Belle Liang presents “How to Navigate Life” as part of Elon’s Speaker Series

Liang, a professor of counseling psychology, addressed the Elon community on Wednesday, April 20, at Whitley Auditorium.

As the final event of the 2021-2022 academic year Speaker Series, Professor Belle Liang, who researches positive youth development including mentoring and relational health in adolescence and young adulthood, spoke to the Elon community on Wednesday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. Whitley Auditorium. Liang’s talk, “How to Navigate Life,” focused on finding the right path in life, and how to make the best possible decisions along the way.

Professor of Psychology Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler spoke of Liang’s long list of accomplishments in introducing her to the audience. Liang, a professor of counseling psychology, is the principal investigator in the Purpose Lab and is currently developing True North, a curriculum and web-based application for creating purpose profiles to be used in schools and universities. Liang and her co-author Timothy Klein will release their book, “How to Navigate Life: The New Science of Finding Your Way in School, Career, and Beyond,” on Aug. 2.

Belle Liang, professor of counseling psychology in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, speaks at Whitley Auditorium as part of the Elon University Speaker Series.

Liang began her presentation by speaking about her family. She told an anecdote about a hiking journey, and how the family’s trip was greatly affected by a difficult hiking trail. After the trip, Liang reflected on how instead of following a step-by-step set of directions, life should be guided by a personal compass. “We are constantly confronted with this in life, at points in the journey when we need to choose the right path,” she said. “Having a clear sense of purpose grounded in core values can help you choose the best direction for you.”

Liang pointed to three different mindsets that people could have concerning their life goals. The first, a performance mindset, centers around finding success and achieving as much as possible. Liang explained that people with this mindset determine their self-worth by their achievements, which could lead to a constant desire to do more. “There’s always something more to do, we never feel fully satisfied,” Liang said. “Seeking achievement in this way is powered by fear, our self-worth becomes dependent on how accomplished we are.”

The second mindset, a passion mindset, placed happiness as the defining characteristic of success. “Our self-worth depends on how happy we are, and happiness is the end-all be-all,” said Liang.

She explained that the danger of this mindset came from setting enormous expectations for happiness and being disappointed when those expectations fell short.

Finally, Liang introduced a third mindset, purpose, that was centered around combining performance and passion to set goals. Liang encouraged her audience to find what matters to them in the world and pursue that as their purpose. This mindset focuses on pursuing something that is truly meaningful and is not only concentrated on personal happiness or advancement. “Does it matter to someone else in the world? Does what I’m doing matter to me?” Liang asked.

Liang finished her speech by revisiting her family vacation story. There, she explained to her audience that once they find their purpose, they will be able to share it with others. “Join with others who have a shared purpose, because together, you can help each other achieve it,” she said.

The Elon Speaker Series, which is presented by WUNC North Carolina Public Radio, was created to welcome speakers of national and international prominence at a series of engaging events designed to promote discussion and thought. Other speakers in the 2021-2022 Speaker Series have included award-winning actor BD Wong, engineer, educator, former NASA astronaut and NFL wide receiver Leland Melvin, and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Carli Lloyd.

More information about Liang and her research can be found here.