Why is it that young adults, age 18 to 34, are most likely to feel the American Dream is unattainable, with 63% saying it's impossible (CNN/ORC International poll 6, 2014)? Failing to know what their purpose is in life and feeling helpless in making decisions to do anything that matters are two good reasons.
Why do young adults and their parents spend days, months, and even years of commitment to things that have relatively short-term benefit? An upcoming vacation, sports, recitals, proms, and numerous other things get intentional and focused effort due to being fun. However, the challenging things such as pursuing a stimulating education, fulfilling vocation, and motivating personal transformation, are put on hold or expected to just happen.
Shouldn't the contrast of time commitments in the aforementioned areas be switched, especially when the latter have life-long ramifications? The quote, "People never drift into commitment" (Bill Hybels) is applicable here. Parents and young adults can agree that education, vocation, and personal transformation are important and require commitment, so what is needed to break through and meet those challenges?
Key contributors to putting the important things of life off at the expense of the urgent are numerous, but two stand at the forefront. First, lack of clarity of purpose in life leads to repeatedly making decisions that bring immediate gratification. Secondly, being overwhelmed with the complexity of circumstances leads to a feeling of being helpless and procrastinating in regards to difficult choices. Few, if any long-term, wise, and meaningful decisions are immediately gratifying or made without an understanding that courage and persistence will be needed.
How can anyone know what their purpose in life is with all the options available and especially as a young adult? The young have plenty of time to find direction, but that can turn out to be detrimental. Many let time pass thinking things will fall into place or problems will go away only to find it is years later and circumstances are relatively the same.
Some try college without clearly knowing why they are going and the result is costly. Seventy-one percent of college graduates incur an average debt of $29,400 that is increasing at a rate of six percent each year (The Institute for College Access & Success, 2013). The sad thing is, many spent all that money to end up working at something totally unrelated to their major in addition to being bored and unfulfilled. That "drifting into commitment" thing really does not work!
Finding clarity of purpose takes work that is not necessarily fun, but can be if wise choices are made in the process. Taking an honest assessment of current circumstances is the first step along with following a system that measures progress. A great book to get pointed in the right direction and that should be on the reading list for every young adult is What Color Is Your Parachute? (Bolles, 2013).
What Color Is Your Parachute? is more like a work book that is best completed by taking the time to carefully think through each exercise. The more time spent here is an investment in the future that yields great rewards. Motivational speaker Harv Eker states, "No thought lives in your head rent-free." Each thought you have will either be an investment or a cost." Why not fill the mind with rewarding transformational thoughts of achieving the American Dream instead of hours of useless TV or video games?
Without clarity of purpose, it is easy to feel overwhelmed in the decision-making process of choosing to go straight to the work force, get some type of education, or later in life change jobs. The complexity of making that decision leads to a response of feeling helpless. Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has done extensive research on the helpless response and defines it as the view that once failure occurs (in this case confusion about the future), the situation is perceived to be out of control and that nothing can be done (Dweck, 1999).
The closer it gets to having to make a decision and possibly the wrong one, the more likely a helpless response is generated that leads to procrastination. Procrastinating leads to more pressure, and making decisions while experiencing high stress leads to bad choices.
In summary, two major obstacles to having direction in life are lack of clarity of purpose and a helpless response. Three steps overcome these challenges:
-- First, develop a systematic approach to get direction.
-- Second, look at things with a growth mindset that embraces failure as a learning experience.
-- Third, identify what makes life fulfilling and consistently do it.
What can a young adult that is lacking clear direction do right here, right now? Taking the first step of a systematic approach mentioned above is buying the book What Color Is Your Parachute? and mark it all up and fill it with thoughts of grandeur and success!
Next, a growth mindset comes by engaging with a group of people, usually different from current friends, who like getting out of the comfort zone. Finally, to be fulfilled do something that makes a difference in the world as simple as encouraging a friend or as challenging as helping the poor in a third world country.
A quote by Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich (Hill, 2005), summarizes this article well by stating, "There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it." Find purpose, be intentional and knowledgeable in making important decisions, and persevere with meaningful activities until the American Dream comes true!
Bolles, R. N. (2013). What color is your parachute? NY: Ten
CNN/ORC International poll 6. (2014, May 29). The American Dream is out of reach. Retrieved June 15, 2014, from CNN Money: http://money.cnn.com/2014/06/04/news/economy/american-dream/index.html
Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-Theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.
Hill, N. (2005). Think and grow rich. NY: Penguin.
The Institute for College Access & Success. (2013). Student debt and the class of 2012. (Peterson's, Producer, & Nelnet company) Retrieved June 15, 2014, from The project on student debt.: http://projectonstudentdebt.org/state_by_state-data.php/p>
Speaker Dan Mularski, http://DanMularski.com, passionately challenges young adults to make wise choices for authentic change by knowing where they are going in life, becoming the person they were destined to be, and making a difference in the world!.© 2015 Dan Mularski
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