A lot of self-improvement books talk about having clear vision. They explain that the way to achieve something is to accurately envision the end of that journey, the rewards and the feelings of accomplishment.
While this might inspire someone to start, it also might help him or her stay on track. But time and time again I find that I don’t have clarity until I start to do the work. I don’t know what I don’t know and can’t stay naïve and still expect to finish the journey.
Therefore, the clarity that we put so much effort into creating becomes a daydream. It isn’t modeled after reality it is modeled after guessing and imagining.
While it is good to have a general idea of where you are going, it isn’t always a firm requirement. Sometimes you stumble upon something that peaks your interests and drives you down an unfamiliar road to explore unchartered territory. This wouldn’t happen with a strict attachment to your earlier vision.
But without any sort of goal, we can keep meandering without doing any good. We don’t get better. We don’t accomplish the mission. We don’t journey towards our destiny. We simply start and stop and get distracted at every turn.
So how do we know we are on the right track if we don’t want a strict target to aim at? And if we abandoned this idea, how do we make sure we are doing the right thing and improving?
For me, the key is to look at progress. Are we making progress? Or are we simply spinning our wheels over and over and unaware that we aren’t getting better while we work?
I watched a rerun of an older TV show the other day. The main character got let go from her job. She decided that this was a great time to explore her self and chase her dreams.
Since it was a sitcom, it took on a humorous tone. Instead of exploring her self, she simply dabbled in a couple get rich quick schemes or did elementary crafts. They presented her as lazy, sleeping in every day and being unwilling to do any work for fear that would interfere with her “finding herself”.
But if we use the measuring stick of progress we can see that she wasn’t making any real progress in any area. She would simply apply a minimal amount of structure and effort and expect a massive amount of reward for doing so. That isn’t life.
Life requires massive amounts of structure and effort to expect a minimal reward for doing so. The only real way to keep going longer than we assume we should and keep going in the face of setbacks and adversity is to focus solely on making progress.
We think to ourselves, “what can I do to make a little progress? What small thing can I do that will move the needle a little and get me closer to my end vision or a better version of myself?”
We don’t have to know everything before we start because that is an impossible expectation. But whatever we know, wherever we start, we can continue to take steps forward. Then we track our progress to make sure we are moving forward.
Years ago I had lunch with an old friend. He was saying that his son was in college and didn’t know what he wanted to major in. He was thinking about dropping out until he figured out what he wanted.
I told him that I completely understand that sentiment but would always advise against it. Instead of stopping to think through it, think through it now. If you can’t come up with a plan, then simply make sure to keep making progress.
It would be a shame to drop out of college, get a remedial job for 10 years and then realize that you really want to be a leader in a business. You could have been working through various levels of organizations and learning a ton during those 10 years. When you finally figure it all out, you could already be close to achieving that goal rather than having to start so far away from it.
Even if you decide after a few years dabbling in the corporate world that you want to quit and become a comedian, you probably gained a ton of great life experience that can help you formulate jokes.
Years ago I was working with a small, startup business that created a link between the average person and comedians. He was an experienced comic but wasn’t reaching the success he originally envisioned. So he realized that he and other comics could help people do things such as writing speeches that need to be funny. They could help them write best man toasts or corporate retreat content.
It was only because he kept working and making progress while he was a comic that this opportunity presented itself.
So if you feel lost and feel the best thing to do is to stop for a little while to think about what you want, I would caution against it. Instead work to keep making progress and work through what you really want before you quit anything.
Then you can grow and gain more experience that can ultimately help you reach whatever new vision you create.
You don’t need to have a strict clarity of mission all the time. You should be working to develop the vision to create the meaning behind what you are doing but don’t disregard the hard work and progress that you make by continuing on.