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Family, childhood, and personal experiences teach us about purpose

Our experiences teach us how to navigate the world by telling us the recipes for getting what we need and what we want.

“Hmm saying ‘please’ seems to elicit positive results from adults…”
“Huh, that last dog bit me and I don’t want to be hurt again so I best stay away from the next one…”

Ultimately, we develop the best strategies we can based on what we know. What we know is learned from our experiences and what we’ve been taught by others and society.

Our families in particular teach us a lot about who we are and what’s important.

My parents always tell me I’m the worst behaved one of my siblings… Maybe I’m ‘bad’?
My grandmother keeps buying me dresses for my birthday and asking about boys when we see one another. Is that something I should care about?

Hopefully, much of what they teach us (directly or indirectly) will be helpful in aiding us to survive and thrive (and let’s be honest, some of it won’t). They can mislead us unintentionally.  Even when trying to be loving, people often project their own fears onto their children, wanting to help.

Imagine a mother who is deeply afraid of her child falling off a ledge and in a heightened emotional state tells the kid to stay close to her, holding them exceedingly tight, raising her voice, and generally being tense and reactive. Would it be a surprise if eventually, that kid learned that ledges are extremely dangerous and developed a strong, somewhat irrational fear of them after several years of experiencing their mother’s fear? While a healthy fear of danger is helpful, too much can limit us.

To be clear, no one is trying to blame your family for your challenges. However, modern psychology has deduced that human beings are strongly impacted by the environments and influences of their youth- and especially their relationships with their parents. Understanding the sources (such as our families and childhood) that shape our habits and beliefs can aid us in shifting un-serving habits and beliefs.

This 9-minute video from School of Life drives home the point that we are heavily impacted by our parents. Really getting started at 1:40, the video covers the fact that spending 25,000 hours with our parents by the time we’re 18 affects how we think of relationships, sex, work, ambition, success, ourselves and more. They cover a few examples of how relating to our parents (like seeking their approval or behaving in ways that were ‘safe’) may have embedded various beliefs and habits in us that have stuck into adulthood. In the end, they implore us to examine and study our childhoods.

Just as your childhood experiences teach you about relationships and ‘how the world works,’ they also cover purpose by exposing us to ideas about purpose itself, the nature of work, who we are, what we deserve, and beyond.

In the movie Soul (which you can watch here or on Disney+), the main character explains to his friend 22 that his mother has her own idea of success and pressures him to fulfill that narrative. He finally has a chance to confront her about the pressure he has felt and about feeling misunderstood. He explains that music is not his career, but his reason for living. It unfolds that his mother’s judgments were coming from a place of love, and that there was a misunderstanding between the two of them regarding what was being valued and why.

Have you had a similar experience? What has your family taught you about your purpose?

Try This: Think About It

Contemplate the following questions on paper, in your head, or discuss them amongst friends (or strangers!)

  • What did each of your parents (or primary caregivers) believe about purpose?
  • How did they engage in purpose in their lives, and what did that show you growing up?
  • What did your family or caregivers teach you was valuable about you, or what sort of actions/ways of being mattered in the world?
  • What were their relationships with work? How did this impact what you thought work was for and how to engage with it?
  • How have these lessons impacted the choices you’ve made in your life? Did they create possibilities or contract them?

You can explore this subject more with reflection questions on the Clarify: Narratives page, as well as in Discovery and its subpage, Mirrors and Lenses.


You’ve learned some of what you believe about your purpose from your family, childhood, and personal experiences. The beliefs of our relatives are directly taught to us or demonstrated to us, and can influence us in ways we may not initially be conscious of. Similarly, events that transpired in our youth can teach us about how the world works and what our role in it is.

Purpose The Gist of Purpose Parts of Purpose Purpose Fundamentals Purpose in Context Purpose as your Work Should You Quit Your Job Purpose Myths Hindrances to Purpose Benefits of Purpose Passion The Purpose Journey Clarify your Purpose Align with your Purpose Support your Purpose Purpose Practice and Exercises Purpose Resources