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Exhausted from a long day of back-to-back appointments and catching up on emails, I turned off the light in my home office and shut the laptop. I walked around the corner, down the long hallway and toward the kitchen. As I got closer, I could hear the click-clack of high heels on the wood floor coming from the kitchen. There she was, eight years old, making herself a bowl of cereal as she stood at the counter in my black high heels. The baby blue collar of her school polo peeked out of the grey dress she had grabbed from my closet, hanging to about mid-calf on her little frame. As she turned to look at me, I noticed she had gotten in the makeup drawer and dolled herself up.

You know this story too, don’t you? It’s like looking in a mirror back at yourself. They love to imitate us whether it’s with our clothes, makeup, jewelry, or when we least expect them to respond with a gesture or facial expression that looks all too familiar- because it’s your own.

They emulate what they see day in and day out, despite what we may tell them to do, or say, or how to act.

Our words don’t carry much weight with them. And, honestly, should they? Our words lose all depth when we model the opposite of what we preach to our children.

We tell our kids to chase their dreams, to never give up. But, do you?

My guess? Most of us aren’t pursuing any dreams. I’ll be the first to admit that until a little over a year ago, I was a workaholic chasing success that was miserable on the inside. There are others I know that may not be workaholics, but they punch the 9 to 5 clock day after day to pay the bills without an ounce of passion for the very place that they spend 1/3 of their day.

This is where young little minds find conflict. The words don’t match what they see.

At home, many of these children grew up being told to dream big, work hard, go to school, and never give up. Those words are often empty. They watch Dad rise early, come home exhausted and make mental note when he can’t make it to their recital or the basketball game. They watch Mom frantically race around the house readying herself, finding the missing shoe, packing lunches and head straight for the kitchen to prepare dinner when she comes in from a long day at work. The conflict isn’t a result of the hard work. Our kids recognize the sacrifice we make for them. They may not verbalize their appreciation, especially at times when we’re desperate for it, but it lies deep within them.

They know what you’re capable of. They watch you pour every ounce of effort into the project at work, or disappear into the office after dinner to get back to a client you’re trying to secure. The conflict isn’t your tenacity. They can see the depth of your potential.

They know you work the overtime, or take on the second job to pay for sports, for vacations, and to fix the leak in the roof. The conflict isn’t in your ability to provide. 

The conflict is your motive

Most of us say something similar to, “I’m sacrificing for my kids, so they can have what I couldn’t…” or “This isn’t the time…”

What if children, instead, saw that same tenacity applied toward something that meant something to you? What if they had a parent that came home from a long day, or missed an occasional soccer game, but eagerly told their child about the difference they were making? The purpose they felt they were stepping into? There isn’t a specific job title that a parent has to have in order to impress their child.  A job in public service is no more noble than someone in the private sector. Nobility is determined by the purpose behind the career, not the career itself.

Perhaps the younger generation would pivot and reach a little farther if what they witnessed was that same grit applied toward something that fulfilled a dream, or purpose. Purpose is woven within each of us. It’s not a number on a paycheck. It’s not necessarily a service project you volunteer for. It’s a personal journey, but one that each of us has.

Two people can have the same career, or role at home, or volunteer for the same passion project. What separates one from the other is the purpose they find within that role.

For the CEO, it might be the jobs he’s creating for future employees and their families.

For the banker, it might be the families he guided toward homeownership that were convinced it would never happen for them.

For the teacher, it might not be the math homework she grades night after night, but for the fundamentals she just equipped every single student with.

For the SAHM, it might be the Bible study group she leads while her kids are at school.

Purpose isn’t a job title or description. It isn’t a paycheck, a license or a lifestyle. It’s the impact you see you’re able to make through that role. It’s the dream placed on your heart that you fulfill in your own unique way.

What if, instead, this was what we modeled for our kids?

What if we stopped settling too easily? What if we dropped all excuses? What if the conversation at the dinner table was about what each person in the family had done to serve others that day, rather than dealing with the grind for… well, nothing?

At the end of the day, expect from your children and this next generation only what you’re willing to model for them, not merely what you preach.

As I watched my eight-year-old click-clack down the long hallway toward her playroom, I smiled. For the first time ever, as a parent, I know that my words aren’t empty when I tell her she can become whoever she wants. No dream is out of reach. She has a dad that models risk-taking and works hard not for the paycheck, but because he seizes every opportunity to mentor and guide those that are treated as a mere transaction elsewhere. And her mom will show her that dreams are placed on the heart for a reason, that its never too late to start your career over, and that the skills we’re equipped with aren’t by accident, but rather by design.

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