How to Create a Personal Vision: Small Steps; Big Rewards

By now some of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. Like goals, New Year’s resolutions can generate feelings of obligation, i.e. “I ought to eat better,” and “I ought to exercise more.” Obligation creates stress. A personal vision, on the other hand, creates hope and activates parts of the brain involved in reasoning and creativity. Hope fueled by self-advocacy “means that we not only imagine that good things are about to happen, but we also believe in our ability to achieve them.”[1]

The concept of the personal vision is certainly inspiring, but ask almost any student between the ages of 18 and 21 to describe their personal vision and you’ll likely be met by a vacant stare. Most young adults have little or no idea what they want to be “when they grow up.” The truth is that while they may not have a concrete image of their future, they are already engaged in it; a student’s current engagement —those things that light him up now; those subjects she loves and easily commits time to — is the best predictor of that student’s personal vision.

A personal vision by nature is an iterative process that is unique to each individual. In each case, it starts with dreaming. In conversation, directed introspection, and through multiple tailored assessments, we encourage our students to creatively imagine a future that makes them feel excited. While the intended outcome of such dreaming is the clarification of a student’s academic path and life/career after college, we also incorporate activities and subjects outside of academia that bring joy and satisfaction. By helping students uncover this more holistic view of their future, they ultimately develop a more comprehensive understanding of their identity, passion, and purpose.

Our first steps are three self-reporting instruments: a Life Skills Inventory, the 5 CORE Skills Survey, and the Outcome Questionnaire (OQ).

The Life Skills Inventory is a comprehensive assessment that takes into account independent living skills such as money management, food management, health, academic planning, job seeking skills, etc. The 5 CORE Skills Survey assesses global executive functioning – a frequently addressed skill area in the lives of Focus Collegiate students. The OQ is “the most peer-reviewed self-report outcome measure in the world.” [1] It is designed for repeated measurement of student progress throughout and after the support they receive from us in school. It is the trusted adult outcome measure used by the Canadian government, one of America’s largest health care systems, and by the Armed Services.

We bring these results together in our Student Support Agreement (SSA). The guiding concept of each student’s SSA is their Personal Vision (the Ideal Self ). The SSA starts with an initial interview checklist detailing each student’s academic preparedness and orientation in the use of appropriate scheduling tools, routines, and homework charts. It then progresses through on-going Real-Self assessments in areas of social integration and self-care, life skills, and social identity. The SSA presents a Personal Balance Sheet of Strengths and Gaps. These strengths represent the alignment of a student’s assessed skills with their Ideal Self; the gaps are the areas where the Ideal Self and Real Self differ. A regular comparison of the Ideal Self with the Real Self informs each student’s learning agenda.

We regularly revisit each student’s personal vision and adjust the learning agenda accordingly, making sure that our work together bolsters self-advocacy and keeps the dream clearly in focus. While we certainly drive toward graduation, working in alignment with one’s personal vision is infinitely more satisfying than simply working for a grade.

Photo by Matt Noble on Unsplash

[1] Boyatzis, Richard; Smith, Melvin; Van Oosten, Ellen. Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press, 2019. Pg 117