Visionary vs. Vision


[photo from michael_tischer]

Not everyone is a visionary, but everyone has vision.

A visionary, in the usual sense, envisions something huge and impactful, something that is an astounding leap from anything that came before it. Making that vision real takes enormous focus and dedication, and often enormous sacrifices in other parts of life. I’m struck by a passage in “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a book about visionary doctor Paul Farmer, that highlights his shortcomings as a husband and father. His wholehearted pursuit of a beautiful vision left him with little time for family.

Not everyone is going to have the capacity or desire to be a visionary. But everyone has vision.

Having vision on the usual scale looks a lot like setting goals. In fact, it looks exactly like that. You envision something you want to accomplish, and you set about doing it. Even something as simple as making dinner benefits from our vision.

The great challenge of having vision is achieving clarity. Seeing the details of something that has not yet happened is difficult. But I’ve learned that it’s an important challenge to attempt. Clarity of vision will enliven many parts of your life, from tonight’s dinner to the impact you’d like to have on the world.

In smaller tasks, like dinner, clarity is often achieved by creative and emotional labor, envisioning something a certain way and then committing yourself to that vision. But in larger goals, like your life’s impact, clarity is harder to come by.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to seek clarity in the larger picture is by trying things. Choose a pursuit that promotes your deeper values and dive into it wholeheartedly.

For the most part you’ll find that you were right, that this pursuit satisfies and enlivens you in many ways. But inevitably there will be parts of it that rankle you, little friction points where you can feel that this is not the end point of your journey. So learn from those, and then try your next, better idea.

Ironically, when we lack clarity, trying things doesn’t feel like an option. After all, we’re not clear on what things we want to try. But in my experience doing things is the best way to figure out what it is you want to do.

Over time, by process of elimination and refinement, you’re vision will become clearer, you will be more satisfied with your life, and your impact on the world will grow and become more personal. This process is the work of a lifetime. And I can hardly think of a better way to live.


Stella Safari, Ember Hero

In Stella’s honor we’re donating 50% of online sales for one month to Action Kivu, a group funding the visionary work of Amani Matabaro in Congo. Click here to shop.

Stella with Amani in Mumosho
Stella with Amani Matabaro and the women of the Mumosho Peace Market.

This July I took my first trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has not seen sustained peace for more than a century. I was lucky to travel with an amazing young woman by the name of Stella Safari, who was taking a different sort of first trip. This was her first time to Congo in 12 years, since fleeing war at the age of eight.

As she returned 12 years later, now a student at Dartmouth and a leader among her peers, she brought with her a mission: to inspire Congo’s youth to invest in their country, so that future generations can enjoy peace and prosperity in Congo.

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Everything is a Hack


photo from Alex on flickr

When I was younger the world looked like a network of incontrovertible systems: the Education System, the Banking System, the Motor Vehicles System, the Restaurant System, even the Movie Rental System. It seemed like all you had to do was work these systems properly, and you would be rewarded with a happy and successful life.

So after graduating from college I expected that, having completed the Education System, I would quickly be plugged into some other lucrative System, like the Banking one.

But it didn’t happen. And even more disconcertingly, the closer I looked at these systems the less they looked like big, incontrovertible systems at all, and the more they looked like a bunch of people just figuring things out, hacking things together until they worked.

The systems, I realized, weren’t systems at all. They were just particularly successful hacks that many people came to rely on.

Everything is a hack. When this first dawned on me it made the world seem terribly complex and fragile. But then I saw the great opportunity of it. These systems aren’t incontrovertible laws of society, they’re just our best ideas so far, our most successful hacks.

So if I can come up with such a hack, I can build into the world the sorts of systems I’d like to see. We are not bound by the systems of today, but rather the world relies upon us to come up with the hacks that will create a better tomorrow.

[Cross-posted on Charles Lee's Blog]