Teens: Discovering Purpose


By Dr. Lisa Dunne.

“It’s okay to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.” – Helen Keller


Maybe you’ve heard the old song that “children are our future” and wondered why our culture seems to treat that saying more like a campaign slogan than a charge to build stronger families, a sane economy, a healthier America.

I’ve been teaching teens for over 15 years, and though I definitely see them facing incredible challenges today that are unlike anything my generation had to deal with, I also see teens overcoming, creating, becoming, and making a difference in this world.

If you’ve read the Harris brothers exhortations in the book Do Hard Things, you know that there are teenagers in this country who are standing up to the mistaken idea that teens don’t care about the future. I hope you are one of them, because the fact is that you are the next generation. The decisions you make will shape the future landscape of this country.

The former governor of the state of Illinois put it this way: “The privilege and the penalty of your education and the position you hold in your community is that over the coming decades, as in the past, you will be the pacesetters for political and social thought in your community. You may not accept this responsibility but it makes no difference; it is inescapable. If you decide to set no pace, to forward no dreams and to have no vision, you will still be the pace setters. You will simply have decided that there is no pace.”

Though Hollywood may try to convince you otherwise, life is more than a narcissistic, egocentric adventure. Life is not a spectator sport, and it’s really not an individual one either. It’s an active, hands-on team sport. It takes a conscious effort not to get so caught up in our own microcosm that we miss the bigger picture. Over the next few days, begin to consider the ways in which you can make a positive imprint on your world, whether that circle extends around the neighborhood or across the globe.

Four years ago, I had the privilege of hearing one of the 9/11 firefighters speak at a local convention. This was a man who was running up the stairs of the Twin Towers building while everyone else was running down—truly a hero in every sense of the word. As he told of his harrowing, life-changing experience, he made a profound statement: “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is action in spite of fear.”

Though most of us may never experience this altitude of fear or trauma that this public servant faced, we are all nevertheless called upon to persevere despite our ongoing timidity or hesitations. We may fear speaking in public. We may fear failure. We may fear rejection. We may fear that if we open up just a little and allow people into our “real” selves, they might not like who we are. However, if we remain captivated by this fear, we will never live up to our full potential.

Maybe you look around you today and see some things that need to be changed in our world. America has one of the highest rates of teen violence, suicide, and addiction in the world. Parents are forgetting what’s most important. Teen girls are being sold into slavery right here in our country. Yes, right here in America. When you see an injustice in the world, you have three choices: You can ignore it, you can become depressed or frustrated by it, or you can take steps to change it. As the generation that will take the helm of our country in a few short years, I hope you will choose the latter path.

One of my favorite sayings is a quote from C.S. Lewis: “Sunlight is the great disinfectant.” Only in the light of truth can the seeds of personal growth and development begin to sprout. It’s a garden that requires a special light: the irrepressible courage to move beyond our fears. In fact, courage is really the essence of the 9/11 story: the courage to press on, the courage to fight back, the courage to overcome despite the obstacle of fear.