The Connection Between Aspiration and Inspiration in Kids

By: Tim Elmore


A boy named Norris began mowing lawns four years ago. I’m not talking about mowing his own lawn; he’d been doing that already. I mean he began mowing lawns for other people who needed it, starting with a disabled neighbor who lived nearby. He didn’t make a big deal of it. He just marched over and mowed the lawn. And he’s continued since that time. Norris now mows several people’s lawns for free simply because he knows it’s easier for him to do it than it is for them.


Norris hopes to turn this into a business in the near future. 


People have taken notice of this teen. Frozen Rayne SnoCones began giving police officers “tickets” to offer any kids they spot doing something good for someone else. One officer spotted Norris and gave him one for a free snow cone. They call it a “Caught You ticket.” Over time, Norris began providing lawn care for the elderly, disabled, single moms, and veterans. The result? Let’s just say Norris has enjoyed his fair share of snow cones.


But that’s not why he’s doing the lawn care.


Norris would tell you he simply matched a skill he had with a passion he had to help those in need. Mowing lawns came to mind. So, instead of waiting or analyzing whether it was a good idea or not, he just acted on his passion. When young people have an aspiration to serve in a given area, they’ll gain inspiration for how to approach the idea along the way. Teens learn on a need-to-know basis. 


The Connection Between Aspiration and Inspiration 

When I was young, I began noticing this connection between my inspiration and my aspirations. I remember aspiring to buy a car and instantly felt compelled to work at Charburger, a local fast food restaurant. I knew the amount I needed. Later (at 19), I felt the inspiration to serve teens, and I took a job as a youth leader at two non-profit organizations. It was not glamorous, but it felt like a calling. I’m still serving teens today. After watching students for four decades, here is my conclusion:


  1. Inspiration to do something can lead to aspiration to do more of it. 


  1. Aspiration can lead to inspiration when we want to do something about it.


The key is for us to help Generation Z members combine the two so they’ll be willing and able to demonstrate the grit and resolve they need to accomplish something.  


Our Challenge Today

The problem we have today is that millions of Generation Z members feel little ambition for work. Times have changed. Certainly not all of them but Vox magazine reports that a growing number of Zoomers possess a fundamentally different view of work than their parents did and even most Millennials did at their age. One viral TikTok rant blatantly spells out this perspective: “I don’t have goals. I don’t have ambition. I only want to be attractive.” The trend seems to reject hard work and embrace leisure. According to one journalist, thousands of young adults remixed the viral TikTok sound, providing commentary about their post-college plans, dream jobs, or ideal lifestyles as stay-at-home spouses. One student said to me, “I can’t tell you what my dream job is because I don’t dream about work.” 


This seems to stand in contrast to previous research I’ve done, revealing that the majority of teens today plan to be an entrepreneur. I know several members of Gen Z (Zoomers) who have great ambitions and aspirations. Yet their ambitions may look very different than employers perceive ambition. Clearly, the pandemic has affected teens differently than it affected today’s adults. Many members of my generation live to work. It’s a part of our identity, even to the point of being unhealthy. Gen Z fears work will be a drudgery. One of their biggest concerns is they’ll have to take a job they dislike. Millions would say they don’t live to work, they work to live. They become disillusioned about work as they observe adult generations (especially baby boomers and Gen Xers) at work. 


So, can we meet in the middle? How can we equip Zoomers to aspire to more than leisure (i.e. TikTok videos) and embrace work that serves people and solves problems? 


How We Can Cultivate Inspiration and Aspirations

I believe it’s most important to divide their ideas of work from the stereotypes they have of it. It was Confucius who said, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Perhaps that’s oversimplified, but it’s what I have done. I love what I get to do, but I don’t look at it as a job even though anyone observing me would say it is. I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do, and I am fulfilled knowing it serves an important need in both leaders and teens today. I approach my work as a calling. The root for the term vocation is vocal, which is about a call, not a task. 


Here are four simple steps to take.


First, ask students about what interests them or what makes them grieve or get angry. Often, aspirations begin with a negative emotion about something that must be done. Even if they’re apathetic, they must have some level of interest in something important.


Next, remind students their passions are not random. Think about Norris the grass cutter. What does his passion for mowing lawns say about him? Why do it?  What can you do when you catch a kid acting from compassion or serving others with passion? 


Third, review past experiences with your students. They inform our desires. I know a 91-year-old man who was bullied as a child, and two boys helped him. Decades later, he still comes to the aid of anyone he spots who might feel bullied or ostracized.


Finally, help students take a first step. It doesn’t need to be strategic, but it helps to start while the thought is fresh. The longer we wait, the easier it is to wait longer. There will always be excuses. Empower students to get started now. I learned long ago:

  • I don’t need a better computer to become a writer. 
  • I don’t need a better guitar to become a musician.
  • I don’t need a better camera to become a photographer. 
  • What I need is to get to work.

The Connection Between Aspiration and Inspiration in Kids