Vision Boards and Joy Jars… what are they for?

Morning all! Or whatever greeting is appropriate for whatever time of day it is while you are reading this! Welcome to this corner of my mind. Pull up a chair, grab a coffee (I’m nursing a honey and lemon drink) and let’s allow our minds to wander together…

When working with Third Culture Kids, we often discuss Identity Props. This is a term I use to describe those things (both physical objects and behavioural characteristics) that we possess that communicate our identity to those around us. Part of our identity challenges stem from the fact that so much of who we feel ourselves to be is invisible. I don’t look any different from my peers, nor do I sound different. So how will they understand that I am different – and how can these differences be explained? So I use art from my host countries as one of my identity props. Someone enters my home and they can ‘see’ that I have experience from elsewhere. When parts of our stories feel so otherworldly that they almost feel unreal, even to us, it’s important to seek out and nurture identity props. And this is where vision boards and joy jars can come in.

If you are into Pinterest at all, you’ll have come across these in the flurry of new year celebratory and reflective posts. Essentially vision boards are physical or digital displays that bring together ideas, articles, themes, colours or goals that you find inspiring. The thought is that by bringing different things together that grab you, common themes or ideas will emerge, helping to focus your mind and moving your towards your goal. The ‘board’ bit keeps it all together, and keeps it visible – so that you are constantly (and consistently) encouraged and motivated to achieve the things your vision board moves you towards.

You might actually have heard more of gratitude jars or memory jars, than joy jars. The notion is that you take a jar and pop into it jottings recording good moments. These visible stack up and act as an encouragement to you, especially on drab or discouraging days. Some people begin these January 1st and then open it all up on December 31st to spend some time recollecting all the good stuff from the past year. I think you can start it just about any time. I’ve called mine a joy jar rather than gratitude, because I, like many TCKs, have an aversion to being told to ‘be grateful’ for things – perhaps because our struggles with transition and loss are often masked by our relative privilege. ‘Being grateful’ sometimes can ask us to deny our challenges. But I don’t have such a reaction to looking for ‘joyful moments’, so I went with that. Plus I like the alliteration of it – Joy Jar… 😉 It’s the little things.

I have used vision boards to externalize and represent ‘out there’ what is important to me ‘in here’. The process of collecting beautiful images, photos and quotations reminds me of who I am, grounding my identity in physical manifestation, and encouraging me to communicate it in forms comprehensible to others. Similarly, my joy jar acts as a physical reminder of the things that give me joy – the things that matter to me, and make me ‘buzz’. I could write them in a book. But then I shut the book and put it on a shelf. This jar is visible, and the tiny pieces of coloured paper give physical manifestation to precious internal experiences. Writing them down makes my joyful experiences ‘real’. Seeing them build in a jar affirms my own experience of my own life and, in doing so, props up my identity.

What about you? What identity props do you have? Do you need to explore and nurture some more? Get in touch here if you would like some accompaniment on your identity journey – I’d love to hear your story.


  1. Dan says:

    Dr. Rachel, I’ve meant for some time to comment on the wonderful images you incorporate into your postings. Interesting, appropriate, and attractive. I know it took an investment of time to find and select each one of these. Tip o’ th’ hat to ye.

    Interestingly, my identity props have largely faded away over the years. It used to be that evidences of my background from Liberia and Nigeria hung all over the walls. Very little remains up now. Not sure what that means; maybe the non-MK part of the marriage has gradually mostly taken over.

    Probably not as effective as your joy jar and mission boards, but I’m thinking about using computer files to accomplish those tasks. A couple of most useful techniques you’ve suggested; variations close to those exist and I’ve used some of those at times. Thanks for the pertinent suggestions.

    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Great to hear this, Dan! Thanks for the feedback about the images too… it is a challenge to find images that connect to the oftentimes abstract concepts discussed on this blog, but good to know it’s working for you. Yes, some of my TCK ones have faded too… but I’m finding I’m still using props, perhaps they are just becoming more diverse in nature, or simply that my TCK identity is becoming more integrated with my owther identities over time? Interesting thoughts… I’m glad to hear you are considering using computer files to extend your props and explore this further! Thanks for reading!

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