About a year ago, my daughter and I created what she called a “dream board.” She wanted to make a collage, so we went to the library and got armfuls of random magazines from their free stacks. It was cold and rainy, so later that day I curled up by the fire with her and began to leaf through those magazines. We pulled out pictures of everything that struck our fancy. We weren’t looking for anything specific, just chatting and cutting, and as the afternoon wore on our stacks grew pretty deep. When we laid out all the pictures for the collage, I began to see that these pictures represented more than just what we thought was funny, beautiful, or interesting. These pictures provided insight into our deepest passions, hopes, and dreams. We had inadvertently created a great tool to add to my life coaching repertoire. I often have to utilize life coaching skills in my professional practice. Many gifted kids are extremely talented in several areas, which can make it hard to choose which talent to pursue professionally. When I am working with middle and high school aged clients, I am often asked to help them identify where to focus their educational efforts. When I meet with these clients, I work to help them uncover their authentic self. I use various tools that are designed to utilize both sides of the brain and help them make discoveries and connections.
I have conducted brainstorming sessions where we roll out long sheets of butcher paper and write down everything they have done, love to do, or plan to do, and then try to find connections between those items. We circle and color code items, draw lines between ideas, elaborate on original thoughts, and eventually a pattern emerges. Sometimes the results are surprising. We find connections that allow them to combine their passions or links that lead them to a new way of thinking about their future.
Another approach is to interview them about how they spend their free time, what types of books they read for fun, which movies and TV programs they watch. I ask them questions: What would you do if you had a windfall of cash? What do your friends like about you? What is easy/hard for you? If you could change anything about your life, what would it be? What are your pet peeves? What do your value? If you could go anywhere, do anything, what would you do? What do you think needs to be changed in your community?
Sometimes I push them out of their comfort zone. I might have a left brain thinker draw a five line self portrait or write a 10 sentence story of their lives. I might have an artistic right brain thinker make a sequential list or graph their activities. I might put them into an imaginary parallel universe that doesn’t have any limitations and ask them to rethink their life. When our sessions are finished, my clients often make insightful discoveries about who they really are and what they truly want out of life.
When we have finished our brainstorming sessions, we put together a plan to take classes, pursue apprenticeships, find mentors, and gain experience. I have seen kids go from barely motivated to racing out the door, once they figure out what they want to do and what it will take to get it done. The key is to help them figure it out for themselves. This is one of those decisions that needs to come from the soul. It requires them to sift through a great deal of daily life clutter to get there. They have to be free to separate their own desires from those of their parents. They have to learn to be their own life coach.
We all want our children to discover and safely navigate their path to a happy life. While this is our ultimate goal, we sometimes lose sight of it along the way. We are bogged down by the minutia of daily life. We have to make endless decisions and deal with the repercussion of those decisions. Work and money issues cloud our view. Pressures from family, school, or society put us off track. We forget that we eventually have to let go. Many of us have had to put our own passions on hold. We may have even lost touch with what really makes us happy. Consequently, we don’t always provide a good role model of how to follow our dreams.
The ultimate result of my off-the-cuff dream board session with my daughter was my application and acceptance into a doctoral program. My passion for education is reignited, my desire to be a social entrepreneur is refocused, and my daughter has a mother who is still engaged in making and meeting life goals. If you want to help your child discover their own possibilities, first take some time to reconnect with your own. Then put on your life coaching hat and watch the wonders emerge.