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7 Steps to Help Your Kids Follow Their Dreams and Not Live in Your Basement When They're 40

Wouldn’t life be so much better if we all really could just follow our bliss and not worry?

I was having dinner with friends the other night discussing their child whom is heading to college soon. She’s interested in going to college for fashion or photography—2 words that send most parents into a fear-induced fetal position due to the most likely financial instability.

As a parent, we want to encourage our kids to follow their bliss, and to grab life by the horns, but as my friends put it at dinner, “It’s also nice to be able to eat.”

Every day we adults have to juggle the innate pull to follow our own bliss with being at peace with the fact that we also have to do our best to avoid homelessness, hunger and debt. If we all followed our bliss, there would be no bank tellers, librarians or really anyone anywhere.

We’d all be on the beach listening to Freedom Rock all day.

So how do we translate these really murky, discouraging life lessons to our children without scaring the snot out of them as we guide them towards figuring out who they are and where they desire to go in life?

Instead of sending them off with a kiss on the forehead and ambiguous permission to “Follow your bliss,” (my friends at dinner certainly weren’t proposing that), I want to do my best to raise my kids to tune into what they want and know how to work their buns off to get it.

Since my children aren’t close to college age, I have the luxury of being able to hit the pause button and ask myself how I’m going to prepare them for adulthood. I want to keep doing my best to follow these steps to help them know how to realistically go after their dreams while being prepared to take on reality that will poke its ugly head in.

I have zero doubt that I’ll mess up big time along the way, but here are some goals I have:

1—Be Specific

We’ve all doled out or heard from our parents phrases that warn us that life is not fair and how being a grownup sort of stinks big time. I know I heard that as a kid, but I never really grasped it until I hit the speedbump of Adultville, finally whispering to myself over my checkbook, “Ooooh, so THIS is what they were talking about.”

When pointing our kids in the direction of adulthood and chasing after their dreams, I think it’s important to include the fact that there are realistic variables that might cut into the fluffy bliss.

Our instinct as parents is to shield our kids from our money woes, but I say let them see the reality behind the curtain. Instead of telling my kids I don’t have enough money for something, I get specific, telling them buying pizza costs about $25 and we can make it homemade for about $7, so it’s a way better choice.

I tell them how much money I make and how much our bills are, so they will grow up knowing there is a process to acquiring things and it starts with work, self-restraint, and patience. My approach is to make them feel the absence of money and not let all their wishes be granted.

My financial state makes this easy for me, but if you’re loaded, you might have to fake this a little.

I wish money were not something we need to bring into the conversation while encouraging our kids to follow their bliss, but it’s a truth. This doesn’t mean we’re telling them to chase after the highest paying job. It means—like my friends said—it’s nice to be able to eat.

I want to do my best to set their moral compasses towards knowing that money doesn’t automatically equal happiness, but being smart with money and not relying on materialism for fulfillment is what will certainly help find happiness whether they are millionaires or minimum-wagers.

2—Give Pep Talks That Don’t Blow Smoke up Their Butts

We parents are well-intentioned when we tell our kids to go after their dreams or “The world is your oyster!” Yes, it’s your oyster, but it’s also every other kids’ oyster, so not everyone gets the oyster. Sometimes you get sandy catfish, and you have to know how to navigate that disappointment without giving up.

We need to incorporate that into our pep talks, so they’re not shocked when they come face to face with obstacles along the long trek that stifle their drive.

This doesn’t mean we’re constantly squashing their dreams. We’re still telling them we believe in them 100%, but bliss can be found in times we don’t reach our goals as well, so stay with it.

3—Celebrate a Gritty Work Ethic

I want to arm my kids with a gritty work ethic and lack of prissy entitlement. I tell my kids true stories of when I was a hotel housekeeper after I graduated college, saving money to move to London, and how I had to clean human feces off the floor one time, but how I didn’t quit because I knew there would be more to my life than that job if I just kept at it.

They love that story because it has poop in it, but I tell it to them to remind them that any job we do, we should do it with a great attitude and a heart full of gratitude.

A great work ethic and attitude tends to attract other hard workers and positive opportunities to you, don’t you think?

If my kids pick up on this, I don’t care what job they have.

4—Let Them Know it’s Okay to Not Know Where Their Lives are Going

I have a master’s degree in writing, but I work a day job (that I like) totally unrelated to my overpriced degree. I followed my bliss in obtaining that degree but soon realized I literally could not afford to feed my family off the part-time teaching jobs I landed at colleges.

There ended my journey of following my bliss. My new bliss had to change, so my kids wouldn’t be naked and hungry.

The definition of “follow your bliss” changes as you age, right?

In my 20s, it meant moving to London, knowing no one and working as a waitress. Then it meant moving to Chicago, knowing no one, and working every job from radio DJ to marketing associate at a stifling investment firm.

Now that I’m in my 40s, “following my bliss” has changed to mean wanting a job that doesn’t suffocate my creative side and gives me time with my kids. It’s not as dynamic and energetic as it used to be because what I crave as I age is simplicity.

I want drinks on the porch with friends and my husband.

I want to play board games with my kids and play the guitar.

I want my brain and soul to belong to me—not to a job.

Yes, this quest for simplicity means I’m not climbing a spikey corporate ladder, which means my paycheck is not as big as it could be if I were doing that, but that’s not part of my changed definition of bliss.

5—Be Cool if Their Dreams Aren’t Enormous

This sounds counterintuitive to what we think we should be telling our kids, right? We normally tell them to shoot for the stars and that anything is possible.

Some kids might truly be interested in fixing cars or cutting hair—awesome careers that don’t typically send a parent into a pride-induced frenzy.

My daughter recently said she wants to wash dogs for a living. I had to stop myself from telling her there’s no money in that, but I realized her voicing a desire to wash dogs simply means she likes animals right now. If I poo-pooed every idea she has and attach a dollar amount to it, she’ll soon be editing her interests based solely on money.

I’m not saying I will discourage my kids from aiming high—but I do want to give them permission to be comfortable with who they are.

6—Show vs. Tell

If your child wants to be a cop, have her meet a cop instead of telling her all the pros and cons of being a cop. My 6-year-old son says he wants to be a chef, so I have him help me cook all the time. As we cook, I remind him he’ll have to work long nights and cook things he hates like octopus.

My telling him that means nothing to him. He shrugs me off saying he’ll of course only cook what he wants to cook because he thinks it’s that easy.

As they grow into teenagers, the lessons I want them to learn about their desired career paths will come straight from the scenes of where they think they want to go. I’ll be careful not to expose them to just the challenging sides of careers they pick because that’s not fair either.

But I think there’s nothing wrong with painting a realistic picture in the beginning, so they don’t go through college, start that career, only to realize it’s not at all what they thought it would be like.

When I lived in Chicago I was convinced I wanted to be an actor on Saturday Night Live. I even trained at The Second City Theatre. The nights I was performing, I was miserable. I loved being on stage, but the life of staying up until the wee hours of the morning in a dark theatre were not for me. I’m more of a wake- up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-and-hike-into-the-sunrise sort of gal.

If I had just seen firsthand what that life was like, I wouldn’t have spent years chasing after it. But, again, that was not time wasted because it showed me what I don’t want and brought me closer to my current path to finding my bliss.

7—Remind Them to be Friends with Failing

I know I won’t always be good at this, but I want to encourage my kids to take risks, and not get my undies in a bunch out of my own fear for them.

Being young and without attachments is the time to exhale phrases like, “Leap and the net will appear!” rather than when you’re older with a family who’s relying on you for food because you need that stinkin' net. I want to instill in my kids the tenacity to not just shoot for a goal, but to really go after it big time with gusto and confidence.

Sometimes the net is absolutely nowhere to be found, but let’s not tell them that just yet, okay?

I want to remind them they can get there, but it will be ugly, frustrating and debilitating at times, but these are not reasons to give up and that living with regret of never putting your all towards something is worse than falling flat on your face.

In the end, parents know that we can do everything in our power to steer kids in the right direction,but we don’t have as much control as we wish we did. It takes some faith and trust on our part, and I’m sure I’ll be a hot mess when that day comes when I watch my kids take that step.

I am no parenting expert—we all just do our best, right? But I do know I truly want my kids to seek after well-rounded, fulfilled lives that don’t look just to careers for happiness.

If they can find joy and contentment in each day, my hope is they will not have to “follow their bliss” but that bliss will find them where they are, no matter where that might be.

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