Take a vision day



This year I am starting 2014 with a Vision Day.

Most of the year, I’m simply swamped with so much doing. It’s hard to pull away from the report that needs to be written, the class that needs to be planned and—always—so many emails.  But sometimes I just have to STOP and remember what it’s all about. A Vision Day helps me do that.

A Vision Day is an opportunity to focus, for one day, on the big picture, and to refuel my inspiration for work.

It’s an opportunity, especially at the turn of the year, to review where I’ve been over the past year and dream about where I want to go.

Vision Day is my opportunity to unplug from the urgencies and distractions of the day-to-day demands of a consulting practice and to concentrate on what is “important but not urgent”, in Steven Covey’s words. As a solo-preneur, I don’t get sent off on corporate retreats – if I want to retreat, I need to plan it for myself.

Let day-to-day demands wait

The demands of day-to-day business can wait one day. Vision Day is my day to think, take a walk with my journal in hand, watch the clouds pass (or the Northwest rains pour), savor long cups of tea, and reflect on what really matters and how that applies to where my business (and life) is going.  And, as the spirit moves me, I’ll envision the next year and begin to plan.

But forget the spreadsheets, timelines and metrics.  A Vision Day is a time to access the deeper sources of inspiration and to rekindle the spark from which my best planning comes.  Unless, of course, my inspiration takes me in the direction of action planning or my next blog.   (No need to be rigid!)  On Vision Day, I follow my nose, and let my footsteps lead me to what inspires my creative juices.


I love to take Vision Day during the holidays. Some years ago, during the days after Christmas, I took a lot of time to reflect on the purpose of my work – inside and outside of the university for which I worked.  I sat still, contemplated, meditated, listened. I did not try to “be productive.”

Be prepared to be surprised!

During one of my long reflections, I surprised myself.  An inner voice announced that my next job was to design and launch an innovative graduate program in management, one that would be designed as a learning community.  YIKES!  You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. That wasn’t in my plans!  But the message was clear.

When the Muse Speaks, Listen

I had asked a question about my purpose and received an answer.  The next step had to be action. I retreated to my desk and typed up a vision for this new program.

Three days later, the University President was in town and I presented him with the idea for the program.  The timing was perfect—he gave it his blessings.  I spent the next six years developing and running a very creative university program—with the best people I could imagine—all as a result of an afternoon of deep reflection.

Pick the right place

Northwest path through the trees

Place matters. On Vision Day, I want to be in a spot that inspires me and puts me in a mood of gratitude and reflection, such as a retreat center, a forest, the beach, a long ferry ride, or a great café. When I lived in Seattle, a 25 minute trip to Brusseau’s café in Edmonds, Washington was enough to send me into another world. If I were living again in New York City, I would choose to walk the Highline Garden with a notebook in my hand, or hang out in a beautiful hotel lobby or sit in the atrium of the old Citicorps building.  If I pick a place with the wrong vibe, I find another. It’s a special day for me, so I want the energy to be right.

This year, my home on this beautiful island feels like a retreat center, so I may take a walk around a forested pond and then curl up in my writing cabin.  I’m thinking about reviewing some of my recent journals and looking at books I keep in my cabin for inspiration.  My challenge will be to turn off my email and tell my husband that I’ll be “out of commission” for a while.

Then I’ll dial up the Muse – and listen.






Spark Your Thinking by Going Visual

Patty Dobrowlski at work on a visual goal

My artistic career ended in third grade.  In fact, after I received a B in Mrs. Potter’s art class, I figured that I had no talent at all.  “Stick to writing words”, I told myself.  That self-talk lasted fifty years.

More recently, I’ve recanted and acknowledged some artistic things I can do – such as create Ikebana flower arrangements– so it’s not over for me yet. But the fact of the matter still remains: I can’t draw.

This didn’t matter at all to Patti Dobrowolski, whom I heard at a recent evening event on Visual Goal Setting.  Patti is a former actress, business consultant, creativity consultant, visual strategist, visual process facilitator, and captivating wild woman. With great enthusiasm, she reassured us drawing drop-outs that we would do fine just sketching stick figures.

One of the purposes of drawing our goals was to activate the power of the right (imaginative) side of the brain, which, fortunately for me, does not do critical evaluations of artistic talent.

I was sitting next to my friend and collaborator Claire Bronson, who had introduced me to Patti’s work a year ago. Claire is herself a visual facilitator who can turn a flip chart into a work of art, and make even a word look beautiful. (see her words at engagingpresence.com/approach).  I made a mental promise: don’t even think of comparing my drawing with Claire’s!

Developing visual goals

 Patti gave us copies of templates for her visual mapping process and we began. Step one in her process is to reflect on current reality – “what’s going well in your world and what’s challenging you?”  She asked us to capture the essence of our thoughts and feelings in one-word statements. “Don’t make a list,” she told us because lists belong to our left-brain organizing, linear self – not to the creative, knowing, more random right-side of the brain that we were to encourage in this exercise.

Putting down words wasn’t hard for me because I’m pretty aware of what is working in my life right now and what I’d like to change –  so I scattered words that described my current life: “Mariah the wonder pony” (captures my heart); “Great group” (love my current leadership program clients); “Fear of the future” (yikes, this economy???)  I then struggled to think of images to go with the words and mine seemed pretty tight and constrained.

Patti kept reassuring us that drawings don’t have to be good to communicate to the right side of the brain.

We then shared with a partner what we observed in looking at our map. I noticed that Patti’s process had already included three modalities: thinking in words, drawing images, and sharing out loud – all ways of reinforcing the power of the exercise.

Our next step was the most fun for me: highlighting our intentions for the future.  Patti invited us to go on a creative trip and let our imaginations rip.

I’ve been working hard re-visioning my business and I have a lot of energy about the future, so this part was fun. I dropped my “am I doing it right concerns?” and lept into creative mode. I quickly came up with ideas and images (still not so artistic, but I didn’t care!), about the future I wanted to create.

I allowed myself to be surprised. An airplane became an easy symbol for the international work I plan to do. A circle showed me how much I value collaboration.

This time, I loved the process of drawing. I was playing full-out and my desire was pulling me forward. I was connecting with intuitive wisdom  – and putting it on paper where I could see it, reflect on it, and act. Patti again asked us to share our reflections with a partner.

Bridging the gap between current and desired reality

The final piece of this action-packed session had us think about how we would move towards the futures we saw in our drawings.  We were asked to identify three bold steps that would help us bridge the left side (current reality) of our maps with the right (desired new reality.)  I noticed one of my tablemates stalled at this point, but I was on a roll.  “Link arms to a wide community,” “Write a bolder truth,” “Speak the passion through great presentations.” I couldn’t wait to go further and look at what each of these might entail but, alas, we were out of time.

Patti encouraged us to keep working with our maps, and invited us to download the free map template she has on her website: Up Your Creative Genius. Just to feed my imagination and keep going with the process, I bought a copy of her book Drawing Solutions: How Visual Goal Setting Will Change Your Life that describes this process in more detail (complete, of course, with great illustrations.)

Many thanks to the Pacific Northwest Organizational Development Network for organizing this evening. I just wish I could get back together with everyone in six months and celebrate our progress creating that new bold reality.


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