Beyond Dreams: 3 Ways to Get Practical
I am not a fan of inspirational sayings. But recently, I tried one out on my 6-year-old daughter.
“Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.”
I had seen this quote engraved on a bracelet-- it came across on a pop-up ad over Christmas and I almost bought it for this daughter of mine, who does not like to fail and avoids discomfort like the plague. I want so badly for her to learn how to be strong.
But inspirational sayings, or anyone else’s stamp on life’s moments, will not be the agent of change we are looking for. My daughter is too engrossed in the pain and frustration of not mastering that spiral in her figure skating practice for those words to root. Your teenager is too engrossed in his own high expectations for his AP exam results to notice the future you see.
I work with many parents who reveal to me their dreams for their children through the process of the college search. They want their kids to understand the reality of debt. They want their kids to realize that they are more than their boyfriends tell them they are. They want their kids to have the experience they themselves never had. The list is endless. And emotions run high.
The college conversation is often guided by these emotional threads. At best, wishes bounce briefly off our kids and are gone. But there are tools that can initiate idea-shifting conversations. These strategies can be inroads to reconciling the dance between your dreams and your kid’s dreams.
1) Generate facts and figures: (i.e “The data says that 83% of six-year-olds will master their spiral within one year if they practice three times a week”--hypothetical statistic).
Data is the most effective way to get perspective in an emotionally charged subject. Instead of, “You have no idea how much $30,000 of debt really is” show them a calculator or an estimated cost of living tool that will help them break it down. Imagine a starting salary in a real location, figure in rent or mortgage, insurances, groceries, (do you want a dog?) Factor the costs of her adult dreams into the equation and see how much she will need per month to make that a reality. Regardless of the outcome, you have a discussion based on concrete goals, not emotion.
2) Seek out testimony: (i.e “Let’s talk to this professional figure skater and have her tell you her story about mastering the spiral.”)
Have your teen interview someone who has been faced with the issue at hand and resolved it. What did they choose to do? Did they regret it? Do they have any words of wisdom? Instead of “It doesn’t make any sense for you to be a theater major these days--what in the world are you going to do with that?”, seek out some real-world advice and leave yourself out of the interview. Now your teen is empowered to think through the factors involved in that choice without confrontation.
3) Self-reflection and the big picture: (i.e “Take some time and figure out how mastering the spiral fits into your goals and values.”)
Have your teen do some self-reflecting on what matters to them and what drives them (I use a values list exercise) and write down an actual mission statement for their lives. I point out to my students that all colleges spend time crafting their own mission statement, so the same should go for each student. What do they stand for? What legacy do they want to leave behind? Then ask them to write down or state how this goal of theirs fits into these values and their mission. Whether it synchs or not, you can now have a discussion that is about the forest and not the trees.