Before actors sign a film, they read the story/script to see if it interests them (naturally!) and if they think they would do justice to the characters. After finishing the film, the question they ask themselves is if they ended up making the film they set out to make in the first place. In other words, did they tell the story they wanted to tell when they embarked on that project? If so, did they tell the story in the best possible way (whatever that means for them)?
Likewise, when I finish writing a piece, I ask myself if I wrote what I intended to write when I started, or if I got lost somewhere along the way. If I did end up writing what I wanted, did I write it in the clearest, simplest, best way possible? If so, I realized my vision of telling the story I wanted to tell in the best way possible.
That said, there are times when losing your way can work to your advantage. You may have gained insights about your work that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten had you not started on the work. This is one of the reasons why getting started is important and why progress trumps perfection, but I digress.
Most of us have been guilty of setting goals at one point or another without thinking about why we want to achieve those goals. Vision is the outcome of that question. It gives our goals that much-needed direction without which we are likely to fall astray. Having a vision for your life is also not a substitute for having a higher purpose (your Why). Your vision leads to a higher purpose, which is the reason why you exist. You can’t have vision without knowing your higher purpose nor can you set goals without seeing your vision.
Vision is about seeing the future you want to create. It is about imagining what could be. Vision is quite tangible in that you can see where you are going and you know what it feels like. You have the foresight to see what the future holds for you, and then you work toward that to bring it into existence. In that sense, it’s akin to leadership and management.
Your vision is the chasm you cross between what is now and what could be the future. You have to see yourself being that person (or having achieved that thing) in your mind before you can become it. You have to be able to expect yourself to do things before you can do them. Your vision brings your purpose (your Why) to life.
Vision bridges the gap between your purpose (your Why) and your goals. You can’t have vision without knowing your purpose and you can’t have goals without having a vision. That would be like starting without knowing where you’re going, and you’d only end up going farther in the wrong direction. Vision helps you realize your purpose in the way that goals help you realize your vision.
Let me share my example. When I started this weblog, I had no idea what I was going to be writing about. All I knew was that I wanted to write about things that interested me and that I believed might also be of interest to my readers. I didn’t have any vision or higher purpose. It was only after doing some work over a period of time that I discovered my vision and my higher purpose for why I was doing what I was doing. In other words, the process of routinely showing up and doing the work helped me determine the outcome for my vision and my purpose.
Later, I found that the higher purpose for me behind all of this work was to help others create lasting change for themselves through my writing and my consulting work (because I believed in living to my potential and wanted to help others do the same). That’s right, you learn the most when you share with others what you know.
Of course, if you ask me now, I would tell you that my vision for my life is to live rightfully (as I believe there is no greater success in life than that), do great work by helping others create lasting positive change in their lives, and spend my discretionary time with loved ones and doing things of interest.
Now, it has taken me a while to figure all of this out. It was anything but a linear process and required a lot of soul searching over the years for things to fall into place. As Steve Jobs has rightly said, you can’t connect the dots going forward; you can only connect them when looking back. Now, I could have chosen other professions (as I did in the past) that fit my many passions, but I chose doing creative and consulting work as my work of choice primarily because this was where I got to learn and grow the most (I am selfish!), even if it wasn’t a conscious or explicit choice I made. This is not to say that I’ve abandoned those other passions, but they are secondary. I still pursue them and include elements of them in my everyday work, but not with the same gusto and rigor that I do my creative and consulting work. This comes back to doing a few things, but doing them better.
Working toward a vision can often mean sacrificing short-term goals (sales this quarter, for instance) in the interest of reaching long-term outcomes. It might mean doing the work particularly when you see little to no payoff because you believe in the work you do. The only incentive to keep doing the work is your vision and your higher purpose. That is also how you make decisions personally and in an organization, particularly when things get challenging.
There are a couple of ways you can go about seeing your vision. Start with a top-down approach by focusing on your higher purpose (your Why) and then figure out your vision and goals. For instance, when all is said and done, what really matters to you? I can think of at least two significant things — the person you become from doing the things you’re passionate about, and how you help others make a difference in their lives.
The other way would be a bottom-up approach. You determine the things that have your attention, get control of those things, and then get some perspective in order to think strategically about your goals, vision, and purpose (your Why). The thinking behind that is that it can be hard to think and see your vision when you have 400 unread emails in your inbox. When you start from the bottom and take control of what has your attention, you’ll invariably move up (think broader/strategic) to the different roles in your life.
For instance, start by thinking about your ideal day. As Annie Dillard has said, how we live our days is how we lead our lives. What does an ideal day and week look like for you? What would you like to do? Where would you like to be in the near future?
The third way (that worked for me) would be to pick one of your passions and routinely do the work to see if you get pulled toward a higher calling or purpose. This last approach requires time and there are no guarantees (like with anything in life) that what you picked is what will ultimately drive you every day. If it doesn’t work out, you have to pick your next passion and try again. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
You can’t have a vision without a higher purpose (your Why), nor can you set goals without a vision. Unless you have the foresight to see things, it’s hard to manifest those things in the world. You have to be able to see things in your mind before you can do them. Once you have a vision, you can work on it by setting goals and milestones to help you bring that vision to reality.
The thing is, you don’t necessarily find your vision, but you see it in your mind’s eye. Deep down, you already know what you want — acknowledge and accept it so you have the courage to manifest it into existence.