What is a Vision?

VisionDepending on whom you ask, you can get a lot of different ideas about what a vision really is. If you ask a business person, you’ll get one answer, but if you ask an artist, you’ll get something else. Ask a pastor or a plumber, a singer or a seamstress, and you’ll come away with two realizations:

  1. Everybody is wired to have a vision
  2. Almost nobody understands what the hell that means

What is a vision? Why are people compelled to chase one? And why do some people have a laser lock on theirs while others of us wander around looking for a vision like my 8-year-old shops the toy section at Walmart – wanting to commit to something but uncertain what the heart really seeks?

I’ve spent the last few years asking myself questions like those a lot. Part of it comes from my own curious nature; a large part of it comes from working with individuals and organizations that needed help finding their vision.

You see, that’s kind of my talent – my calling, if you will. I have a knack for helping people discover, define, and share their vision with the world (or at least with the people they want to impact). I didn’t realize this for a long time, but slowly, a pattern began to emerge. And one day, after a time of prayer, I felt like I had my answer.

I am a vision mechanic.

I tinker with other people’s vision to help make it better. I make connections they miss, see issues they overlook, and ask questions that push them to a deeper place of understanding. And I do it all the time – at work, at home, with friends, even reading articles on the internet. It’s like how fish can’t help but swim, or the president can’t help but tweet. It’s just ingrained.

So What is a Vision?

Ah, good question, and like all of life’s good questions, the answer is maddeningly difficult to summarize.

Some people define vision as a mental picture of a desired outcome. Someone once had a vision for the iPod. Someone else once had a vision for fast food tacos. If the only thing you’ve got for your “vision” is seeing how it ends, that’s really just an idea.

Other people define vision as a roadmap. It’s a sequence of steps you take to towards your desired outcome. People who think of vision this way are fond of saying, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” and they are also horrible navigators on long car trips. If all you have as a “vision” is a sequence of steps to take, that’s really just a strategy.

The fuzziest definition of a vision is a sense of purpose or calling that will benefit others. Elon Musk has a vision for using technology to help humanity. Ben and Jerry had a vision to make ice cream that was so good you didn’t care how many pounds it added on the scales. Purpose and calling are good, but if your “vision” is only an impulse to do something that helps others, that’s really just altruism.

Now, a good writer would take the three preceding paragraphs and invert them to give you a definition of what a vision is. Perhaps something like this:

“Vision is knowing your significant purpose, making decisions based on clear values, and having a picture of the future.”

In case you’re wondering, that’s Ken Blanchard’s definition, and he’s done extensive work on the subject as it relates to business.

The Five Vision Builders

Vision BuildersMy definition of a vision isn’t a definition at all, at least not in the Webster’s sense. I tried to fit everything into one elegant sentence and it sucked. (I’m thinking that struggle might be why I need to simply start blogging about this stuff on a regular basis.)

I define vision by it’s five essentials, or building blocks:

  • True North – your guiding belief
  • True Talent – your unique skills/abilities/gifts
  • True Values – your personal code for life
  • True Grit – your ability to push through tough times
  • True Growth – your ability to grow and change

When those five things come together in your life, that is likely your vision. For example, my vision mechanic notion brings these five things into alignment for me:

  • I believe God put me here to help others
  • I have the talent for making connections others miss
  • I believe that helping others is essential to being a good person
  • I have found myself doing the same thing over and over again as I push towards success
  • I have invested in myself in order to take advantage of the opportunities around me.

Now, here’s where things get kind of existential: I can live out my vision in any number of ways. Sometimes I help friends with projects or ideas they are passionate to produce. Sometimes I work for companies to help them solve problems. Sometimes I lead organizations to get unstuck and move forward. I’ve done all of those things the past 15 years, and they are all compatible with my vision.

When I work with others, identifying these five vision builders (or their absence) helps me figure out what pieces of the puzzle are missing. But there’s a lot more to vision than just how you build one. And that’s what this blog is going to do – examine vision, what it means, what it does, why it’s so necessary. It’s a long-form project to help me bring clarity to my own vision – and to the vision of others.

So what about your vision? Can you identify the five vision builders in your life? What do they point to for you?

Let me hear from you in the comments below.

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