Today, I had the privilege of running a Vision Board Workshop for a group of teenagers at a running camp up in Keystone.
I started the session with a few quotes from famous people because I realize that Oprah and Steve Jobs have a bit more credibility with teens than some life coach they've just met.
-- “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believe.” -Oprah Winfrey
-- “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” -Steve Jobs
-- “A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” -Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Harvard)
After we defined and discussed the concept of vision, I asked the participants to brainstorm favorite activities, strengths, short and long-term goals, and areas for improvement. They divided a piece of poster board in half and on one half I asked them to represent themselves as they are now. How do they see themselves at this point in their lives? One the other half, I had them visualize their future as adults. What would they do for a living? Would they have a family? How would they spend their free time? Finally, I asked them to present and reflect upon the difference between now and the future.
They were into it. The room hopped with energy and creativity. With an age range of 11-17, it probably goes without saying that some of them "got it" more than others. Still, everyone completed the activity with enthusiasm.
I hope they learned something from me because I learned a LOT from them. First of all, out of 11 participants, only 2 of them didn't struggle greatly to define their strengths. One girl was particularly stumped.
"I can't think of any strengths," she told me after staring at the question for five minutes.
"I just met you and I can already tell that you have many strengths," I said.
"I don't want to brag," she insisted.
"It's not bragging if it's true. You have to own it!" I got distracted by another girl who had a question, but I circled back to her a few minutes later. She was still struggling but her peers were coming to her rescue.
"You're smart and funny," said one.
"You're strong and fast and you work really hard," said another.
"You're friendly and you have really pretty eyes," chimed in the girl sitting next to her. But even with that encouragement, she struggled to accept her own strengths.
She was the most extreme example but it was a common theme. Even one of the adult coaches admitted she was having trouble coming up with 5 strengths. Can you name five of your strengths without hesitation?
The second lesson I learned from this activity is that many of the teens had no trouble defining the material things they wanted in the future. The vision boards were covered with pictures of cars and houses and babies and pet dogs and piles of cash. But when prompted to explain how they would earn those piles of money, many of the teens could not give an adequate or realistic answer. Research shows that focusing on the process is more important than focusing on a given outcome. An athlete who imagines standing on the podium at the Olympics is not as likely to be successful as the one who visualizes getting up early to practice and spending hours honing skills. Part of the power of life coaching is the focus on defining the action steps required to reach a goal and not simply the goal itself.
So here's what I propose: We've all probably heard of gratitude journals, where you write down something for which you are grateful at the beginning or end of each day. What if we tried a strength journal? At the beginning of each day, write down something you are good at or proud of and see where that gets you. While this is similar to an affirmation, it is more concrete. Yes you are good enough and smart enough and gosh darnit, people like you...but why? Like I told they teenagers, you have to own it. Secondly, when you have a goal, spend a few minutes each day visualizing the process. If you want to write a book, picture yourself writing crappy drafts and spending hours revising. If you want to run a marathon, don't picture yourself crossing the finish line, arms raised. Picture yourself at mile 20, when your feet are hurting and you're sweating buckets but you keep going anyway.
Like, share, and comment with your own insights. Enjoy the pictures below of some of the vision boards from the workshop today.