Wednesday, April 06, 2022

They Are Already Living Purpose-Driven Lives

A few days ago, I impulsively jumped up to touch the awning of a building. I landed awkwardly and twisted my ankle. As I endured the first wave of pain, I cursed myself. What business does a 60-year-old man have trying to touch an awning?

I would never, even were I to find myself in possession of Aladdin's lamp, wish to be any age other than the one that I am right now, but I often envy the impulsiveness of young children. I envy their ability to live their lives while we adults go about planning to live ours. We tend to think of the process of moving from childhood to adulthood as one of maturation, but looked at from another perspective, it can be seen as one of becoming increasingly calcified, hesitant, and afraid.

We say, "Curiosity killed the cat" or "Look before you leap." We save for a rainy day. We limit ourselves to only one cookie (then feel like failures when we exceed that arbitrary limit). We struggle with decisions, both large and small, freezing ourselves up with damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don't arguments, stewing over lists of pros and cons, pulling the covers over our heads some mornings, overwhelmed by the things that must be done and decided.

Of course, I don't envy the skinned knees and hurt feelings that inevitably attend childlike impulsiveness, just as I'd rather not experience the pain of a twisted ankle, but I find myself often craving a child's willingness to act upon the imperative of their instincts without consideration of consequences. It's almost as if this process we call maturing is simply one of trading the occasional bad consequences that may result making impulsive decisions with doubt, hesitation, and fear of the those occasional bad consequences. 

The price we pay, of course, and what every child knows, is that much of the time our impulsiveness pays off. After all, I did succeed in touching that awning, confirming for me that "I still got it." 

I'm using the words impulsiveness here because it's one we use to describe the behavior of young children, often with negative connotations, but what if, instead, we replaced it with the word purpose

When I jumped up to touch that awning, I didn't have a choice in the matter. One can certainly scold me for not thinking things through, but I genuinely had no choice. I saw that awning. In a flash, I wondered if I could still jump that high, I became suddenly filled with not just the question, but the imperative to answer it. In other words, I became filled, in a moment and for a moment, with purpose.

We tend to think in terms of capital "P" purpose, holding it before us as some sort of singular and high fallutin thing, but our purposes can also be many and small. Indeed, most of them are. The gold standard, they tell us, is to have discovered some sort of high-minded purpose for our lives, but when I watch young children impulsively dash from one purpose to the next, I see humans who are fully alive, fulfilling one purpose after another, filling their lives with meaning. When they succeed in their purpose they celebrate, "I did it!" and when they fail they may cry, but they rarely doubt, hesitate, or become frozen with the fear of making a wrong choice.

Humans are at their best when they have purpose, many purposes, small and large, immediate and in the future. Purpose, after all, is that thing that answers the question of how to live. Purpose is something what lifts us out of doubt, hesitation, and fear. We all wish for our children, as they mature, to find their purpose, but what we might be missing is that they are already living purpose-driven lives, from moment-to-moment, grandly, wonderfully, impulsively.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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