Finding Visions for Life and Work

 Life without vision is drudgery
Vision without action is but an empty dream
Action guided by vision is joy
and the hope of the earth

(adapted from an old English churchyard saying)

Vision is one of our most power­ful human gifts because it com­bines the power of the senses, the mind and the heart.

Guided by vision, companies like Working Assets and the Body Shop discover ways to work more ethically and profitably.  Inventors see how to turn failures like glue that doesn’t stick well into useful products like Post-It Notes. Individuals discover their right livelihood and see how to manifest it.  They learn how to work more purposefully and effectively all day, then have plenty of energy for a fulfilling home and community life.

True vision is a lot more than goal-setting or becoming more resourceful and innovative.

Vision begins by gathering information through the senses about what currently is.  To this is added the min­d’s imagination of what can be and the heart’s wisdom about who we are and how we are called to dance with each other.

The wisdom of the heart is crucial to vision because our hearts are the source of our deepest values, passions, and connections to others.

There’s no conflict in our hearts between our­selves and others.  Instead, there’s the clarity, the humili­ty and compassion we need to confront our dreams, needs and short­comings while we deal effectively with the needs, dreams and shor­tcomings of others.

When we see clearly from our hearts, we discover our purpose and can envision many ways to fulfill it.  We become more resourceful and creative, better able to inspire effective teamwork.  We can see hope inside despair, direction in the midst of chaos, options inside challenges.

Becoming the visionaries we were born to be is not a problem that can be solved but a mystery that must be experienced.

Like all mysteries, vision comes alive in ways that are unique to each person and situation.  Thus, whenever we ask “How can I [my company] become more vision­ary?” the answer is more often found through prayer or poetry than text­books or logical planning.

While visionary development can never be reduced to recipes or rules, the following guidelines may be helpful, particularly if they are adapted freely.

Demystify Vision And Ground It

Vision may be as powerful as love, but it is just as ordinary.  All the raw material of vision — curiosity, imagination, a hunger to know the world and to fulfill our talents for the good of ourselves and others — is in our genes.  All of us can enjoy vision’s natural power to generate the very resources and energy we need to overcome gaps between current reality and a realized vision.

Vision must be grounded because grounding is our connection to earth, to reality, to the ability to discern how our actions (or inactions) impact self and others.  Without grounding, vision can quickly turn into time-wasting daydream or destructive illusion.  With grounding, we can unleash safely the power of vision in a way that’s naturally ecological, naturally moral, naturally compassionate.

Vision can become con­scious suddenly and dramatically, or it can unfold slowly.  However it appears, it’s important to remember that having a vision won’t make us special or replace the need for hard work.  Following a vision, like the rest of life, can sometimes be frustrating or ex­hausting.  But, it’s always enlivening to let your mind soar with possibilities while you keep your feet on the ground.

Get Out In the World And Let It Teach You

When we were young enough to talk to the stars and wonder what God eats for breakfast, we dis­covered wise teachers everywhere.  Whenever we approach each butterfly and rock as if it were the first we’ve seen, we again discover wise teachers everywhere.

Carol Orsborne in Solved by Sunset tells of an attorney whose ty­rannical style was driving away staff and clients.  By watching a herd of deer, he envisioned a new and more cooperative style of leadership.  By modeling what he learned from the deer, he changed his behavior, and staff morale blossomed.  So did busi­ness.

Laugh A Lot

Laughter deflates pomposity and grandiosity while it inflates the spirit.  It releases the mus­cles of the belly, proverbial seat of Buddha wisdom and gut instincts. It enlivens the breathing, which energizes the whole body.

Laughter is such good “food” for the creative mind that inventor Thomas Alva Edison habitually started his work­day with a joke session.  If you can’t think of a good joke, it’s easy to enjoy a good laugh by simply repeating the words “Ha! Ha! Ha!” fifty times or more, letting the sound come from deep in your belly.

Use All Your Eyes

Helen Keller, whose books and lectures inspired people throughout the world to chal­lenge limitations, was blind and deaf since early childhood.  To “see” she had to go out and touch the world, relying on instinct, emotions and infor­mation from others.

To see fully, we also have to use more than our physical eyes to observe the world from multi­ple viewpoints.  When we see fully, we discover new possibilities.  We learn how to sort quickly through masses of data and select what’s most relevant.

Welcome Inspiration From Any Source

Whenever something interests you, your heart is giving you visionary cues.  So pay attention to the song that hums itself through your mind as you wait for a bus, to your fascination for rough textures, or your longing to know more about poverty and possibilities in Ban­gladesh.

Long before he knew what he wanted to do in life, Albert Schweitzer knew he wanted to serve others.  A statue of a Congolese man fascinated him, and when he received the call to become a doctor, he also realized that he was called to serve in Africa.  Through his writings and organ con­certs (which supported his hospital in West Africa), he became world-famous, and publish­ers begged for a book on his basic philosophy.  He couldn’t com­ply until one day a herd of hippopota­mus halted a trip he was taking upriver.  While he waited pa­tiently for the hippos to cross the river, a thought flashed, “reverence for life.”  The book that evolved from this flash inspired many people to find their own ways to revere life.

Be Willing To Face The Truth About Yourself And Your World

While vision empowers and energizes, illusion wastes time and energy.  It’s not easy to discern the difference between guiding vi­sion and deceptive illusion, espe­cially when pride, self-will or fear can so easily distort perceptions and block imagination.

In one version of “The Thief of Baghdad,” a handsome prince must obtain the all-seeing eye of truth in order to win his true love.  On the way to the temple containing the eye, an illusion that he can save his true love from danger tempts the prince off his path, and he is instantly turned to stone.  The thief, who harbors no idealized self-images, sees through the illusions.  Just for the fun of it, he completes the journey to the temple, retrieves the eye, rescues the prince and helps him win the princess.

The more we are willing to face our own faults and shortcomings, the less likely we are to deceive ourselves or fall for the deceptions of others.  The more we face problems with a spirit of adventure, as the thief did, the easi­er it will be to discover options and resources that can help us unfold our true gifts.

Be Patient

Visions are often like shy children.  Be friendly, make them comfortable, and they’ll delight you with their ideas.  Rush them, demand quick and logical explanations, and they’ll either run away in fright or mut­ter something you can’t understand.

Though your heart is always transmitting its visions, your reception may be fuzzy.  The best reception is often when you are enjoying yourself.  While doing something satisfying, ask yourself, “What else might I love do­ing?”

If you can’t concentrate when you meditate, ask your dis­com­fort what it wants to tell you.  Imagine placing your long­ing to be more com­fortable with silence into a lovely pock­et in the back of your head.  Then go about your business while your heart and mind work together to fill this longing.

Take Every Part Of The Visioning Process To Prayer

In prayer, you en­gage the mysteries of life and allow them to call you to service, creativity, and justice-making.  You drop deeper and deeper into your real self, which inevitably leads you to the point where the most real and unique you dances with the rest of Creation.  There, you find your right dance between being and doing, receiving and giving.

Patience is an essential part of prayer, not just so you can shape a vision initially, but also so you can be open to new vision, new direction, at any moment.  It’s not an easy process, but it can be filled with joy.

Surround Yourself With People Who Support The Visionary In You

Anna, one of my clients, couldn’t recall anyone who had ever honored her unique self.  Then she remembered, “A neighbor invited me — just me and not all my brothers and sisters — to dinner.  When we washed the dishes, I dropped one and broke it.  She hugged me, told me it was all right, and handed me another dish to dry.”

We all needed support like this when we were growing up.  We also needed training in design skills and apprenticeship in crafting ideas into reality.  Fortunately, it’s never too late to meet those needs.  Barbara Sher’s books, such as Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want and I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, are filled with encouragement, exam­ples and practical advice on how to discover your passions and create a team to help you live them.

You don’t have to limit yourself to in-the-flesh mentors and buddies.  Through the magic of imagination, you can consult with Albert Schweitzer, Anita Roddick or Winnie-the-Pooh.  You can re-experience the support of the teacher who always believed in you, or you can be supported by people you can only imagine, like Anna’s wonder­ful neighbor.

Don’t Limit Your Support System To The Human World

Let ants teach you how to work with others; ask rabbits how to chew through cages; let the seasons teach you how to let go of the past and embrace the present.

Become Your Own Visionary Guide

Ask yourself, “What yearnings now stir in me?  What ideas resonate in my soul?  What are my next steps to becoming more clear about my visions or how to live them?”

Be sure to bless your visionary journeys.  As you do so, I’d like to offer you the words that came to me during a hard time many years ago:

Dare to dream, to speak the language of your heart,

to shape its longings into clear visions with solid goals and objectives;

Dare to do, to craft your visions with integrity

and the joy of stretching your skills far beyond their present capacity.

Pat Sullivan is principal of Visionary Resources, a consulting firm in Oakland, CA that helps individuals and groups rediscover and use their visionary potential.  For information on Visionary Resources or to comment on this article, please call (510) 530-0284 or email at

Copyright 1997 by Pat McHenry Sullivan, t/a Visionary Resources