“Dream it, be it” might sound like a cliche, but a new study says there’s something to the notion.

Teenagers who set ambitious goals for themselves tend to be more successful as young adults, researchers reported recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Teens who set higher educational and career goals “tended to have higher educational attainment, income, occupational creativity, occupational prestige and job complexity after 12 years,” said researcher Rodica Damian, an associate professor of psychology with the University of Houston.

That doesn’t mean that a person’s goals won’t change, researchers said. Some dreams fall away, while other goals remain strong and new ones come to the fore.

But setting early goals related to education and accomplishment appeared to consistently predict better income, and tweaks in these goals tended to predict having a challenging, higher-prestige career, results show.

For the study, researchers tracked two national groups of Icelandic youth across 12 years, from their late teenage years into young adulthood.

Researchers examined how life goals developed with age, and how the goals set by teenagers related to their accomplishments in education and career.

“For educational attainment, the strongest effects were found for education goals. Both initial levels and slopes of education goals were positively associated with educational attainment in both samples,” Damian said.

“This indicates that adolescents with higher education goals, and those who showed a more positive change pattern in education goals, had higher educational attainment in young adulthood,” Damian added.

The study indicates that teens should be encouraged to think about their future and set lofty goals for themselves, Damian said.

“Life goals are expected to change over time and these changes are expected to have consequences for future life outcomes, including occupational outcomes,” Damian said. “By understanding how changes in life goals relate to educational and occupational outcomes [above and beyond adolescent levels], we show how changes within individuals may also predict desired educational and occupational attainment.”

More information

Harvard Medical School has more on life skills needed by teens.

SOURCE: University of Houston, news release, April 22, 2024