A Great Generation Without a Purpose?
By Derek Daley
The “Greatest Generation of Americans,” born between 1901 and 1927, lived through World War II and the Great Depression, and made enormous social, political, and economic strides as a result. The American Dream was alive and well during this time as individuals worked for a common cause, no matter their background. The members of this generation held firm to a “clear purpose” that paralleled a strong, unified spirit of patriotism.
In contrast, today’s emerging adults often lack any sense of purpose or mission. In the Digital Age, where technology and media have inundated our lives with a wide range of information and demands, the focus and attention spans of young people can become maddeningly shallow, and promises without follow-through are too often the norm. We have heard stories of millennials going from job to job, trying to “find” themselves while many of them become too absorbed with technology and abandon the pursuit of higher learning.
Unfortunately, the lack of a clear purpose can lead to feelings of confusion, discontent, and even depression. Many young people of today become lost in the whirlwind of modern society, with no understanding of what goals or passions truly motivate them. As a result, they may lack the emotional and psychological stability to build meaningful relationships and constructive lives.
It is the responsibility of educators, mentors, and community leaders to create a sense of purpose and belonging among today’s emerging adults. We can provide an avenue for the direction and development of higher ambitions that yields positive results, long-term fulfillment, and lasting impact within our communities. In order to emulate the “Greatest Generation,” we must continue to pass down the values of our history, so that the principles of excellence, integrity, and purpose can continue to be lived, and the American Dream can live on.
We work to connect our clients at Legacy Treatment Center with a sense of purpose while they are with us. Here are a few of the things our clients are discovering that give them purpose:
- Joining communities of shared interests can be achieved online or in person. Platforms such as Meetup.com offer topics that range from traditional hobbies to meeting other like-minded people for discussion and fellowship, to industry-specific groups for professionals to share information and collaborate. AA is another example.
- Volunteering and philanthropy can be accomplished by researching volunteer opportunities in local communities or organizations doing important work. There may be non-profit organizations in areas of particular interest, such as environmental protection, animal shelters, food banks, etc. Finding ways to give back can be rewarding and bring lasting positive change.
- Positive change through innovation can be achieved by brainstorming ways to solve existing problems or finding ways to make existing processes or systems more efficient or effective. That could range from researching current technologies and trends to taking online classes to gain knowledge and skills.
- Experiential learning and travel can be accomplished by creating a plan to explore the world, either in-person or virtually. By seeking out cultural, educational, and understanding of the world around us, we can gain unique perspectives
- Continuing education through classes, podcasts, and forums can be achieved by enrolling in courses or taking seminars, subscribing to and listening to informative podcasts, and reading and participating in online communities related to topics of interest.
- Personal development and career exploration can be achieved through careful self-reflection, researching careers and industries of interest, doing informational interviews, shadowing potential employers and peers, attending conferences, and signing up for online workshops.
- Mental health services can be obtained by seeing a licensed professional in person or online, joining a support group, or taking online assessments and quizzes to help better understand one’s needs.
- Finding purpose in relationships can be done through personal reflection, delving into religious and spiritual texts, seeking out mentors and role models, joining discussion or support groups, or simply spending quality time with those who are meaningful in one’s life.
- Spirituality can be explored through mindfulness practice, meditation, prayer, reading religious texts, attending prayer meetings, or taking retreats.
- Exploring and advancing healthier lifestyle choices can be achieved by making conscious decisions about what to eat, getting active, finding ways to reduce stress, trying different types of exercise, and making small changes to one’s daily routine.
- Participating in outdoor activities, sports, and other physical activities can be achieved by taking an inventory of the activities offered in your local area, signing up for classes or organized events, or even joining a running or biking club.
- Giving or donating their time or money to charitable organizations is best done with research and finding an organization that resonates with your values and interests. You can then volunteer your time or donate monetarily.
- Finding meaning in their work and creating a meaningful career can begin by conducting research into the different job paths available and exploring any hobbies or activities that could turn into a profession. Focusing on what you’re passionate about can lead to a successful and meaningful career.
- Exploring art and creative outlets can be done by finding local classes, attending events, joining clubs, or searching for DIY ideas online for painting, photography, music, and more.
- Navigating the digital world to create connection and purpose can be achieved by learning how to use technology to find your interests, build relationships and community online, build a business, and stay connected to the world. Social media, online courses, and even gaming in moderation can help facilitate this.
- Social justice movements involve participating in collective action to support the rights and dignity of all people, regardless of race, gender, age, creed, etc. Joining like-minded groups and supporting organizations doing meaningful work can serve as part of a larger effort engaging in advocacy, education, and organizing to bring lasting, positive change.
In conclusion, it is essential for educators, mentors, and community leaders to help today’s emerging adults find a sense of purpose and belonging in order to build meaningful relationships and constructive lives. There are many ways to discover and pursue purpose, including joining communities of shared interests, volunteering and philanthropy, pursuing positive change through innovation, engaging in experiential learning and travel, continuing education, exploring career options, and prioritizing mental health. By helping young people find their passions and goals, and again we can foster the values of excellence, integrity, and purpose that characterized the “Greatest Generation” and ensure that the American Dream remains alive for future generations.
Author: Derek is a co-founder of Legacy Treatment Center and Juniper Canyon Treatment Center for Women, with decades of experience in the outdoor behavioral healthcare industry. He is currently serving on the board of The National Association Of Therapeutic Programs and the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council. Derek received the 2017 Utah Community Service award for his nonprofit work, and is a passionate advocate for wilderness therapy, presenting nationally at universities and conferences to raise awareness about how nature experiences can change lives. On the weekends, Derek enjoys adventuring with his family in Utah and around the globe.