My Dad’s Support in Finding a Sense of Purpose + Upcoming NBC Chat on Purpose

You might just call me a “poster child” for the topic of parents helping kids find their sense of purpose. My deeply loved but certainly nontraditional career path is a direct result of my parents’ investment in my sense of purpose. And their support of my development occurred at a time coming of age in the early nineties when purpose and meaning as it related to work was far less commonly discussed.

I love the synchronicity of the fact that Father’s Day is this coming weekend and it coincides with an upcoming NBC Parent Toolkit Twitter Chat on helping kids discover their sense of purpose. My Dad facilitated my own development of a sense of purpose and I have such a fulfilling, meaningful career and life because of his guidance, support, and encouragement.

As we face challenges today with teen depression and anxiety, the suicides of beautiful contributors to our world in the news, and worries about our own children, I’m not sure a more important conversation could take place. 

In attempting to find our sense of purpose, we have to ask ourselves key questions and listen carefully and overtime for the answers. Ultimately the big question is “Who am I?” But I recall a college philosophy professor drilling us on that question and snickering to myself about it thinking the answer must be obvious. “What does that really mean?” I thought as an emerging adult. Some relevant and related questions may include:

  1. What work or activities place us in a state of flow, or focused attention?
  2. What do we deeply desire to learn about or in what direction do we desire growing?
  3. How can we meaningfully contribute to the world? What legacy do we want to leave behind?

As a child, I was so fortunate to hear regularly at the dinner table about both of my parents’ focus on meaning and service through their work. That helped lay a foundation for my reflections later. But when I had to select a major in college, I began with the first question. I knew I was in a state of flow when I did art. But then, my peers, teachers and guidance counselors led me to, what they felt, was the next step by encouraging me to next figure out how I could make money through art. Without asking those next all-important questions – what did I want to learn more about? how could I meaningfully contribute to the world? – I came upon a crisis early before even stepping out beyond my senior year. 

My practical side had decided that advertising was the way I could use my art and make money. And when I had a tiny taste of that world through an internship, I could not picture myself in the culture, doing the work. And momentarily, as I cried to my Dad, I wondered whether my four focused years of study were wasted. 

That’s when my Dad wrote down questions for me to consider. He didn’t want me to respond to him. He wanted me to go and be alone. To breath. To create mental space. And to deeply consider what I cared about and what I found meaningful beyond all constraints including the opinions of my friends and teachers. No other peer of mine received this kind of guidance. Yet, it is precisely this support that helped me discover a path to meaningfully contributing in ways that were far beyond my wildest young dreams.

Dad and I – David Smith with Jennifer (Smith) Miller

What I realized about the process of searching for your sense of purpose through my own search is that it is an emerging process, not an instant realization. It’s an awakening and a deepening of your self-awareness that takes time and reflection. No one can do it for you or specifically direct you to your own answers. But they can do what my Dad did for me. He supported me at a time when I felt fragile and confused. He guided me back to myself to discover the wisdom that was already within. And he asked the essential questions to help me get there.

To my Dad who is always reading, How can I possibly thank you for that shaping contribution to my life? I hope you count it as one of your most meaningful contributions and legacies. Happy Father’s Day! I am so grateful.

To my partner and the father of our son, E, who has taken his own extensive journey to find his sense of purpose and is now engaged in his meaningful work by helping others find their meaning in work, I am grateful for you and all of the emotional intelligence you bring to our family.

And to all, happy Father’s Day to you, Dads and/or to the Dads in your lives! We are grateful for the meaningful roles you play in our children’s lives.

I hope you’ll join this all-important conversation next Tuesday evening. Please mark your calendars for this #ToolkitTalk on June 19th at 7:00 p.m. EST, with me and Psychology expert, Kendall Cotton Bronk on the topic of “Helping Our Kids Find Purpose.”


3 Comments on “My Dad’s Support in Finding a Sense of Purpose + Upcoming NBC Chat on Purpose”

  1. How does one register or click on a link to watch Tuesday? Is this Twitter and one connects on Tuesday? Sorry I am not tech savvy.

    • Kate, No problem and glad you asked! It’s very easy – but I had to ask too the first time! You just create a log-in (email, password) on Twitter if you haven’t already. Then, you type into the search engine #toolkittalk and the conversation should come up. Each time you want to add to the conversation, you have to include the hashtag, #Toolkittalk in order for it to be posted to that conversation. I have been pleasantly surprised by how much actually can be communicated through Twitter. They are fast moving and usually really interesting talks. I do hope you’ll join! Let me know if you have any troubles or need further help! All the best,

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