One of our favorite presentations was given by Peter Benson, the president of the Search Institute. He spoke about SPARKS - the passions that bubble up out our hearts and give our lives meaning and purpose; the flames that ignite our lives.
He mentioned 32 primary categories of sparks, ranging from artistic to musical to service to leadership to writing to learning about special interests. I could immediately identify one of my sparks - helping people grow to be strong in mind, body & spirit. Susan's spark is giving - giving information, giving stories, and giving gifts. My sister's spark is hospitality - blessing people by welcoming them into her home. My friend Mary's spark is creativity - through decorating, gardening, and creative activiites.
Every single person has at least one spark, but not everyone can name their spark. And far too few people have a 'spark champion', or someone who nurtures and encourages their spark.
You recognize a person's spark by watching what makes them sparkle & shine; by asking them what they love, what makes them feel alive. By looking for patterns in what makes people feel happiest and where they feel like they are making a difference.
It's important to know and utilize our sparks, because they make life fun and give life meaning. And they are part of the unique imprint that we have been given to make a mark on the world. These unique sparks might simply be a hobby, or they might lead to opportunities to serve others, or they might even lead to a career.
I'm fascinated by the concept of sparks - it's so simple to understand and apply, yet completely grounded in research about healthy youth development.
Peter Benson has just published a new book, SPARKS: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers. Find out more about his book, and free downloads that can help you identify the sparks of your children and teens at his website, http://ignitesparks.org/.