Vision: Imagine the Sweet Smell (Sound, Look, and Feel) of Success
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”1
Congratulations. You have named your life’s mission and you are going to put your talents to work to meet a need in the world. So how do you begin to do that? By stepping into the future and imagining that it’s already done.
Creating a vision statement is step two of building your strategic plan. You will paint a vivid verbal picture of what life looks like when you are using your gifts fully, doing what you love most, and accomplishing what you set out to do. Your vision statement describes the point on the map you want to reach. While it won’t tell you how you’ll get there, it serves as your inspiration and the foundation for your business planning. You can’t figure out what stands between where you are and where you want to be and how you’ll travel the distance until you can clearly see your destination. It’s your personal definition of success.
But in the Business of Life, your vision is more than just the X that marks the spot labeled “I’ve arrived.” It’s also a description of the journey—the life you’ll savor along the way. Think of yourself as a skier standing at the trail map on the mountain. Your task is to choose the path that matches your ability, passions, and resources. Maybe you have a natural gift for skiing, love the exhilaration of flying down the mountain, and have a great pair of high-performance skis. You might choose the double black diamond slope, with its bumps and adrenaline-pumping jumps. Or perhaps you’re more laid back and would prefer a contemplative cross-country meander through the valley to the waterfall.
Your vision statement will capture all of this: the endpoint—where you’re enjoying the fruits of doing what you set out to do—as well as the path and cadence that bring you pleasure as you head in that direction. In this chapter, you will complete a series of exercises that will define the elements of your vision. By the end of this phase, you will put them all together in a comprehensive picture so you can create the steps that will take you toward this satisfying future.
Visioning may sound a bit ethereal if you’re a left-brain analytic person, but it’s absolutely pragmatic. These compelling images will motivate you and keep you energized and moving forward productively. Whether you are creating a plan for a project at work, making more space for your family and hobbies, or taking on your whole life’s mission, your vision statement puts a picture of what you are trying to achieve in your mind’s eye and gives you a target to shoot for. It also reminds you very clearly of why hitting that target is worth it.
Bill is an architect who has run his own successful firm for decades. As the president of a million-dollar-plus nonprofit organization, he asked me to guide the board of trustees through a strategic planning process. After working on the mission statement, he was eager to jump right to setting strategies for achieving it. That’s step five and, like a lot of people, he wanted to cut out the “softer” preliminaries and just get right to it. So it was gratifying to see the light bulb go on over his head as I explained the importance of creating a vision statement. He exclaimed, “Oh, I see now. If we can say more clearly what we want, we can figure out which strategies are most likely to get us there.” As simple as this sounds, it was a revelation to him.
Interestingly, as an architect, Bill used visioning quite naturally with his clients by asking them how they wanted to use the space they had engaged him to design and what they wanted to accomplish there. Furthermore, he recognized that the other trustees who worked in a variety of industries needed a common understanding of the organization’s aspirations and that taking time at the outset to sharpen that vision would avoid time-stealing disagreements later in the process.
If you are leading a group at work, think about your people rowing toward a goal. Imagine what would happen if one person was headed in another direction. At best, he would slow the team’s progress and at worst he would get your boat spinning in circles, making everyone seasick in the process.
And so it is for you. When a vision statement does its job, it’s so vivid that you can easily see yourself in the new reality you would like to create. And it will get all parts of you working in harmony; your heart and head will be rowing in the same direction so you don’t spin from inner conflict. If you’re clear on where you’re headed, it’s much easier to see what it will take to accomplish your goals. And because it requires thinking about all the things you need to enjoy your life, creating your vision statement is actually fun and inspiring.
Having a Wonderful Time, Wish You Were Here
Think of your vision statement as a postcard from the future. You imagine yourself at a point a year or five or ten years down the line where you are happy and fulfilled. As you put yourself firmly in this picture, you use all of your senses to fully experience this vision—what true success would be like for you. Are you running a new business? Serving a needy population with an entrepreneurial nonprofit organization? Are you sitting in a beautifully decorated office? Cutting the ribbon for a new school you’ve helped open? Are you thriving at your demanding job, but this time making room for all the other things that mean so much to you, such as running outside with the dog or going out for real romance with your spouse? What are you seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling? Who is with you? You’re on vacation? Are you trekking through the mountains in Nepal or lounging in a hammock with a good book? Take time to note all the elements that surround the future you, and imagine this delicious scene in all its glory, with you at the center.
Many Western definitions of success focus on achieving a goal such as reaching a career milestone and crossing it off the list, but a well-lived life includes so much more. The soul-satisfying activities that make you feel whole belong in your vision, too. Interestingly, as you’ll see throughout this book, bringing more you to your life can increase your effectiveness at work exponentially.
Life is serious business, but who said the ride shouldn’t be fun? It isn’t just about achieving results; it’s about creating warm relationships, giving of yourself, and feeling joy and pleasure. In fact, a happy and fulfilled you is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the world. So, let’s get started creating the building blocks of your vision statement.
Postcard from the Future
I invite you to have some fun fantasizing about what a perfect day looks like for you. Sit comfortably with your notebook or computer. Put your mission statement firmly in your mind. Close your eyes for a few moments and picture yourself at some point in the future, fully living your dream and fulfilling your purpose. Breathe deeply and engage all of your senses. Describe what you experience as you imagine moving through your day. As you write it all down, be sure to state everything in the present tense and keep it positive. You experience what you put your attention on, so focus on pleasant images and describe what you see as though it were happening right now.
• What are you doing?
• Where are you?
• What does the space look like? Are you indoors or outside? Is it sunny and warm or are you in a dark room filled with technology? What colors do you see? Is every room filled with fresh flowers? Are there whiteboards on the walls?
• Who is with you? Are you working in blissful solitude or surrounded by an unruly bunch of creative types? How are you relating to one another?
• Are you working in peace and quiet or is there music playing in the background?
• What do you need to have to make every day a joyful pleasure? The chance to connect deeply with other people? A fix of chocolate? Lots of laughter?
• What must you avoid to be happy? Do you hate conflict? Barking dogs? Traffic?
Write down anything that comes to you in your notebook and just start a stream-of-consciousness brain download. Answer all the questions above and anything else that comes to you. You will add to your “postcard” as you work your way through the following sections and you’ll refine your vision in the final exercise.
Mission + You = Vision
In case you are feeling any pressure about getting your vision statement “right,” let me assure you this task is eminently doable and virtually impossible to get wrong. That’s because it’s all about you, and you’re the owner/operator of that fine operation.
One of the most important factors that separates inspired leaders from the sea of competent managers is a clear vision. It’s hard to persuade other people to contribute to your success if you can’t tell them what you want. And now that you are running the business of your life, it’s time you get clear on what You, Inc. is going to produce. No one knows you better than you, so there is no one more qualified to define success on your terms.
You used your talent inventory in the last chapter to help define your mission, and it may be quite similar to other people’s statements. A lot of people and organizations have missions that overlap, or even sound nearly identical. But the visions they have for fulfilling those missions can be quite different, because each is built on the visioner’s guiding principles and unique skills, experiences, and passions.
How you choose to carry out a given mission is a reflection of who you are: your own skills, likes, values, and quirky sense of what’s fun or fulfilling. You’re looking for the path that’s a perfect fit for your talents, something that excites you and feels easy because it lets you do what comes naturally to you.
Say you identified feeding the hungry as your life’s mission. The task of nourishing the world is enormous, and there are endless possible visions for accomplishing it. A right-brain, creative type might take on this mission by creating delicious new recipes for food that is stable without refrigeration and can easily be shipped and stored in areas without electricity. An analytical left-brain thinker might be intrigued by the logistics of creating a distribution system that delivers her creative friend’s innovative cuisine to hungry people in remote third world villages. Yet another person with the very same mission might enjoy solving the puzzle of how to get around corrupt governments and bandits who siphon off the aid being offered by relief groups to the souls whose survival depends it.
Each of these people is working toward a common purpose, and all make an essential contribution in their own way.
Pack It with Passion
To infuse your vision with passion and fun, go back to the lists of your talents and interests that you made in step one. How many of your passions can you pack in as you carry out your mission? Love problem solving? How can you bring your sleuthing skills into the picture? Would people laugh with recognition to see you, a dog lover, as a detective in the canine unit? Put that possibility on the table. What else makes you smile? You’ll want your vision to be sprinkled with those feel-good spices.
The Magic Word for a Powerful Vision: AGLOW
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick: and it gives its light unto all that are in the house.”
—Jesus of Nazareth
Your vision statement isn’t something you’ll write and file away. You’ll refer to it often, even daily, so it should be inspirational. Create an image that propels you forward, compelling you to pursue goals that will move you along your path. It should light you up from the inside with a glow that radiates to everyone around you. Just reading it should energize you.
You can ensure that your vision statement has the power to set you AGLOW by making it:
Grab your notebook and record your thoughts as we drill down into each of these elements. The insights, images, and desires that surface as you go along may become the pearls that you string together to create a complete vision.
1. Make it authentic: First and foremost, your vision must allow you to be true to who you really are, not someone else’s vision of what they’d like you to be. What do you most value? What are the gifts that only you can share with the world? That must be expressed in your vision statement. You will not heed your calling if you are trying to be a pale imitation of someone else. You need to focus your energies on being the best YOU possible. As motivational speaker Mike Robbins says in his book of the same name, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”2
I can’t stress enough the importance of authenticity in writing your vision. Make it reflect your genuine dreams and desires. You’ve put a lot of effort into finding your personal genius and thinking about how to put that to work in service of the world. Stay focused there. Dig deep.
2. Make it grand: This is the time to think big, audacious thoughts. One of my students told me that his grandfather used to say, “Shoot for the sky and you might hit the top of the coconut tree. Shoot for the tree and you may hit the ground.” Take his advice and aim high. Writing a vision statement is about defining your ideal, not what you think may be possible. This is not the time to limit your thinking and cut off your options because you believe your fantasy is too big, too bold, or too anything ever to come true. We will test those limiting beliefs later. You may be quite surprised to see what’s feasible once you have a vivid vision of where you’re headed and you’re armed with the information and tools presented in the upcoming chapters. So, suspend disbelief for now and think big.
If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you include in your picture of your perfect future? Would you be hanging out with rock stars? Write it down. Selling your artwork in high-end art galleries? Record that. Your fantasies need a place to live. For now, that will be in your notebook. Later, who knows? One thing is for sure. If you cross your dreams off your list, they won’t come true. At least give them a shot.
3. Make it laudable: Since your mission is about using your talents to meet a need in the world, your vision should describe how your little corner of the world will be better because of the work your mission has set in motion. This doesn’t mean you have to be Mother Teresa. A personal shopper who helps people find flattering styles that make them feel attractive and confident is providing a helpful service. You can be helpful without being perfect. What does the world need that you have to offer? Which population do you want to serve? Animals? Do you want to be a veterinarian, a conservationist who saves endangered species in the jungles of Africa, or a dog walker? Do you want to raise happy children and send them into the world? Help the hungry and homeless? Heal the sick? Tell killer jokes and relieve the stress of overwrought executives? Write it down.
4. Make it optimistic: This is essential. To be effective, your vision statement should describe your life in positive, present-tense language as though you were already living your ideal. The whole point of creating a vision is to help you picture what you are trying to achieve so you can focus your efforts on filling in the colors in your paint-by-numbers future.
When you were a kid, what got you excited? Write that down. Your younger self may well have a lot to teach you. So put yourself in your size four Keds and try to remember: What did you want to be when you grew up? Think about how you would have answered that question at several points in your childhood. The answers may give you additional clues about your gifts and passions. You may no longer want to fight fires, but when you ask your younger self why he wanted to do that, he may tell you that he likes helping people and the excitement that comes with the urgency of a crisis. Not to mention, he’d get to drive really cool trucks and slide down a pole in the middle of the night.
Do those things still float your boat? You may want to look for activities that include them and make them part of your vision. How can you get that adrenaline rush while helping people? Or was it the shiny brass pole that caught your imagination? I hear pole-dancing classes are popping up in health clubs across the country.
5. Make it wondrous: Your vision should leave you in a state of “pinch me” wonder, where you are thrilled to look around at a life that includes everything you value and that rewards you for giving exactly what you’re here to offer. The more you paint a picture with all the shades that inspire and energize you, the more committed you will be to breathing life into it. And commitment is what we want. Your mission depends on it.
Pull It Together
Take a moment to review this section and make sure you’ve recorded all of the elements that will make your future glow.
Igniting Your Glow May Feel Undoable, but Try It Anyway
Bruce and his wife, Mara, were thrilled that their careers were going so well, and they were proud of their two beautiful children. Yes, they’d hoped for three, but other than that, they couldn’t quite figure out why their jobs and kids weren’t enough to make them happy. With this vague sense of dissatisfaction, Bruce, a mid-level manager (ironically enough, a strategic planner) took one of my Business of Life courses. Besides learning some concrete business skills he could use on the job, Bruce was hoping to get to the bottom of his discontent and to develop a plan to bring more joy into his life to match the success he seemed to have on paper.
Bruce’s personal mission was “to create a harmonious home life, raise happy, healthy, and productive children, and make a positive difference with my professional and volunteer work.” That statement reflected who he was, but it gave him no clues about what was missing, so he was excited by the idea of imagining his perfect day and conjuring up the details of what he needed in his life for it to feel fun, fulfilling, and meaningful.
He nodded when I told his group to consider what would make them the happiest, rather than focusing on what wasn’t working in their lives. As a strategist, he knew well that working toward a positive vision is much more productive than dwelling on shortcomings. It was pretty easy for him to come up with this vision statement:
BRUCE’S VISION STATEMENT
It is five years from now and our household is a crazy, mixed-up bastion of creative, controlled chaos. Our three little girls, ages three, six, and eight, are growing, giggling, and thriving at their preschool and public schools. They enjoy their friends and each other. Each girl has her own distinct personality, but they share our family’s common values and there is always love and compassion present, even during their disagreements. I enjoy being their personal riding toy and delight in showering them with love, wisdom, and thousands of kisses.
My wife and I have reclaimed some of the time we had devoted to establishing our careers and made a commitment to a weekly date where we can focus on our love for each other and remember to laugh together. Every Saturday night, we get dressed up, go out for dinner, and do something that reminds us of why we fell in love so many years ago. Fun is a requirement. We remember to be silly with each other, not just with the kids. I remember, weekly, to look deeply into Mara’s eyes and really see her. This fuels me and allows me to keep a sense of humor about all the times my kids’ demands pull me away from my work. Because it reminds me that raising happy, productive children is my work, and this memory makes me smile and relax.
Just writing his vision down made Bruce smile and relax. He had a big aha moment when he put his finger on what had been making him dissatisfied in his otherwise pretty great life: he’d gotten into a groove so deep it was more like a rut. He and Mara had been having what could best be described as an “administrative relationship.” Their brief time together each day was spent figuring out the family’s complicated logistics and assigning chores. They’d stopped expressing their real love for each other, let alone having fun together. This became immediately apparent to Bruce as he envisioned his ideal life. And when he mentioned it to Mara, she nodded with recognition and pledged immediately to join him in making some changes.
Bruce’s shiny vision ultimately transformed their lives, but committing it to paper was a struggle for him. He hesitated to write down what he longed for because there seemed to be no way he and Mara could have a third child and keep it all together—not with their schedules.
When I saw his brow furrow while he was writing his vision statement in class, I walked over and asked if he needed help. He said that his vision seemed impossible and he was trying to figure out a vision that was feasible, so I reminded him not to edit down his dreams. We’re going for grand, optimistic, and wondrous, after all, and that means coming up with a picture of the ideal, not simply what’s practical. A vision statement helps you figure out what you want. The work that follows in a strategic plan is about figuring out how to get it, even when it seems wildly impractical.
Bruce took a deep breath and went determinedly (if a bit skeptically) back to his writing. We’ll meet up with him later in this book to see how he dealt with the nuts and bolts of living out his vision. For now, all I will say is that he figured out a lot of stuff—and lit his wife’s light in the process. He even improved his work life. And it all started with stretching his imagination and expanding his notion of what was possible.
You are going to learn some skills and techniques later in this book that may well give you the tools to accomplish what now seems completely out of the question. So before you discount any dream or desire as unattainable, put your doubts aside and, for now, continue with the assumption that anything is possible.
Feel the Pull
Just as a magnet draws metal effortlessly toward it, an effective vision statement pulls you toward its fulfillment. There’s something irresistible to your mind and heart about imagining yourself enjoying your life while you are using your native talents to do great things. Who wouldn’t be lured by such a force? And, when you layer on those things that make your hours joyful, you look forward to the process of arriving at your vision.
As I wrote this book—a project with the simple, utilitarian mission: Complete Writing the Book—I was pulled along by a vision that had me sitting in my beautiful office with soothing, cheerful colors, a cup of tea, music playing, and my lush garden on view through the window. Because my vision had spelled out not only my larger goals for the book but also what would make my journey the most satisfying, I made sure that I had all the little touches in my office that made me glad to be there. The space was clean and peaceful. I enjoyed a lovely solitude when it was needed and made plans to be with cherished friends and family later, so I was alone, but not lonely. My kids knew they could pop in for a kiss or a question, but not linger. So, I was productive, but not isolated. In short, my office was someplace I wanted to be and, as a result, it wasn’t a struggle to get my butt in the chair and get down to work on this enormous undertaking.
The hard work of writing was sweetened immeasurably by the grace notes I strung through my vision. And I read the comments of people whose lives had been changed for the better after taking my workshops. The image of readers lighting up as they figure out what they want and discovering a path to make it happen kept me going, knowing I was fulfilling an important mission.
Did my vision “attract” the experience it described? Well, what you think about, you bring about, as the saying goes. We also tend to act on impulses that arise from what we focus on. We visualize writing in a serene space, and soon comes the impulse to clear and paint the room, set up the desk, put down the first few sentences. And in that way, we move toward creating that new reality.
You will do things randomly if you haven’t consciously chosen a direction, so crafting a vision statement means taking active control of your thoughts, focusing them on creating a deliberate reality that is fulfilling and provides lasting value.
Remember Raymond, the imaginary musician from the last chapter whose mission was to become a concert pianist? He had a remarkable gift for blending notes and melodies to interpret great works in astonishing ways that still respected the compositions’ integrity. Further, he found that his gift compelled him to create new musical pieces that stretched the music-loving public’s imagination.
Now, as he closes his eyes and imagines his happy future, he sees himself surrounded by other musicians. He is listening, enraptured, to a harmonic blend of orchestral instruments sending their sweet sounds through the air of a great theater, and he is thrilled to contribute to the symphony. While he is there, he feels the joy that comes with living this reality.
When he wakes from his reverie and finishes writing down his vision, he realizes that it’s been a mighty long time since he’s actually played the piano. He’s so excited to get started, he immediately picks up the phone to call the maestro from his local symphony hall to find the name of a piano teacher who can help him hone his skills until he is an accomplished enough performer to flourish as a soloist. He’s on his way to leading the life he’s dreamed of.
Vision has an amazing way of giving birth to action.
Because you’ll want to be sure that your vision is full of elements, large and small, that give you pleasure, spend some time taking note of just what those things are. I often suggest that my students carry a notebook for a day, even a week, and jot down the things they enjoy. Puzzles? A walk across the park on the way home? A bounding yellow lab puppy jumping on you as you walk in the door? If it makes you happy, write it down, and be sure there’s room for it in your vision.
I’ve seen many people make changes, large and small, based solely on the power of their mission and vision statements, together with their guiding principles.
Take Sandra, for example. She’s the compassionate, ambitious professional we met in the last section whose mission statement described the way she wanted to “support, motivate, and bring joy to those I encounter throughout my life.”
She’d been tested, strengthened, and ultimately inspired by a long struggle with infertility, and when she sat down to write her vision statement, she reached back to that experience and confirmed for herself that helping others with that issue would be an important part of her future. She’d been thinking about starting a nonprofit organization, and because that dream seemed grand and a bit daunting, she set her vision five years in the future:
I have a loving husband and two happy children who are self-confident and aware of themselves. We laugh and love together every day.
I am instrumental in developing and leading the inpatient and outpatient Diabetes Wellness Center at my hospital. I grew this center from its nascent stages to the award-winning center it is today.
I am the cofounder of Fertility Within Reach, a successful nonprofit organization aimed at helping individuals who are impacted by the disease of infertility become their own best advocates for change. I personally advocate for insurance coverage of infertility services nationwide. As a result of these efforts, individuals gain the confidence they need to navigate the struggles of infertility, and thousands of babies are born to couples faced with the challenge of infertility.
I enjoy my vast network of friends, each of whom brings me something different. We laugh together, support each other, and help each other grow.
Sandra came to the Business of Life class because she had an ambitious agenda and needed a set of tools to manage everything she wanted to do at home, at work, and in her community. With so much fire in her belly, she ran the risk of burning herself out if she tried to do too much. And like a lot of capable people who can handle many things well, she faced the very real possibility that she’d expertly execute the wrong things—initiatives that didn’t mean much to her. That could bring her external rewards, but not genuine success.
Her vision statement helped her keep her passions front and center, and laid the groundwork for setting some short- and long-term goals. Just one year later—not five, as she’d expected—she’s gotten Fertility Within Reach off the ground. The project took off as she discovered the power of concentrating her abundant energy on her own passions. And the joy that infused her vision is now part of her everyday life. Later, you’ll see the shifts Sandra made, and the new habits that took shape, as she began setting priorities based on her vision.
Use Your Vision to Make Decisions
Perhaps you are considering making a big change. Your vision statement can give you some objectivity in moments of doubt. As I contemplated what it would mean for me to leave my senior position in one of the world’s most prestigious institutions to work on my own without a safety net, I looked to the vision statement I’d written years earlier. To my great surprise, the words “Massachusetts General Hospital” did not even appear in the document. So, while I likened my departure from MGH after sixteen years of devoted service to bungee jumping, my vision statement confirmed that this leap was worth making.
MY PERSONAL VISION STATEMENT
Every day is productive and filled with joy and laughter. I feel happily connected to others and my life’s purpose at all times. My time is spent with people I love, respect, and enjoy. I have enough time to myself, but never feel alone or lonely. I feel guided and protected, safe to explore all aspects of who I am and to express my being fully.
My family is thriving. Indeed, all of my relationships are harmonious, loving, and mutually beneficial. My children are healthy, happy, and fulfilled. They enjoy a strong sense of self and their place in the world. We remain deeply connected while they enjoy their independence. They are fine human beings with wonderful values and are contributing their special gifts to benefit the world. My husband and I continue to grow together while also pursuing our individual interests. We nurture and support one another and have a lot of fun. We are learning what we need to know about each other and we enjoy and appreciate being together. Our connection continues to deepen and grow.
My work is another way to fulfill my sense of purpose. I lead a team of talented people with great integrity, commitment, and good humor. Our work is devoted to helping, empowering, and healing others and reflects back on us daily. I have enough flexibility to balance work with family life and the pursuit of my other personal interests. I consistently feel deeply satisfied with my work and can see tangible benefits of my contributions.
I have ample time to enjoy nature. My life is structured to allow for lots of hikes and other ways to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family or in solitude. It is easy to “get away from it all” whenever the need arises. I am surrounded by beauty: in my home and work environments, on the faces of the people I see, radiating from my own heart.
My life has a profound positive impact on all it touches. I am rewarded enough financially to support myself and my family and to contribute significantly to worthy causes. My future is secure. I may retire comfortably whenever I am ready. My needs, both material and emotional, are modest and easily met. All of this joy and bounty flows easily to and through me. I enjoy good health and vitality, easily maintaining my fitness level and a healthy, comfortable weight. I have more than enough energy to accomplish anything I choose to do. I enjoy inner peace and have learned to accept myself with love, unconditionally.
I have found the balance of work and other pursuits that works for my family, friends, colleagues, clients, and community. I am fully present at all times and true to myself. The people in my life know, honor, respect, and support me and the choices that I’ve made. We all live together in joy, good health, and harmony.
This statement reflects my aspirations and serves as a daily reminder to make decisions that support living in the manner this vision describes. In many ways, my vision statement is a great affirmation that I’m already acting in accordance with my values and that much of what’s written here is part of my reality. That’s worth appreciating, and I most certainly do. It’s also there to pull me back on track when I stray from some of my own principles. You may have noticed that I speak of ease in my statement because, as a driven achiever, it’s good to be reminded that I could lighten up from time to time. That reminder truly does help me make more mindful decisions that continuously nudge me in the right direction.
Evaluate an Opportunity
Your vision statement can help with all kinds of decisions. A new opportunity presents itself. Should you take it? A quick look at your vision statement will help you decide whether doing so will contribute to your idea of success or whether it will take you in some random, aimless direction.
Say you’re offered a job as a financial analyst. It sounds like an interesting challenge, and it’s a promotion. You’re momentarily intrigued. Then you look at your vision statement and realize your mission to become manager is going to require that you get some experience supervising people. The only thing you’ll be supervising as an analyst is a bunch of spreadsheets. The new job would move you up all right, but in a direction that moves you away from your goal, not toward it. No, this isn’t the best strategic move you can make. But it’s a useful wake-up call. You are due for a promotion and resolve to make an appointment today to talk to your boss about giving you a project with a few people to manage.
Should I Say Yes or No?
Your vision can also be a useful filter for deciding what to add to your already overflowing plate. Does serving on that fundraising committee at your church contribute to your vision of the perfect day, month, or life? It’s a good fit for a vision that says: “I am happily engaged with other people in all my pursuits; I am very active in my community.” Serving on this committee will give you time to spend with people you like and respect while contributing to your church, which is very important to your life and the fabric of the community. So, it’s a big YES; you’re happy to serve.
Or your experience may be more like that of my coaching client Brandon, a busy executive juggling family and a career. His vision of a balanced life showed him thriving at work yet being available to attend his children’s soccer games and concerts without drawing the disapproving glares of his colleagues.
When he was asked to join the board of directors of a prestigious company, he was flattered, and his first instinct was to say yes and enjoy hobnobbing with other high-powered businesspeople. However, when he asked for more details, he learned that there would be at least an additional fifteen to twenty hours of work per month involved, and that the board meetings were held in the evenings, making it difficult to free himself for those important events at his kids’ school. So, with disappointment but not regret, he turned down the offer with the confidence that another opportunity would arise when his kids were older and his priorities shifted.
You can use your vision statement to make less momentous decisions, as well. For instance, is an intriguing invitation a distraction or a pleasant diversion? Imagine that a friend invites you to come for a weekend at her house by the seashore. You love the beach, and spending time by the water is part of your vision. But you’re on deadline with a project and worry you can’t fit it in. Your spirits sink at the idea of missing all the fun, so remembering your vision, you tell your friend about your dilemma, instead of automatically saying no. She surprises you by suggesting that you take the bedroom in the back of the house where you can work in peace. Now you can go to the beach for a couple of hours, go back and work with intense focus during peak sun hours, and join up with your pals for a nice dinner out. Sounds splendid, and it will actually help you be efficient and meet your deadline. You start packing.
Vision at Work: Tapping Into Passion
There’s another benefit to having a juicy vision: that inspiring image is a great way to get others on board and supporting you in whatever you want to do.
I recently chaired the search committee for a rabbi of a good-sized synagogue. We had just completed a strategic plan for the congregation so we were clear about the kind of spiritual leader we wanted to recruit. We were told there was a shortage of rabbis nationally and that we’d be lucky to get a dozen candidates. Astonishingly, more than forty rabbis applied for the position. When we asked the candidates what attracted them to the job, they all cited the same thing: the vision statement described such an exciting future, they wanted to be a part of making it happen.
Whether you’re leading a team in your workplace, on a football field, or even at home, the shinier and more inspiring the vision, the more vigor and commitment your players will bring. And the more that you can make your collective vision reflect elements of each team member’s personal vision, the more passion they will bring to the project. They’ll want to join you in making it succeed because it satisfies them too.
Tips for Making Your Vision Statements Glow
By now, I hope you see what a vision statement can do for you, and how richly you’ll be rewarded for putting time and care into creating one. You started your visioning when you wrote your description of a perfect day and considered the elements that set it AGLOW. As we get ready to fold that work into your larger vision statement, I’ll offer a few last guidelines.
• Details matter: A good vision statement draws you in and pumps you up with the enthusiasm you need to make it a reality. It doesn’t need to be a piece of literary art, but it should include as many specifics as you can muster so that you can easily picture yourself doing the things you describe in an atmosphere that inspires you and brings you joy.
• Positive language will give you more energy: As I’ve said before, you are looking to feel empowered and excited, so pay close attention to how your chosen words make you feel. Try this experiment: state, in positive terms, how you are surrounded by people who get along with one another. The scene is serene and you are at ease. You are enjoying uncomplicated, effortless relationships with everyone in your life. It’s an encouraging vision, right?
But how inspiring is this? “I am surrounded by troublemaking jerks, but they don’t bother me much anymore. They aren’t picking fights and making me quite as insane as usual. And, I can win the fights they do start.” Do you find yourself holding your breath as you see these button-pushing words? See how much more encouraging the first version is than one that dwells on ridding yourself of negativity?
The words you use can have a profound impact on your emotions. This is the place to make them shiny and bright.
• Give yourself time: How far in the future should your vision be? That really depends on the distance between where you are and where you want to be. It could be a wide gap if you have a huge vision such as joining NASA and walking on the moon. You might want to pick a longer time line, too, if you’re overcoming a setback, say recovering from a major surgery, and you’ve got some work to do just to prepare for your journey. Choose a time that seems reasonable for the size of your vision. Generally speaking, six months is a good lower boundary and five years is a reasonable upper limit.
• You want to achieve this vision, of course, so you want the time frame to reflect steady, relentless progress toward your goal, but you don’t want it to be so aggressive that you couldn’t possibly meet the time frame and still have any joy in the journey. So give yourself some positive pressure, but don’t go overboard and create one more source of unnecessary stress.
• One page is a good goal: My students often tell me that they’ve posted their mission and vision statements in a place where they can read them daily to stay focused and motivated. It’s ideal if they are detailed and nuanced, but succinct enough so you can refer to them often for quick inspiration.
There’s No One Right Answer
We all bring our own unique perspective to everything we do. We see things through our own lens, filtered through our own experiences. One view isn’t right and another isn’t wrong. The way we picture something is just a reflection of our perspective and worldview. Let me show you what I mean. Look at how the smallest shifts change your perception of the Koffka Ring3 below. The gray ring is exactly the same in each of the three images even though it looks quite different as the background shifts and changes.
Is one perception right and another wrong? Not at all. The way you see something has everything to do with the way you look at it. The “right” vision is the one that’s right for you.
Your Personal Vision Statement: Weaving the Threads
Set aside some time when you will be free of phones, e-mail, and interruptions so you can quietly reflect. Read through the whole exercise and then review everything you wrote down as you worked through this chapter. It is time to weave all the threads of your vision into a tapestry that excites and inspires you.
You are defining your destination: Where are you headed on your map? Be very specific. What do you need for each day to be joyful as you move toward your destination? What does your life look like when you are using your special gifts in the way only you can?
Give yourself permission to shed your limiting beliefs and envision your ideal life. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Place yourself at some point in the future. Your life is going just the way you want it. You wouldn’t change a thing. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, feel? How do you look? Write down whatever comes to you in your notebook or on your computer. Do not censor yourself or constrain your thinking by practical limitations. Ask yourself one more time:
• What do I need to have in my life to feel joyful and fulfilled?
• When do I feel at my best?
• What are some of the peak experiences of my life? What was special about them that I want to have more of in my daily life?
• If I/my organization/my project is wildly successful, what is happening?
• If I didn’t have to make money to live, how would I spend my time?
• Whose life do I envy? What do they have that I want in my life?
• Who are the people in my life who support my vision? How are they helping me? How am I interacting with them?
As you answer these questions, keep in mind that there is a difference between lasting joy and fleeting pleasure. Many people begin this exercise with a fantasy of chilling on the beach with a frozen umbrella drink, but soon come to the conclusion that doing that for a lifetime would be rather meaningless. Pleasure is great, and you should most certainly include a good dose of that in your vision. But to be fully gratified and successful achieving your mission, you will want to focus a fair bit of energy thinking about how you are employing your special gifts to serve a conscious, worthy purpose.
Reflect on your responses to these questions and everything else you’ve recorded. Write your personal vision statement incorporating all the elements that mean the most to you. Whatever you have written, this is the kind of exercise you may want to allow to marinate over a few days. Allow your vision to be present in your thoughts when you are going for a walk, taking a shower, shaving, or doing any repetitive, relaxing activity. You may want to keep your notebook close at hand so you can take down any inspiring thoughts that pop up when you’re in a peaceful state and not forcing yourself to think about your vision. Inspiration can come at any time, so be alert to thoughts, feelings, and signals. When an image quickens your heartbeat and nudges the corners of your mouth into a smile, pay attention to what’s causing that excitement. It may well be something that belongs in your vision.
I do a visioning exercise every day during my early-morning swim. After my workout, I get into the pool for my cool-down and meditation. Using the rhythm of my breath and strokes to get into a relaxed, focused state, I set an intention for each day. I think about what I want to accomplish and how I want to feel. Then I concentrate on that intention and what I need to do to make it happen. These are what I call my “mini-visions.”
I’ve got an overall vision statement for my life and business that is filled with details of what that all looks like as well as a vision for my typical day. (I started to type average, but of course, my vision is aglow, so my envisioned days are anything but average.) Now, in order to fulfill my big mission and vision, I have many small and medium-sized projects that need to be done. Each of these can have its own vision statement. At some point in the future, you may want to consider doing the same. For now, writing a vision statement for your overall mission is a great place to start.
Themes May Be Clear but the Specifics Are Elusive
Creating a vision statement can be a very abstract exercise for people who would naturally prefer to do, do, do and skip the dreaming phase. So how can a task-focused doer cross the vision statement off the to-do list? Start with what you know.
Lee Ann lost her cherished mother to cancer a few years ago. It was a wrenching heartache. When her beloved aunt was struck with the same fatal disease a short time later, Lee Ann couldn’t justify staying in her successful management job, particularly since the last few years at work had become increasingly unfulfilling. She retired from her position and devoted herself to providing care, comfort, and companionship to her aunt during her illness. When her aunt passed away, Lee Ann was ready to resume her career, but didn’t know what she wanted to do. It needed to be more meaningful, that much was clear. And she wanted to help people coping with cancer. That kernel of an idea, along with her firm commitment and intention, didn’t add up to a full-blown vision, but it wasn’t a bad place to start.
As we sat across the table from each other in her first coaching session, I asked her what brought her joy and what renewed her energy as she cared for her dying aunt. I also asked her what talents she drew on that gave her a sense of mission. Having no children of her own, she loved doing craft projects with her nieces. One of her favorite things was making killer Halloween costumes for the girls every year and she’d recently taken up painting to renew her spirit. She also said she is very organized and has a real talent for figuring out a series of steps needed to achieve her goals. She had drawn on these skills throughout her highly successful management career.
Neither of us knew where this combination of talents and passions would take her, but now she knew where to start looking. You will see as her story unfolds later in this book that her ability to articulate even a bit of what she wanted to do, and whom she wanted to help, would enable her to enlist the help of others to find a precise vision that fit.
So, if you’re stymied, start with what you’ve got and write down whatever you can. Is there a specific group you want to serve? What activities bring you joy and satisfaction? What refills your spiritual cup? Go back to your talents and interests. What are you good at? What do you have to work with? Jot it all down. Don’t push too hard. Enjoy some time just imagining yourself in an environment that juices you up. Get as specific as you can without straining. Then you may want to consider talking to some like-minded souls or other people you admire and start sharing the elements of your vision that you can describe.
Solicit the ideas, guidance, and suggestions of other people who may be able to help you round out your vision. There is no dishonor in asking for help. Keep on thinking, feeling, and talking, and be patient if it takes a while. Spend some time in quiet introspection. Give it regular thought and keep revisiting it until the pieces of your vision crystallize. Write them down as they come to you. This process should feel joyful as it unfolds. It’s okay if it takes time, as long as you commit to sticking with it until a compelling vision comes into focus.
Now You’ll Know You’re on Track
Put the key elements of your vision into your custom closet, where you can look at them often and continue moving forward in your own special style—whether you’re schussing down the slopes with exhilarating speed or striding over for a view of that waterfall you hear roaring in the distance. It’s not unusual for people who have taken the Business of Life course to tell me that they’re still pulling out their closets years after their class for inspiration and confirmation that they’re still on the right track.
With a clear vision firmly in your mind’s eye, you are ready to move to the next steps in the planning cycle: naming what you need to have in place to succeed and sizing up your ability to secure all you need to bring your vision to life.
We create our own reality, and what we think about, we bring about. This is not as metaphysical as you might think. You experience what you think about, so why not choose your thoughts deliberately? Cultivate the discipline to focus your thoughts on those experiences you want more of in your life and less on those you don’t. Focus will also bring clarity and guide you to spend your precious resources getting the results you want.