parents can cultivate a sense of purpose in their children.

This book is ideally suited for parents of children in junior high and early high school. But if you are a parent with an adult child hunkered down in your basement for the long-haul, the principles discussed in this book will still be relevant and timely.


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