“Trying to mold myself into someone’s stereotype of me left me exhausted and confused,” she wrote in her new book How to Navigate Life: The New Science of Finding Your Way in School, Career, and Beyond, “but as my understanding of who I am came into sharper focus during my later college and adult years, this understanding became my guide.” In the book, Liang and her coauthor, the clinical social worker Timothy Klein, share research-backed advice on how to live driven by purpose rather than by a fear of failure. Members of Gen Z prioritize purposeful living, Liang said, but they have not been taught how to be decisive in doing so.
To begin that process, the book lays out “The Five Purpose Principles,” a decision-making framework that encourages readers to commit to what the authors call a “purpose mindset” rather than a “performance mindset.” Young Americans, Liang said, have been socialized to tie their happiness to external validation, which research shows leads to heightened depression, anxiety, and directionlessness. The key, she said, is to find balance between pursuing ambitions and seeking happiness. To that end, How to Navigate Life includes advice for mentors on guiding young people toward their most fulfilled selves. It also explains how to apply “The Five Purpose Principles” to high school, the workplace, and beyond. “How do you identify what your purpose is, and how do you best go and pursue that?” she said. “That’s the how-to piece of purpose.”