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Seventeen and Soul Searching

A teenager I used to mentor, who for privacy purposes will be referred to as Jason, was at the time a seventeen-year-old male in a transitional stage of life. He was in the process of earning both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree when I met him, which is one example of maturity that seems well-above average for his age. At the same time, Jason was yearning for direction and was longing to pursue his dream of professional theater. Since he was approaching the end of high school, his plan was to take a “gap-year” in order to develop a vision for the next chapter of his journey.

After listening to Jason express a deep desire for direction, I suggested a goal-setting technique called a Master Action Plan, or MAP. The goal of constructing a MAP is to pinpoint specific and measurable ways of being more intentional in the most important areas of life. I first learned about this concept from a man named Jeff Reeter, who had a tremendous impact on my own life as a young adult. Meeting Jason was my chance to teach this tool to someone else. As it turned out, Jason liked the idea and we ran with it. I also decided to create a Master Action Plan of my own, with the intent of being a collaborative partner rather than another authority figure.

Abilities + Strategies

Jason is an extremely humble and honest person. For example, he never sugar-coated what he did or did not do when we talked about the progress of his Master Action Plan. These character traits of humility and honesty will take him far in life. With regard to aptitude and unique ability, it seemed to me that Jason’s creative mind coupled with a drive to succeed would be paramount for him as well. This project of creating a MAP was intended to capitalize on his potential to channel his creative energy in a productive way. Although creativity is often thought of as merely spontaneous, Jason recognized the fact that he has potential to leverage his artistic abilities to an even greater extent when he has a well-thought-out action plan.

Developmentally Speaking

The psychologist Erik Erikson emphasized identity as the primary task during the adolescent stage of life. At seventeen years old, Jason was already demonstrating remarkable maturity academically, professionally, and personally. Although he was close to completing both high school and an associate’s degree, school was far from his limit. He had recently begun working a considerable number of hours at a coffee shop and was already gaining valuable work experience. Moreover, Jason pursued other areas of life that were important to him, such as spending time with his loved ones and volunteering at a local performing arts studio to teach children about theater. In all of these areas, Jason was discovering a sense of identity.

Promoting Development

The process of constructing a Master Action Plan was broken down into steps, beginning with writing out a life purpose statement. Next, Jason and I each tried to come up with a purposeful theme for our MAPs. Based on which areas of life matter the most, we then brainstormed goals for each of those areas. From there, my intervention was a process of refinement. This involved making our goals more measurable and giving one another feedback for improvement until we had a finished product. After that came what is arguably the real task: implementation of our MAPs in our daily lives.

Thankfully, this intervention was by nature quite purposeful in terms of facilitating and encouraging a healthy and balanced life. As meaningful as this process was, however, I would argue that the conversations throughout the process were just as meaningful. For example, I made a point to validate and affirm his dream of pursuing theater as much as possible. I was a cheerleader every chance I got, sort of like this video of Ricky Martin when he was enthusiastically watching the performance of his contestant on “The Voice.” Jason affirmed that he was encouraged by my “cheerleading,” but truthfully, I was just as encouraged and inspired by him as I listened to him talk about his dreams and watched his face light up when we discussed possibilities of those dreams becoming a reality. Looking back, this project was a wonderful opportunity for me to educate and empower Jason with a tool that I learned from my managing partner at a previous job. Now that Jason knows how to do a MAP, he could easily pass on this technique to others.


When Jason and I first met over coffee, I sensed uncertainty about his life ahead. As we moved into our project, I began noticing a steady rise in his confidence level as we put ideas on paper and made them progressively more concrete and measurable. When Jason’s MAP was complete, I sensed satisfaction, but a bit of disappointment as well. When I asked him how he would rate the helpfulness of our project on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), he surprisingly said a 6, but quickly explained that this score represented his own self-assessment of how he treated the project rather than the project itself. I also got the impression that his disappointment was due to the fact that his plans for his gap-year may not be unfolding the way he had envisioned, which perhaps led to a feeling of having taken a step forward but two steps back. I believe this roller coaster of emotions was quite normal. I also got the impression that Jason’s overall confidence in himself had undergone genuine positive growth rather than merely a brief uptick. I remember feeling extremely proud of Jason and the work he had completed by the time the formal mentorship had ended. I took great joy in seeing his resilience in the face of uncertainty during what is undoubtedly a challenging stage of life for many (if not most) of us.

Ryan Woods

Ryan Woods, LPC Associate

My goal as a counselor is to help adults, adolescents, and children by providing a space to be heard, process life’s challenges, and develop the necessary skills to thrive mentally, physically, and spiritually. My overall approach to therapy involves cognitive behavioral methods (exploring one’s thoughts and beliefs relative to emotions and behaviors), as well as narrative therapy (engaging personal stories that view people as separate from their problems). I view counseling as a collaborative effort in helping clients to recognize strengths, identify needs, understand conflicts, discover new options, set personal development goals, and make informed choices.


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