Do you ever get home and not remember what you did for the whole day at work? You were always on the move. You were always doing something for someone. Obviously you were a much-valued member of the team to have so much required of you. So then why can't you remember what you actually did? And if you can't remember that, surely you can't remember why you were doing it!
My Last Job
I have been privileged to work with some fantastic teams at great companies. I am so grateful to say that each has been a great experience and opportunity for me that I wouldn't exchange for a different past. My current job is no different.
I usually make it a point to be open to new opportunities, including new jobs. Thus, when I was approached about a new opportunity, even though I was very engaged in my current employment, I said I was willing to see what the opportunity was, to meet new people, and talk stuff through.
As I began to chat about the new opportunity, my sights were raised a little higher than they had been. I had been involved in the daily work of making a new, awesome product -- one that I was and am proud of. But I must have been lost in the daily grind of cranking this thing out because I found the chats about a new opportunity refreshing. But still I had such a great gig going, and I was really torn between two solid places to work.
As I tried to work things out, I was super distracted for a few days while trying to do my daily work. I finally just took a day off. I knew I had to figure things out so I could decide what I was going to do and go forward. I woke up that day and wrote about the situation. I had breakfast with my family. I played soccer with my kids in the backyard. I went on a walk. I wrote some more. I thought a lot about life, about my vision for the future. I talked with my wife. It was an awesome day.
In the end, I decided to make a job change. I took the new job, leaving what was also a great job. As I left, I couldn't help but feel that if I had done more to create more clarity for myself around my previous job, I may have made better changes to my work, focusing on what was important to me, potentially without changing jobs. I resolved to do more thinking about these kinds of things in the future. This not in an effort to avoid new jobs and opportunities, but rather to always be focused on what I really care about within each great job that I have the pleasure to be a part of.
Thus the Vision Quest was born. Why "Vision Quest"? Well, it sounds awesome, sounds epic, is something that looks good capitalized, and it's fun to say. It also alludes to what it actually means (So it's not from the same naming book as most tech startups). I also have some vague memory of an illustrated children's book I read as a child about this Native American tradition.
Liz Wiseman, in her book Rookie Smarts, talks about a Think Day. I love that idea too. This is similar. But where she encourages that day to be mostly focused on innovation, I believe the focus of the Vision Quest day is mostly on one's broad vision and most important work.
A Questing We Will Go
Ah, questing. So invigorating. A Vision Quest can take the shape that best suits you and the needs that you have. For what it's worth, this is what I do -- at least until the point where I figure out how to do my questing in the Caribbean for a full week.
I take the whole day off from work. I use it as a PTO day. It definitely is a personal day, but in reality, it's usually some serious investment in one's work. Your employer would rather you took a day off for this than started thinking about it anyway in terms of finding a new job. I think the best employers already encourage this kind of behavior.
I try to find different places and paces to think. I go outside. I see my children at times of day that I usually don't. I go to the library. I turn off social media. I turn off most music. I spend a lot of time alone. And I write. I write a lot in order to organize my thoughts. I mostly just let it flow. I spend most of the day, usually an hour at a time, writing. I don't worry about format, punctuation, and that sort of thing (which cries against my OCD). I just try to get thoughts out. Toward the end of the day, I try to summarize what I'm thinking. I discuss it with my wife. I adjust per her insights and feedback. Then I relax with the family and let it simmer.
I wanted to take my Vision Quest regularly. It feels to me like it needs to be recurring, spaced far enough apart to be a long-term thing but not so far apart as to forget about it, have large changes in priorities, or feel it an irrelevant exercise. The cost is really quite low for the added clarity, happiness, and impact on the work you value the most. I came up with an every-3 months recurring schedule.
Alone With Your Thoughts
Of course, it's your Vision Quest. So think about what you want and need. In the end, I try to end up with 3 main areas that I want to focus on until my next Vision Quest, 3 months from now. This is more or less the idea that Todd Henry calls The Big 3 in his book, The Accidental Creative.
The Big 3 will help guide your most important work for the next 3 months. You will have another guide by which you decide what work you should or shouldn't focus on. If a task will help you accomplish your Big 3 or fits well within the things listed there, that should encourage you to take it on where possible. If there is something vying for your attention that doesn't fit in The Big 3, you should likely be hesitant to take it on. What is the cost to your Big 3 if you do this new thing instead?
Hours of writing, questioning and answering, given my eclectic thought process, can lead to sundry topics. A few that might fit into your Vision Quest are:
What's important to me?
How do I want to grow?
How can I take advantage of my strengths?
What are opportunities I foresee?
What are some current opportunities that I should take advantage of?
What do I want for myself and my family?
What is my value to my team and company?
What makes me excited to go to work?
What makes me want to stay home? What do I want to do instead?
How can I be the kind of person I want to work with every day?
What am I interested in that I might not be doing at work?
What do I waste time on?
What do I want to spend more time on?
What are some of my greatest recent successes?
Where will I find my next big challenge?
How do I feel about X? Do I care about X?
How would I rate my current performance?
The Next 3 Months
Now you have a long list of thoughts of various importance. You have drawn out and summarized the essence of what you currently feel is your most important focus. You've chosen just a few items, remembering that these are the most important things you want to move the needle on, and that you can't do everything. You've shared your Big 3 with people that you trust and from whom you will need support.
Now there's a lot of work to do. Way to go! All that important work that you've clarified for your future represents a lot of growing and a lot of impact on what you value. You have quested for a vision, and now the real questing begins as you seek out and accomplish the work that you have pinpointed.
It's fantastic to make your life what you want of it. If you don't, it's likely that you'll make it to a grand old age, look back and realize that your life could have been so much more than you made it. Or perhaps less epicly, you'll just change jobs.