I was speaking with a ten-year-old about her birthday and why it is important. From her perspective, the best part of a birthday was getting older and enjoying cake and presents. I smiled. I have heard this answer many times before, from most children, whether they are preschoolers or preteens. I told her that what makes her birthday important is that it is a reminder of the day she was created by G‑d with a special and unique mission. No one else has her mission. She holds the one piece of the puzzle that no one else can fill, to help bring a good, positive change to the world. Like all of us, she was created because she was needed.

The young girl replied simply, “The world can continue with or without me"The young girl shook her head and replied simply, “That’s not true. The world can continue with or without me, it wouldn’t make any difference. It doesn’t need me for anything.” I told her she is partially right—the world could continue without her, but it could never benefit from what she in particular has to offer, in what she was created to accomplish in life.

It is obvious that much of our society is achievement-driven, as opposed to purpose-driven. This is the reason why grownups often love to ask children, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” And sometimes, if the child happens to give a response that doesn’t meet the adult’s expectations, the child is talked out of it: “Why not become a governor instead? Or a scientist? You can become a great doctor—you know, you can be anything that you want to be!”

But can a child truly become anything he wants? To be raised with that mindset neglects one main fact—he already is someone. And that someone is not dependent on a “thing” to become. Rather, he is brought to life with a soul that has a unique mission. And what is that mission? To effectively utilize what G‑d brings his way, while revealing the truth of good in every situation; and what will come his way will be unique to him, and him alone.

For this reason, it is false to tell a child that he can become anything he wants to be. The truth is that a child can become the best he can be—not anything or anyone else other than whom he is meant to be.

Imagine the kind of freedom and joy a child lives with when the focus is not on climbing a ladder that takes him on pursuits that belong to someone else, but instead this ladder takes him to his own great heights—the best he has to offer to the world. And he doesn’t need to wait until he is a grownup to believe that he has purpose—he is needed today.

I remember when my son first switched from homeschooling to a traditional school setting. It was the first time my son was in a classroom of children, with a teacher who wasn’t me. Understandably, he felt nervous and unsure about starting this new experience. But throughout his first week at school, I noticed a few of the kids in the higher grades high-fiving my son every day as I picked him up from school. I could see on my son’s face how he felt accepted and included. Those kids lived up to the purpose that existed for them at that particular moment—making a new child feel welcomed. That moment belonged to them, and they didn’t waste it, they claimed it.

Can a child truly become anything he wants? Learning to unleash your child’s soul means responding to him with the intent that your role as a parent is to guide his soul every day, and uncover his purpose for fulfilling good things in the world. When you interact with your child with this mindset, you start to see him not through your own eyes, but through G‑d’s eyes. Your response is no longer about you—who you are, your fears, your past failures, your dreams and hopes. Your response is about him, who he is, and all the good he has to offer.

A young child can, and should, be told that he has a soul; that he was created in this world not to simply exist for the sake of achievement, but to live for the sake of his unique, G‑d-given purpose. This is the secret to lasting motivation and living with passion. And this is where true self-worth is created, knowing that you have something significant to contribute. When we realize that our child can answer a need in this world, we then behave in a way that inspires his soul to shine, to make the difference it was intended to make.

I remember one Shabbat morning we were late to synagogue. I left the house in a rush, with my two boys trailing behind me. My five-year-old son, who is happy-go-lucky and appreciates simplicity, sensed my negative mood and tried to lighten things up several times. Finally, he said, “I know! Why don’t we play ‘I Spy’?!” It’s a game he loves, and one that we usually play every Shabbat morning on our thirty-minute walk to synagogue. This time, I didn’t even turn around to look at him. I quickened my pace and replied, “No, we’re late! We can’t play that game now! Hurry up!”

As soon as I said the words, I felt guilty. Sure, maybe my son needed to understand that sometimes we do need to hurry. But at that moment, this lesson would save me only ten additional minutes. Whereas it would shut him out of thirty minutes of feeling Shabbat in a positive light, while also keeping him from the opportunity to contribute what he could offer to Shabbat.

It is not the adult who constantly waits for the child. It is the child who waits for the adultI turned around to him. The sun was beaming on him. He looked disappointed. He was no longer skipping as he usually does. So I came up to him and whispered in his ear, “I am ready to be nice. I would love to play ‘I Spy’ with you! You have such a way of making our Shabbat so happy!” He beamed when he heard my words, and instantly he came alive again. He was no longer separated from Shabbat, but an important part of it.

As adults, it seems that we are endlessly waiting for our child to listen, to behave, to get things done. But if we are completely honest, it is not the adult who constantly waits for the child. It is the child who waits for the adult—waits to be understood, waits to be discovered, waits for proper limits to be set, and waits until he is seen and guided towards what he has to offer to life—shining the light of his soul upon the world.