Six years ago, I met an entrepreneur in Philadelphia who was running a mid-sized service oriented business. Over dinner, he shared that at one point he was homeless and sleeping on a park bench. He was still “in business,” he was just running his operation from the library.

One of the recommendations he gave me was to write out my vision for the business and my life. He told me that he did it and nearly every fantastic goal he projected, he achieved. His experience with creating a vision isn’t unique; I’ve linked to a couple of other examples at the bottom of this article.

I’m working on a book on growth strategy for service businesses and, as part of that, I’ve been thinking and writing about visions, both for you (primary) and for your business (derivative.)

Good visions create clear pictures of the future that show what, how, and why your world will be different. But what makes them challenging is that we don’t know what we want.

More accurately, we only know some of what we want and often what we desire doesn’t actually serve us.

For example, I get fired up when I watch mixed martial arts. When I was fresh out of the military I thought, “This stuff is amazing, I should do this.” So I did. Within a little over a year I had my first amateur fight. After that fight, I planned on taking another fight at the next local event in three months. But three months turned to six months because I wasn’t training as hard as I needed to. Six turned to nine months as my training tempo dropped further. Eventually, I realized I didn’t actually like the lifestyle of being a fighter.

Watching fights was exciting. Training three hours a day, six days a week was a grind.

Similarly, with visions, we often make three mistakes. We choose goals:

1) That we’re attracted too, but won’t make us happy (e.g. fighting).

2) That are really other people’s vision of a “perfect world.” A mansion, a Lamborghini, six-pack abs.

3) That are proxies for deeper needs like self-esteem, security, or love. “If I have x dollars in the bank account, then I can be happy.”

The strength of your personal vision is dependent on your self-knowledge. Different people have different levels of awareness, but for most of us, with time comes wisdom. The information we need to make better choices in our lives is accumulated experience by experience.

Because of this, personal visions are always a work in progress. As much as they provide goals to strive towards, they also provide the hypothesis that inform self-discovery.

After you’ve created a personal vision and clarified your (hypothetical) goals, it’s worth asking, “Why do these matter?” and “Could I test some version of these before three or five years?”

Those talks mentioning vision: