It was Saturday morning and I was sitting alone on the couch, sobbing. Everyone else was still in bed. I had to get up early to facilitate a leadership workshop on “inspiring a shared vision”, and instead of doing anything productive to prepare for the workshop, all I could do was cry.
As the tears flowed, my thought process went something like this: “How can I lead a workshop on vision, when I’m in the middle of feeling like every vision I’ve ever had has disintegrated into a puddle at my feet? How can I teach people about inspiring others with their vision, when I don’t really know how it’s done myself?”
There have been a lot of discouragements lately. The big one that was sitting on my heart Saturday morning was the fact that I really haven’t managed to create a viable business in the six months I’ve been trying. Back when I quit my job in the Fall, I’d told myself that if I wasn’t making a reasonable living at it by the time my birthday rolled around, I’d have to go looking for a full time job again. That was about all the time I could afford not to be making decent money. My birthday was on Friday. Despite all of my effort and good ideas and wonderful connections with people, I’m barely making any money at this yet.
Part of me knows I need to be realistic, that business-building takes time, but part of me is starting to feel desperate because there are bills to pay, kids to feed… you know the story.
And that’s where vision comes in. When I walked away from my job, I had a grand vision- lots of them actually – of the way I’d pour my heart into the things I’d love to do, and people would show up hungry for what I had to offer and I’d be able to make a decent living. It really felt like a calling – the place I was meant to be at this stage of my life. But, the reality is there’s not a lot happening behind the wizard’s curtain. Or – I should qualify that – not a lot that translates into money. (And, sadly, at the end of the day, that’s the primary measurement in the world of business and bill-paying.) It’s discouraging. I meet with a lot of people, have a lot of great conversations, and then when it comes to signing on the dotted line, I’ve gotten a lot of “love what you do, would love to work with you… maybe in six months…” And then I never hear from them. It feels like a lot of wheels spinning and not a lot of traction happening.
That’s where I was on Saturday morning – the day after my birthday, sobbing on my couch because the dream hasn’t come to fruition the way I’d hoped and I may need to brush up my resume. (And I know that, by admitting all of this to you, I may in fact be further jeopardizing my ability to be taken seriously as a confident business person, but being authentic is what I do, so here’s the truth – this is really, really hard sometimes.)
I checked the mirror before I left to make sure there were no tell-tale signs that I’d spent the morning crying. I didn’t have any clue how I’d manage to deliver the workshop without bursting into tears, but at least it was a small group that I’d met with before, so I didn’t have to worry as much about first impressions.
I had no idea how the workshop would go. I’ve done this workshop a few times before, so I had an outline and lots of exercises and handouts, but the day before, when I’d been reviewing the material, nothing was working for me. Usually we talk about visionary leaders who inspire us or who’ve changed the world with their big dreams. Sometimes we play Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. In the end, participants usually emerge with some version of a personal vision statement that they’re meant to take with them into their leadership roles. But none of that was working for me this time. It all felt flat and useless and mostly irrelevent.
So I went to the workshop feeling lost and broken. And that’s the place I started from.
“I want you to sit for a moment with the word vision,” I said at the beginning, partly because I needed some time to gather my thoughts and contemplate which of my notes held relevance for this particular group. “Sit quietly – perhaps even close your eyes – and contemplate your response to the word. What does it do to you? Does it excite you? Fill you with fear? Make you feel inadequate? Bring up old stories of failure or discouragement?”
And then, in that safe place, stories started coming. Stories of dreams and failures, hopes and disappointments.
Instead of talking about grand visions, we talked about blurry vision – the kind that keeps you believing in something better, but never looks clear along the path. Instead of talking about charismatic and visionary leaders like Martin Luther King, we talked about people like Rosa Parks – real people who never delivered grand speeches, but simply made deliberate choices each day to stand up for what they believe in. Some people talked about their children, who dared to be seen as a little quirky at school in order to live out their authentic personalities. Others talked about simple visions like knowing how they wanted their garden to look, but accepting, in the end, that plants have their own way of developing and there is only so much under our control.
Vision, we decided, is like the curvy trail that winds up a mountain. You may never actually see the top while you’re on the path, and many, many times it feels like you’re heading in the wrong direction, or a curve makes you feel like you’ve failed and now need to back-track, but slowly but surely you’re reaching the top of that mountain.
Vision is also like that tiny ladybug crawling across a tapestry. All she can see is a few threads just in front of her. She never gets the grand God’s-eye-view of the whole piece, but she keeps crawling across and marvelling at how the threads change in their colour and texture.
Sometimes, we all agreed, our ideas end up failing, even if we think they’re led by vision or calling. But if we follow the lessons of nature and see the death of those ideas as the compost that provides nourishment for new ideas to grow, we’ll learn to recognize the importance of even the failure.
At the end of the session, instead of trying to articulate vision statementw, we worked on vision boards, cutting out the images that drew us in and told us stories of vague and blurry visions that kept calling us up the winding path to the top of the mountain.
In the end, the workshop was the perfect example of blurry vision. I had an outline and a sense of how the workshop should go, but when it came time to deliver it, I had to let go, trust that it would work out, and then let it unfold the way that it needed to for the learning the participants (and I) needed. The beautiful thing was that throughout the workshop, I saw the most wonderful a-ha moments flash across the faces of every single one of the participants. That happened not because I carefully followed an agenda, but because I let go of my plans and trusted the wisdom of the circle.
In the end, vision – that winding path up the mountain – looks something like this: Dream. Plan. Pray. Surrender. Trust. Try again.
The biggest a-ha moment was (of course) my own. That’s the best part about being a teacher – you get to learn SO much.
When I left the workshop, I didn’t necessarily have any more clarity about my own business or what the next step needs to be, but I at least felt more content and sure that what I’ve been doing is the right thing even if it fails. Even if I only manage to touch a few people in each workshop I do, or you, my beautiful readers who offer me such encouragement and hope, then I am doing the right thing and I need to keep doing it. Trusting that the money will come is excruciating, but somehow it will work out (even if I end up in a full-time job again) and I’ll make my way up that curvy (and sometimes back-tracking) trail to the top of the mountain.
At the end of the workshop, I shared this quote:
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. – Dr. Seuss, The Lorax