It may surprise many of you to know that Michael Jordan, one of the most successful and exhilarating professional sportspersons of all time, failed to make his high school basketball team on his very first attempt. Allow me to add some context. Here is this short (at that time), 15-year-old African American trying to make it onto a team with others who easily towered over him by a foot or more and, judging by the fact that they were chosen and he was not, were apparently more skillful than he was.
According to Jordan, this entire event was not only embarrassing but it also made him very angry. Now, I may speak for myself in this regard, but at that age, that kind of setback may have resulted in a complete change of direction for me; I might have convinced myself that maybe basketball just was not ‘my thing’. However, this was not the case for Jordan. He worked even harder on his game – practising every day, all year round – and these efforts resulted in improved performances and, ultimately, him earning a spot on the team. The rest is history, as they say.
Some of you may also not have been aware that when Shawn Jay-Z Carter started his music career, he could not get his first album signed on with any of the record labels. He recalls that he personally went to every one of them, and not only didn’t they sign him, they told him he was no good as an artist. Once again, this may have stopped many people in their tracks, but Jay-Z refused to be denied. He sold his album out of the trunk of his car to people and small record shops and, eventually, he created his own record label to effectively distribute his album. Today, Jay-Z is one of the most successful and highly rewarded musicians of all times, and he has also built a tremendous business empire.
What is it that these two icons have in common? What is it that allowed them to persevere despite the setbacks they faced early on? I believe it is that they both had strong visions for their lives. By this I mean that they both chose to focus on and stay unwaveringly true to who they believed they could become, rather than focus on the external circumstances they faced at the time.
In the case of Jordan, he must have believed and envisioned himself as being successful as a basketball player, so when he did not make the team the first time around he just kept on working towards that vision. Jay-Z must have also seen himself making it in the music industry as he continued to press ahead even in the face of great rejection and discouragement. A weak personal vision in either of these cases could have resulted in a completely different world as we know it.
Within the business context, many persons consider the vision statement of a company to be one of its most essential elements; hence, it typically sets the tone for all of the company’s decisions, actions and its overall direction. The vision statement encapsulates what the company is trying to become and accomplish, and it is this which adds a deeper purpose and significance to the very existence of the entity.
Think of the vision statement as a page out of a recipe book – in most cases, there is a picture of the finished product, there is mention of what is needed to make the finished product, and there are step-by-step instructions on how to create that finished product. Without a clearly defined vision statement, a company could find itself going way offe track and, if you use the recipe book analogy, instead of making a sponge cake, end up making a rock cake – or worse!
Given the importance of a vision statement to a company, it is not surprising that many life coaches, authors and experts recommend their adoption by individuals as well. In our lives, a vision serves as an internal guiding force that leads us forward towards an internal picture of who we know we could and should be in the future. It is strongly linked to our purpose in life and, once clearly formed and continually referenced, it nudges us along to the achievement thereof. It is our vision that helps to keep us focused and moving forward even when we face life’s sharp turns and detours. It is our vision that helps us to make decisions on what we devote our limited time and resources to. It is our vision that helps us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.
But how do we go about establishing a vision for our lives? Might I suggest that it all starts with giving serious consideration to the things that bring you the most fulfilment in life? What is it that excites you the most about life? What is it that you will absolutely regret not doing when you reach the end of your time on earth? It is important that you write down the answers to these questions as they will begin to give shape to the picture of that finished product you are destined to become. In the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey describes this process as “beginning with the end in mind” and he identifies this as being a critical component in forming a coherent vision for your life.
If we are going to be effective leaders, first of ourselves and then others, we must have a crystal clear vision for our lives. It is this that will enable us to rise above our circumstances to reach the pinnacle of our true potential.