Young People Discover the Laws of LifeArticles
What are the rules, ideals, and principles that can guide us through a full and joyous life? Over 25 years ago, Sir John Templeton launched the Laws of Life essay contest to encourage young people to reflect on their purpose. Writing from the Heart, published in 2001, captures many of these extraordinary essays in an inspiring compilation that details what young people have learned about life. Today, the competition continues to spark thousands of students to put pen to paper and describe their experiences, their hopes, and their insights.
The accumulated reflections demonstrate the law of life that people with purpose—even youth—can achieve almost anything if they put their minds to it. William Damon, a Foundation grantee and professor of education and director of the Center on Adolescence at Stanford University, recently discussed in a Big Questions Online essay the importance of instilling purpose in youth. “Young people enjoy thinking about purposeful activities they can engage in, now and in the future,” he writes. “It can be a pleasure to explore purposeful ideas with the young… [and] encouraging a sense of purpose in young people is a feasible (and decidedly worthwhile) educational goal.”
By the same token, the competition’s young essay writers celebrate the discovery of what life expects of them. In his book Worldwide Laws of Life, Sir John reflected on how everyone has divine gifts to exercise in the world and they need to be made spiritually active. “Your mission in life is to have a ‘why’ to live for, to use your best qualities in the service of the kind of world in which you would like to live,” he wrote. “That is your purpose. This is what life expects of you. And when you live according to your purpose, setting goals that support that purpose, you may find the pieces of your life drawn together into a strong internal whole.”
Purpose sparks passion—something that comes across powerfully in a recent essay that details a teenage girl’s experience working for a nonprofit tutoring program. Twice a week she reconnects with her profound purpose in the gratitude she sees on the faces of the students and parents she assists. The work is not easy; “Most of the students who come to tutoring have a learning disability or disorder,” she writes. “With these factors come a lot of sadness and frustration.” But this 18-year-old woman has discovered what Sir John meant when he said that purpose in service lies beyond “our own survival and pleasure.” It releases a freedom in the human spirit that nurtures a deep joy and resilience.
Another theme that repeatedly appears in the essays is the importance of family and the lessons they can instill. One young essayist grew up in a large family with parents who had to work hard for long hours. And yet, they found time for her, despite the difficulties and trying experiences of life. They became her “favorite teachers.” She writes, “If I really love something or ever want to become something in life, I have to keep trying.”
To put the insight in Sir John’s terms, this is about investing in the life you have. “Each time you set and attain a specific goal, you learn that much more about the dynamics involved in taking command of your life,” he explained. “Then, when you find the things you most want to do, you are prepared to reach out and attain your goals. No longer is success a mystery that only comes to others.”
Thanksgiving is another important dimension to purpose because with gratitude comes a sense of the bigger picture. One essay revealed how the writer realized how grateful and blessed he was in playing sports when he became involved in sports activities with disabled people. Here were individuals who really understood the value and blessedness of participating. “If these children with physical disabilities could come out to a baseball field and give all their effort, why can I not do the same thing in my life?” he asked himself. “Just a few hours with these children completely changed my outlook on not just sports, but every aspect of life that I take for granted every day.”
Sir John believed that purpose can counter any circumstance. “No matter how difficult life’s experiences may prove to be, you will be able to endure and even prevail,” he wrote. It’s a conviction often reflected in the thoughts of the young Laws of Life essayists, and one that should be reflected on every day. Life does present setbacks, and yet, good can still come of it. “All you have to do is push back and believe you can overcome,” writes one student. “Everyone possess greatness and the ability to persevere even through the worst storms. I think always believing is a true Law of Life.”