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We Really Need to Talk to Kids About Their Dreams

I’ve discussed goal-setting strategies with youth and adults for more than three decades. How I do it and why I do it completely changed during a conversation with high school students – and a mistake I made when I asked a question.

Several years ago, I guided a group of seniors through collaborative goal-setting exercises. An 18-year-old boy barked questions at me from across the room as I assisted several girls who were working on a project.

“What should I do next?” he shouted.

I meant to ask, “Tell me about your goal.” But I wasn’t paying attention. Instead, I asked, “Tell me about your dream.”

His classmates stopped talking to listen to his response.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. Tears welled in his eyes. “No one’s ever asked me that question before.”

Eighteen years old and no one ever asked him about his dream.

That is a tragedy. However, mistakes often open doors to new opportunities.

I asked myself, “How often have I shown students how to use organizational planning tools to pursue their own desires?” Planners and calendars are designed to organize activities in ways that help us complete tasks – tasks that are often attachesd to someone else’s goals. When we use these tools without awareness of our own aspirations or claim to our own dreams, we become dependent on others to lead us and point us in the “right” direction. We allow others to determine the “right” direction for us.

Goals without a dream are like arrows without a target.

When children are in kindergarten and primary school, we encourage them to dream big. We often ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We applaud their brave imaginations and optimistic enthusiasm when they say, “I want to be president!” “I want to win an Olympic medal …”

… until they enter junior high. Then we warn them to be sensible and practical when they select their classes. We encourage them to enroll in courses that align with realistic careers that draw lucrative incomes. As a teacher, I showed students how to use planners and organizers to structure their schedules in ways that prepared them for high school – which prepared them for college – which prepared them for adulthood.

To further complicate matters, many junior high schools forced into budgetary cuts remove classes like physical education, music, and art from their course offerings to include more core content classes like math, science, and reading. We forget that the creative arts are math’s, science’s, and reading’s best friends. The arts fuel imagination, innovation, and invention.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” insisted Albert Einstein, physicist and Nobel laureate. “For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

We must encourage young people to talk about their dreams. To discuss their passions with them in meaningful ways, you must be willing to ask yourself, “What is my dream?

Kristoffer Howes, search engine marketing and brand strategist, stated, “A dream is the visualization of your goal and the motivation for your soul.” There is good logic supporting the old adage, “Seeing is believing.” More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle advised his students, “First, have a definite, clear, practical ideal – a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends – wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”

Consider these questions if you want to strike up a conversation with a young person about their dreams:

  • What would you like to BE?

  • What would you like to DO?

  • What would you like to EXPERIENCE?

  • Why is what you want to BE, DO, and EXPERIENCE important to you

Good questions lead to more questions:

  • What makes you feel HAPPY?

  • What makes you feel EXCITED?

  • What makes you feel ANGRY?

  • How can you use what makes you feel HAPPY, EXCITED, or ANGRY to achieve what you want to BE, DO, and EXPERIENCE?

The work of pursuing one’s passion is often the result of trial-and-error. It begins with a step into the unknown. The journey invites you into uncharted waters and you figure out some of the steps along the way.

Discussions with young people about their dreams open windows of opportunities to share your dreams with them. Our relationships deepen and our personal stories intersect. This is the heart and soul of education.

The Latin word, educere, means lead forth. In its truest sense, we are educators to one another. When we lead and invite others to lead us, we are students, teachers, and role models for each other.

John C. Maxwell, author of Own Your Dreams: Discovering Your Purpose in Life, insists, “A dream is what you desire if anything and everything is possible.” He encourages you to uncover and follow your dream by developing a plan of preparation:

  • Mental preparation – Read about and learn more about your greatest areas of interest.

  • Experiential preparation – Engage in activities that will sharpen your skills in areas related to your interests.

  • Visual preparation – Find and post pictures of people and things that inspire you.

  • Hero preparation – Read about, learn about, and meet people you admire and who motivate you.

  • Physical preparation – Maintain optimum physical health if you want to think clearly, plan wisely, and move forward.

“Always remember there are only two kinds of people in this world – the realists and the dreamers,” maintained Robert Orben. “The realists know where they’re going. The dreamers have already been there.”

Our quality of life is determined by the questions we ask. We must encourage young people to ask questions. And when they respond, we must be willing to listen. As we encourage our youth to pursue their own paths with confident passion, you may ask yourself the same questions.

We become role models of inspiration when we invite dialogue and courageously pursue our own dreams. We become mentors who encourage young people to dream by our example.

It’s never too early to dream. And it’s never too late.

What is your dream?

How can you encourage the young people in your life to dream?

As a TEDx speaker, educator, youth advocate, and leadership consultant, Julie Connor, Ed.D., prepares youth to be leaders and adults to be mentors and role models. She provides youth and adults with tools to collaborate, build teamwork, define their purpose, and align attainable goals with their vision and core values. Julie is the author of the award-winning goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide.

Learn more at


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