All of us can recall our own extraordinary moments, those moments when we felt that our best self was brought to light, affirmed by others, and put into practice in the world. These memories are seared into our minds as moments or situations in which we have felt alive, true to our deepest selves, and pursuing our full potential as human beings. Over time, we can collect these experiences into a “portrait” of who we are and what we do when we are at our personal best. This “best self portrait” is a resource we can call on to build confidence, to help us make decisions, to be courageous, to prepare and see possibilities for the future, to face challenges, and so much more.
The steps for creating your own Best Self Portrait are below.
- Identify three episodes in your life when you were at your very best (approximately 100 words each). Ideally the episodes would come from different aspects of your life such as sports, social life, work, etc. Identify the episodes that stand out for you and then write the story (a paragraph or two) of what happened in each case. In the story, you could describe the context, the role you played, the actions you took, the characteristics you displayed, the results, and the reasons behind your actions. A useful and simple guide to the selection of a “personal best event” could be “When I think about this, it makes me smile a lot” or “When I think about this, I feel very self-fulfilled and proud.”
Here is what a sample story might look like:
“I feel that I have the ability to get people to work together and give all they have to a task. For example, I think of the time my team was working on the design of the new software system. We were getting behind and the stress was building. We began to just focus on getting the task done, not necessarily doing our best work. I was able to remind everyone of our goal and what each of the group was capable of doing. In the end, we did meet the deadline and created a result we could all feel proud of.”
- Step back and read the stories you have created as a whole. Taken together, these stories describe your approach to people, challenges, and tasks. Look across the three stories to find common elements that each of your stories share. For example, one commonality might be in the starting process of your three events – in each case, perhaps it was due to your enthusiasm. When you notice a positive behavior or contribution, simply write a line that describes that pattern (i.e., enthusiasm, facilitation, persistence, helpfulness). When you notice a pattern or theme, simply write a line that describes that pattern or theme (i.e., I help people in trying times; I can motivate others; I can see how things fit together). Then combine these observations into a written portrait of 200-300 words. This portrait should include those qualities, values, and characteristics that you believe you exude when you are at your best.
Write a few paragraphs that capture these positive behaviors, contributions, patterns, themes, qualities, values and characteristics. This is your best self portrait.
A sample best self portrait might look like this:
“When I am at my best, I am creative. I am enthusiastic about ideas and I create bold visions. I am an innovative builder who perseveres in the pursuit of the new. I do not waste energy thinking about missed opportunities or past failures. I stay centered and focused on what is possible and important.
I use frameworks and models to help me make sense of complex issues. I can see disparate ideas and integrate them through “yes and” thinking. I often make points others do not readily see. I paint visions and provide new ways for people to see. I use metaphors and stories to do this. I find stories in everyday experiences, and people find it easy to understand them.
In helping others, I try to empathize with them and understand their needs. I give them my attention and energy, but I allow them to be in charge. In exercising influence, I try to enroll people, not force them, in new directions. I help people and groups surface the darkest realities and the most painful conflicts. From these emergent tensions comes the energy for transformation.
- You can strengthen your own best self portrait with insights reflected back to you from significant others in your life. Your friends, colleagues, and family members have different perspectives and can offer unique and valuable insights into the ways you add value and make positive contributions.
Share your draft portrait with 2-3 trusted friends, family members, or colleagues and request feedback. It is instructive to learn whether he or she sees your portrait the same or differently than you. Provide a written reflection of around 200 words based on the different perspectives you received.