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Thought Vision Was Just Fluff? Think Again.

Thought Vision Was Just Fluff? Think Again.

I used to think that vision was mere “fluff” - not worthy of much work and time. It was more important to execute and provide products or services because those were more measurable and important at the end of the day. To me, investing time in creating a vision seemed extravagant at best.

After transitioning out of a 15-year career as a non-profit leader and executive, I all of a sudden found myself without a North Star.

I kept thinking of ways I could make things look different with a business or project, and I’d follow through by getting into full execution mode.

But what I realized was that I was lacking a fundamental vision for my life. 

I know, how sad - a life with no vision. Mind you, I generally have lots of ideas – at times too many for my own good! It was as if I was executing projects and ideas, but I wasn’t sure exactly how they all tied in to the bigger picture of things and to my greater purpose. Have you ever had that feeling

Well, that feeling inspired me to share with you a few things I learned along the way about the importance of personal vision, and some steps you can take to craft yours and bring it to life, even when it seems far off!

Step 1: Believe first.

During my coaching journey, I discovered there was a neuroscientific explanation for the importance of vision. The scientific explanation came from Srini Pillay’s TEDx talk, a resource I have mentioned a few times in my previous posts. 

In short, Srini talks about the brain as having its own internal GPS system; our neural tissue actually has the ability to direct us towards our goals and vision as we take in information. This inputting of information into our “internal GPS systems” happens at a subconscious level. He notes that knowing our history and where we came from as well as utilizing our imagination and vision activates this action center in the brain, helping us move from point A to B. It’s no wonder vision is stressed in organizations and the business world. If you think about it, as humans, we can’t organize ourselves in the right way without knowing what it is we are organizing around, whether personally or for someone else. Our minds work in a similar way. 

Pretty cool, eh? When I learned this, my previous assumption about “vision” turned from fluff to form, and certainly gave me something more marshmallow-like to chew on. 

So if you haven’t already, I’d highly suggest watching this awesome talk by Srini Pillay, called “The Science of Possibility." It helped me understand the impact that visioning and imagining into the future has, and how vision can help us achieve our goals.

[Related: Picture It! 6 Ways To Harness the Power of Career Visualization]

Step 2: Understand the benefits of crafting a vision.

Have you ever gone to an advisory meeting for a new start-up or a meeting at a place you’re volunteering for, and there was nobody there talking about the bigger picture purpose of the work? Perhaps you found yourself mired in the weeds of the “how-tos”? How did you generally feel? Inspired? Ready to roll up your sleeves and jump in? Lost?

Smart leaders know that to keep people following, they must be able to hold a compelling picture of what could be in the future.

Being able to point towards a North Star or greater mission helps connect and give our tactics and actions purpose. When we are able to hold a vision for ourselves in our lives, we become clearer about our own trajectory and transition. The clearer we are about our trajectory, the more likely we’ll be able to attract the resources we need towards it. Crafting a very personal vision is beneficial in the sense that you are creating an internal road map for the way forward; as a result, you spend less time on things that aren’t going to lead you straight to that vision. 

Take sports, for example. Growing up as a competitive athlete and member of the U.S. National Karate Team, I trained a great deal for competition. In the summers, I would do intensive training comprised of physical, repetitive regiments to prepare for competition. But when it came down to the pressures of actually competing and performing, it was the visualization and meditation work that paid off the most. Seeing myself go through my katas (forms) and winning matches was critical in helping me achieve and meet my goals. What I was doing was training both my body and mind to see the goal. Without the visioning, it would have been very difficult for me to succeed with just technique alone. So you can have all the skills in the world, but without personal vision, you may not succeed in achieving your purpose. 

Step 3: Employ visualization.

Finding clarity in a vision is one of the hardest things for people in transition. Visualization can be a helpful tool in this realm. 

Very often, it’s necessary to go through a process, either with a coach or in a workshop setting, where you can experience a guided visualization process for what you want your future to look like.

I remember when I was starting my coaching business and I was trying to reach a very broad base of entrepreneurs and leaders. I was struggling with how to market my services, as it felt like I was reaching out to so many different groups of people. My coach at the time had me do an exercise. She asked me to close my eyes and to imagine myself 5 years into the future. She asked me where I was working, how I was working, and by whom I was surrounded . I saw myself living in something akin to a very cool, somewhat Bohemian-looking treehouse, with all the amenities of a conventional house (yes, that’s really what I saw!) by the beach. I was running retreats, surfing and coaching executive women leaders. It was that clear.

That’s when it hit me that I needed to really focus on integrating surfing more into my work coaching clients. This shifted things enormously for me. I went from feeling scattered to knowing who to target and what to communicate to my clients. There is a saying that you should start with where you want to end up. The benefit of getting clear on your vision is that it can tell you precisely where to start. 

In my work with clients, I often have them close their eyes and ask them to envision where they are working 3 or 5 or 10 years into the future, however far they are willing to go. I ask them to envision who is around them, and what those people are saying. This exercise helps them to gain more clarity on where they see themselves. I highly recommend engaging in a process like this. 

Step 4: Break it down, day by day.

It’s not enough to have the vision; you have to find a way to break it down into daily to-dos, while always keeping the vision front and center.

One of the practices I employ during my daily routine is listing the things that are going to make me the most happy and productive for the day. I do this with the intention of executing on my action items. I first start by writing down all that I am grateful for that day about my business and life. I then list what I want my dominant feeling to be that day – examples are happy, sad, determined, focused. And then I list the 5 or 6 things that I need to focus on that will make me the most happy and productive on that day. Like an athlete, I set my intention for the course and regiment of that particular day. This is followed by a process of setting a wild intention - an ultimate dream - which I write down as well. I learned this from a fellow coach and it has done a lot to help me get me focused in my days and proactively working towards my vision. 

When I started thinking about offering a Surf Life Coaching Retreat a year ago, I was somewhat terrified of doing it. What if it all goes wrong? What if I don’t get people to sign up? But holding to and returning to that vision each day and including steps in my process above is what helped me eventually launch the program this summer, here in Northern California. Step by step, I broke the vision down, and I slowly completed the planning and logistics necessary to hold the retreat, keeping my ultimate vision for it in mind the whole time.

I can't stress enough the importance of vision in our life and business transitions. It can pay off innumerably to spend time crafting your North Star. Now that I've shared my thoughts on vision, I'm curious, where has vision played a major role in your life or transition? What tactics and resources have you used to help get clarity for your vision? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Farhana is an award-winning social entrepreneur, speaker and Founder of Surf Life Coaching where she coaches executive women leaders in transition. She is also an Ashoka Fellow as well as an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist in the support of entrepreneurship category. Subscribe to Farhana's newsletter for free tips on leadership and courageous transitions.

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