“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Why Purpose Matters
After surviving the Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s, Victor Frankl founded a new form of therapy known as logotherapy. The essence of logotherapy is that many psychological disturbances can be attributed directly to a lack of meaning and that helping one discover and pursue their personal meaning, or purpose, in life is the fundamental task of the therapist. “Lack of meaning,” as described by psychologists Faramarzi & Bavali in a 2017 study “is the chief source of stress as well as anxiety, and logotherapy aids the patients to reach the meaning of life.”
Yet, when I ask people directly “What is your purpose in life?” there are very few who can answer the question clearly, or even at all. More frequently, this question garners a wide-range of defensive responses from anger, laughter, and shock to shutting-down, avoidance, and outright dismissal. Most people, I have found, would rather not address this fundamental question because it creates too stark
How different might our world look if we taught children from a young age how to discover, explore, and pursue their purpose? Lesson 16 (Goal Setting: Defining Your Purpose) in our middle school version of Empowering Minds does just this.
Here is a taste of what this lesson is all about:
I Do – Concept Modeling
Each of our lessons begins with a brief “I do” section for teachers to build background knowledge and model the key concepts for students. For this lesson, teachers are encouraged to provide examples of core values and mission statements from well-known companies, or even to review the mission statement and core values of the school. This discussion helps to prepare students to define their own personal core values and write their own personal mission statement.
Here’s a snippet from the teaching script:
“Companies and organizations use core values to create their culture, guide their decisions, and ultimately define how they do business. These core values are often summarized in short mission statements; almost every company you can think of has a mission statement. But how many people do you know that have defined their personal core values? How many people do you know who have actually written a personal mission statement for their life? How many of you know your own core values and your personal mission statement?
Core values are the principles and guidelines by which you live your life. They help you make decisions, know right from wrong, and choose how to act and treat others. A personal mission statement summarizes your values and provides a big picture goal for living your life. Knowing your values and mission statement is like having a compass for life; you may not always be able to see your end destination, but as long as your decisions are in line with your values and your mission you know you are headed in the right direction. Today you will have the chance to interview each other about your core values, to create your own personal mission statement, and to use SMART Goals to help you live out your values.”
We Do – Guided Practice
Following the “I do” section, each lesson includes an experiential and interactive “We Do” component to help students practice their social and emotional learning skills in real time. For this lesson, students are given a list of questions and 10 minutes to interview one of their classmates about their core values. This interview is intended not only to help students uncover their own core values, but also as an opportunity to practice relationship skills like active listening, empathy, and curiosity.
Here is a list of questions and directions to guide the interview:
ONE-TO-ONE INTERVIEW QUESTIONNAIRE
Directions: Use the following questions to guide a conversation with your partner about their core values. You do not have to follow the questions exactly, and you do not have to use all of them. Think of this as a conversation about what is most important in life. As your partner speaks, remember to use active listening skills such as: minimal encouragers, reflections, paraphrasing, body language, clarifying questions, and clarifying statements. Take detailed notes on your partners’ responses so they can remember what they said.
1. Who do you look up to most in life? What core values do you think they follow?
2. Who or what is most important to you in life?
3. What inspires you? What motivates you to get up in the morning?
4. What are you passionate about? What makes you angry?
5. How do you want to be remembered? What do you hope people say about you?
6. What does success mean to you? What is a life well lived?
7. If money were not important, what would you do with your life?
8. What do you want to experience in life?
9. How do you want to grow?
10. What do you want to contribute to the planet?
11. What are your deepest values?
You Do – Reinforcing Lesson Concepts
Finally, each of our lessons includes a “You Do” section intended to serve as an opportunity to reflect on and reinforce the key concepts from the lesson. In this lesson, students are prompted to clearly define their top 5 Core Values using Personal Core Values List provided in the lesson. Then, using their core values, students are given instructions on how to write a personal mission statement. Here’s another excerpt from the teaching script:
“A personal mission statement is a 1 -2 sentence statement that summarizes your core values and your purpose in life. This is different from a goal in that you are not targeting one specific behavior (e.g., “I will get an A in math,” or “I will improve my time on the mile.”). Rather, you are creating a big-picture statement based on your values that will capture how you want to live your life (not what you want to accomplish). Think of this as a very short instruction manual on how to live. Focus on what is most important to you and who you want to be as a person.”
It can be helpful to provide examples, such as those found in the article Personal Mission Statements of 5 Famous CEOs (And Why You Should Write One Too
Once students have developed a personal mission statement they are given a SMART goal framework to help them develop actionable goals to support their mission.
Extending the Lesson
Of course, the steps described above are just the beginning. High-quality social and emotional learning requires integration into core academic content and school-wide culture shifts, as well as at-home supports, to truly support deep shifts. Luckily, we’ve got you covered here. Empowering Education provides comprehensive lessons that include reflection questions, journaling
More importantly, a good mission statement can (and should) change over time as students grow and learn, and as the demands of their environment change with them. Imagine how much more engaged students might be in the learning process if they have an underlying sense of purpose to their daily life.
In short, give them a
About the Author: Cody Wiggs is the author of Empowering Minds (A K-8 Mindfulness-Based SEL Curriculum), the Executive Director of Empowering Education, and a therapist specializing in the treatment of post-traumatic stress and treatment-resistant depression. He has been designing and implementing social-emotional programs for the last seven years. He has also been working with youth for the last decade in a variety of settings from school counseling, wilderness therapy, international service learning trips, community organizing, and private practice. Cody is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed school counselor, a certified yoga instructor, and a long-time practitioner of mindfulness. His work is informed by his travel and study of indigenous healing practices in SE Asia, South America, and North America.