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A young woman talking on the radio

You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot - it's all there.




What Shapes My Future Self?

Learning Objectives:

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify people and forces that influence their vision of their future.

  • Describe similarities and differences in their goals vs. the goals their influencers may want for them.

  • Understand their most dominant influences.

  • Look for opportunities to deepen their relationship with an influencer or role model in their life.

Background for Educator:

Adolescents’ future goals are informed by their life experiences, general future outlooks, and interpretations of influences from multiple social contexts.(1) Of these influences, family members are among the most instrumental(2) and studies show that adolescents of color especially rely on and benefit from familial supports and other forms of buy-in for future goal attainment.(3) Adolescents internalize family influences in relation to other forces (e.g., media, neighborhood, etc.) when deciding life options. (4) Negative outcomes like street-involvement, gangs, and poverty, induce “feared-selves,” that may drive youth from urban areas to imagine alternate future life conditions.(5) Black and Latinx youth, and those from immigrant families and other marginalized communities, may also seek out college and career choices to "do better” than family members and to enhance the lives of relatives who could not obtain such chances.(6)

By conducting meaningful conversations around influences, we can make students aware of how social contexts may propel or hinder their ability to imagine their future selves without limitations and then actualize those futures.


1. Carey, 2016, 2018; Auerbach, 2007; Brown & Jones, 2004; Oyserman & Fryberg, 2006; Oyserman et al., 2002.

2. Frome & Eccles, 1998; Hill et al., 2004; Kerpelman et al., 2008.

3. Carey, 2016; McElhaney et al., 2009; Smetana, 2011.

4. Oyserman & Fryberg, 2006; Yowell, 2000.

5. Brooms, 2019; Huerta, 2015.

6. Howard, 2014.

📄 Open Full Reference List


This lesson is delivered with a combination of guided discussion and free-writing.

Learning in a remote/virtual setting? The discussion activities in this lesson can be facilitated in a video-conference setting such as Zoom®, and small group activities can be conducted in breakout rooms. Independent projects can be completed using digital tools such as a word processor or Audacity, a free audio recording program. Students will, however, need a hard copy of the companion worksheet for “Taking Control of My Influences” – this activity may require distributing a hard copy of this document with other physical course materials if students cannot print the worksheet at home.

Part 1: Identify My Influences

(Suggested Time: 25 minutes)

First, remind students of the "safe zone" that was created in Lesson 1: Vision. Encourage them to be open-minded, non-judgmental, and assure them that there are no "right" answers. Share the lesson rubric (PDF) as evidence of what you are looking for from them, and how they should treat each other during the lesson.

Next, engage students in a large-group discussion for 10 minutes on this topic. Begin by reading this script aloud:


You are all familiar with influencers. They are people with the power to shape the things we want, buy, and do. They may post to social media or make advertisements that show us a vision of the lifestyle they think we should all want.

But influencers aren't just famous people on Instagram, YouTube, or in commercials. Influence can come from all kinds of places in our lives. Maya Angelou said that  we are "the sum total of everything we've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, or forgot!"

What influences do you think exist for teens/adolescents? Can those influences shape how adolescents think about their future college, career, and life condition?


Ask students to describe as many examples of influences as possible.

Next, ask students to take out a pencil or pen, and a notebook/several blank sheets of paper. Explain that:

We are going to engage in a free-writing session. I will ask a question, and then you will have 30 seconds or so to react to that question on paper in ANY way you want – it can be through drawing, writing, doodling, creating song lyrics, anything. Your words do not have to flow together or form complete sentences. Try to write for the WHOLE time, without stopping. Write whatever comes to mind – if you can't think of something to write, write "I can't think of anything to write"! Use as much paper as you would like.


Ask the following questions, allowing a 30-45 second interval between each question.


  • Do you want to go to college?

  • Who or what do you think influences you to want college or not want college?

  • What are some experiences, successes, or setbacks you have had in high school that will affect your education in the future?

  • What is your earliest memory of someone talking to you about college?

  • Who do you know that has attended college? Did they graduate?

  • Would you say that education is important to your family?

  • Does your family support your education goals?

  • What financial role will your family play in your plan to go to college, such as accessing financial aid or providing financial support?



  • What are some ambitions you have for your future career?

  • Who or what do you think influences you to want this kind of career?

  • Are there people in your life, at home or at school, who talk with you about your future? Do they talk about it occasionally, or consistently?

  • What do your parents/guardians do for a living? Have you ever considered doing something similar to them?

  • Is there any job or career that your parents/guardians want you to do?

  • Do your parents/guardians or other family members support your career ambitions?


  • What kind of lifestyle do you want to have in the future?

  • Who or what influences you to want that kind of life?

  • How would you describe your family’s current “life condition”? 

  • What aspects of your family’s current life condition would you also like to have for yourself as an adult? What aspects would you change?

  • If there were no rules about how you would live your life - no boundaries, no money, no limits, no prestige, no violence, no borders - how would you live your life, on your terms?


Part 2: Find the Themes

(Suggested time: 15 minutes)


Ask students now to skim through their free-write papers, and circle or highlight common themes — things they wrote or drew more than once, things they emphasized with bigger or darker writing, things they circled or underlined, or things they just feel strongly about. What do the themes that emerge reveal about the students' influences in all three domains?

Two volunteers should now be invited to share their themes and influencers with the full class (optional).


Students ages 15-17; ideally, this lesson is delivered at the end of 9th grade.

Optimized for Black and Latinx students.


Active Instruction: Approximately two 45-minute teaching sessions

Student Assignment work: Two evenings per activity selected, or a full weekend.



Students should have some familiarity with or exposure to the concepts of:

  • What is an influence?

  • Common barriers/obstacles to college and career goal attainment

  • Media and culture as a force of influence on our lives

  • The concept of role models or “idols”

  • The role of personal emotions (e.g., self-doubt, confidence, pride, fear) in actualizing a future goal or plan 



If your students have never done a free-write exercise before, they may benefit from incorporating a free-write approach 2 or 3 times in the weeks leading up to this lesson, on other topics. This will help acclimate students to the idea and remove the pressure of a free-write activity. This will also prove to students that there are no traditional writing requirements or expectations of their performance.

Independent Projects:

It's time to apply what students have learned!

Offer these project assignment options* to extend the learning and help students articulate their influences.

Each activity is designed to be completed independently; this work can occur in class or outside of class.

Download as a student-ready Project Handout (PDF) or Editable Handout (Google Doc)

Man with Grandsons


What do you hope for me?

In writing or as a voice recording, interview a member of your family or an adult you admire at school, whom you consider to be an influence in your life in one or more of the domains (college, career, condition). Ask at least three of the Looking Back questions and at least three of the Looking Forward questions provided, plus two additional questions of your own design. Your goal is to understand how this person thought about their own college, career, or life condition when they were your age; what influences led this person to where they are now in college, career, or life condition; and what aspects of college, career, or life condition this person wishes for you. Here are the questions you can use with your interviewee. Here are the questions you can use with your interviewee.


High School Student


Taking Control of My Influences

In this activity, you will take inventory of the influences that shape your goals for college, career, and life condition. This activity will help you understand the power that these influences have over your vision, and explore ways you can reclaim some of the power holding you back, or amplify the positive influences in your life to allow them to lift you higher.


  • Pencil or pen

  • Pair of scissors

  • Clear tape or a glue stick

  • Notebook or lined paper to write on

  • A single-sided, printed copy of this companion document (PDF)

*Remember to differentiate. Students may need to engage with future-self thinking in ways that resonate best with them. Offer differentiated options to complete this expression, such as journaling, essays, visual or creative arts, podcasting, performances or skits, or vision boarding.

Wrap Up:

Depending on the climate and tone of your classroom, you may want to offer an opportunity for students to present their independent projects or otherwise display them in class. However, remember that some students may feel that the content is too personal to share in this way; be sure that sharing is always optional in order to maintain a trusting environment.

Up Next:

This lesson transitions into the lesson on Alignment. When you're ready, open the next lesson plan.

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