Crafting a Vision Statement

  • As a psychologist, I sometimes ask my clients to compose a vision statement.  This is a simple statement, not usually more than a sentence or two, that describes what they want their lives to mean.   To sum up the aspirations and hopes for an entire lifetime can be a rather difficult endeavor.  


    I often ask:  "If other's were giving a talk on your life's accomplishments, what would you like for them to have said?"


    Being a firm believer in practicing what I preach, I generated my own vision statement.  It’s a simple one-sentence affair, but a lot of thought and processing went into it.  What follows are my own ideas and attitudes that feed into my own vision statement.  Yours, of course, will vary.


    Groundwork Part 1:  Behavior as a Virus


    The most successful organisms on this planet owe their success to spreading their DNA.  As long as we are hunted and slain by viruses, bacteria, and the like, Humans cannot claim to be on the top of the food chain.  We are the prey of these successful organisms.  We are their cattle.


    While the physicians continue to help us defend against them, let’s take a lesson from these remarkable beings while we can.  If we are to be successful, our own Behavioral DNA must be spread widely.  I do not mean that we should procreate indiscriminately.  By Behavioral DNA, I mean that if our actions can take seed and germinate in the minds of others, it may be replicated.  As such, the secret to the success as a species must be to inspire a desired behavior to be repeated and similarly spread. 


    This may be accomplished by making it intrinsically motivating.  That is, we must make it fun and rewarding.  I’m hardly a fan, but I was thinking of Van Halen in the mid-1980’s and the difference in performance styles of David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen.   Whether this was intentional, or merely the personalities or attitudes of their nature shining through on stage, they emanated different messages. Thus, they had a different impact on inspiring others to do what they do.


    David Lee Roth:  “I’m fantastic!  Look what I can do.”

    Spectator:  “He’s fantastic.  I wish I could do that.”


    As opposed to…


    Eddie Van Halen:  “This is fantastic!  Look what could be done and what fun it is!”

    Spectator:  “That’s fantastic!  I’m going to do that, too!”


    I think that’s why we saw a lot more kids buying guitars and emulating Eddie Van Halen than taking voice lessons and modeling after David Lee Roth in the 1980s.


    Also, end results don’t always provide sufficient motivation to do things.  If the process of accomplishing the end result is rewarding and the end result is seen as a bonus, the action is much more likely to catch on.


    The point I’m trying to make is that, whatever you choose as a mission, make it clear and make the intrinsic value of it show through.   The action itself is rewarding.  Rather than being the ‘great person’ doing good things, show that the action is joyous and rewarding in and of itself.  In that manner, others will wish to do the same.  In such a manner, you spread your behavioral DNA and the virus of your actions catches on to others, who hopefully spread it as well. 


    Groundwork Part 2:  The Root of Most (albeit probably not all) Evil


    Based on my own experience, I believe that most of the world’s issues lay in the perception of powerlessness.  While I was struggling through graduate school, I’ve heard friends and family say that they could never pursue a college degree because they don’t have the money or that they’re not smart enough.


    My parents were barely above the poverty line and did not pay for any of my education.  I was broke, unemployed, and did not qualify for scholarships when I left high school.  Yet, I did not feel powerless.  I found menial jobs and worked during my undergraduate career.  I made friends in the financial aid department, and student loans became my mainstay for quite a few years.  I lived remarkable frugally and admittedly had some frightening times when I was certain that I wouldn’t make it through the month.  I wasn’t a stellar student, but I graduated.  Wealth was not a requirement.  That was something that some people were told and then believed.  They allowed that message to disempower them.


    Brilliance wasn’t a requisite, either.  I’ve met several fairly successful students who were of average (or even a bit below average) intelligence.  The average IQ of college graduates, believe it or not, is about average.  Again, the “It takes a genius bookworm to succeed in college” myth is one that disempowered many and robbed them of hope.


    We are given believable myths on a daily basis that keep us from that which gives our lives meaning by well-meaning but misled others that disempower us and rob us of our hope. 


    Because of that theft, however well-intentioned it may be, we feel powerless to help, heal, and improve our world.  Because of that, we fail to do so.  For the longest time, for example, it was believed that it was physically impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes.  The human body simply wasn’t built that way.  


    This myth disempowered many people until 1954, when Roger Bannister demonstrated that it was indeed possible and he ran a mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.  His record only lasted 46 days once the world knew it that could be done.  Now, many have done it.  


    What a remarkable example of a viral expression of empowerment!


    I cannot objectively say how many of the world’s problems could be resolved by simply removing this sense of powerlessness, but I’ll wager it’s an awful lot.




    Given taking my viral model of success and belief that disempowerment can be found as the barrier to the solution of most problems, my vision statement becomes clear:


     To spread hope and empowerment like a virus.


    How about yours?  If others were to say something about your life's accomplishments, what would you want them to have said?