“Hard work and competition have never broken the spirits of young people, as long as they believe in what they are doing.”
— Dr. Bill Damon, "The Path to Purpose"


Bill Damon, professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education and Director of the Stanford Center for Adolescence, has been researching the formation of purpose in youth for years. Based off of his work, we came up with this framework to help students think about purpose:

Using the above diagram, we like to think about purpose using Damon’s definition:

“Purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”
— Dr. Bill Damon, "The Path to Purpose"

As Damon’s quote makes clear, having a sense of purpose connects your own self with a bigger vision for the world. It is not all about you. It is about you and your role in making the world a better place.


shifting the landscape

In The Path to Purpose, Damon describes four broad categories of youth in the realm of purpose development:  the disengaged, the dreamers, the dabblers, and the purposeful.  

  • The disengaged are students who express no purpose at all, and are not active in any endeavor that might turn into a purposeful pursuit.  
  • The dreamers are those who express ideas about a purpose they’d like to have, but who have done very little to try out any of their ideas. 
  • The dabblers are those who have engaged in activities that appear to be purposeful, but show little awareness of the meaning of these activities beyond the present.  They often skip from one activity to the next without any coherent sense of what they wish to accomplish in their lives.  
  • The purposeful are those who have found something meaningful to dedicate themselves to, who have sustained this interest over a period of time, and who express a clear sense of what they’re trying to accomplish in the world and why.

Project Wayfinder was founded on the belief that we can, we should, and we must shift this landscape, and equip more students to guide themselves to the “purposeful” quadrant.

Statistically, only about 25% of students are in the “purposeful” quadrant.

What if high school students were given tools and experiences designed to guide themselves there?

High Schoolers from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School do an activity that explores 4 "Wayfinder Ways."

High Schoolers from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School do an activity that explores 4 "Wayfinder Ways."

Our point of view on purpose

We believe that every young person has a unique sense of purpose that can be unlocked with mentoring, nurturing, and exposure to different people and life experiences. We believe that every young person has a sense of purpose that can be discovered, not achieved or handed to them.

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
— Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

We respect the multiple paths that young people can take on their path to purpose - becoming an artist, a preacher, a sculptor, or small business owner. At the heart of it, a sense of wayfinding is essential to our viewpoint: it’s about finding your own way in life, not drifting aimlessly or living out others’ expectations of you.

Purpose is also not a “single” destination - people have multiple purposes over the course of their lives, but research shows that once a person taps into this sense of purpose on one project, they are much more likely to bring it to their next project.

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