Why We Need To Teach Students About Purpose?

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“When it comes to guiding students toward future paths that they will find rewarding and meaningful, our schools fall short” - William Damon

In my recent HuffPost, "What To Do About The Mental Health Epidemic Among Students. A Different Approach I wrote about the reasons why we are dealing with students’ mental health epidemic today and I suggested both a solution, as well as, a way to prevent this problem. I also presented two different scenarios describing what it feels like to be a student today. I created them based on the students’ stories I read on the Internet, and stories I heard directly from them. If one is willing to do the research and learn about the problems and the struggles of students and graduates today, then there is a lot to be found on the Internet. I know, because for the past two years I have been doing that. While their stories may differ depending on where they are from, what age or what level of education they are at, there is a lot that all these stories have in common. Here are some of the recurring themes:

  • Not knowing what they want to do in their lives and more importantly how to find out
  • Lack of motivation and/or confidence because of the above
  • Studying for the sake of having a degree because it is something one “should” do or because they were pushed to do it by their parents
  • Not knowing what their interests and talents are and not knowing how to find out
  • Experiencing depression and having suicidal thoughts
  • Afraid of displeasing their parents and/or not being able to fulfill their expectations
  • Unable to find good jobs or jobs related to their degree, let alone fulfilling or meaningful jobs
  • Fear that they will be “stuck’ in low paid jobs forever
  • The desire to make a difference in the world and to having a meaningful job (as oppose to working for a paycheck
  • Lack of of life direction and anxiety that stems from it
  • No idea how to turn their skills and talents into a career
  • Feeling lost and directionless despite excellent academic accomplishments
  • Feeling the pressure to know what they want to do in life but having no space to think about it or to learn how to figure it out

It is not surprising that students experiencing the above issues go on to develop more serious mental problems. This situation can’t change and won’t change if colleges and universities will only be interested in students’ and their well-being after they developed or were diagnosed with mental problems. It is my belief that, In most cases, they do not need a diagnosis, they need guidance. In fact, by diagnosing them, with what often are not inherent mental issues or disorders, we actually harm them. What they need is our help and guidance. They need the time, the space and tools to learn how to reflect on their goals, to discover their natural talents and interests. They need to be taught how to think for themselves, in the first place. More importantly, they need to learn about their emotions and their mindset so they can be better equipped to understand and deal with their emotions and their problems. They need to be encouraged to reflect and on their lives as a whole, and not just on their career choices so they can discover what matters to them the most. This kind of education has to become a permanent part of the curricula in colleges, universities and even in high-schools. So many mental health issues could be prevented if colleges and universities did not view this kind of education as not “their job” or their “problem”.

A lack of purpose and direction in life, not knowing what they want to do with their lives and no idea how to figure it out are one of the biggest issues students and graduates are dealing with today. This and the pressure to “know” and to “accomplish” cause a lot of stress and anxiety to many, as well. When they are left to their own devices, without any guidance and/or help, they end up floundering. They are lost and that’s when they start to develop mental issues.

As William Damon says: “in the face of the serious choices ahead of them as they move toward adulthood, they feel as though they are drifting or stalled their personal and social development”. So, I would like to invite you to watch my conversation with William Damon himself. He is one of the world’s leading scholars of human development and author of “The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life”. We talk about the importance of teaching students about what purpose is and how to discover it. We “dismantle” some myths around the concept of purpose and define what it is, and much more.

Thank you for watching!

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