It was a bright October day in North Carolina and I was hyperventilating in the backseat while my grandfather drove me, my mom, and my siblings to the nearest emergency room.
It all started with a house project that I was helping my grandfather with. We were removing the shutters around the windows on the outside of their house to clean and paint them. My grandfather had taken a drill to the first shutter and removed the bolts holding it in place.
Then it was my turn.
My mom encouraged me from the sidelines: “Get in there Jace!”
No sooner had I set the drill to the next bolt when I suddenly felt my back explode in stings, exclaimed, and dropped the drill to the ground.
Sure enough, we had stumbled into a wasp nest under the shutter. I was their first and primary target, being stung multiple times. After ten minutes, my throat started to swell and we were off to the ER.
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That day I learned at least two things: 1) I was highly allergic to wasp stings, and 2) sometimes “getting in there” doesn’t end the way you hoped.
My mom and I smile about it now, years later. We tease her good-naturedly about her encouragement to “get in there”. But this sentiment is likely the exact same sentiment that many parents of young adults feel in regards to their child and launching into life.
‘Get in There’
Every good parent wants their child to reach their full potential. Christian parents in particular want to see their children walk boldly into what God has set before them. There are good works that He has called them to and parents want to see their children identify and walk in these good works.
We want our children to understand the unique giftings that God has bestowed upon them and the special purpose that He has given them. You may see your child’s gifts, talents, and abilities, and look with great hope and excited expectation at their future.
But what if your hopes and dreams for your child are bigger than theirs?
What if your child lacks motivation and passion for their future? What if you hope for them to lead a life of impact and they seem less interested?
Many parents struggle with young adults who don’t seem to have either a defined purpose or any desire or motivation to develop one. They may be content to work a part-time job, come home and play video games, and hang out with friends on the weekends.
It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong about any of those things. But when young adults settle for drifting aimlessly through life, it can be deeply concerning for their parents.
Many parents may be inwardly (or perhaps not-so-inwardly) crying out to the young adult: “Get in there!”
How do you help your student find motivation, and, well, “get in there”? How do you help them apply themselves in life and create a productive plan for their future?
Life is Not GPS-Led
The first principle is not to demand that your child know their final destination too soon.
Life is not a road trip led by a GPS. As much as we would like it to be sometimes, life doesn’t allow us to set a final destination and give us detailed directions step-by-step. We may discern certain “directions” that God is leading us. But it’s paralyzing for a young person when we expect them to know exactly where they’re going to settle down with, who they’ll settle down with, and what they’ll do for the rest of their life: all when they’re fifteen years old.
Young adults don’t have the life experience necessary to know what they’ll do long-term. On top of that, what they’ll do in five years may not be what they do in twenty years.
Asking our students to imagine their life at forty-five is far too paralyzing when they hardly know what next month may hold for them. It’s impractical to start from the final destination and work back. Instead, we should encourage our young adults to start where they are now and work forward from there.
Start Here, Start Small
The second principle in helping students find motivation and productive progress in life is to take small steps.
When you start where you are, you’re much more familiar with the terrain. For better or worse, here you are. Finding your life purpose and launching into it is not a one-time decision. It is a process.
The key is identifying your student’s next step. What will move them from where they are now to the next stage in the process of their growth and launch?
Once again, it can be tempting to jump ahead and ask our students what they want to do with their lives and then create a step-by-step plan to get there. Or it can be tempting to ask our students what they’re “passionate about” and jump to a final destination based on that.
Instead, the most sustainable way to move forward is to identify an interest, a question, or a project and do that. This is the key first step in the Deciding Forward decision-making model, a helpful tool taught in Unbound’s Navigate course.
Once an interest has been identified, it’s time to act. It’s time to learn by doing.
Let’s say, for example, that your child has expressed an interest in teaching. While it’s tempting to assume that this means their purpose in life is to be a teacher, we should wait and explore their interest more before making a final judgment about their life purpose.
If they’re interested in teaching, they should try to practice it! Whether it’s teaching a class for a local group of younger students, shadowing a teacher at a school, or something else entirely, it’s key to give your young adult opportunities to try out their interests.
But it doesn’t stop there.
After making a practical application, your student needs to reflect on their experience. What did they learn about themselves? What did they like about their experience? What did they not like?
To use our teaching example, maybe your student realized that they enjoyed speaking in front of students but the creation of lesson plans and grading homework was exhausting. Or maybe they valued the personal relationships with their pupils most and enjoyed tutoring aspects. These discoveries are helpful in moving forward.
The final step in the process is to clarify and summarize what was learned and to set a new goal or identify a new interest.
Our teaching example is illustrative: if the young person realizes that what appeals to them most about teaching is the public speaking element, they may explore that more. As they repeat the Deciding Forward process, they may further clarify their unique talents and interests. They may have started thinking about teaching but it may end up that they love entertaining on stage as a comedian or performer!
This model, and other tools like it, are taught in-depth in Unbound’s Navigate course. Navigate helps students (and the parents who love them) by training them to identify their next steps in discovering and taking ownership of their purpose.
Motivation, Direction, and Purpose
This leads to a renewed motivation for moving forward in life. Instead of being paralyzed by the decisions that lie ahead of them, students equipped with principles and tools from Navigate, are proactive, discerning, and excited about the future!
While many parents yearn to push their young adults to “get in there”, it’s best to start where you are, take small steps, and work forward from your young person’s current reality instead of trying to work backward from a dream of the distant future.
It’s quite likely that when your student starts to identify areas of interest and get actual experience in these things, they’ll find it exhilarating. Their aimlessness and overwhelm will give way to excitement and passion. They may start dreaming bigger than you!
Launching a young person into adulthood can be challenging, especially when the young person seems reluctant to launch. Rather than trying to blast them off from the launchpad with dynamite, it’s more effective and sustainable to help them find the spark that will launch them into orbit.
Navigate is an online course offered by Unbound for young adults seeking their next step in life. Navigate teaches immediately actionable models that encourage students to be active in their pursuit of their next steps while simultaneously using serious reflection to steer their movement. To learn more and enroll your student, click here.
Jace Bower is a Copywriter for Unbound. An Unbound alumnus, he has experienced firsthand the powerful advantages of doing college differently and participating in an intentional community. Jace graduated with his bachelor’s degree in History in 2016 and has worked in restaurant management and marketing since then. He also served on the Unbound Student Cabinet in 2019.
The author of two books and a semi-regular blogger, Jace can often be found doing something with words. When he’s not, chances are he’s reading about theology, listening to music, or playing pool or tennis with his wife Shannon in their Virginia home.