Personal vision comes from inside of you. A couple of months ago, I was working with a young woman and she talked about her vision for our planet. She said lots of sweet things about peace and harmony, about coexisting in balance with the plant. As beautiful as these ideas were, she went on and on, completely without any emotion, as if these were the things we should all want. I asked her to tell me more about her thoughts on the subject. After a pause, she said, “I just want to live on a healthy green planet,” and burst into tears. As far as I could remember, she had never said this during our previous conversations. The thoughts just jumped out of her, almost as if they had a will of their own. Yet, the images they transferred clearly had profound meaning to her, probably at levels of meaning that she may never understand.
Like my client, most adults have almost no sense of real vision. They, like all of us, have goals and objectives, but those aren’t a vision. When most of my clients tell me what they want, I usually hear what they don’t want hidden in their answer. They’d like a higher paying job; translation, they’d like to get rid of the low paying job they now have. They’d like to live in a better neighborhood; translation, they don’t want to worry about crime, or their kids walking to school. They’d like it if their grandma returned to her own house in Kentucky, or that their arthritis lets up a bit. Those catalogues of “negative visions” are, unfortunately, all too common even with successful people. They are, in my experience, a result of a lifetime of trying to fit in, coping with life, and problem-solving. A teenager I worked with once said about his parents, “We shouldn’t call them ‘grown ups’ we should call them ‘given ups.’”
Real vision can’t truly
be understood if you
separate it from the idea of purpose.
A less direct form of limited understanding of vision that turns up in executive coaching sessions is where my client spends time “focusing on the measures, not the result.” Lots of executives choose “high market share” as part of their vision. Why is that? “Because I want the company to be more profitable.” Now as a normally intelligent person, you might think that high profits are an intrinsic goal in and of itself, and truly for some it is. But for a surprisingly large group of executives, profits are just a means toward an even more critical result. Why higher annual profits? “Because I want us to remain an independent company, to keep from losing my line of credit.” Why do you want that? “Because I want to keep our integrity and our capacity to be true to our purpose for starting the business.” While all the early goals mentioned are good honest goals “the last, being true to our purpose,” has the greatest fundamental significance to most executives who think this way. All the rest are simply means to that end, means that might change under some new circumstance. The ability to focus on fundamental desires, not on secondary goals, is part of the foundation of personal mastery.
Real vision can’t truly be understood if you separate it from the idea of purpose. By purpose, I’m talking about a person’s sense of why he or she is alive…why are they here? No one can prove or disprove the statement that human beings have purpose. It is one of those “magical dogma’s” Heck, as I’ve written about before, it’s a waste of time to even engage in the argument. But as a life hypothesis, the idea has a lot power. One thing that springs immediately from the thought is that happiness is directly a result of living consistently in line with your individual purpose. George Bernard Shaw expressed the idea pointedly when he said:
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one… the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
That same attitude has been articulated in some businesses and from some people as “real caring.” In places where people feel uncomfortable talking about personal purpose, they feel perfectly comfortable having a discussion about real caring. When people genuinely, really care, they are painlessly committed to their goals. They are doing what they really, really want to do. They are busting a gut with energy and enthusiasm. They persevere in the face of almost all frustrations and setbacks, because they know that what they are doing is something they simply have to do. It is their work. It is a beautiful thing to see.
Everyone has had times when everything just goes perfectly; those times when you feel in tune with the world and work proceeds successfully and effortlessly. Someone whose vision takes him to a foreign country might just find learning a new language much easier than he ever imagined. You usually notice your personal vision because you experience those kinds of moments; it is that goal or dream that keeps dragging you forward, making it all seem so worthwhile.
Here’s something to keep in mind—vision is really different than purpose. Purpose is sort of like a direction, a general heading, while vision is a very specific destination, a perfectly clear picture of a sought after future. Purpose is abstract and hard to quantify. Vision is clear and concrete. Purpose is “advancing man’s ability to explore the heavens.” Vision is “a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.” Purpose is “being the best I can be,” “excellence.” Vision for a runner is breaking the four-minute mile.
It has been written time and time again that nothing happens until there is vision. But it’s just as true that a vision with no sense of purpose, no reality, no calling, is just a good idea. Who among us has had a damn good idea that never went anywhere—all “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
On the other hand, purpose without vision has no scale. You and I may be basketball fans and enjoy talking about fouls, free throws, the thrill of chasing the hoop, of a three-point free throw. We may have a great conversation, but then we find out that I am gearing up to play at my local YMCA and you are preparing for The New Orleans Jazz Festival. We share the same enthusiasm and love of the game, but at completely different scales of skill. Until we establish the scales of skill we are thinking about, we might think we are communicating to beat the band, but we’re not.
Purpose is sort of like a
direction, a general
heading, while vision
is a very specific destination,
a perfectly clear
picture of a sought after future.
At the end of the day, vision isn’t relative; it’s inherent. Your vision is something you want for its intrinsic value, not because of where it puts you in comparison to someone or something else. Relative visions may be good enough in the short-term, but they almost never take you to greatness. I am not saying that there’s anything wrong with competition; quite the opposite. Competition, which literally means, “striving together,” from the Latin ‘competrerei’, is one of the best means developed by people to force us to bring out the best in each other. But after the competition is done, after the vision has (or has not) been reached, it is your personal sense of purpose that takes you forward, driving you to set a new vision. This, again, is why personal mastery is a discipline to work towards and, at times, to be coached through. It is a process of repeatedly focusing and refocusing on what the heck you truly want, on your visions.
Vision is multipartite. There are physical parts of our visions, like what island you want to live on, and how much money you want to have in the bank when you move there. There are personal facets, such as your health, your personal freedom, and what being true to yourself means. There are service facets, e.g., helping at church or contributing to the knowledge of the world. These can all be parts of what we really want in our lives. Contemporary society tends to aim our attentions to the material aspects, and at the same time, promote guilt for those same material goals. Society places less—but still some—emphasis on our personal desires. For example, it has become an obsession to look trim and fit, and relatively little attention is given to our desire to serve. In fact, it is easy to feel naive and foolish expressing a desire to actually make a contribution to your community. Regardless, I have seen from my clients that personal visions span all these areas and more. It is also clear that it takes real courage to hold visions that don’t fit within the social normal.
I want to say here that it is exactly that personal courage to take a stand for your vision that separates people with greater levels of personal mastery from those lacking it. Or, as the Japanese say of the master’s stand:
“When there is no break,
not even the thickness of a hair
comes between a man’s ‘vision’ and his action.”
So learn to sort between vision, purpose, goals, and objectives and you can build a vision that is as clear as a photograph, but as flexible as you are yourself. Now that is a goal worth pursuing.
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.