March 4, 2014

The Secret to Doing. ~ Nicole Vahlkamp

kristenv via Flickr Commons

How, When and Why  We Write Vision Statements.

What’s the aim of life? What are my core values and aspirations? Where am I going and what exactly am I trying to accomplish both professionally and personally?

I’ve always had a vague idea of how I would respond to these questions, but did not have any specific or tangible answers —at least not until I tried to write them down.

In preparation for a workshop on mindful leadership, given by Navaid Avidi at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I was tasked with writing a vision statement for my life that I would have to share with the entire class.

Initially, I was intimidated. Write down one or two sentences to guide my whole life? The task seemed daunting!

But the process was surprisingly simple, meaningful and enlightening. After writing a vision statement, I felt a greater sense of purpose, more focused, and better equipped to guide myself through tough decisions.

How did I write the vision statement?

The first step in writing my vision statement was to begin in a calm, centered and mindful place.  I created space in my day to find this center by blocking out an hour of time to be alone, to shut off my cell phone and to think. Frankly, this may have been the hardest—yet most rewarding—part of the exercise.

Next, I closed my eyes and took five deep breaths, silently repeating, “I am breathing in,” with the inhale, and “I am breathing out,” on the exhale. In these breathes, I began to  imagine my future self. Where would I be in a year, in five years, in thirty years? How would I manifest myself professionally, personally and even geographically?

From the answers to these questions, I wrote a vision statement for my life. The only requirement I was given was that the statement must feel honest, authentic, achievable and inspirational. The process was truly transformative.

Here’s what I learned from writing a life vision statement:

 1. Vision statements make us think.

Writing a vision statement required that I set some time aside to think— about my life, my profession, where I’m going, what I’m doing, and what (if anything) I want to be different.

This may sound silly, but simply setting aside an hour to think about these questions was really valuable. In today’s hyper-connected, social-media crazed, faster than the speed of light, auto-pilot environment, I find I need to remind myself of this more and more often— that setting time aside to think is valuable and that thinking is not a waste of time.

 2. Vision statements force focus.

The process of encapsulating my vision by crafting a statement — one specific and honest sentence worthy of my life’s ambitions— wasn’t immediately easy, but it did teach me a lot.

In her 1976 essay “Why I Write,” Joan Didion explains, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

This is so true. As I wrote and re-wrote my vision statement, I  was able to not only pin-point my fundamental values and discover my true sources of inspiration, but I was also able to identify areas where I really needed to focus my energy.

This statement is now my advisor—before making any major decisions, or taking any action that will significantly affect my future, I ask myself a simple question: Will this help achieve my vision statement?

 3. Vision statements offer a way to check-in.

If this vision statement speaks to our core selves, it shouldn’t change much over time. Still, it is a good idea to periodically check-in and make sure that the statement still captures the vision. For example, you can ask yourself: Does this still describe the mission I want to achieve? Does it still feel inspiring?

Personally, if at some point my vision statement no longer resonates, I intend to change it because I believe my vision statement can and should evolve as I do.

All this being said, I highly suggest that you try to write your own vision statement. The result may be more illuminating and empowering that you ever imagined!


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Editorial Assistant: Brandy Mansfield/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives

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Nicole Vahlkamp