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Our lives and careers are a complex mix of elements. Sometimes we feel unable to be attentive to everything. Sometimes, we feel like we should start over in life. A personal vision statement can help when we don’t have a sense of how things are connected.
We feel unable to attend to everything around us when we aren't sure what our purpose is when we do what we are doing. A vision statement can help clarify your whys and can give you a sense of meaning and direction.
What is a personal vision statement?
“There is no favorable wind for the sailor who doesn’t know where to go”. - Seneca, I sec. AD
Imagine you can find a compass that tells you precisely where you have to go. You can easily choose between one thing and another, thanks to this extraordinary tool. This would be great, right? And this is exactly what a personal vision statement does.
A personal vision statement is a statement that describes your values, your strengths, and your goals.
It can be focused on life or professional goals, and it is intended to orient you toward your long-term dreams. It is a tool to help guide your actions when important decisions have to be made or in particular transition moments.
Successful people frequently review their personal vision statement to get a sense of direction, fulfillment, and to live their days more joyfully.
Why is it important to have one?
Research has shown that a personal vision statement can help people pass from a cycle of stress to one of more balance.
When you are in a state of stress, you have no sense of control of what is happening in your life/career and reaction-based behavior. In contrast, when you move into a more balanced state, you have a sense of inner control about what is happening in your life.
In a state of balance, we sense we’re living a life and a career that are the consequence of decisions that we have made over time. There is logic to it. This doesn’t mean we have control over the results. There are always external circumstances that still have an impact on us. However, this means that we are the owner of our responses. If these responses are aligned to who we are and to our values, we have a sense of joy and fulfillment.
Here are 5 specific benefits that come from having a personal vision statement:
- It becomes easier to make decisions.
If you find yourself in a particular moment of your life or career in which important and complex decisions need to be made, having a personal vision statement can be a compass for you. It will remind you of your inner qualities, values, and purposes that will help you identify the best path for you.
- It provides you with a sense of direction.
We, as humans, need to feel that what we are doing (in our lives and work) has meaning. To find motivation for actions, we need to know that what we are doing is worthy and that will drive us somewhere. A personal statement connected to your vision offers to you a sense of where you are going and of what you want to achieve.
- It helps you determine your long-term and short-term goals.
This sense of direction can be broken down into long-term and short-term goals. After creating your personal statement, you will have a clear long-term goal that will help you set short-term goals and actionable steps to achieve it. The long-term goal will mostly remain stable throughout the years and will inform short-term goals that will change as time passes.
- It will provide you with motivation during tough times.
When times become hard, it is difficult to maintain motivation and keep doing your job or investing in your personal life with passion. Having a written statement can help you remind yourself of your whys and bring you back on track.
- It will help you live a balanced life.
A well-written statement contains different aspects of your life both personal and professional, spiritual and day-by-day oriented. Reminding yourself of your statement will help you live a more balanced life.
What does a personal vision statement have to have?
A well-formed personal vision statement has to respond to these questions: what do you want to do? Why? How will you do that? You may want to consider your values, strengths, and skills to decide your goals. Considering these will offer valuable insight about your whys and how you do what other people do differently.
A personal vision statement should contain:
- Your interests
What are you passionate about? A vision statement should contain your interests and passions, what you enjoy doing in your free time, and what you would do all day long if you didn’t have to work.
- Your skills
A well-formed statement should include what you are good at. It can include professional and personal skills based on your personal observations and on feedback received through years from family members, friends, and coworkers.
- Your values
What are you driven by? A powerful statement informs you about your driving values. They are usually expressed in a general form (such as love, creativity, justice) and are those values without which life (for you) doesn’t make any sense.
- What the world needs
What does the world need, in your opinion? The answer to this question should definitely be part of your personal statement because it tells something about what is important for you and what can make a difference for everyone.
- Your goal
If you know who you are, what drives you, and what the world needs, you are ready to identify your life/career goal. This is what Japanese philosophy addresses as ikigai, which is a long-term goal aligned to all the areas above. Your ikigai can provide you with a sense of purpose and direction. Some people call it life’s purpose.
Some questions to ask yourself before drafting your personal vision statement
Creating a personal vision statement can be quite an introspective work. Reserving 10 minutes of reflection before drafting it can help clarify your ideas and dive faster into the 4-step process you’ll find explained in the next paragraph. Here, you’ll find some important questions to guide your reflection and preparation for the creation of the statement. If you are more action-oriented, you can jump into the 4-step process and use these questions as needed.
- What have you done since you were a child that still gives you a lot of satisfaction?
- In which activities do you feel fully energized?
- What are you good at?
- Without which values (min 3 – max 6) does life make no sense?
- What does the world need?
- How would you like to be remembered at the end of your days?
- According to your previous answers, what could be a life/career goal which makes total sense to you?
4 steps to write a personal vision statement
This 4-step process is something I created after almost 10 years of experience with more than 100 highly talented employees in development centers aimed to help them define a goal and develop their potential. This is an evidence-based process based on well-known psychologists and researchers (above all: logical levels by Robert Dilts, appreciative inquiry by Positive Psychology, and Bob Proctor’s visioning process).
The entire process takes about 40 minutes of reflection. Ideally, all the steps are done together, but breaking reflection into phases won’t inhibit the process.
Step 1: Letter from the future (approximately 15 minutes)
This is a phase in which you can completely let your imagination go and your creativity flow.
Imagine yourself being 90 years old, and having lived a dream life with a dream job.
Take a sheet of paper and a pen and write a letter to the you of today from the you of the future. Describe everything you have accomplished in your personal life and work, how these accomplishments make you feel, and what you are most proud of.
Step 2: List of successes (10 minutes)
What do you define as success? Take time to think of 4 successes in your life. They can be something personal (get married, have a child) or professional (get promoted, find a new job). Ideally, you’ll want to include both. Describe your successes, what you have done to make them become real and why they are relevant to you.
Step 3: Collecting data (8 minutes)
In this step, we want to collect both elements from the letter from the future and the list of successes. Read both again and circle keywords that have to do with the following fields: environment, skills, emotions, beliefs, values, and purpose.
- Environment: it refers to everything that has to do with the environment you envisioned (warmth, supportive…).
- Skills: they refer to competencies such as problem solving, decision making, creativity, and so on.
- Emotions: they relate to the emotional context. You can likely find some emotions described in your letter (joy, satisfaction, etc….).
- Beliefs: these are your thoughts expressed in a general way, for example, “when I work hard, I achieve what I want” or “when I ask people they support me.”
- Values: they are universal driving values such as love, kindness, justice, and so on.
- Purpose: it relates to your mission. You may find it expressed as an answer to the question: how do you want to make a difference in the world?
Step 4: Writing down your vision statement (6 minutes)
Now you have all the keywords to write down your personal vision statement. If you are a visual person, you can even create a drawing with these keywords, but it is recommended to have it in a written form too. In order for the vision statement to be effective, it should be as detailed as you can make it.
If this is the first time attempting this exercise, it can be challenging to imagine how a statement should be formed. Here you can find some examples from other people's personal vision statements. Please note that these are just samples to offer to you a frame, but your statement should be something connected to your uniqueness.
“I want to help infants grow in a comfortable and learning environment. This connects me to my empathy and sense of caring. I feel this is something important because infants of today are adults of tomorrow, and a happy baby becomes a happy adult.”
“I want to do research in the legal field. I am driven by a love for knowledge and innate curiosity. What motivates me is knowing that thanks to my research, people will live a more justice-driven life as citizens.”
“I want to help sensitive people overcome the fear of speaking through coaching. This is important to me because it makes me feel useful to other people and it connects me to my sensitivity.”
Put it into practice
This article's purpose has been to help orient you to your personal vision statement. After reading this, 3 things are important to keep in mind:
- Your personal vision statement can change through the years. Be sure to check it from time to time.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect. Begin with a statement that makes sense to you and you can always make changes if needed.
- Keep it in a close place and read it from time to time. It will help you stay on track with your goals.
If this reading made you curious, take time for yourself and begin the work of self-discovery and future visioning. Engaging in this work will help you live life with clarity and purpose!
BetterUp Associate Coach