What defines your vision? What is a vision and how can you move forward with your pursuit of it? When faced with a question such as this, on an undergraduate application essay for instance, it can initially be confusing—intimidating even. You’ve only lived so long on this earth, and yet it seems as if you’re expected to have your life figured out. Just as we are faced with obstacles we must learn to overcome, we are also tasked with defining a vision for ourselves and channeling that vision into how we build our personal and professional lives: around the heart where it lives. Before you can begin to answer a question about your vision, start with this simple thought: Do you have one?
The Critical Importance of Self-Reflection
Once you begin to think about what you value and want to accomplish with the very limited time you have here on this earth, it would be in your best interest to really probe yourself on why you feel the way you feel and what tangible effort you can make to take you to where you want to be. Think of it as if you’re at a bus stop. You want to make sure you take the right bus, because only that bus will take you to where you want to go; it serves well to remind oneself that in order to reach a destination, the correct steps must be made along the way—a targeted approach. Be directed but prepared for detours if they come up without warning, something that is to be expected. The question starts becoming more of an exercise in self-reflection, something that will serve you well in university as well as in life outside of your academic or athletic pursuits. When you begin to adopt a mindset of self-reflection, constantly evaluating what you can do to improve and take you closer to your vision, you will begin to grow wise—provided that you learn from mistakes and act upon your newfound knowledge. A definition of insanity is making the same decisions and expecting different results. It seems fitting that a definition of wisdom is learning from past decisions.
Learning from Failure & Improving Upon Success
Glancing at my life in the rearview mirror enables me to see my failures and successes and how they have enabled me to make great improvements in how I live my life and come closer to my vision. Notice how I detailed failures before successes. Only by reflecting on what you did good and not so good will you be able to improve yourself and your overall performance. Take any accomplished individual within any realm of effort as an example. Bodybuilders and powerlifters alike dedicate their time to constantly improving how they reach a diet higher in nutritional value. Physicians undergo rigorous training in order to hone their skills in a high-stress setting, consistently having to reevaluate their study strategies and people-skills so that they can become better practitioners. University students look back at their performance and begin to think about how they can improve their study habits and fit in the gym with extracurriculars and research activities. None of this is possible were it not for self-reflection and a success-oriented mindset. If you’d like to read more about the mindset I am referring to, check out my other post where I go through it in detail.
Making a Vision a Reality
Life is about improvement, and with this attitude of self-reflection we become empowered to further our personal development to a level that enables us to make our vision a reality. The catch lies in whether or not we are truly honest with ourselves. If you were to picture yourself 10 years from now, what would you want to have accomplished? The truth is that life is not linear, but having patience and doing your best with whatever challenges you face will ultimately guide you to a more fruitful future in university and beyond. When you’ve reflected, learned, and decided on what you want to dedicate yourself to you must begin to act in a very careful way. Too many students in university stretch themselves too thin and feel overwhelmed. It’s alright to try and do multiple things, so long as you are making progress in your development and doing so without compromising your integrity, but I would caution you against taking on too many activities and classes at the start of your academic career. Burning out is not how you paint your vision into existence. It takes slow, targeted, refined strokes. You’re the painter. Your vision is your masterpiece. Begin by working to identify what you must learn in order to accomplish a task, a small portion of your ultimate vision. Once you feel that you’re ready to test it out go out into the world and do it. Continue the process of reflecting and learning at every step. You won’t ever attain all the knowledge there is in this world, for knowledge is akin to an ocean that one dips a finger into; what clings is what you know, and the ocean remains ever deep. This doesn’t mean that you have no hope of attaining all the tools you need, it just means you must prioritize what tools are most important for you in crafting your vision. Master them and put them to use as you make your masterpiece.
A Cautioning Word
The one thing that I believe holds most people back is the lack of boldness to go out and try a new idea. As a student here at Illinois, you will be empowered with resources you can’t imagine, provided that you take the initiative to use them. Everyone here is dedicated to making you as successful as you want to be—the key lies in that last part. Approach your vision as something abstract, it may not be fully defined yet, but as you learn and grow it will become clearer. You may find yourself disliking the direction you are going in. The realization of this is critical. If you find yourself not enjoying your work, it means that you must seriously reflect upon what your work is taking you towards. Don’t be afraid to remold your vision, provided that you’ve reflected critically and sought advice from people you trust. You will slowly come to find your vision, so long as you continue to persevere with a mindset of dedication and a heart housing a vision worthy of your potential.
If we do not define a vision for ourselves, someone will define one for us. May we persevere without fear lest we succumb to our own naivety.