Why clarifying your vision is so important – and so hard
When I first began offering this work over a decade ago, I tested out my fledgling program on a group of brave friends. In its original form, the Vision Program was only six sessions long. At the end, I asked my friends for their feedback. I had to wait a few days before I actually had the courage to read their notes. I had created something so close to my heart, I wasn’t sure how I would respond if their feedback was negative. I’ve learned since then that not only is it unnerving to ask for feedback, it is equally vulnerable for others, especially loved ones, to be asked to give their feedback. It is a true gift when people are willing to share their honest thoughts. In this case, if it wasn’t for the straight-shooting of one friend in particular, my work as I now know it, would not even exist.
My question was intentionally vague: What was your experience of the Vision Program?
His answer: It was a great program for someone who already has a vision.
I was dumbstruck. I thought I had created something to help people clarify their vision and it turned out I had missed the mark completely. I had to sit with that for awhile. After I got over my disappointment, I set myself to digging deeper into the concept of a vision. What is it exactly? What does it mean? How does someone come up with one? And how can I help them do that? From what I discovered, I redesigned my entire program and now my ability to help people clarify their vision has become the single most profound impact I have in their lives.
In its most elemental definition, a vision is something we can see. The question is then, what is it we are trying to see? Too often, people use visioning as an exercise in goal setting. “I want that beautiful house.” “I want to go on that adventurous vacation.” “I want to eat those delicious foods.” Don’t get me wrong, I want those things, too, but they are not the basis of a vision. They are projections from the mind about what we think we want. The real reason we want those things is not for the things themselves, it’s because we want to feel how we imagine we will feel when we have them. This is the first key to understanding vision. We are reaching for a particular feeling. But why? I’ll come back to that.
Of course, I help people create work, but when people use visioning to conceptualize their work, they tend to limit real possibility. They envision too small. They say things like, “I envision running a retreat centre.” “I envision making beautiful art.” “I envision starting a non-profit to protect the environment.” While these are wonderful expressions of work to bring forth, again, they are not the fullest realization of the potential of a true vision. They are statements of WHAT work you might do, but a vision is a statement of the reason WHY you would do anything in life.
A vision is meant to go beyond the limited perceptions of our minds. It is meant to articulate an ideal beyond the boundaries of what we already know. It invites us into a world of possibility so expansive that it inspires infinite opportunities for us to realize the vision. In the words of the master teacher and conductor, Benjamin Zander, a vision is “a possibility to live into”.
A vision is a statement of the grandest possible dream you can imagine for yourself and for the world.
So then, how does one arrive at their own vision? Surely, some half-formed idea of a career that we conjure from our minds is not our grandest possible dream for our lives. Indeed, what we are reaching for is not mind-based at all. What we are actually reaching for is an expression of our heart’s deepest desire. What we desire most is not something out in the world, it’s a state of being within. In the words of Bob Marley, “Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life your living?” If not, then it’s likely you are not yet living in accordance with your own desires.
When I ask people straight-out to tell me their heart’s deepest desire, mostly I get back blank stares. Sadly, we are not well-practiced at expressing our desires. Often, we don’t even allow ourselves to acknowledge we have them. So, to call forth that information, I use a more roundabout approach. Instead of asking people what their heart wants, I ask them to tell me about their most painful wound. Usually, people are very familiar with their stories of heartbreak. I’m not talking about relationship heartbreak, I’m talking about the moment when we broke our own heart by starting to believe a false story about who we are.
There is an incident in every person’s life, it usually happens when we are young, that causes us to begin to believe there is something wrong with who we are. Over time, we cement those stories into our identity. I call them our “not enough” stories. “I am not lovable enough.” “I am not courageous enough.” “I am not worthy enough.” We all carry some variation on this theme. Because we choose our actions based upon what we believe, we then set about creating a life according to these false stories. I call them the lies. We believe a lie about who we are. We believe it so much we don’t even question it. This is where I enter into the story.
To help people clarify their vision, first I invite them to articulate their wound – the source of the lie. Because when we can pinpoint the lie, it becomes much easier to relocate the truth. It’s usually simply the opposite of the lie. The longer we have been living that lie, the deeper the desire has been born within us to remember our truth. This circles us back to the point I made above about vision being based in wanting to feel something. Within each of our hearts, we know the truth of who we are. We know we are love. We know we are courage. We know we are worthy. And our feelings are actually trying to point us back to these truths.
A vision is an expression of a person’s fundamental truth of their existence.
Leadership expert, Rosabeth Kanter, states “A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it’s an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” However, I would go as far as to say it is not about becoming “better” or “more”, it is about remembering the truth of who we already are, who we’ve always been. This is the importance of doing the inner work necessary to clarify our vision. It is the work of remembering who we really are.
Over time, I’ve witnessed a commonality to why most people struggle in clarifying their vision. It is because within themselves, they know that naming it means that they will have to let go of that old wounded story of who they have been. They will have to allow their old identity to die, so that the more truthful version of who they are can live. And that thought can be terrifying. As the saying goes, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
However, there comes a time when we become tired of living with the devil of the lie. We become tired of numbing ourselves to our own aliveness. We become tired of the bondage of limitation. We yearn to live our truth again. But what makes it hard to evolve beyond the confines of that old story is that our deepest fear is that we are not worthy of living our own truth. It’s the human paradox.
We fear to know who we truly are because we fear we are unworthy of living our own truth.
This brings us to yet another reason why people struggle in clarifying their vision. It’s because when we choose to set the intention to live into our truth, we are then shown all the ways, we have not been living it. We must continue to do the inner work to break down those old stories that are preventing us from being who we really are.
This is the potential of living our inspired work. It is a pathway to reclaiming our own worthiness. And in every moment of every day, our work can be the opportunity for the embodiment of our truth.
Our vision is what creates our reality. To articulate a vision, I like to use the framework “Imagine a world where…” The more inclusive it is, the more potent it feels. It is enlivening to want what we want not just for ourselves, but for everyone. Because when we actually get to the core of our being, we understand that we are all fundamentally the same. Your vision is an idealistic image of what everyone looks like living as that possibility. You will know your vision is true for you because you will actually be able to see it. You will envision that world and you will say, “Yes, that is the world I want to live in!”
While a vision invites infinite possibility, it actually simplifies life because it becomes the guiding principle for everything you do. This is the reason it’s called the Vision Program. Everything you do in your work – in your life – is centred around your vision, and your vision is centred around you and your truth.
Since those early days, the Vision Program has been through dozens of iterations and countless refinements. The full-fledged offering is now 20 sessions. The journey happens over a period of five months, which is just enough time to get to real clarity about your true vision and how you are going to go about living it.
Imagine a world where everyone is living their inspired life.
That’s my vision. That’s my dream for myself and for the world. It means everything to me because for so very long, I lived with the lie that I didn’t deserve to be alive.
For most of my adult life, I was unable to feel any real emotion. I carried so much shame about it. I held myself in utter contempt. What kind of person can’t feel anything, I might as well be dead, is what I thought. Often. But when I finally began to question the reasons I believed that lie and asked myself what my heart truly desired, I realized what I wanted was to feel lit up from within. I wanted to be all of who I am in my work and in my life. I wanted to create the beautiful world my heart knows is possible. I wanted to feel inspired. This is what I dream of for myself and for everyone.
So, your choice to realize the truth of who you are through discovering, creating, and living your inspired work is my dream coming true. It is the world I want to live in. And if, in any way, I can help you clarify your vision and live into your dream, I feel like the most blessed human alive.