Finding The Purpose For Your Wild and Precious Life

By Andrea Delorey

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Originally posed by Mary Oliver in her poem “The Summer Day,” this same question is asked of 14 high school students in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. They have ventured here to examine the issue of climate change in the rainforest, while also digging deeper into themselves.

This parallel exploration of the world and the self is not a new concept. From Siddhartha (actually defined as “he who has found meaning”) to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road adventures, and more currently Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love memoir, self-discovery through travel is a classic theme.

So now 14 teenagers begin their own journey in a land where the sounds and creatures — even the thick and sticky air — are wildly unfamiliar. This leads to a mash up of reactions. While one student shrieks about the terrifying bug in her room, another examines it with a microscope of curiosity. While one student’s eyes well up because she misses her mom and the comforts of home, another grins and exclaims, “I am so in my element here!”

Yes, the Day One dichotomy is in full swing. The focus of emotions jumps from self to surroundings and back again, from low to high and all levels in between. Underlying it all is the buzz of excitement that permeates the start of any adventure. This buzz is where the magic of travel begins, because it is the start of what each of these teenagers knows is coming — discovery.

And as important as climate change is, as much as these students genuinely care about and are interested in it, they didn’t work so hard to get here only for that. They are well aware that a different and deeper exploration has been launched. They know that the experiences of this expedition will ultimately help reveal who they are.

So to answer why this matters, let’s go back to the Mary Oliver question posed to this group of students at the end of Day One. Why did the adults ask the youth to reflect on a plan for their life?

In The Path to Purpose, William Damon shares the results of his study on why young people so often struggle to thrive as adults. Damon purports that the key to becoming a motivated and engaged adult is clarifying a sense of purpose while still in youth.

Damon argues that cultivating this energized sense of purpose in young people will propel them forward to live a satisfying and productive life, and that this cultivation or purpose should be an integral part of how we support youth.

At No Barriers, we intentionally design our programs to cultivate a sense of purpose in the youth we serve. We know that having vision — a purpose that inspires you to give your best back to the world — is key to fulfilling your potential. We therefore create opportunities for students to uncover their passions, while also helping them find the intersection of those passions with their best hopes for the world.

We ask youth, “What do you care about? What do you love to do? How will you combine those to give your best back to the world?”

One student may clarify a passion for the outdoors and find an intersection with an environmental issue such as climate change. Another may uncover a passion for drawing and decide to use that passion to educate others through art.

So while day one buzzes with excitement and anticipation, the real magic happens later, when inner and outer discoveries converge into purpose. With purpose illuminated, youth will not only make a plan for their one wild and precious life, they will also go out and live it.