The Japanese have a term, Ikigai. It means what gives your life meaning, what is your purpose, what gets you going each day dedicating yourself to something that is important to you. My current personal Ikigai is: “To do my best each day to help others live more positive lives and have healthier relationships and to honor what my mother and father taught me and gave to me”.

Recent research focusing on adolescence indicates that teens with a true sense of purpose do better in school, are healthier and demonstrate greater resilience. Unfortunately the research shows that teens who can describe “Purpose” or “Ikigai” are in the minority, hovering around 20%. I was very jolted when I read the data and considered how few adolescents can identify with something that really matters to them and do something about it. Certainly many teens list their activities including sports, being on the honor roll, drama, music, etc. I hear teens describe their “resume” when they are completing college applications. But the list of achievements is different than being committed to something outside of themselves.

A book by William Damon, “The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling In Life”, helps us understand the importance of purpose for teens and healthy development. Purpose is not a static phenomenon, but should evolve throughout the teen years and adulthood.

Role models play a critical aspect in helping teens value “purpose” outside of self and contribution to others, be it a parent, a teacher, a coach, or a friend. Dr. Kendall Bronk has developed an on line tool kit called, The Fostering Purpose Project. It guides teens through three 15 minute activities encouraging them to reflect on their strengths, their values, and how to use both in a meaningful way.

I mentally remember my “Ikigai” each morning as I move in to my day. It gives me definition and direction. I am proposing that each of you take a moment and craft your own ‘ikigai” and understand its power for you. Then, we must help our teens write their own and become actively engaged with their “purpose”. As role models, we lead the way.