What does Career and Life Vision really mean?

Article origin Stamford University

I would define Career and Life Vision as simply this: To be able to see your work and career – what you do and where you do it – in a way that is personally meaningful, stimulating, inspiring and fulfilling AND in alignment with who you are.

The key word in this definition is “personally.” It’s all about what you find important and relevant. What others think about your vision isn’t important. Caring about what others think about you and your vision is one of the greatest roadblocks to defining your vision.

Career and Life Vision is not the ability to define a specific job in a specific industry at a specific company. That may be a career goal, but it’s not Career Vision. Many successful managers and executives will tell you that they did not have a plan for their career or specific career goals. And they’re being honest.

In fact, what most of them had was an idea (an image) and understanding of what they like and do not like, as well as some general guidelines (and images), for what kind of life they wanted to lead, in both their work and personal lives. Given this, the definition expands beyond careers, but to your entire life. For some, their ability to develop and define Career and Life Vision is conscious. For others, it may be unconscious or intuitive. If you’re reading this article, you likely have some interest in making it a more conscious part of your life.

Images are important because they come from your complete consciousness, not just what your mind says, or what others say, is important. Often times, our minds are cluttered with so many thoughts that we cannot think clearly. The images in your Career and Life Vision will reflect your desires about different aspects of your work and life: culture, pace, surroundings, activities, expertise, experiences, people and other broader life factors, including family, friendships, community, the world, values, time, relationships, and possessions. Once you envision and clearly see these images, you can work backwards to explore and evaluate various career paths that could lead you towards making these images real.

Why is Career and Life Vision important?
Career and Life Vision is essential for you to find job satisfaction and success. It is a road map for where you want to go, keeping you focused on your long-term objectives. It enables you to define and maintain your personal direction, so that you’re not swayed off track when you might be pulled to go in other directions.

Each person has a unique path with many destinations on the road map of their careers and lives. Many times, people are inspired and motivated to work and live their lives in ways that defy conventional wisdom. Often, people desire to fulfill a dream that others, even their loved ones, think is difficult, risky and even downright silly. Career and Life Vision is the means to maintaining courage and focus to break new ground, when it feels like the rest of the world is against you.

Maintaining your commitment and motivation to your Career and Life Vision is crucial. It’s particularly essential in tough times. You will need it to help sustain your enthusiasm when the job search process is difficult. Having career vision can help you maintain perspective regarding your vision, goals and priorities when you’ve had a tough day or tough time at the office, with your boss, or in your personal life. Rather than quitting your job or checking out, you will see these situations as challenges or hurdles to overcome, rather than major roadblocks that force you to make drastic detours in your work or life.

How do I develop Career and Life Vision?
At Stanford Business School, I taught a workshop for MBA students called Career and Life Visioning (CLV). The workshop is designed to taught students about the concept of CLV, develop a framework for ongoing understanding, and identify insights and actions that can help them continue to develop their Career and Life Vision on their own. This framework is adapted from Jim Collin’s and Jerry Porras’ powerful Vision framework in Built to Last.

The workshop is comprised of different exercises where students reflect on their lives, their goals and dreams, their beliefs and attitudes, and future work and life situations and environments that are meaningful to them. The class forces students to be introspective, which is very difficult in the ever-stimulating MBA student life. It helps students define and confirm what’s really important to them.

One exercise is called the Fast-Forward Exercise. In just 10 minutes, students outline what they would like to have said about them at a dinner honoring them forty years from now.

Questions they consider include:

What and/or who did I impact or change?
Who did I care for? How did I impact or change this person/these people?
What were my major accomplishments (at the ages of 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70)?
What did I show interest in? What was I passionate/enthusiastic about?
What character traits and values did I consistently demonstrate over my lifetime?
With this data, students begin to define their Core Ideology – who they are, and their Envisioned Future – where they want to be. By more clearly defining who they are, what matters most, and where they want to be, students are able to make better decisions today. Their choices are aligned with their vision and values. Their choices are strategic – with a long term perspective (vision!) underlying their decision. As a result, their career and life visioning process has begun.

Try this exercise and see where it leads you.

What if I’m having trouble defining my Career and Life Vision?
Don’t worry. This can often be quite challenging to do on your own. A career coach is the best resource to guide you through this process. It will take time for you to develop your Career and Life Vision, but it’s an investment that will pay dividends over your entire life.

People often think that everyone else has their vision and life all figured out. Few actually do. But you can be one of the few. Make a conscious choice to do it – to begin the process. The sooner you understand the process for defining your career and life vision, the sooner you can begin moving towards the career and life that is inspiring, fulfilling and satisfying – for you.

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