Years ago, a mentor said to me, “Shinn, you seem to possess a natural sense of vision.” As a college freshman of 18 years of age, I had no idea what he was talking about. Having poor eyesight all my life, I thought maybe he was trying to help me feel better about my Coke bottle glasses, of which I was always very self-conscious.
He went on to explain to me his meaning of vision wasn’t so much about trusting in a set of physical eyes, but instead as the ability to imagine the better future, and a willingness to set out to find it, regardless of what might stand in the way and preventing it from becoming a reality. I haven’t forgotten this interaction, because it serves as a reminder that I’m doing what I should be doing, even when it gets very difficult.
Herein lies the value of listening to counsel. Age brings perspective and perspective is something of which an 18 year old has very little. My mentor could see something in me that I could not. But slowly, over time, vision would play itself out to be a quality that I would begin to subconsciously nurture. I would unknowingly gravitate toward books about leadership and future trends. Ideas of invention and innovation fascinated me, as did my Commodore 64 personal computer that my dad bought me before I went off to school. No one else had one. It was seen as cutting edge and I got credit for being cool when all my dorm buddies realized how much easier it was to type a paper on a word processor than on a typewriter. I began to leave my door unlocked so everyone could come in and write their term paper while I was away.
It has taken years for me to hone the blade that I want to use to cut a swath through the jungle that allows others to easily pass through on their way to a better place. I feel fortunate that now in my 50’s, I’m starting to see that future even more clearly than before. I look ahead with anticipation of the opportunities that I see with my mind’s eye.
And herein lies the problem with vision; how do you develop it? It would be different if the mentor had said I had a talent in music or athletics. These are concrete strengths and not abstract. They have direct correlation between practice and outcome. Work at your instrument and you will play better. Practice your sport and you perform better. But how do you improve your vision?
As an entrepreneur, you see an idea very clearly. You believe strongly in your idea, but unlike your most excellent guitar solo or three point shot, nobody can perceive and appreciate it yet. It’s still nebulous and conceptual. So how do you keep an idea alive that only you envision? Here are a few thoughts from my experience.
Write. A lot. Journaling has a way of allowing ideas and thoughts to work their way down from the brain, through the arm and out the pen onto the page. Seeing your own thoughts conveyed into actual written words is a much different experience that just rehearsing them in your head. This is also why personal writing is helpful in therapy. It helps clarify what you are thinking, and in doing so, it either reinforces your ideas, or you talk yourself out of them because you come to see that they weren’t that good in the first place.
My entries concerning the vision for opening bread&cup span an 11 year time period. These ruminations helped us make the hard decision to step out and pursue the idea. Because we had such a long season of development, we knew the concept wasn’t just based on a whim or fly by night impulse.
Solitary. Expect to carry it alone for a while. Don’t presume others to immediately jump on board with your idea. That’s the nature of vision. You see. Others don’t. You have to carry it. You have to nurture it, and you have to get others on board and help them see what you see. Your gifting is unique. Not everyone sees what you see because they don’t have to. It only took one Steve Jobs, and millions of people benefited from his vision.
Read. A lot. Books can serve as indirect, third person mentors. You may not have the privilege of having a personal coach or elder that can encourage you through relational observation, but that’s no excuse from seeking out advice through the written word. Reading the experiences of others shows that you are not alone, because you’ll find someone else that had it harder and faced more challenges than you can imagine. Part of my motivation for writing this blog is the response that I get from others that tell me my stories encourage them. While the writing is first meant to help me clarify my thinking, the secondary reward of feedback affirms my choices.