Teenagers and purpose in life

What is my Purpose in Life: How to find your direction?

7 minutes to read

Jason Litherland

(MNZAC) (BA, PgDip Counselling)


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Finding purpose in life takes time, a lot of thinking, planning and then ACTION. But this is not a straight line. 

You will go off track, take a few steps back, make wrong decisions (sometimes because you didn’t have enough knowledge to act otherwise) and will be tripping and falling.

What’s my direction? is something I often hear in my counselling room, when a client is at the end of their wit and is struggling to find passion and purpose in life

Feeling aimless and with no purpose

Purposelessness can sometimes be linked to low mental health wellbeing and a recent study found that over 50% of people with low mental wellbeing had low life satisfaction.[1]

With an average of one in four people suffering from mental distress in their lifetime it is quite common.[2] I see this a lot with people drifting along, not really knowing what to do with their life.

As we can see from the Paths to Purpose presentation by William Damon and Peter Benson from the Search Institute, many teens seem to be without a goal and purpose in life.[3]

Many teens don't know what they want to do in life

Does this sound like you? Do you go about your day, often have a standard routine and don’t vary from it dramatically? They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I feel this is what is going on for a lot of people who are drifting and feeling they have no purpose. 

It can often feel like a downward spiral because things aren’t changing or they are getting worse and you end up feeling empty and tired. Trust me, it can be easier said than done when saying it’s an easy fix and you just need a new hobby, because there is a smorgasbord of things vying for our money and attention.

When you have been feeling this way for a long time it can also take a lot of energy and will power to make changes in order to “feel” again.

We want meaning in our lives, we want to feel like we matter, we want to have a reason for being — a purpose to call our own so we spend time dreaming about.

My Life Course

I sometimes describe this feeling as lacking something or feeling like there is a hole in our life that needs to be filled. Sometimes we fill it with unhelpful means, like people who are bad for us, food, things that hurt us, substances, etc. Trial and error in some cases, however, I know from my own journey that I was in the same position in my early 20s.


The image above is based on Christopher B. Forrest and Neal Halfon’s Handbook of Life Course.[4] Learn more on Life Course Health Development Framework.

I had just broken up from a long term relationship and was in a job I had been doing since I dropped out of high school. Although the company was awesome and the job was great, I just didn’t feel fulfilled.

Therapy helped me to explore my life and work through some issues I had at the time. My therapist also suggested I take an aptitude test to help guide me in finding some direction in life.

Being a therapist was one of the options that came up and I decided that’s what I wanted to do. It still took me six years before I was seeing my first client. It wasn’t a straight path, it had some twists and turns but I achieved my dream goal to become a therapist.

Now, I am living my purpose of helping people. 

How to find fulfillment in life

This idea of fulfilment and purpose can often be romanticized as a grand and elaborate thing that “you’ll know about it, when you reach it.” Although those experiences are real, I think for most people we first need to start with direction. 

When you have direction, then you can have momentum to build into something that may resemble the idea of “purpose and fulfilment”. It doesn’t happen overnight and sitting around complaining that you have no purpose will not help. 

The biggest starting point to being “on purpose” is to be okay with who you are and where you’re at. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else as everyone has different skills, gifts and worldviews. 

Focus on yourself. Do whatever you need to feel okay about yourself. Then start building a new path, start doing things you are passionate about, join a new group, meet new people or even upskill. A research paper found that people who upskilled gained more life satisfaction![5]

You may also be able to enrich your current experiences in life through becoming more secure in who you are. 

Whatever you do, remember that you are the key to your future happiness.

Jason is a qualified counsellor and a full member of the NZAC (New Zealand Association of Counsellors). He has graduated from the University of Auckland with a psychology degree as well as a postgraduate diploma in counselling

Jason has been working in the mental health field since 2012 and aside from being a school counsellor, he also has a small private practice and works with the Youthline counselling team, providing training to the helpline counsellors. 

To start your wellness journey, visit Jasonlitherland.co.nz


(1) Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2021). Mental Health Disorder Statistics. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/mental-health-disorder-statistics

(2) Lancaster University Management School. (2003). Employability in the Knowledge Economy: Living the Fulfilled Life or Policy Chimera? https://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/id/eprint/48657/1/Document.pdf

(3) Thompson, M. D., Holmboe, B., Specht, K., & Justice, A. (n.d.). Paths to Purpose. Retrieved from SlidePlayer: https://slideplayer.com/slide/15783390/ 

(4) Forrest, C. (2018). Life Course Health Development Framework. Retrieved from Towards Life Knowledge: https://bsahely.com/2018/09/20/life-course-health-development-framework/

(5) New Zealand Treasury. (2019). Wellbeing and Mental Health: An Analysis Based on the Treasury’ Living Standards Framework. https://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/ap/ap-19-01

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