Executive intelligence: How vision boards clarify careers
Seeking inspiration for the year ahead? Vision boards provide clarity, reassurance and more practical solutions than you’d think
To many, “visualisation” sounds like a highly esoteric practice, akin to imagining something and expecting it to appear in front of you, with no work on your part. Instead, immersing yourself in your plans for the future can be a valuable tool as you enter a new year, a new phase in your romantic or professional sphere, or simply a space in which you need fresh inspiration. Rather than writing yourself a list of strict resolutions, why not compile words and pictures that create a vision of the life you’d love to live in the coming months?
SMALL DETAILS, BIG PLANS
For Lerato Mopeli, a talent and performance specialist, vision boards are powerful tools in that they compel their makers to identify the finer details of what they want for themselves. “Like praying, you’re forced to be specific when making a vision board,” she explains. “You start to think about details like timelines, processes and resources you’ll need and in what ways you’re obstructing yourself. It’s deliberate and directional.”
It’s well documented that many women struggle to dream big or to prioritise their own goals. Sure, we’re told that, as modern women, we can “have it all” – but we’re also bombarded daily with messages suggesting that we should be willing to settle for the bare minimum in life, love and business – pushing our plans aside when others need our emotional labour, or subduing our talents to the point where we do those around us a disservice by failing to bring our ideas to life. As Beyoncé famously reminded us in the words of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition, but not too much.’” The process of visualisation should be treated as an audit of your ambitions and an opportunity to expand upon them if you realise that there’s room to stretch your potential even further, to have more confidence in yourself or to nurse a little more hope for what your future might hold.
For content creator Alyx Carolus, a vision book has proven to be the ideal format for laying out her personal objectives. This construction has allowed her to view various areas of her life in their context as distinct parts comprising the whole of her future plans. “I focus on all areas, because my life isn’t just one chapter,” she says. “I’ve put my career goals, my travel plans, where I’d like to live, platonic and romantic relationship affirmations and more in my vision book. It’s a way of harnessing my creativity to determine what I want for myself across all chapters – career, dreams and goals.” Another benefit of the vision book or boarding process is that you can set yourself hard deadlines for achieving goals, but if there are some you choose to add with no time constraints, that’s OK too.
Even more helpfully, the visualisation process moves beyond a simple “to-do list” format that tends to prioritise milestones and career goals. Instead, creating a picture of the life you imagine for yourself can enable you to focus on how that future might make you feel, which in turn gives you the courage to go after what you want and hold yourself accountable for attaining it. “My vision book isn’t a rigid guideline – it’s flexible. Whatever I’m not able to achieve can always be shifted to another time-frame. I’m also not trying to tie my self-worth to my productivity, but to my overall contentment,” says Carolus.
FEELING THE FUTURE
Contentment, excitement, romantic love or encouragement… commit whatever feelings you’re wanting to experience more of to your vision board or book too. Whether they’re by-products of your achievements or goals within themselves, your mental and emotional reactions are always going to shape your experiences. Psychologist Walter Bradley explains that the power of visualisation lies “in feeling the joy that accompanies the attainment of your goal. It’s this exact feeling that creates hope.” For this reason, Bradley suggests creating a vision board to anyone needing confident anticipation of their future. “I recommend making a vision board whenever a patient’s lacking hope in a specific area of their life,” he explains. “Positively focusing on this area, and being specific about what they need, brings the patient a step closer to what they feel they lack. That, in turn, will alter their emotions once they’re able to envisage the area being fulfilled.”
Petrolink founder and CEO Lerato Motsamai entered what she calls the process of “envisioneering” when she was at a particularly low point, lacking both resources and motivation. Since she sat down years ago to create four large vision boards on poster paper alongside her children, she’s seen a remarkably literal realisation of many of the situations she’d set her sights on, planned towards and committed to prayer – from quitting smoking for good and getting her fitness goals on track to building her own business, being selected for many female leader lists, founding the Girlignite Africa Academy and even winning a cruise for four, which seemed to be a direct realisation of a magazine cutting of an MSC cruise liner she’d stuck on one of her boards.
“The process was useful to me in that it helped me go wild,” she says. “To literally be untamed and conjure the most incredible things I’d never imagined or even heard of when I was still at high school 25 years ago!” However, while it was a heady, creative time, it wasn’t without some self-examination. “Underneath all that excitement of being able to dream of pioneering the ‘possible’, the process helped me identify and embrace the tons of baggage I’d shamefully nurtured at different stages of my life by firstly acknowledging its existence, then embarking on a journey of consciously unlearning all of it. Some of the issues dissipated as quickly as they surfaced; others were so complex that layers of them are still being uncovered,” says Motsamai.
REASSURANCE AND RESULTS
For the indecisive, the self-doubters and the second-guessers among us, visualisation serves to reaffirm us when we finally get the opportunity to fulfil our dreams and “impostor syndrome” strikes. If you’ve always dreamed of working in the USA, for example, and you suddenly get offered an exciting position in New York with the support you need to obtain your working visa, you might suddenly be tempted to self-sabotage by wondering whether the climate will be a little too cold for you, or whether the position’s above your experience level. At this point, you’d be advised to glance at your vision board and remind yourself that you’re not making a spontaneous leap into the perilous unknown, but rather following a wellplanned path to career success.
As Mopeli puts it: “The idea is to engage with and actively participate in every aspect of my life. This means I often have to entertain scary desires and topics I’d rather avoid. So the board includes things like deciding on a holiday destination, going back to finish my degree, committing to my mental well-being and getting professional help, if needed.”
IN YOUR HANDS
Ready to begin your visualisation process? The practicalities of creating a vision board are generally best dictated by what appeals to you. Some prefer carrying a digital version of their vision with them at all times, to be referred to whenever situations present tough challenges. For others, a more tactile element is essential: cutting and pasting is an integral part of their immersion in the vision boarding process, as it’s this immersion that allows them to really delve into their desires and goals. Carolus says many of her favourite illustrators provide printable pieces online which can be used to form part of the finished product, while Motsamai’s become so intent on the power of her process that she often goes to the trouble of snapping pictures of herself with an item or in a place that symbolises something she’d like to achieve.
Set aside time to plan the period that lies ahead of you and the areas of life on which you’d like to focus, see them all in front of you – literally – and get lost in the feeling of what life will look like when you’ve accomplished what you’ve got in mind. Then get ready to work towards it and embrace it when it comes your way.
“You start to think about details like timelines, processes and resources you’ll need and in what ways you’re obstructing yourself. It’s deliberate and directional.”