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Meet some of today’s young people.  Each case is based on someone we’ve actually known, though their name/photo has been changed for publication. Perhaps you will recognize someone you know in these cases---one of the youth you work with; your own child; a relative or friend; someone in your neighborhood. 

Click on each picture below to hear Student Case Studies


What do all of these youth have in common?  Whether from inner-city, suburban, or private college prep schools;  whether completely engaged, partially engaged, or totally “checked out” of school? 

All are emerging from adolescence lacking the clear sense of purpose necessary to give meaning and direction to their life and necessary to achieve long-term happiness and personal success.

Purpose - A stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to one’s self, and consequential for the world beyond one’s self.

A purpose can be consequential without being “heroic”.  Consequential purposes may be heroic, such as someone who finds a cure for cancer.  However consequential purposes also may be found in the day-to-day fabric of ordinary existence, such as a parent raising their children, a physical therapist helping patients recover, an electrician providing a safe home for its occupants. (Ibid, 44)


Having a sense of purpose is what leads to long-term success and happiness, both personally and professionally.   Purpose provides the answers to these questions: 

  • Why am I doing this?  

  • Why is it important to me?  

  • Why is it important to others beyond myself?  

  • Why should I keep working hard at this?

Purpose is what motivates an individual every day, whether an adolescent, a young adult, or a full-grown adult.  Purpose gives one’s current efforts---be it schoolwork, job duties, daily activities, etc.---meaning by understanding how current efforts relate to one’s longer-term goals.  This is what motivates one to work hard and to persist to achieve their dreams. 

For students, purpose makes school relevant.  Understanding how the classes they’re taking will lead to the fulfillment of their dreams increases student engagement and responsibility. Participating in extra-curricular activities that are connected to their purpose builds students' confidence and self-understanding. 


Without purpose, students (and adults) are just going through the motions, feeling like they are wasting their time on meaningless tasks that others force them to do. They are disconnected, easily distracted, and stuck in the present with little excitement about the future. “The demoralizing effects of failing to discover a clear and authentic sense of purpose in life can last a long time, even a lifetime.”  (Ibid, 19.)   Failing to have a clear sense of purpose results in lower incomes, higher unemployment rates, and negative physical and mental health outcomes. 


According to Dr. William Damon, one of the world’s leading scholars of human development, “It is not that there is a crucial period for the acquisition of a fruitful direction in life.  But it is the case that excessive delay beyond the period of readiness creates the serious risk that the young person may give up altogether on the tasks of finding a positive direction, sustaining that direction, and acquiring the skills needed to achieve the directional goals”.  (Ibid, 5.)  

Thus it is critical for young people to develop a sense of purpose before they become highly likely to give up on the processes required for doing so.


Click "Situation" button below to see the alarming impact of youth not having purpose. 


If you haven’t noticed, our school systems don’t do a whole lot to prepare people to excel after school.  Where was the class on discovering our greatest strengths and crafting a life on how to best give them in greatest service to the world?!

- Brian Johnson, Philosopher’s Notes

Schools are not incented to address Purpose

The most important factor hindering young people’s ability to find their purpose is that schools are not incented to address this issue.

While many leaders of the institutions responsible for forming and educating our youth ---be they elementary school Principals, high school Principals, college faculty and administrators, youth development program managers, etc.---recognize this need, and the long-term problems captured in the statistics above, the reality is that despite their best intentions or desires, they are not incented to address and solve the cause(es) of these problems. For a myriad of reasons and subject to a myriad of influences, they are incented to organize and spend their resources (time, money, and staff) focused on other outcomes.  

Most schools are incented to do two things: 

  1. Improve attendance

  2. Improve standardized test scores

Most, if not all, financial incentives educational institutions and their staff receive are tied to these two metrics. 

Therefore, nearly all of the resources in schools and youth development organizations are focused on those youth who have either dropped out of school or who are at risk of dropping out of school.  Few, if any, resources are directed to those in the middle (those who appear to be thriving but may not be) or those who are effectively being intentional students.  

Interestingly, this is also documented to be true about parents.   “Many parents do not see it as their responsibility to actively help their adolescents form plans for their futures.”

(Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson, The Ambitious Generation: Motivated But Directionless (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p.8))

Educational institutions operate as “silos"​​

Further complicating the matter is the fact that educational institutions operate as “silos”; distinct and disconnected from the next in a student’s educational path.  

Once a student leaves one educational institution or program, those institutions and leaders are not responsible for that student’s success---or lack thereof---in the student’s next situation.  Elementary schools are not responsible for students’ success in middle-school; middle- schools are not responsible for students’ success in high-school; high- schools not for post-secondary schools; and PSOs not for a student’s ultimate success in finding a job or thriving in a career. 


DREAMROADS is the answer to this long-term problem.  DreamRoads helps youth ascertain their purpose---critical to normal youth development and to achieving long-term happiness and personal success. ​​

“To have a sense of purpose, it is essential that you know yourself; what you want from your life---not what others want for you, or what is expected of you---but what actually makes you come alive.  If we deny our students the chance to really explore who they are, they lose out on their chance for purposefulness”.

- Patrick Cook-Deegan, “Seven Ways to Help High Schoolers Find Purpose,” Greater Good,  (January 11, 2016)

Purpose results from the intersection of three key elements: (Ibid)

The DreamRoads curriculum is specifically designed to help students identify these three key elements about themselves, and thus define/identify their purpose.  Read more about the DreamRoads curriculum here: 

Students with a strong sense of purpose: 

  • Are on the path to achieving true happiness and satisfaction in their lives

  • Are self-confident, optimistic, persistent, resilient, and grateful

  • Have clarity about their goals and actions

    • Undertake deliberate steps to accomplish their goals

    • Are highly-engaged in school because they see the connection between learning and their life

    • Sustain commitments over extended periods of time; not just short-term projects or goals

  • Make positive, purposeful choices in school and beyond

    • Are more likely to avoid self-destructive and ignoble behaviors

    • Are more focused in college or other post-secondary opportunities

  • Have deeply-developed intrinsic motivation 

    • They are not motivated to achieve something simply because they can or because they're recognized or rewarded for it.  Rather, they do it because they have a deep internal interest in pursuing it, and derive pleasure from the process.  (Ibid)

    • Are always eager to gain more knowledge and skills in order to better accomplish their chosen purposes 

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