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Encouraging Purpose in Your Children

Eighteen months into the pandemic, it may be more important than ever to encourage purpose in our children.

Forty years ago, after graduating high school, you either went to work at the factory, joined the military, enrolled in vocational school to learn a trade, or entered college. The options were pretty straightforward and there was an implicit “deal” of what you could expect from each choice. Graduates made their decision and could more or less follow their paths to a middle-class life.

Today, young people have limitless options. That is both exciting and terrifying. What’s missing is they’ve got no clear answers. As young people think a lot about their futures, this lack of clarity too often creates anxiety and depression. They see a volatile and uncertain world that feels scary and threatening.

For far too many youngsters, the stress is too much to handle. The National Institutes of Health reports one in three of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. Other studies show a sharp rise in depression among teens and young adults over the last decade.[i]

While there are a number of reasons that drive the increase in anxiety and depression of young people, worry about the future contributes to their decline in mental well-being.

If ever there was a time for parents to get connected with their kids and help them, it’s now. This is where parents need to step in. An excellent source for parents and caring adults is William Damon’s book, The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life. Damon is a Stanford University professor on adolescence.[ii]

Damon writes, “In our interviews and surveys, only about one in five young people in the 12-26-year age range express a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish in life, and why. The largest portion of those we interviewed – almost 60% – may have engaged in some potentially purposeful activities, or they may have developed some vague aspirations; but they do not have any real commitment to such activities or any realistic plans for pursuing their aspirations. The remaining portion of today’s youth population – almost a quarter of those we interviewed – express no aspirations at all. In some cases, they claim that they see no point in acquiring any.”

He describes four groups of young people.

The Disengaged express no interest in purpose, and they made up 20% of the sample of twelve hundred young people between 12 and 26.

The Dreamers consisted of 25% of the sample. Dreamers had ideas about purposes but had done little or nothing to actively try out their ideas.

The Dabblers were those who had engaged in some activities that were potentially purposeful but showed few signs of committing themselves to these pursuits over time. Dabblers represented 31% of the sample.

Finally, those who found something meaningful to dedicate themselves to, sustained this interest over a period of time, and expressed a clear sense of what they were trying to accomplish and why, made up 20% of the group. He described this group as the Purposeful.

If you have young people in the world you care about, which group do you believe they fall into today?

As a parent or caring adult, there is an opportunity you have to assist your children discover their purpose.

The hectic lifestyles of many parents spill into the lives of children. With everyone on the go, family interactions fray and face-to-face connections decrease. When parents do try to help their kids, their suggestions are usually tactical in nature, offering no strategy. Statements like, “Get good grades,” don’t provide useful direction or clarity to the “Why?” and “What kind of work will I do when I get older?”

Damon believes that if young people had a goal in mind and then went to college or other post-high school training with that purpose in mind, taking classes to prepare themselves for achieving it, saying, “Here’s what I need to do in order to fulfill my dream,” that would be a much superior approach than simply saying, “Get the degree and figure out why later.”

When young people have a destination, the right decisions along their journey become clearer. Without purpose, being a good kid can feel like an arbitrary list of things to do and not do. With purpose, doing the right thing is clear because it’s in service of a greater goal.

Damon writes, ““Once a young person has taken on a purposeful quest, his or her personality begins to be transformed by the activities and events of the quest. Out of necessity, the youngster acquires such capacities as resourcefulness, persistence, know-how, and a tolerance of risk and temporary setback. Character virtues such as diligence, responsibility, confidence, and humility get a boost from the experience of making a commitment to a challenging purpose and seeing it through. What’s more, literacies of all kinds (verbal, mathematical, cultural) develop in ways that extend well beyond anything previously learned in the youngster’s home or classroom.”

What can you do to help young people discover their purpose?

Start by being a good role model. When you convey your individual purpose and your values, and how you chose those, that’s a great start. Share the meaning you get from your work. Your job does more than pay the bills. What is it that you do that makes the world a better place, contributes to the common good, or makes someone happy?

For instance, how did you know you wanted to raise a family? At what point did you know you wanted to be a marketing manager, a police officer, a principal, a __________? Share the meaningful experiences from your life and your setbacks that helped you gain this insight. Whatever your purpose is, discuss how you knew it was your calling and how it contributes to your everyday life satisfaction. When your children see you living a life of purpose, impact, and joy, they’ll be encouraged to do the same. Tell them your purpose story.

If you regret not following your dreams, don’t shy away from relaying those lessons learned to your children. This may help them gain knowledge from your experience.

Share with your children that what they do matters. While they get told what to do a lot at school and home, this will change over time. They have the personal power to make decisions and take actions. They will be able to make decisions and will be called on to make a difference. They can make the world a better place. If they don’t make a difference somewhere to someone, life isn’t going to feel very meaningful. The choices they make and the actions they take matter. People cannot have a sense of purpose until they know how much they matter. When young people have the confidence to know they matter, they can begin to imagine their purpose in life.

Realize you aren’t the creator of your child’s purpose. You don’t create purpose and passion for your kids any more than you can create their personality. What you can do is to gently ask questions about their opinions and interests. You can expose them to new things and see how they respond. You can introduce options. You can encourage them to go deeper to experience and learn more about topics that resonate. Pay attention to what drives them to keep learning. If a teen loves writing stories, and is challenged to write more to improve, encourage that passion. Their talent and interest could help them find a life of purpose that is right for them.

Create a safe environment for dialogue. Dinners, watching the news together, and trips in the car each offer organic situations that lend themselves to discussing topics that are important to your youngster. You can ask them why their topics of interest fascinate them. It’s better to have small, frequent conversations, too. This is a process, not a one and done discussion.

Avoid questions like “What do you want to do with your life?” Instead, ask non-intimidating questions such as, “When was a time you helped someone?” or “What do you think your best qualities are?” “What kinds of things do you really care about and why?” “What does it mean to have a good life?” “What does it mean to be a good person?”

Let your kids know they have unique gifts. Describe the gifts you see them possessing and have a dialogue with them to get them to hear their perceptions of their gifts. Explore ideas with them about how they might use their gifts at school, in extracurricular activities, at volunteering opportunities, and in the future.

Identify and discuss examples of purposeful young people. Sometimes it is useful to have an example or two of young people who have discovered their purpose. While everyone has their own path to discovering purpose, Damon’s book has several examples of young people who have followed their purposes and have made a difference. The story of Ryan Hreljac, was particularly inspiring.

Ryan learned at age 6 in school that many people in Africa had a hard time getting access to clean water. Ryan began doing chores to raise money to build a well, which led to other fund-raising activities. Within twelve months, he had raised $2,000, which was the cost to build a well. He sent the money to Water Can, and a well was drilled in northern Uganda, alongside a public school. Two years went by and he raised $61,000 to build wells. His story was picked up on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

His parents helped him set up a registered charity, Ryan’s Well Foundation, to educate school children about water issues and to get more people involved in fundraising and well digging. A number of years later, the foundation brought clean water to nearly 900,000 people in sixteen developing countries through nearly 1200 water and sanitation projects.

Not everyone will create a purpose like Ryan’s Well Foundation, which has such a far-reaching impact. Yet everyone can have a purpose that has an impact in the world, even in small ways. Educating and inspiring your child with stories like Ryan’s can be the spark that lights the flame.

Encourage volunteer work. Volunteer work is a wonderful way to finding something meaningful. When teens experience the personal satisfaction from doing something that makes a difference in the world, they develop their personal beliefs and values, which leads to healthy development and a sense of purpose. Resources such as DoSomething.org can connect teens to volunteer opportunities.

Introduce your children to trusted adults who can be mentors. If they express an interest in a profession or field, think of who you can introduce them to who has some experience in their area of interest. Maybe you can’t describe what it is like to be a trial lawyer – but your cousin, the trial lawyer can. Your doctor can speak to the process of preparing for and getting accepted to medical school and the path to becoming a physician, if that is an area of interest. Connecting them with trusted mentors outside the home is very powerful. Damon identified twelve youngsters who were highly purposeful in his book. Every one of them had a mentor outside the home.

Help them develop an entrepreneur’s mindset. Encourage an entrepreneurial attitude by supporting them in stepping outside their comfort zone into the world around them. Maybe it is an after-school club or activity, a part-time job, or exploring the local community with friends. Maybe it is to fundraise for a special cause, to sign up for a camp, or to study abroad. You never know what might stick. Think about taking a mindset that is about “offense” and not “defense.” It’s about developing a growth mindset with empowering beliefs. Encourage your child to take on challenges and healthy risks when trying new activities.

Damon writes, “Cultivating an entrepreneurial spirt means encouraging the following attitudes: 1. The ability to set goals and make realistic plans to accomplish them; 2. An optimistic, can-do attitude; 3. Persistence in the face of obstacles and difficulties; 4. A tolerance – or more, even an appetitive – for risk; 5. Resilience in the face of failure; 6. Determination to achieve measurable results; and 7. Resourcefulness and inventiveness in devising the means to achieve those results.”

Show optimism. Stay optimistic about their future while helping them be resilient. They will experience adversity along their journey. Their beliefs about adversity are what drives the consequences of the adversity. There is always a better way to look at a setback than as a failure. Setbacks are the lessons to get you closer to your purpose and desired destination. That’s a mindset of optimism and resilience.

Be patient. Discovering purpose is not a single event – it’s a process. Young people will go at their own pace. Remind them that life is an ongoing process of change. It’s OK not to have an answer right away on purpose, as it takes experience and time. Remind your youngsters that you are there to support them and love them no matter what.

While you can provide guidance on different routes to travel, and you can introduce options and allow exploration within safe limits, they’ll sort through choices to determine what is best for them. With your support and interest, they’ll discover their purpose in time. This process of encouraging purpose will put them on a path to creating a life of impact.

[i] Anxiety and Depression in Adolescence, 2017,

https://childmind.org/report/2017-childrens-mental-health-report/anxiety-depression-adolescence/.

[ii] The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life, William Damon, Free Press, 2008.

“For the First Time in His Life, He Was Able to Get Around.” How Jim Conn Creates Great Impact Serving Mobility Worldwide

The old factories and warehouses that powered the industrial section of northeast Minneapolis for decades are giving way to microbreweries and taprooms, restaurants, and co-working spaces. Yet in the basement of an old dairy on Broadway Street, there’s an organization of volunteers – Mobility Worldwide – that is transforming and saving lives around the world, one person a time.

Most people take walking for granted, but there are over seventy million people in the world who are leg disabled. Birth defects, polio, injuries, landmines, disease, and other causes can lead to this disability. For those who are leg disabled and live in developing countries, many have to literally crawl in the dirt. Traditional wheelchairs don’t work well where the roads are unimproved. When given the gift of mobility, lives are immediately changed for the better.

Mobility Worldwide’s vision is to end immobility. They provide a rugged, three-wheeled, hand-powered cart with hauling capacity.

These carts are donated to people in developing countries who do not have use of their lower limbs. Developed in the late 1990s in response to a need identified in Africa, the carts are built in the US, but distributed exclusively overseas. There are twenty-three production sites in the US. Each cart costs roughly $300 to build and ship. Donations fund the cost of materials and shipping. The staff is all volunteer. Since 1994, over 78,000 mobility carts have been built and distributed in 106 countries using over 70 distribution partners.

In 2011, Jim Conn, a retired program manager from the aerospace industry, learned of Mobility Worldwide and the carts they provided the poorest of the poor. He was immediately hooked and became the director of the first affiliate in Minnesota.

Jim says, “Sometimes you ask how I, as one individual, can change the world? These carts change lives. The looks on the faces of recipients are ample evidence of that. Their testimony is further evidence. People everywhere can help change the world for the better. Without our help, they crawl in the dirt. These carts change their world. The carts provide much more than mobility; they offer freedom, dignity, and self-confidence.”

Jim continues, “You see, in many societies, people with disabilities are shunned, avoided, and believed to be cursed. They are often not even acknowledged as people, which is cruel. When they get their carts, they gain self-respect and hope for a better future.”

The volunteers of Mobility Worldwide are retirees, students, and groups from churches and community service organizations. After a short training and orientation, they provide the labor to assemble and package the carts. Working together in small teams, volunteers enjoy their experience at Mobility. They know they are making a difference. The Minnesota chapter just loaded a container – shipping its 1130th cart – to Nigeria.

Jim recalled his first distribution trip to Tanzania. “While everyone who receives a cart is grateful, there was one person in particular who stands out to me. A young man in his 20s, his body misshapen from birth defects, was carried on the back of his mother to the pickup site. His mother had carried him forty kilometers (nearly twenty-five miles) on her back. He received his cart and was ecstatic. For the first time in his life, he was able to get himself around. She didn’t have to carry him. It was life changing for him – and for his mother, too.”

Each cart has an area for storage and hauling. Most people use it to better themselves, whether it is to haul books and supplies to a school or to start a small business.

Jim spoke about a man in Kenya who had his cart for about fourteen months. When a volunteer saw him again, after the distribution, the cart – which is very sturdy and was designed to work with minimal maintenance for many years – was functional but pretty beat up. He asked the recipient why there was wear and tear. The Kenyan man said he used his cart to haul gold ore to the rock crusher. He loads a few hundred pounds of rock and takes it to the rock crusher in the hope of finding gold. People are very creative. Some will build canopies and use them as mobile vending machines or a mini food truck. Others will load the cart with a cooler and sell cold drinks. Jim recalled a man in Viet Nam who lost his legs to a landmine. With his new cart, he started a shoe repair business.

In Tanzania, after a woman received her cart, she went to the outskirts of town, tilled a garden, and planted and grew vegetables. She harvested them and she took them back to town to sell. She is now self-sufficient economically. He recalls another woman who drove her cart to a local business with a knitting machine she could rent, so she could make clothes and then sell them at the market.

Jim’s favorite story is about Seun Okoke, a beautiful young woman from Nigeria who was stricken with polio and scoliosis. She was leg disabled. With her cart and mobility, she was able to finish school and college. She’s now working as an information technology specialist for the civil service.

Every day Seun rides the bus to work. She pays two fares, one for her and one for her cart. Then after work, she does the same to get back home.

Because she is able to work, she feels like she’s a contributing member of society. Her self-esteem is high. She is now married and has a young son. Jim says Seun earns more than her husband, all due to the gift of her cart. She has been given the gifts of mobility and dignity that are immeasurable in value.[i]

Jim Conn’s purpose: To make a tangible difference in the lives of people around the world.

At age 75, through his work with Mobility Worldwide, Jim Conn is making an impact.

[i] Jim Conn interview by Chuck Bolton, 2019.

Frustrated Mom’s Startup Company to Create Home-Administered Diagnostic Test for COVID-19 


It was a Friday afternoon in 2018 and Hopkins, MN resident Patty Post found herself at the clinic, for the third time that week, waiting for her daughter to be tested for strep throat.  On Monday it was her younger son who needed a strep test, on Wednesday it was older son, and on Friday, her daughter had a sore throat, needed a test and likely a prescription.

When Patty called her children’s pediatrician Friday morning to explain her daughter’s symptoms and request a prescription, it fell on deaf ears. “Bring her in the office and we’ll test her here,” she was told. Faced with burning yet another afternoon at the doctor’s office for a simple test, Patty asked herself, “Why can’t a strep test be administered at home? It’s a simple immunoassay. Why isn’t there a home test available for parents to administer to their children who are susceptible to strep? And if the test is positive, why shouldn’t you be able to get a treatment plan virtually and a prescription?”

A self-described “problem solver”, Patty says she caught the entrepreneurial bug when she was only ten years old, when she began marketing her babysitting services to families who vacationed near her family’s lake cottage, where she lived during the summers with her parents.

Frustrated by the status quo of going to the clinic to get checked for a simple infection, motivated Patty to start up a company of healthcare and technology experts to find a better solution to this problem. She founded Checkable Medical and became its chief executive officer.

Checkable Medical’s mission is to empower individuals to make clinical, evidence-based decisions from the comfort of their homes. They are focused on delivering innovative at-home diagnostic testing to employers and individuals.

Without having to go to the doctor, Checkable Medical’s diagnostic tests paired with a digital platform allows individuals and caregivers to administer their own tests for infectious diseases thus reducing the burden on our healthcare system and minimizing exposure to the population. Checkable Medical focused their energy and resources on developing an in-home, over-the-counter in vitro diagnostic and digital platform for the rapid identification of Group A Streptococcal bacteria

In March of 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis spread across America like wildfire, Patty and her team explored whether their technology could help in the fight against the coronavirus.  They became a distributor of a COVID serology antibody test and are now creating a platform for individuals and employers to detect antibodies of COVID from home. For individuals who test positive, they should seek the assistance of a healthcare provider. For individuals who test negative, that finding may help them in getting back to a new way of normal.

Their rapid-result antibody serology test, administered at home or at the office, will determine if the individual has the antibodies to fight COVID-19.  It is anticipated the test will detect the presence of both an acute IgM and chronic IgG immune response to infection of the COVID virus with a 95% accuracy. Patty Post’s hope is the serology antibody test will be a vital tool in reopening the economy.

Post said, “We believe the test will help identify if you’ve been exposed to the virus or have developed antibodies against the virus. We believe it can be helpful in identifying asymptomatic carriers and in identifying bigger groups of individuals who have been infected – potentially helping us get back to a more normal pace faster.”

“We’re in the early stages of a clinical trial, we will have data in late summer to submit to the FDA. Our hope is for a quick approval and we can offer the test and digital platform directly to consumers and employers.

Patty is a woman of faith and says her purpose is to serve others. She believes God has given her the gifts and nudge to create and provide diagnostic tests that can be administered around the world.

She described the heartbreaking problem of young women in parts of Africa and India who die during childbirth due to undiagnosed heart conditions caused by damage from strep infections.  She sees a day when diagnostics can be brought into rural villages of third-world countries to diagnose diseases like strep, influenza and COVID and pair positive diagnoses with antibiotics.

When asked if the COVID crisis has made her purpose more profound, she said, “Absolutely, I’ve been more purposeful since the crisis. We all have felt helpless, watching the virus coming down the pike. As a family member, you can’t visit your loved one at a hospital. We all feel a great deal of uncertainty. I’m an entrepreneur and I’m very driven to make a difference.  At Checkable Medical, we have tools and we are developing new tools. It’s our place – and it’s my place – to use my gifts and our company’s tools to make a difference.”

While Checkable Medical has regulatory hurdles yet to clear, the diagnostic tools and digital platform they offer will help consumers and companies make evidence-based healthcare decisions from home and work. Their success could make for an important tool that could boost the economy by allowing employers to safely bring their people back to work.

Patty Post is a leader who is driven by her purpose.  Through her focus, energy and leadership, she and her team are making a great impact during the pandemic.

A Tribute to My Mom – The Game of Catch

When I was 8 years old, I was a happy 3rd grader, without a care in the world, living in a small town in Kentucky with my parents, Helen and Jack Bolton. The daughter of Swedish immigrants, Helen had wanted to be a missionary when she was young; she knew how to love and take care of people. Jack was a manager at a factory. At 6’4”, 250 pounds, he was like a mountain, in my eyes: My hero.

Every day, my Dad and I played a game of catch. And throwing the baseball with dad, every night, was my favorite thing. Every night, after he returned home from the plant, he heard me ask: “Daddy, daddy! Can we play catch?”

 

One Sunday morning in late August will forever be burned in my memory. I awoke to an empty house. A few hours later, Mom, tears streaming down her face walked in the front door. She said she had taken dad to the emergency room. She sobbed, and uttered two haunting words: “Daddy died.”

We’d played catch just the night before. Now he was gone – forever – felled by a massive heart attack. My happiness vanished. I no longer took interest in school, friends–or really, much of anything. Because the game of catch was over.

That winter, Mom took matters in her own hands. She saved the S&H Green Stamps they gave you at the Winn-Dixie supermarket when you bought groceries. One warm Saturday morning in March – early spring in Kentucky – Mom said we needed to go to Louisville to run errands. She drove us to the S&H store. She told the man behind the counter that she wanted to get the catcher’s mitt that appeared on page 34 of their catalog.

More than seven months had passed since I’d last played catch. Dad and I were both left-handed, but Mom was a righty; she couldn’t use his old first baseman’s mitt. Mom handed over the stamp books, and took the mitt, and we went on our way. The game of catch was about to resume.

Even though Mom wasn’t that great at catch, she gave it her best. We played for three years – until I was 11. We filled the holes in our hearts that way. Slowly, the happiness returned.

Shortly before my 12th birthday, Mom and I moved to Chicago. To support us, she needed to begin working as a secretary–and to care for her parents, who were in failing health. She told me I could ride my bike to the park to play Little League baseball. There, as she had predicted, I found plenty of other boys to play catch. She retired the catcher’s mitt — but by then, it had served its purpose.

That game of catch with Mom was a great gift. She got me over the hump of losing Dad that way. She got me playing organized baseball, and pitching. That was an activity I could throw myself into – I was happy being on the team and playing ball. Pitching ultimately helped pay for my college education. I was blessed to play college ball, under the tutelage of outstanding coaches. I also had caring professors, and a great four years in school.

Without that game of catch with mom, I wouldn’t have…

  • Gone to college.
  • Enjoyed a 20-year career as a leader in the fast-growing medical device industry.
  • Become a CEO coach, coached a Nobel Prize-winner, written a best selling book, or given a speech at the Harvard Business School.

Nor would I be showing leaders and teams how to reinvent themselves and become happier — so they can discover how to become their best and become even more successful.

Mom was a happy leader. A great role model. She was the person who was most generous, optimistic and inspiring. She taught me to care about others. For her, what seemed to be huge problems were challenges to be chunked down and conquered.

From her, I learned how to treat people, how to handle life’s curveballs, and when to swing for the fences — lessons I use daily in my work.

She had to reinvent herself, from homemaker to single parent, breadwinner, and caregiver. She never complained; she always smiled, and encouraged others with her happiness. Mom was the most remarkable person I’ve ever met.

And, Mom told me always to give my best—and become my best. She was my role model for happiness and reinvention. This book is for her. And for you. To help you become happier, more successful, to become your best.

It’s time to get started.

From the story, The Game of Catch from: The Reinvented Me: Five Steps to Happiness in a Crazy Busy World

Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven, Mom.