What is your dream? Do you still have one? Are you living it? Have you thought about it recently? At a young age, kids are commonly asked questions about what they want to do when they grow up. And because they are young, most often times, they are encouraged and celebrated for those dreams no matter how imaginative they are. But what happens as kids get older?

Are they still encouraged to dream “the impossible” and to follow their passions? 

According to experts, toddlers hear the word “no” 400 times a day. If this is true, imagine how many times a child has heard “no” by the time you are working with them. 

Unfortunately, if kids are not supported at an early age to be themselves and to follow their passions, they can end up feeling shut down, invisible, with no self-esteem and zero confidence to go after what they really want in life. Many kids/teens end up feeling unseen and unheard for who they really are. They have been criticized or told what to do and what not to do so many times, is it any wonder that they get confused about what they want to do with their future? Or that anxiety, lack of confidence, and low self-esteem is at an all-time high amongst teens? 

It is crucial for young people to have someone who is going to hear and see them for who they are and to encourage them to live a life they dream of. We all need that. Without it, we end up living a life that doesn’t even feel like our own. 

Because kid/teens are coming to you to help them plan their future, you have the unique opportunity to be that person—that voice that helps them find their true life path. You have the opportunity to change their lives in ways you can’t imagine. 

About 15 years ago, I traveled around the country with a friend interviewing kids and teens who had followed a dream and accomplished something magnificent: creating a successful business or peer group, becoming an inspirational speaker, selling out their first art gallery show, and more! The one common thread we found with each child was the support and encouragement they had to follow that dream.  

Unfortunately, as we know, not every child has unlimited support and encouragement. By the time a young person is coming to you confused about what to do with their future, it could be because they have received mixed messages about what they are “supposed” to do with their life, instead of being encouraged to do what they want to do with their life.  

Money might also be the issue for kids’ inability to follow a dream. Some parents simply can’t afford it and kids don’t have a lot of financial options on their own. Because of this, I created a safe online fundraising platform for ages 18 and under. It’s called The Virtual Lemonade Stand. It’s a place where young people can create fundraisers to have any dream supported and funded. My dream is to support any child who needs financial assistance to pursue their calling. 

Middle and high school is the crucial time to encourage young people to discover their inner passions if they haven’t yet done so. Once they get through college and settle into a career, it becomes harder to change paths—especially if they don’t know what they would like to be doing instead and don’t have the inner strength and courage to switch directions. 

 Below are four steps to help guide and teach kids how to find their passion and realize their dreams. Along with your assessment tests, these are easy exercises you could use with your students to provide them with a safe place to uncover their dreams. 

1. Rediscover what passion and inspiration feels like.

Close your eyes and imagine seeing yourself doing something you REALLY love doing. It can be anything—laughing with friends, playing your favorite sport, doing something creative. Notice how you feel when you are envisioning this. Are you happy, excited, proud, energized, or all these feelings at once? It feels great, doesn’t it? This is also what inspiration and passion feel like! 

2. Find your dreams.

If there were no limits, what would you like to accomplish with your life? What is your dream? What would make you happy? What are you good at? How would you like to make a difference in the world? Create a list. Your life dreams can be anything; just let the ideas flow. Examples: Have you ever dreamed of being a singer or an artist? Working with animals, elderly people, or kids? Inventing something or starting a business? Cleaning up the environment or collecting toys or food for people? Exploring different cultures, learning different languages, or studying math, science, engineering, or different ancient histories? These are general ideas. Your dreams will be unique, more detailed and tailored for you, so don’t limit your ideas to these suggestions. And don’t be concerned about being right or wrong or if the dream is big or small. If it is a dream of yours, list it. 

3. Combine passion with dreams.

Look over your list of dreams. Using that feeling of inspiration, go down your list and focus on each dream for a minute or two. As you are focusing, imagine yourself in that dream. Really feel yourself in each dream. Are you getting that happy, excited feeling? (If not, that’s okay.)  Make a note next to the dreams that give you an inspired feeling. 

Moving forward, you want to focus on the top dream(s) that give you the feeling of inspiration. That feeling is your guide. Your inspiration keeps you connected to the passion, excitement, and motivation you need to keep following a dream. If you don’t feel inspired by a particular dream, it’s probably not worth pursuing—at least for now. If you are ever in doubt about whether you are making the right decision, always check for this feeling. It is in your gut and it is your compass. That’s why people call it a “gut feeling.” It will always steer you in the right direction. 

4. Come up with a plan.

Now that you have more information about what your client’s dreams are, you can combine those with their assessments and help them outline a life career and journey based not on what might look good on paper, but what your client can be excited about to accomplish in their life! 

We all have inner gifts. Everyone. Those inner gifts are special attributes that are unique to only us. And they drive our passion, our life dreams, and our purpose. 

I am incredibly passionate about encouraging young people to use their innate gifts and to follow their dreams. When any one person has the courage to live their passion, we all win. That person shares their journey, passion, and experiences with the world and it inspires countless other people to do the same. Imagine a world where we are all living our passion. Wouldn’t we all live happier, healthier lives? And isn’t this what we want for our young people? Isn’t this what we want for ourselves?  

Let’s create a movement and change what we teach young people to value: themselves, their natural gifts, their own happiness, and a fulfilling life. In our movement, let’s encourage the retirement of phrases like, “You aren’t old enough,” “You need to be realistic” or “Get a real job.” Instead, let’s ask them how they want to change the world or what their big life dream is, and then support them to get there. If they are serious about a path, let’s help them understand the work and dedication their dream will take and assist them with steps for how to make it happen. No dream is ever too big when you have belief in yourself and the passion to make it happen. 

You have an opportunity to inspire young people about their futures. To be that one person in a kid’s life where they look back and think, “That person changed my life by listening to me, believing in me, and encouraging me to do what makes me most happy.”  

And then, make sure you are also doing that for yourself. 

Thank you for the meaningful work you do with our future leaders. When we all work together, we can truly support them (and one another) to create the life of their dreams. 

By Kristi Stoll, Founder, KidVisionaries.com