Years ago in one of her columns for the Oprah magazine, Martha Beck talked about how to connect with your right life.  As she explained it, first, you need to know what you’re truly passionate about.  For some of us, that might seem like a big “duh.”  But she points out that some people have gotten so good at ignoring those self-sent invitations to take up doing what they love that the invitations eventually stop coming.  The result:  they completely lose touch with their sense of vocation and spend their lives doing what they feel they’re expected to–at the expense of ever doing what they love.

Her remedy for this is an exercise so powerful, I’ve used it many times with my teens to get them thinking about how to engage with their connected, impassioned selves.  So here’s the trick:  notice where your thoughts go when you’re not aware that they’re going anywhere.  In other words, when you find yourself daydreaming, what do you daydream about?  More often than not, we daydream about what we’d really love to be doing.  I suggested this to my son, who often wondered what (beyond surfing) he was meant to do with his life. When he became more aware of where his daydreaming mind went, he started attending to it, and he discovered over time that his thoughts always went to music–and not just to the kind he wanted to listen to, but the kind he wanted to make.

My older daughter’s thoughts inevitably go to fashion and design, more specifically to things she can make right now in an attempt to beautify her little room here in Spain.  Recently, my husband found an old door sitting out in front of an apartment building nearby, a signal that someone was ready to abandon it to a new owner.  The piece is tall and narrow, as are so many doors here, with the hinges still on it and panels carved into it, which she plans to cover with chalkboard paint as a prelude to standing it up against a wall in her bedroom, where it will serve as an art board.  How to give old things with good bones a new life–this occupies her daydreams.  Currently, my younger daughter has been daydreaming about growing a little garden.  Her nice dad helped her find some antique pots to serve as homes for her herbs, and she’s one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming a plant whisperer.

The second piece to this is the more complex one.  As we grow up, we realize that the price of doing what we dream about means acquiring the discipline to accept the drudgery that always goes along with it.  It was easy, for example, for all of us to watch my amazing niece, Breeja, who just swam in the Olympics, and forget the day-in, day-out, unremitting, muscle-straining work that got her to London.  Yes, she dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer.  And oh yes, she absolutely did the work.

What do your kids daydream about?  Where do their thoughts go when they’re untethered?    Ask them.  The answers are illuminating.  Moreover, sometimes it falls to us to help move them along in their march toward a dream.  My son’s brilliant piano teacher interviews and auditions every prospective student.  She also wants a detailed bibliography of the family’s music libary.  When he first met with her, who do you think put that bibliography together??  Um-hmm.  That little task took many, many hours out of my life, but it helped land him a spot on her docket.

How do you help your teens identify and move toward the things they daydream about?  Over the years, I’ve missed the boat a couple of times, not for lack of good intentions but simply for lack of know-how. So let’s grow each other’s tool kits, shall we? What a great resource we are for each other!

(Photo from June, 2012. The Eleven O’Clock Kids are dead serious about Budapest.)

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