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Five Questions to Help Your Teenager Discover Their Life Purpose

Dewey Novotny
Dewey Novotny

February 16, 2015

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frustrated girl

“Dad, I hate it here in my new position. On a scale of one to ten … this job is a minus 127 and the last thing I want to do for the rest of my life!”

Call me “Mr. Sensitive” if you want, but my daughter’s statement (and the tears that followed) made me think that there might be a problem.

And there was!

There was also a very big surprise that neither of us anticipated. During the discussion which followed, we discovered what many of you already know: when we are engaged in pleasant, enjoyable, and fulfilling activities, it is because there are elements of purpose present.

But when we conclude that an activity is unpleasant or undesirable, it is often because important elements of purpose are missing. As we consider modifications to our situation, we discover the best changes harmonize with our purpose and calling.

Start the conversation.

For my daughter and me, the problem came to us. However, why not skip the crisis altogether and initiate the discussion? Why wait for a big opportunity to show up when you can choose the timing and the place? Here are five questions that will help you open your door to greater understanding and purpose.

Question 1: “What is the last thing in the world that you want to do for the rest of your life?”

This simple question is relatively non-threatening and comes from a unique direction. It artificially creates a problem that must be solved. In the process, the solution your child proposes reveals an area of great concern and introduces meaningful changes. Both are good to know.

Question 2: “Can you help me understand what makes this activity undesirable to you?”

This question and answer helps you see the situation from your child’s perspective. At the same time, it communicates a desire to understand the child and the situation before giving advice. Plus, it helps me as a dad when I hear myself ask this question. Listen with an understanding heart.

Question 3: “If you found yourself involved in this type of work, what changes would you make to help you survive?”

This question continues the analysis process and starts to introduce meaningful elements into the mix. It also sets the stage for a parent’s important follow-up question: “Can you help me understand why that change is important to you?” Just as it happened for my daughter, the ‘worst thing ever” is a very real possibility. Place no limits on the feasibility of the solutions…just seek to understand why the changes are important.

Question 4: “What additional changes would make this work/activity so pleasurable, meaningful, or beneficial…that you would anticipate participating?”

Why I like this: This question continues the process of nudging key elements of purpose into place. It is part of possibility thinking and it helps take the discussion to the next level. Drudgery can be described as a task with no vision. (Been there before?) Introducing elements of purpose and meaning can bring delight to the process.

Question 5: “What would it take to push this to the ultimate…making it so wonderful that you would be willing to give up your vacation?”

This question helps push the possibilities all the way to the realm of voluntary participation without compensation. This is the time to encourage significant possibilities and future dreams. It is similar to asking, “If every job paid a dollar, what would you love to do most?” If you get this far and your young person offers valuable insights, seek to understand and encourage them!

For people of faith, a related question here can significantly expand purpose and calling: “What might make this situation eternally significant to you and to someone you really care about?

One final encouragement

During our 30-minute discussion, my daughter identified three changes related to her purpose which would drastically improve her situation. Surprisingly, two of the issues were already within her control and the third was achieved through a wise appeal. Within two weeks, her situation had totally turned around and her life improved from a minus 127 to a plus eight. Not only had she learned how to survive a tough assignment, but we had also learned some valuable new insights about her life purpose.

You don’t have to wait for a big problem to come to you. Set aside a little time, include prayer, and have some fun. Take some notes too. You are on your way to help your young person discover their purpose, define their pursuit, and develop a plan of action. That’s good stuff! You can do it!

Do you have any tips for helping your student discover their life purpose? Share them below!

Dewey Novotny
Dewey Novotny

Dewey Novotny enjoys family, flying, and fishing. He and his wife have seven children and a growing number of grandchildren. He runs LifePurposePlanning.org and was a major contributor to Unbound’s Navigate program.

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