I recently received an email from a good friend. It melted me when I read it. I needed it. I had been doing a lot of hard work at the time, pushing through hard things that I haven’t done before with sheer grit and belief. The letter was so energizing. It was just what I needed at that moment to recharge and keep moving forward with a renewed commitment.
Here’s what the letter said…
I hope you’re doing well and living a fulfilling life! I hope the last year has been a year of making and creating. Of art and discovery. Of sharing your creations and art with other people, building community, and becoming more connected. I hope that you’ve found more time and energy for making, and found ways to better integrate it into your life. I hope you life is full of joy and fulfillment, and lots of meaningful work, meaningful relationships, and play. I hope you’ve made a few apps and products that are having a positive impact on other people’s lives. I hope that whatever you’re doing with you time and energy - working at your current job, working at another company, working for yourself, or taking a break from work - you’re doing it intentionally with no regret! I also hope you appreciate how much you’ve achieved and grown over the past few years, and humbly realize that you can do anything you want. You just have to try and do the work!
I wrote that letter to myself one year ago. I wrote it to remind my future self of my vision and my belief in pursuing it. A reminder to be true to me and the reality that I want to live in. I sent it to myself by email and pretty much forgot that I sent it. But in the moment I unexpectedly received it, it was just what I needed at that moment to energize myself and keep moving onwardly towards my vision.
A vision is a north star that guides your decisions and actions towards a life of purpose and fulfillment. A vision helps you to show up every day as the person you want to be. A vision helps your life to have meaning. Co-Active Coaching defines a vision as a “way of capturing the essence of what it means to be fully alive—living life intentionally, making choices that increase the value of life to one’s self and to others.” A vision is a reminder of where you’re headed that helps you stay motivated when you’re doing something hard. A vision helps you make hard decisions along the way, saying “hell yes!” to things that are aligned with your vision and say “no” or “maybe later” to everything else. After all, living according to your vision is really having a vision, remembering your vision, and voting for your vision by making choices that support your vision throughout the hours, days, and weeks of your life. There is only so much time and energy in a lifetime. You get to choose your life story. And as Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
A vision can be in any format that’s helpful to you. A vision might be written list, it might be a story you tell yourself about your future self, or it might be a work of art - a drawing, painting, etc. As an example, my vision is “To create a world where every person has mindsets, tools, and connections to live authentic and fulfilling lives.” It’s what inspired me to start my own company Tools For Humanity to create a conversation and community around tools that help people to be more human. And it’s what motivated me to created Onward.ly to help people understand what fulfills them and live it every day, showing up more authentically and intentionally at work, at home, and everywhere in between. My vision helps me when I’m feeling lost and unmotivated. My vision helps me to keep going and to keep me energized. My vision helps me stay focused on the future me that I'm creating every day through my decisions and actions.
A vision starts with believing in yourself. Believing in yourself, know as self-efficacy, is your ability to take the actions necessary to work towards your vision. A vision isn’t something you think about, it’s something you do. You live a vision, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, decision by decision. A vision is about consistently taking the steps necessary to move towards your vision. And that starts by believing in yourself and your vision. Believing that you can create your own reality, living a life according to your own definition of what you value, what’s interesting, what’s motivating, and what’s fulfilling. Living a life of “I want to” instead of a life of “I should” and “I must”. Believing in yourself and your vision starts with a choice. A choice to say “yes, I believe!”. As Gregory Benford said in The Wonderful Future that New Was (book) “We cannot have a future that we don’t first imagine.”
There are a few different tools that I’ve found helpful as I started creating a vision. Keeping a journal has been a powerful way to be more mindful of the moments in my life, noticing what’s going on and more deeply exploring the meaning behind those moments. I often use powerful questions when I journal to explore my life’s moments through different lenses and perspectives. For example, I might journal about “What contribution do I want to make to the world?”, “What activities are fulfilling to be while doing them?”, or “What’s something I’m doing because I feel I should do instead of wanting to do?”. Answering these questions has helped me clarify what works, what doesn’t work, and what’s most fulfilling to me. It’s helped me to create a clearer vision.
Creating a vision takes time. I’m on version 3 or 4. And I’m sure there will be many more versions to come. A vision isn’t static, it’s dynamic. A vision changes as you change. A vision isn’t a destination. You never really achieve your vision, rather you live your vision. As you get closer to your vision, your vision will likely change. And that’s ok because the satisfaction and fulfillment that come from working towards a vision come from both the journey and the destination. Fulfillment from having or achieving something is often short-lived. For example, think about buying a new gadget or eating a treat. How long does your satisfaction last? Probably for a few minutes or hours. But then it’s no longer fulfilling. But showing up each day working towards you vision on something that's motivating in and of itself can be an endless source of motivation and fulfillment.
A vision is about going on a journey that’s full of fulfillment, not arriving at a destination. A vision should create a journey of activities that providing fulfillment while doing those activities. The more you do those activities, the more fulfillment you feel. Having a vision that can provide a lifetime of those moments, of doing activities that are satisfying in and of themselves. This type of experience is often called flow. Flow is worth doing in and of itself because of the enjoyable inner experience and intrinsic fulfillment it produces.
Creating a vision can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Start small, perhaps by writing about your vision for 5 minutes and then stashing it away somewhere for a while. I often find that having space and time to marinate on something is helpful. I’ll often think about it in little bits here and there. And over time, I find that I get more clarity about it, thinking about it from different perspectives. In other words, trying to hold space for something vs trying to do it as quickly as possible can lead to better outcomes. Think about creating a vision as something you’re going to do over the next few weeks or few months. You’re not allowed to do it any faster. Using a tool like Letters To My Future Self can be a good way to remember to check-in in a few days or weeks. You can send an email to it and it will respond with your email in a few days or weeks depending on what you choose.
A vision should be compelling to you. It should be motivating and energizing. A vision should be something that you say “hell yes!” to when you think about it. A vision could be a “big hairy audacious goal”. It might be something that could take many lifetimes to achieve and a bit scary. A vision is something that has room for the things that are most important to you. It’s a container for a journey of things like purpose, meaning, joy, challenge, curiosity, satisfaction, play, service, and contribution. A vision keeps you hungry for more and to keep going. It’s about abundance over fear.
Keeping a vision alive is important so to help keep yourself motivated and moving forward towards it. There are a few practices I’ve tried that have been helpful for keeping my vision alive. I’ve hung it on the wall so I see it every day. I often have a journal prompt “What’s is my vision and how am I going to live it today?”. When answering this prompt, I re-write my vision and identify how I might live it during the day ahead. Spaced repetition learning is a great way to remember something. I share my vision freely with the world to help other people understand my motivation and perhaps collaborate with me. I share my vision in my read me and when introducing myself to new people. And sometimes as in the case of the letter to myself I shared at the beginning of this post, I write myself letters or reminders to keep myself motivated and energized for the work ahead. I’m sure I’ll try other practices in the future. The important part is to keep your vision present and alive in your life.
Take 5 minutes to write about your vision. Just starting writing for 5 minutes and don't stop. It doesn’t need to be perfect or event been a vision statement. Just get curious and start exploring. Then stash it somewhere for a few days and set or a reminder. Or email it to Letters To My Future Self if the idea of it randomly getting emailed back to you seems helpful.
I love to hear how it goes and what you learned. As Mary Oliver once said, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” What will do you with you one wild and precious life?
There are many people, organizations, and tools that have helped me to clarify my vision. I’d like to take a moment to share my gratitude by sharing appreciation: