07/22/2011 12:04 EDT | Updated 09/21/2011 05:12 EDT

Fact or Fiction: Can Kids Be Anything They Want to Be?

"You cannot be anything you want to be -- but you can be a lot more of who you already are. "

Tom Rath writes this in his bestselling book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, first published by Gallop in 1997.

I'm down with that statement.

Believe me, as a kid I would have loved to have been the world's youngest Wimbledon champion, a prestigious lawyer, or Cher, but hey, none of these outcomes was remotely in my future.

Kids often hear the phrases, "You can do anything you want to do or be anything you want to be." But it's just not true. In fact, my experience working with kids is that this is exactly the kind of thinking that further entrenches them in unrealistic dreams that take them away from one of the important tasks of growing up; discovering their strengths and weaknesses.

Kids need to discover what they're actually good at -- their talents, and then develop those talents into strengths that give them a sense of purpose, energy and fulfilment.

Don't get me wrong, I think dreaming is a good thing for all of us. Our dreams can inspire us to strive for whatever it is we dream of accomplishing and to go for it. But there is a balance that needs to be struck between dreaming and flat out fantasy. A dream that is totally incongruous with a kid's talents can die a long, slow and painful death, leaving that kid feeling discouraged, depressed and adrift.

The sweet spot is when kids are actually able to align their talents with their dreams so they can begin to experience energized, purposeful movement and success.

This is not to say that kids don't stall or start here and there, or that they need to figure out their talents exactly before they hit adulthood. Many of us don't really discover our talents until later in life. But kids do need to be on the lookout for what they're naturally good at in life, so they can make informed choices about how they are going to spend their time and energy. This self-knowledge also helps them establish more realistic and achievable goals for themselves.

It's important to mention that just because a kid doesn't have a natural talent in, say, hockey, doesn't mean she can't play hockey and enjoy it! What it does mean is that the dream of becoming an Olympic hockey player may not be the one she wants to invest all her time and energy, especially if it comes at the expense of the natural talent she has mentoring little boys and girls in her school's reading program.