Mario Aranda | Pixabay

The faces of the 300 parents and guardians attending the first orientation session for the Boston College Class of 2026 revealed emotions ranging from hopefulness to consternation as they filed into Robsham Theater Arts Center for a presentation on a heady topic: how to help their new first-year students find their way, both in college and in life.

Leading the seminar were Belle Liang, a professor in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development’s Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology department, and Tim Klein, a licensed certified social worker and project lead for Liang’s True North digital app, designed to help students discover pathways to finding purpose in college and life.  The duo are the co-authors of How to Navigate Life: The New Science of Finding Your Way in School, Career, and Beyond, a new book to be released in August.

Given the session’s pre-college timing, the lecture’s title, and the families’ current and future university investment, expectations for a surefire path to success were high. But Liang and Klein, in a congenial, empathetic, and research-driven way, re-routed the attendees’ focus away from student performance toward finding “purpose” — their child’s “true north” — which according to the authors is the key to harnessing the core qualities that lead to choosing a course of study and a career.

“Instead of following a step-by-step set of directions, life should be guided by a personal compass,” said Liang, highlighting the book’s central theme. “Having a clear sense of purpose, grounded in core values, can help your students choose the best direction for themselves.”  

Belle Liang

Belle Liang (Caitlin Cunningham)

How to Navigate Life reflects the collective personal and professional experiences of Liang and Klein, who have devoted their careers to counseling individual students, and to providing guidance that slices through the daily pressures to achieve, whether they are imposed by society, parents, or peers, or are self-inflicted.

“The performance mindset centers on pursuing success and achieving as much as possible, a scenario that leads to a constant and insatiable desire to do more,” said Liang, the parent of a recent BC grad and a high school senior. “Seeking achievement in this way is powered by fear, and self-worth becomes exclusively dependent on how accomplished we are.”

The pair also outlined the danger of the “passion mindset”— which poses personal happiness as the defining characteristic of success—citing the disappointment likely to follow when unrealistic expectations for constant happiness are not met.

Instead, their book demonstrates that successful individuals tap into their “purpose” — a combination of performance and passion applicable to every aspect of life, from college majors and careers to important life decisions.

“Our book bridges the gap between generic advice and allegedly foolproof `life hacks’ by providing an empirically-based decision-making framework, and shared language to navigate the inflection points in life,” said Klein, a former Harvard University teaching fellow, high school guidance counselor, and outreach director for Summer Search, a national youth development non-profit serving historically underrepresented student populations. “We’ve culled together the science and knowledge we’ve gained through our joint experience as educators, mentors, practitioners, and parents.”

Among the tools that Liang and Klein provide is a questionnaire that homes in on a young person’s values, to help them understand their niche and match them to one of four roles, such as a creative and independent role called “trailblazer,” or a communal, stability-oriented character, dubbed “guardian.” Likewise, they offer toolkits for mentors that pose questions and scripts to assist them in connecting with mentees.  Their systematic advice prioritizes cultivating students’ self-discovery and drawing out their intrinsic interests—the antithesis of the ubiquitous “snowplow parenting” style of child-rearing driven by fear, obsession with future success, and the constant impulse to shovel obstacles from kids’ paths.

Instead of following a step-by-step set of directions, life should be guided by a personal compass. Having a clear sense of purpose, grounded in core values, can help your students choose the best direction for themselves.
Lynch School Professor Belle Liang

William Stixrud, a clinical neuropsychologist, and PrepMatters’ founder Ned Johnson, the authors of The Self-Driven Child, characterized How to Navigate Life as an “important book that offers dozens of strategies for self-discovery, for supporting young people’s sense of autonomy, and for affirming their emerging sense of self.

“Liang and Klein skillfully teach parents, educators, and other caring adults how to build respectful, genuine, and trusting relationships with their children and guide young people to discover who they really are and become their best selves.”

Elon University’s President Emeritus Leo M. Lambert, and Peter Felton, assistant provost for Teaching and Learning, the co-authors of Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connection Drive Success in College, noted that “at a time when young people are clamoring for guidance to make sense of the world and to navigate college, life, and careers, Liang and Klein have written a guidebook that is clear, insightful, honest and practical.”

Tufts University’s Richard M. Lerner, an expert in positive youth development, praised the book as "masterfully written, compelling, and engaging,” while providing “answers to parents’ fundamental concern: How to raise children whose lives involve not only financial well-being but positive purpose, valued contributions to self and others, and joy and fulfillment.”

Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King, executive director of the Thrive Center for Human Development, described the book as “one of the most helpful and hopeful applications of psychology that I have ever read."

Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | July 2022