Each year, the staff here at Teen Life go on a short planning retreat to take stock of the previous school year and make plans for the next. Our fearless leader, Ricky Lewis, always sets up a framework for the staff to work through that not only helps us look back, but also helps us to look to the future and dream a little. I always look forward to these retreats as an opportunity to sort out what we want as an organization, to take a breath, and center ourselves on our work.
This year, Ricky threw us a little curveball and asked us to take a few minutes to write down some of our big picture dreams for what we want to be doing, not only in our work lives, but in our personal lives as well. Taking the time to work through some of my true desires for work and home reminded me of another really helpful exercise I will sometimes use with the teenagers we serve in Support Groups.
As a part of our groups, I will have the students imagine what it would be like if their life story was written as a movie or tv show. In other words, if we were to watch them as a character in their own story, how much would we be interested? Would we stay to watch it until the end, or would we give up on their character?
Donald Miller has done a lot of work in the area of story and helping people understand the different narratives that can be at play as we make decisions. Part of his writing looks at characters and how they are defined. According to Miller, a good character can be described this way:
“A good character wants something and is willing to go through conflict to get it.”
So if you can think of any good character, we can identify clearly what they want and the sacrifices and struggles they go through in order to attain what they covet.
As we worked through our dream list, I found it helpful to remember what I truly desire out of this life. As one who loves and cares for teenagers, I feel compelled to do the same with them.
Too often, adults have dreams for the students they help but often do not know what they really want. If you don’t believe me, you should see the blank stares I get from teenagers when I ask them what they really want out of life. It’s not that they haven’t thought about it, but more that the adults in their lives have never asked them – or at the very least helped them think through what they want.
It is a powerful exercise to write down the things you want, even if it seems a little crazy (trust me, my list seems a little crazy). But when you write it out, you are forced to consider what needs to happen to accomplish those goals. What if we found creative, yet practical ways to help the teenagers around us to identify what they really want?
Here are some questions to ask:
– What do you want to be happening in your life around the age of 20? 30?
– If you woke up tomorrow and felt like you accomplished something significant, what would you want it to be?
– What is something you want to be different in five years?
– What is one job you would not consider to be work?
– What kind of people would be in your life if everything was good?
I’ve had some of my best conversations with teenagers talking about what they really want. It’s all really just in how you ask the questions. I know how great it feels to think a little about what I want. You get the chance to do the same. Give it a try!