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Students are introduced to one of the core Wayfinder tools which gives them a simple framework for generating projects or endeavors that are purposeful.  


CHAPTER: Introduction - What is a Wayfinder?

ACTIVITY QUESTION: What is purpose?

MATERIALS NEEDED: 3 different color pads of post-it notes (each student should have several of each of the 3 colors)


intro video



This was one of the very first activities we designed for Project Wayfinder and it remains core to our project. We’ve found it is a consistently fun and engaging experience for kids and adults alike.

The venn diagram that is at the center of this activity is a simple and easy way for students to grasp what purpose is.  Dr. Bill Damon, professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education and Director of the Stanford Center for Adolescence, has been researching the formation of purpose in youth for years. Based off of his work, we came up with this framework to help students think about purpose.  Purposeful work (or where a student should point their compass) lives at the middle of:  a need in the world around that moves you, your unique skills, gifts, and abilities, and where you find joy.  This framework captures the essence of Damon’s definition:

“Purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.” (from his book “The Path to Purpose”).  

As Damon’s quote makes clear, having a sense of purpose connects your own self with a bigger vision for the world. It is not all about you. It is about you and your role in making the world a better place.

What this activity is NOT about:  discovering your one purpose (which feels like one more thing to achieve and causes students stress)

What it IS about:  learning a tool to help guide you toward different chapters of purposeful work over the course of your life.


In terms of mindsets, we’re trying to shift students from seeing life as a linear path with one narrow version of success at the end to instead seeing life as a journey to build the skills, behaviors, self-awareness, and confidence to fluidly move through the world as an intentional wayfinders, guided by a sense of purpose. Purpose is not a “single” destination - people have multiple purposes over the course of their lives, but research shows that once a person taps into this sense of purpose on one project, they are much more likely to bring it to their next project.

This image of many arcs or trajectories over one’s life is also much more in line with the trends in the modern workplace, where the notion that you’ll do one career for your life is already a thing of the distant past.  It’s estimated that at the time of graduation for a high school student, 65% of jobs they might one day hold don’t yet exist.  We want to prepare young people to become wayfinders on their own journey through life, not linear pathtakers who are being prepared for how the world worked a century ago.

The above diagram is one you might choose to draw for your students and talk through as part of this activity.  


Media and Story resources

  • The best story you can use to lead into this activity is a personal one!
  • Google Science Fair’s Make Better Generator, a search tool for helping students generate project ideas that live at the intersection of what they love, what they’re good at, and what they’d like to “make better.”  This could be a great technology tool to help students come up with projects that live at their compass intersections!





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