4 Steps to Finding a Sense of Purpose for Teens


1. Do something for someone else.

Volunteering is one of my top recommendations for teens who are depressed. It's absolutely the last thing they want to do at the time; but it is one of the quickest way to create a shift in their momentum. Depression and anxiety take a lot of energy; unhelpful thoughts and ruminating behaviors are the gasoline to the fire. When you are able to step outside of that space, for just a minute, you free up some room to think about something else. There are several volunteer matching websites that allow you to type in your zip code and connect you with volunteer activities right in your city. That is the easiest way to get started!

2. Create Purposeful Habits.

Habits are the most important part of having a purposeful life, in my opinion. You are what you repeatedly do. You are who you spend your time with. You are the words you speak, the actions you take, and the thoughts you think when there is not a single soul around watching you. At a minimum, you need a morning habit and an evening habit. They can be as simple or as elaborate as you'd like but the key is to have something that you always do no matter what. Habits and rituals are calming and you build meaning and purpose through taking care of yourself and focusing on positive things in your life. What new purposeful habit can you start today? Remember - it takes 30 days to integrate something into your routine so don't give up too soon!

3. Acknowledge the narrative that is working against you. 

Unfortunately, society has drilled into teens this idea of perfection and being the best, at no cost. Teens are going through the biggest developmental phase of their lives and they are simultaneously feeling pressured to be sports superstars, to take college courses in high school, to be social butterflies, or to have a GPA above a 4.0 to get into a certain college. Older teens are starting college declaring majors that have zero to do with what they love and everything to do with what will make them money, or what will make their parents proud, or what will give them social status, or simply just what they feel like they should do. Money, status, and praise are not innately bad; they are just worthless unless they come from doing something that sets your soul on fire. Knowing this is half the battle - the other half is fighting against this story that you have to be the best, that you have to make a lot of money to be happy or that you need a prestigious title to be worthy of love. You don't; you need to know your purpose, live it out, and I promise you that can be enough. 

4. Take Action. 

So often, we think and plan and dream and then we do ... nothing. No one can identify your purpose for you. They can offer suggestions or coach you towards ideas, but ultimately you have to decide what step you are going to take right now towards a purposeful life. Who do you want to become? What do you want to be your contribution to this world? What is your biggest, craziest dream? What makes you feel alive? What makes you feel connected to the rest of the world? Answer these questions and you'll be well on your way...