Lean Out: What's Your Vision Statement?

Sometimes you've got to lean way out to get the whole picture. Xunantunich, Belize.

Sometimes you've got to lean way out to get the whole picture. Xunantunich, Belize.


This post is a play on Sheryl Sandburg's book title Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I want to propose that before we can fully and completely lean in--to take on more responsibility and lead others--we need to better understand who we are and question what we know about ourselves.

This past week, I was in Wisconsin for an Intercultural Personal Leadership workshop with KANI Consulting and was asked to really dive deep into better understanding who I am as a human, person, academic, administrator, teacher, and researcher. Three of the seminar activities were eye-opening and, perhaps, life-changing. Here are three things I learned that you can also try to better understand your interests, passions, values, goals, hopes, and dreams: 

1. Who am I at my highest and best self? In this activity, we spent about 10 minutes answering this question through keywords that came to mind. Writing furiously and without stifling myself, I quickly filled my paper. And many of those keywords were familiar: Real. Action. Generative. Paid my value. Research. These are all descriptors of what I love about being an academic. But many of those keywords were not what I expected: Swimming. Being outside. Inspired locale. Carefree. Laughter. Visioning. These keywords didn't neatly fit into what my life has been as an academic. I kinda felt confused. How do I balance all these keywords, I wondered. And how do I fully live my highest and best self? 

2. Focusing my best self. I was overwhelmed with all of my keywords. I didn't know how to analyze them or interpret them or use them as a mirror to uncover something I didn't realize about myself. Thankfully, our seminar leaders knew what to do next. We were asked to narrow down our top 5 keywords and then narrow down that list to 3 keywords. Those keywords would become our vision statement. 

3. Develop my vision statement. Using these keywords, we were asked to create a vision statement for the current position we hold:

As a [insert title] operating at my highest and best, I am [insert keyword 1], [insert keyword 2], and [insert keyword 3], so that [goal or purpose]. 

I ended up writing two vision statements: one for myself, as Genesea, and one as the Associate Director of Composition. Here's the one I wrote for myself:

As Genesea operating at my highest and best, I am paid my value, excited to work, and work at my own pace, so that my efforts are meaningful

Interestingly enough--or perhaps a sign that I'm in the right place at the moment--some of the keywords and goals overlapped in both vision statements. What I see emerging from my vision statements is an emphasis upon being valued. And that is worth sitting with and reflecting upon. 

I don't want to overanalyze my vision statements, as I am still processing the experience, but I know how important it is to continue thinking about what my vision statements capture about how I see myself and what I want of myself. Equally important to my personal and professional growth is reflecting upon and sitting with the keywords left on the page. Those keywords are still meaningful and are important indicators of what brings me to my highest and best self. Just because they weren't included in the vision statement doesn't mean they should be forgotten or minimized. At that moment, I used three specific keywords relating to my career and life focus. Other keywords will cycle in and out as I walk through the seasons, develop career goals, live out life goals, and experience life. 

Try It! 

If you try your own visioning, remember that vision statements can change. They may not even be the same from week to week. And this is okay. It's important to recognize that vision statements capture our emotions, thoughts, and experiences at that given point in time. Allow yourself to be flexible and open handed as you explore what your keywords are, how they fold into your vision statements, and how your vision statements change over time.