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Teaching your Kids: Let Go of Unworthy Goals

As important as it is to set worthy goals, it's also important to recognize unhealthy ones and let them go. Few people know that better than a woman we'll call Brionna.

Brionna entered the working world after graduating from Vanderbilt University. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was in the construction business. And even though these were both certainly respectable jobs, Brionna had long admired the status and prestige of the professional and corporate careers she saw on television and in the movies. She told me, "I thought it was cool to see women in suits and with briefcases." So you can imagine she was quite pleased to land her first job at a big company in exactly the kind of position she'd imagined.

There was something about the corporate uniform that made her feel important and successful. She remembers the blue pinstriped suit with a bow tie, a skirt, and pantyhose. And like all the women, she wore tennis shoes for the long walk from the parking lot, but had a nice pair of pumps in her briefcase to change into as soon as she got to her office.

She was a proud African American woman in her twenties, playing in her starring role as the up-and-coming corporate executive. She had assumed exactly the image she'd dreamed of.

And then, one day, a few years into her career, and after a series of late nights at the office, Brionna realized the person she had become wasn't the person she really wanted to be. The trappings of success she had so desperately wanted were now keeping her from enjoying life.

She remembers the moment vividly. "It was eleven o'clock at night. I was sitting there at my gray metal desk that I shared with two other people, and I was working on probably the tenth version of my forecast. I knew I liked the prestige that came from working there. But I certainly wasn't feeling enriched. So I called my sister on the phone and told her, 'Tomorrow I'm going to walk into my boss's office and quit.'  " And Since Brionna had no other jobs or even prospects, what did her sister think? "She thought I had lost my mind."

But despite her sister's pleas, the next day, Brionna did go into her boss's office and told him she wanted to resign. And in that instant, something amazing happened. "It was like this incredible moment of clarity. Quitting my job unleashed the tethering I had to this corporate persona. I was so caught up in the superficial status of wearing my corporate suit that I was afraid to do anything to risk losing it. It was liberating. I decided at that moment that never again would I be attached to something purely because of the status it offers."

Ironically, Brionna continued to work at that company for another thirty years. Her boss convinced her to stay through his genuine concern and the promise of a new role and promotion. "So, she said, "I ended up not quitting my job. But I did quite something more important that day. I quit the superficial part of me." And more than quitting something, she was also welcoming back a part of her that she'd lost sight of and the values she was raised with.

Today, Brionna still dresses very well. But it's her style, not something defined by a corporate image. More importantly, she no longer feels beholden to the unworthy goals of status and prestige. If she ever faces a dilemma in her job that requires her to compromise her values or sacrifice too much of her home life, she says, "I know now I can walk away before I ever let something like that happen."

So, a great time to have this conversation with your child is when they're older and about to take their first job out of school. And when you do, here are some questions to start your discussion.

  1. Is working for a big, prestigious company with a fancy office important to you? If not, what kind of environment do you want to work in?

  2. What would you be willing to do to get a job at a place like that? What would you not be willing to do?

  3. Have you ever worked somewhere, gone to school somewhere, or had a set of friends that you wanted to be part of so badly that you did things you might not be proud of?

  4. Can you think of any goals or dreams you've had that might be good to let go of?

Okay, in the next three lessons, we're going to turn our attention to money and delayed gratification.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith