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Opening up to your Vision

So let’s talk about vision. I’m going to share with you some surprising things that I’ve learned in creating a vision for my own life, and why you might open up to the possibility of being visionary.

I’ll say up front that I’m biased: I think everyone should have a vision. It’s one of the most fulfilling and meaningful things I’ve found in life.

There’s a lot that could be said about vision and this by no means going to be everything. My intention is to give you a big picture, and a framework for thinking about these things.

First, what vision isn’t about:

Vision isn’t just something reserved for the special few. Having an inspiring vision is available to anyone who is willing to be open to it.

Vision isn’t something that’s fixed. It’s not something that you have or you don’t have. It’s something you create, over and again in each moment. And we’ll talk here about how to do that.

Vision is not about achieving an outcome—a surprising thing about it. It’s not about creating SpaceX and Tesla, or having humans on Mars, or having some inspiring outcome, though inspiring outcomes are great. And having the possibility of some outcome might well be part of a vision.

Really vision is about being and about possibility. It’s about how you are, and who you’re being right now.

And what that means is that you can be visionary before you have any outcome at all.

So what is vision?

A vision is an inspiring, imagined context from which you live your life.

Let’s pick this apart.

Inspiring: At the root of all inspiration are possibilities that expand our sense of what it means to be human. Acts of courage, bold dreams, big visions, conquering one’s limitations, putting yourself on the line. Being inspiring isn’t about being safe, and staying inside our comfort zone. It’s about expanding who we are, individually and collectively.

Context: The frame of reference in which we live our lives. We all have a context out of which we’re living our lives, made up of our stories about who we are, our relationship to others and to ourselves.

Imagined: It’s something we make up. All visions are created. There’s always an element of discovery in there too, but vision is ultimately a creative act. It’s something you imagine.

So vision is an inspiring, imagined context.

The thing is: all contexts are made up. Contexts are made out of the meaning we assign to our own experience (we’ll dive more into this as we go on). I’ve put the word imagined in there mostly as a reminder.

So really, what makes a context visionary is doing context consciously. It’s really a process of discovery/creation of the meaning in our lives, and taking charge of that whole process.

Our context impacts everything. How we feel, think, act… our whole experience of life. It determines how life is for us, moment to moment.

And because creating context is something we’re doing already, we can change it. We can invent a vision for ourselves, right now.

So let’s look at an example, to get more of a sense of what I mean by ‘context’, and see if we can show how a vision might be invented, with this as our starting point.

Let’s say you want to become a software engineer, by going through a bootcamp. Part of what I do is I’m a bootcamp instructor: I teach people how to be software engineers over the course of 3 months.

To actually sign up for a bootcamp, you’d need to have a context for yourself as a software engineer. Otherwise you’d never do it.

Here’s one that you might have, before signing up:

I don’t like my current job and I want a change. After weighing up the options, I decided I want to be a software developer, because I did a short coding course and enjoyed it: I really like to solve problems. It’s also a well paid profession, and it’ll give me freedom and flexibility in my life. So I’m signing up for this bootcamp, because they have a good success rate of putting people into jobs, and I’m going to put my trust in it. I’ll show up and do the work, so that at the end, hopefully, I can get a job. Then I will join a great company, and I will be a software engineer.

And so this is the frame of reference you’re going to have throughout the course.

But we wouldn’t really describe this as a vision yet. In fact, there are some hidden impacts and assumptions built into this frame of reference, and so let’s take a deeper look at a couple of them together.

Firstly, it’s individual and outcome focused. It’s basically about getting a job, with some positive and negative motivations for doing so. Other people aren’t really mentioned at all. This isn’t wrong, but it has consequences, it has impacts.

For example, anything that comes up during the course that, in your mind, threatens this personal outcome, lends itself to frustration, discouragement, or something close to it. Also, if this outcome doesn’t come to pass, then we’ve kind of wasted our time. I would anticipate that during the course, there’s going to be a background hum of anxiety around this.

Secondly, although I empathise with this context, it isn’t inspiring (again, nothing wrong with this). It doesn’t expand my sense of what it means to be human, and I doubt it does for the student either. The main reason for this is because it’s too small. It reads as practical, down-to-earth, and even humble and innocent by tone. It’s tone even questions my assertion that contexts are made up, because it just sounds like reality.

But it’s not real. It’s imagined.

If we look at this context carefully, we might notice some things. We might see that it’s made up of highly selected pieces of information from the students past. We might discover that it’s told from a single narrative perspective. We might even see that it's full of interpretation. Even the modest tone is clearly invented.

Have a go at re-reading it now. Do you see what I mean? (It’s ok if not, it will become clearer as we move forward).

But even though it’s not real, it’s being lived as if it’s real.

Let’s see now if we can transform our original context into something more visionary.

What if our aspiring dev has this going on instead:

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved solving problems, and recently I rediscovered this love when writing code. There were no programming courses offered at school, so it never occured as an option, but now I can really see myself as a coder, and my mind is alive with the possibilities. Software is changing the world around me in all these amazing and complex ways. So I’m signing up for this bootcamp, because I want to be surrounded by other people who love solving problems, like me, so that I can develop the skills, the tools, and the knowledge faster to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Contrast to our original context, imagine if our student actually shows up from this place. Not just as a clever play on words, but actually living this for real. Can you see how this would make a difference in how they think, feel, and act, during the bootcamp?

Question for you: How do you think the self image of the student in the first example compares to the self image of the student in the more visionary example?

Vision is very much about how we see ourselves.

Let’s look again at the difference between these two examples.

The first example has a kind of cautious humility to it, it’s self-oriented, and is the place that most of us usually come from in life, most of the time. It also puts more of the responsibility on circumstances. It doesn’t really show vulnerability or risk.

The visionary example is more open and more engaged with life. The outcome is assumed, and it isn’t really about the student. Really the student is excited by possibility. The student has also shown vulnerability, in expressing their love for solving problems more fully, and how, really, that’s what's inspiring them.

To some readers the visionary example may come across as pretentious, but if we’re open and honest, we can see that the first example is actually more pretentious, because the student is pretending they are less than they really are, and are not being authentic with us about what they really care about.

So let me ask you this. Why don’t we live as visionaries, if it’s more alive and inspiring?

Well, actually there’s a very powerful force present in each of us, a dominant, secret context, that runs the show. And vision is in direct opposition to this force.

To really explain what I mean by that, I’m going to share my story with you.

As I’m doing so, I want you to notice the meaning I’ve given to the events in my life.

So here goes:

My story starts when I was a little boy. I have an autistic brother, and two twin sisters, and I’m the eldest. And I’m the model son. I’m polite, uncomplaining, bright and inquisitive, and I do amazingly at school. And my parents are really proud of me.

And that’s who I am. One day I come home from school and into the kitchen and my mum is holding a letter. I’d applied for the best school in the area, and I’d been waiting for this letter. I knew I was going to get in, and I was ready to receive the good news.

*So when I open it up and it reads ’Unfortunately, we’ve chosen not to accept you’, I don’t even make it through the rest. I look up and I see how disappointed my mum is, and I know she’s disappointed in me (I know now this isn’t true). And I’m so ashamed. My self-image is broken, as it turns out that I’m actually a disappointment.

And so I tell myself in that moment that I’m not acceptable the way I am. And I make the decision then that in order to hide it, I’ll do absolutely everything by the book from now on. I’ll keep myself small and safe, by avoiding anything that could risk people seeing the truth about me, so that I’ll never have to feel this kind of shame ever again. This became the context for my life.

And so fast forward 10 years later. I’m at a well paying job at an investment bank as a developer: my first development job. I’d done everything right, everything by the book for 20 years, and I’d gotten all the ticks on paper.

And yet I was miserable and trapped, and with no idea how to change that. I didn’t feel I could say anything, since it wouldn’t be acceptable to not like my job. I didn’t want to risk disappointing people. It truly felt like I had no way out, because if you can’t express yourself, you have no power and no freedom.

For some time I gave up on my life. Any original joy I’d had in programming was now a distant memory.

I briefly indulged in a dream of becoming a writer. I realised writing gave me space from work and was something I actually liked a lot. I really wanted to quit that job... but that wouldn’t be acceptable. I just worked there, and wrote on the side, never publishing anything because I was afraid it wouldn’t be accepted.

And I haven’t even mentioned how my dating life was affected, because it was non-existent. I’d never dated or experienced intimacy in my whole life. There’s no way I could let anyone get that close to me, because then they’d see how ashamed and unacceptable I was.

In the end I was made redundant from that job. I was scared at the time but it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was so afraid I wouldn’t get another, but I ended up with 3 offers within a month. And I took a job at an amazing health tech startup that was changing the world.

I really loved it there, and I found the work to be so much more meaningful. I even regained some of my old love for programming.

But in the background, there was anxiety. I was still just trying to be acceptable, and so I still felt trapped. Even though my circumstances were far brighter, the context I was living out of was the same.

Then came two things in quick succession: I got really serious about my meditation practice, and I experimented with psychedelics for the first time. In retrospect I speculate that the meditation made the experience of my first trip 10-100 times more powerful than it would have otherwise been.

That experience was one of the most positive of my life, and completely changed my view of reality. It was something that opened me up deeply and profoundly. It was then that I discovered that more was possible, and that I started to question the hidden contexts from which I was living.

I meditated almost obsessively for a while after that experience, thinking it was the answer. And I got so much out of doing that... but I was still disconnected from my life. I couldn’t understand why. It made no sense to me. Wasn’t meditation the answer I’d been looking for (plus the occasional psychedelic spiritual experience)? What I discovered later was that much of my drive for meditation was actually coming from the context of needing to be acceptable. But I didn’t realise that until much later.

I started going to workshops, questing for an answer. I did 10 day silent retreats. I did improv workshops. I did a bunch of courses and read a bunch of self help books. I tried therapy, coaching, and more. I went to a month long consciousness retreat in Texas.

I learned so much from each of these, and sometimes I’d be able to feel connected with my life. But I was still carrying all that shame from my past, and I was still hiding myself.

And then, after a workshop in 2017, for the first time, in a moment of clarity and courage, I shared with a close friend how ashamed I was about how unacceptable I was. That I’d been disconnected my entire life. That I’d never dated or had sex in 28 years. That I felt that I was constantly checking for other people’s approval, so that I could know I was acceptable. And that as a result, I felt like I could never express myself or connect with anyone.

In sharing that I was finally free of it. It was so clear to me that this was all just a story I’d made up about myself, that I’d been telling my whole life, without knowing it. And when I shared that, my friend shared something with me about his past, that he’d hadn’t shared. And when he shared that I realised I actually have a unique gift, which is to be the space for people to connect with themselves and to be who they really are.

Within a month of that conversation, I was in my first real relationship. And a year later, I met my soulmate, and we’ve been together ever since.

Within 2 months, I discovered that what I truly love to do is to coach and mentor people--that this had actually become my favourite thing about being a developer. I offered my coaching services at a workshop I was a part of, and shortly after made it official, and started to coach my peers at one of the fastest growing healthcare startups in the world. I coached developers, but not just developers. Fast forward a year, and I’m instructing boot camps for people looking for transformation in their lives, and I’m running my own coaching business to help devs create a vision for themselves and learn how to connect, just like I did.

So that’s my story.

It took some more time for me to really work out how I wanted to bring everything here into a coherent vision for myself, and how to interpret the events in my life to create something powerful for me. And also, not to constantly fall back into the old context of needing to be acceptable. This was work, it didn’t come easily.

But in doing so I’ve learned the power of vision, the mechanics of it, and that it’s something that anyone can create for themselves if they’re open and willing.

Here’s the vision I’ve created for myself, and now you have the context of my story, it should make more sense to you:

If people become profoundly open and connected with themselves and their lives, our world will transform. Right now, most people are disconnected. They’ve got it together, but they don’t feel alive. They live their lives inside of hidden contexts that they created when they were very young, in order to protect themselves, without any idea that that’s what they’re doing. As a result, connection is a scarcity in their lives because they need to keep themselves small and safe, and cannot really express themselves. As a result, they resist dreaming big, and seeing themselves as visionary. They’re withdrawn and disconnected, and worse, they don’t even know it, because this occurs to them as just the way reality is.

I want to show people that true connection is possible when you take on being open, authentic, and vulnerable, as a practice. As a person opens up more and more, and becomes more and more authentic, their whole experience of reality shifts. They start to systematically dissolve all of the blocks that are in their way of their greatness. This creates the space for them to reinvent themselves, and to live a visionary life of purpose and fulfilment.

It’s possible for people to reach a level of connection with themselves and others that is so profound that people can actually feel it as a palpable presence--especially if that person is living into a vision. Being around someone like that is inspiring and actually transformative for people. Ultimately such a person can have the life they’ve always dreamed of, in a way that is completely authentic and independent of any conditions.

My vision is to live in a world that’s connected, real, authentic, and open. To move towards that reality, I help software engineers who want to make a difference with their work, to reinvent themselves as visionaries who are deeply connected with their lives.

I’m sure you can imagine that when this vision is alive for me, I show up very differently in my life.

All contexts come from the meaning we give our experience, including visionary ones.

Notice that there was a key decision I made when I was very young, about needing to appear acceptable to others, that I only discovered later. This was the secret context that I was living from, keeping myself small and safe, so I could be seen as acceptable.

By truly accepting the decisions I’d made in the past, I created the space for myself to actually create an entirely new context for my life.

Vision is very much about making it real for yourself, through gradually letting go of beliefs about yourself that no longer serve you, so that you can dream bigger.

Often what happens is we have so much fear and shame, stuff we want to keep hidden about ourselves, and from ourselves, that it blocks us. It blocks our ability to think differently about our lives.

To get my vision as real as it is now, I had to let go of a lot of things about myself. At first you can’t make a big vision real for yourself, because you just have too much stuff in the way. And that’s why, especially at first, It’s actually most important to be vulnerable and open, to accept exactly where you’re at, and to start sharing the truth with others about yourself.

This is more important at the beginning, than it is to have big goals or to take action. You’ve got to accept where you’re at first.

So it’s a process of discovery and interpretation: looking into our past to determine our most meaningful transformations and experiences, and this is what our vision is ultimately going to be about.

For you, the reader, the kicker is this:

Much of what occurs to you as real, and as what’s ‘so’, is really the unexamined contexts that you don’t remember creating. And so my invitation to you is to open up and become consciously involved with this activity, because living an inspired life is your birthright. You are so good at creating contexts, that you’re living inside of one without even knowing it!

Now I want you to ask yourself: and really look deep with this.

What is the context that you’re living out of right now?

Take the time you need to do this.

It’s ok if you don’t see it all at once--in fact, I’d be amazed if you did. We’re so used to doing this that it can take some time and some probing to start to actually see this for ourselves, and that’s ok.

A valuable exercise would be to look back at your own life, at the pivotal moments and experience that you had, and to see what you made those experiences mean.

And in doing so, you’ll create the space for vision, and real freedom, in your life.

By no means does a vision have to be limited to your past. Your past informs it, but doesn’t dictate it. It’s your choice.

When you can see it, then you can accept it.

When you’ve accepted where you’re at, for real, then you’re free to create anything you like, and to feel any way you like about your life.

Because the truth is, you can be any way you like. You aren’t stuck or limited to any way that you’ve been in the past. It is totally open.

There’s a lot more to say on how to create a vision, too much to say in all at once, but I hope this has opened something up for you. I hope this has served you and inspired you.