“I want to get promoted.”

Sound familiar?

So many of the folks I speak with see this as the road to success. And, it may well be. But it’s worth questioning where that road leads to. That’s where having a vision comes in handy. Sometimes, though, the question, “What’s your vision for your life?” can feel a bit daunting. So, instead, we replace it with goals like, “I want to get promoted.” While not necessarily a bad goal, taking the time to take a step back and reflect on your vision helps to put your goals in perspective.

The dialogue that follows is indicative of the conversations I’ve had on this topic. While Sam is a fictional character, I’m guessing you may be able to relate to this conversation. My hope in sharing this is to be able to help you to clarify your vision.

Me: Talk to me about the vision for the life you are trying to create.

Sam: I want to get promoted.

Me. Fantastic! Why is it important for you to get promoted?

Sam: Well, I want to have more influence at work. I also want to be able to make a good life for my family.

Me: Why do you want to have more influence at work?

Sam: Because I see so many opportunities to do things better and so many of us are being underutilized.

Me: How might you approach addressing these issues?

Sam: I would engage different groups of both managers and employees to find a few options that have the most potential to build quick wins. We could use that energy to begin building momentum.

Me: And, when you say that you want to make a good life for your family, what does that mean to you?

Sam: I want to be able to put money away for my kids’ education and for our retirement. I want us to not only be able to pay our bills but for our kids to participate in extracurricular activities. Maybe even be able to go on a family vacation once in a while.

Me: When you think about your relationships — with your family, with others who are important to you — what do you want those to look like (how would you describe these)?

Sam: I want to be involved in my kids’ lives, not just for the big moments. I don’t want to turn around and see them headed off to college. I’ve got a few close friends but life is so busy that I really haven’t seen them. My spouse and I do a pretty good job of carving out time together.

Me: And, what about youWhat’s important to you? (would make you happy? What are some of the things you used to do that you’d love to pick back up? What are some of the things you’d love to find time to do?)

Sam: I hadn’t really thought about that. I’d love to be healthy enough to enjoy all of the things we talked about. I used to love to run and read but I don’t seem to have time for either of these anymore. And, I’ve always played with the idea of volunteering or board work but I’m not really sure what I’m interested in or where I’d even start — and who has time!

Me: Got it! So, to summarize, your vision of your life is to be in a position where you are able to positively impact the individuals you work with — and your organization. You want to be involved in the lives of your family, with your friends, and, perhaps, in your community. Financially, you want to be able to not only provide for your family’s future but to be able to meet your family’s current needs. And, we need to build in some time for you to take care of your health and explore your interests. The goal of getting promoted is only one potential path toward this vision but there are a myriad of other options we can explore.

And, that is the value of defining your vision. It allows you to be creative, to open yourself up to many possibilities, about the ways in which you might proceed toward that vision. Once you’ve defined your vision, it then becomes important to set goals, as these goals become the milestones that track your progress. Setting goals without having defined a vision runs the risk of the goals leading you down paths that don’t work for you. For example, if Sam had simply focused on what needed to happen to get this promotion (to the exclusion of other possible paths), it dramatically narrows the chance of success. What happens if the promotion doesn’t happen? What happens if the promotion doesn’t create the influence that Sam had envisioned? What happens if the promotion requires more of Sam’s time and attention?

How do you define your vision?