When Purpose Calls: A Grounded Study on the Lifewide Learning Experiences of High Potential Young Adults




Johnson, Joslyn S.

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The purpose of this constructivist grounded theory study was to explore the lifewide learning experiences of high potential individuals that were able to reach career success and have a sense of fulfillment in early adulthood (23-39). At a time where the need for productivity is commonplace in the arena of human resources, a movement for greater talent development is becoming more prominent (Boston Consulting Group, 2012). High potential programs were created to identify and retain talented individuals that have leadership potential. However, the focus of high potential research has primarily been on organizational programs, rather than looking at what causes high potential individuals to thrive and have a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their careers. Consequently, the talent development field is possibly missing out on the potential of gifted adults entering into the workforce, contributing to underachievement (Jacobsen, 1999). Fourteen participants were enlisted in the study, seven of whom were women and seven men. The demographic make-up of the participants included racially diverse individuals from different social-economic backgrounds, differing regions across the US, and various career fields. The commonalities of the participants included their high-potentiality, age range within early adulthood (23-39) and having both success and a sense of purpose in their career fields. The primary mode of data collection included intensive interviewing and utilized theoretical sampling and methods of coding congruent with grounded theory analysis. Based on the findings, there were two distinctive categories that emerged from the data; one that focused on lifewide learning and the second solely focused on purpose. The findings of the study that covered the lifewide learning experiences of the participants revealed how their formal, informal, and non-formal learning experiences overlapped heavily. However, formal learning was most notable for helping participants see from a different perspective, non-formal learning for providing a space for the participants to explore their purpose, and informal learning was identified as facilitating the development of talent and providing “aha” moments. The findings of the study centered on purpose explored the idea of an innate purpose, factors that helped to shape their purpose, and perspectives surrounding success. The fuel that helped to shape their purpose was their people centric nature, as well as spirituality (believing in something greater than oneself). The participants identified contentment, positively impacting others, and achieving goals as causing them to have a sense of fulfillment. Ultimately the participants leveraged their lifewide learning experiences to step into career opportunities that aligned with their purpose. Through grounded theory the data from the study were used to create a substantive theory of purpose development that can be used in crafting a coaching program to help high potential individuals reach success as young adults. Furthermore, the results of the study have implications that can be adopted by higher education and adult education professionals, talent managers, and practitioners working within the field of coaching.



Lifewide, High potential, Purpose, Connected learning, Relational learning, Identity capital


Johnson, J. S. (2017). <i>When purpose calls: A grounded study on the lifewide learning experiences of high potential young adults</i> (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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