William Damon—director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence at Stanford University, and author of “The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life”—defines purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”
According to Damon, adolescents can fall into four categories on their path to purpose:
Disengaged – Shows no interest or activity that indicates any care for those beyond themselves.
Dreamers – Have ideas about topics that concern them, but have made no real effort toward enacting their ideas either now or in the future.
Dabblers – Have participated in a number of meaningful activities, but lack real commitment to the cause or fail to follow-through in the long term.
Purposeful – Have identified something that matters to them, know why it matters to them, and are currently working on that issue with a long-term plan for future action.
While the disengaged should be encouraged and guided to find their purpose; and the purposeful should be supported in achieving their goals in fulfilling their purpose, Damon notes that the dreamers and dabblers are critical because they have to most potential to find purpose.