I want my kids to chase their dreams.
And catch them.
I had to stop caring about stuff to make that happen.
No, I didn't quit my job. I have kids to feed.
But, I want my children to be strong, caring people that are willing to go outside their comfort zones because that’s where their greatest joys will be found.
I want them to be willing to try and fail. I want them to know that if they persevere, failure is a temporary stop on the way to success.
Raising my children, I used books, blogs, and anything else that might help raise "successful" kids. (Whatever that means.)
Then it hit me: Kids learn how to be a “grown-up” by watching their parents.
What my kids saw looked nothing like the happy, confident, dream-chasing life I was telling them was possible.
I needed to find a balance. A balance between living a productive life and not losing myself in the process.
Exiting the Comfort Zone
If you live a life safely in your comfort zone doing largely what others say you “should” do, when you tell your kids to chase their dreams, to try even when they’re scared, and that it is ok to fail because if they stick with it, they will eventually achieve their dreams, it’s just talk.
The thing that speaks loudest is (you guessed it) your actions. Your kids see how you live your life, even when you hope they're not watching.
You get to choose how you live your life and what example you set. You get to choose to be an inspiration, not a counterexample.
Even if you haven’t exactly lived a life you’d like your kids to emulate, you can start now.
You can let your kids watch the change and learn from you that it is true -- anything is possible.
No one is saying quit your day job.
Here are 8 ways you can help your kids reach for the stars:
1. Shake Off the Shackles
Other people’s expectations and definitions of “success” have shaped your whole life.
Get rid of that stuff before you figure out what you actually care about, and live your life accordingly.
It’s challenging, because they have become part of who you are, but you have to do it.
Exercise: Take out a piece of paper and make three columns. In the first column, write the six biggest decisions you have made since high school. In the second column, list the people whose judgment you cared about when making the decisions. In the third column, write what those people would have thought about you if you had made the opposite decision.
You now have a pretty good list of the layers of expectations that others have put on you and where they came from. As you go through the process of redefining what is important to you, push back when you feel these cropping up.
2. Figure Out What Matters... to YOU
You’ve got to identify what is important to you. What core values do you want your life to exhibit?
You have spent a ton of time with other people’s values as your driver, so finding yours will take some work.
Exercise: List the three most important values you want your kid’s life to exhibit. These will be the three things you value the most. Use them as your guide when trying to reorient your life.
3. Be Real, Don’t Be an A**hole, But Be Real
If you live your life to please everyone else and avoid making anyone else uncomfortable, you outsource how you live to other people and their feelings. It leaves no space for being true to yourself.
Be willing to make waves if that means being true to who you are. Next time you feel yourself performing instead of being authentic, take a beat and decide whether you are putting on a show to try to please others or not. If you are, stop. Be true to your values and your feelings.
4. Your Kids Have Ears, Stop Complaining
You probably find yourself talking about how you don’t want to go to work and how you wish you had this thing or that thing. Your kids are listening. And they are learning that being an adult is about doing things you don’t want to do so you can get more stuff. You don’t want your kids to have that view of the world because you know it doesn’t lead to happiness. So stop it.
Be intentional. Pay attention to what you are saying so you can catch yourself when the complaints start to slip out.
5. Follow the Road Less Traveled (At Least By You)
Once you get clear on what is important to you, and what you can let go of because it is someone else’s idea of what you “should” do, you just have to act accordingly.
This is hard. It means getting out of you day-to-day rut. At first, you'll have to consciously act with your new vision in mind all the time because if you don’t, you’ll revert to doing things the way you always have. But it will get easier and become more automatic over time.
6. Find Something Good In Every Day
Talk about something you loved in your day. Talk about how happy you were that you tried something new or overcame a challenge.
Talk about something good even if you're worn out and worn down.
If your kids are younger, the conversations may not be with them, but when you talk, let them hear it. If they are older, talk to them about it. Let them know it is happening. They will see it anyway, but if you talk about it, it will be clear to them that they have permission to do the same thing.
7. Let Them See You Fail
If they are going to live a life full of joy and adventure, they are going to have to be willing to risk failure. If not, the most likely outcome will be a life with little joy but plenty of regret.
The same is true for you.
You have to be willing to fail and be rejected to live a life well-lived. When you put yourself out there, and it doesn’t work out, let your kids see it. Let them know it happened, it hurt, and it’s ok. Then tell them what you learned from it and let them see you try again.
This is huge. This is hard. We want our kids to see us as bulletproof. But we aren’t, and they aren’t. And the sooner they realize both of those things, and that it is ok, the better prepared they will be for overcoming their own failures when they inevitably come.
They'll turn to you for support because they will know you’ve been there.
8. Your Kids Have Ears (Be Nice)
You are not the only example your kids are going to have. The other adults in their lives will also be a source of how to live. And the way you talk to them and about them will have an impact on your kids.
If someone is chasing their dream or wants to, support them. Don’t insult their pursuit, don’t make jokes about it. Be supportive.
If your kids see you being supportive of others, they believe you will be supportive of them. It gives them the confidence to reach for their dreams.
They know you'll be there to support them... and catch them if they fall.
What's the Last Thing We Want For Our Kids?
We don't want our kids to grow into adults who spend their lives trying to meet other people’s expectations at the expense of their own.
Buck the trend, and set an example you actually want to see your kids follow.
Maybe this means you make the best of your job and look for the bright side of every day.
Maybe this means you pursue your passion.
Maybe this means you fall somewhere in between; a healthy hobby and a career to sustain your family.
Remember that making yourself happy–however you choose to do it–will give your children the tools they need to be happy, confident, and loving adults.
Oh yeah, and you'll make yourself happier in the process.