The Visioning Phase

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TFRL is an ongoing series about the journey to The Fully Realized Life, and The Visioning Phase, the second in a three-part conversation about the role of Visioning, Planning and Doing in living a fully realized life.

A few weeks back, we sat around the Revel In It fire to talked about The Doing Phase — a.k.a. those times in life when you just have to roll up your sleeves and do the hard, practical work of realizing your goals and dreams. It’s like my father used to say, you can pray, but you still have to work like hell.

Back then, we argued that it’s all about what you do, but we also acknowledged that, before you do, it helps to have a vision and a plan Doing without first visioning and planning is the dry-land equivalent of setting sail with no destination, and no understanding of the sea. You’ll end up somewhere, but it’s anybody’s guess as to where. And since the open sea can be a treacherous and unpredictable place, and so too life, we recommend you navigate it by knowing what you’re doing and why. The why is your vision. The what is your plan. 

Our goal, if we want to live a fully realized life in the world, is to align our what (our plan) with our why. When once we do, the lives we’re actually living will be a reflection of the clear and high vision we each secretly have for our lives.


Vision Is Democratic

We all have a vision for our lives, whether or not we’re consciously aware of it. We may have a vision to provide a good life for our family, or to make a better world, or to entertain or inform, or a myriad other possibilities.

Vision Is Not The Same As A Career Path Or Goal

You may have noticed that, when I speak about vision, I speak in general terms. I don’t say that you have a vision to be an actor or write a book or practice medicine or be a mother because those things aren’t visions; they’re plans. A vision is a larger purpose you want to serve, and the interesting thing about any vision is that there’s more than one way to serve it. The way you choose and the actual plan you make will depend on the talents, passions and opportunities you have or develop along the way. If your vision involves telling stories, you could be an actor, or a writer, a musician or even a politician. What, after all, were the founding fathers, but great visionaries and great storytellers, and what modern politician ascends to the metaphoric throne without weaving a good tale? If you have a vision to heal, you might become a physician, an art therapist, an acupuncturist, a minister, a kirtan singer, a social entrepreneur, or any number of other things. Lead with your vision, then choose a career path or goal that serves that vision and makes the most of the unique combination of talents, passions and attributes that only you possess.


The Power Of Why

One of the easiest ways to connect to your vision is to ask yourself why you do whatever it is you do right now, whether that’s your job, your role as a parent or the roles you play in your community and larger world.

When you ask why, one of two things will happen. You’ll discover or connect with the vision that already underlies your life. Or, you’ll discover that the life you’re living is out of alignment with your (conscious or subconscious) vision for your life.

I’ll give you a case in point. When I was in law school, I spent a summer living in Kenya and returned knowing I wasn’t meant to practice law. After some soul searching, I launched a career as a screenwriter and enjoyed some success that didn’t last. I kept writing, angling for my second act, but then, around 2008, the game changed and the kinds of movies I cared about became exponentially more difficult to make. Even Academy Award winners I knew were having a difficult go at it, and one of my most successful producer friends (a man with a string of commercial and critical successes to his name) confirmed that, if you used to have to tap dance to get a movie made, you now had to tap dance while juggling and singing an aria. The new reality of the film industry was just enough to get me to finally ask myself why. Sure I loved storytelling. I had since I was a child — and as an adult, I’d cultivated a particular love of film storytelling, but I hadn’t much enjoyed the actual career of a screenwriter, even at the height of my success, when I was being paid to write movies that were never made. So why was I doing it? What had all this meant to me? Why had I devoted so much of my life to this path?

Discovering Your Whys

The answers to my why questions came in waves.

The first wave knocked me off my feet. When I asked myself why I was still writing screenplays, I realized in fairly short order that the only real reason at that point was money — or, more accurately, the promise of money, since at that particular moment I wasn’t making any. For me that wasn’t enough and never had been.

The second wave of answers came when I made a new friend — a marketing genius who had agreed to advise me on an idea I was dreaming up — who suggested that I

I ask myself what I loved doing as a kid “just because.” He also suggested I ask a few people who knew and thought well of me for a few words that describe me.

Answering the what I loved to do as a child question was easy. I loved reading and did it constantly, and I loved spending time in nature, usually with family or friends, loves that roughly translated into a love of story, and a love of the deep feeling of connection I feel — to myself, other people and the world — that I feel in the natural world.

Meanwhile, adjectives started pouring into my inbox from friends and mentors I’d known over the years and, with them, a larger picture started to emerge. I heard words like “visionary,” “passionate,” “altruistic,” “courageous,” “great communicator,” and started to pick up the forgotten fragments of my life. Almost instantly, I came to know just why it is that my screenwriting career, something I’d sacrificed and worked hard for, hadn’t fulfilled me, and why it wasn’t likely to do so in the future.

I realized that I became a screenwriter in the first place was because I wanted to tell stories that would make a difference in this world. For me this meant making movies with universal themes, transformational character arcs and hopeful endings, a description that could apply to anything from The King’s Speech, a historical drama about a man finding his voice, to Man On Fire, an action-thriller about a man findings something worth living for before he dies. It didn’t matter to me what the genre was (though I do tend to favor dramas and thrillers). What mattered was that the movies I wrote depicted how the journey of a life, when properly used, could be a journey of transformation that led to a more fully realized life, not in the high fallutin’ sense of finding enlightenment in this very lifetime, but in the everyday human sense of taking what life gives us and making from it the very best we can.

Offering a vision of a transformed life and a transformed world is what the very best movies do well. It’s why I wanted to make movies in the first place. This desire to see, and help bring about, a transformed life and a transformed world — for myself and other people — is the real why, the real vision of my life.


Here are some visioning tools I’ve discovered in my own life.I offer them here in hopes that they’ll be useful for you.

Visioning Tool #1: Ask why.

Identify an area in your life where you’re already doing and ask yourself why you’re doing it. Be honest. If you’re doing it for the money, say so, and then, dig a little deeper.

Visioning Tool #2: Look for the why beneath the why.

If you’re doing it for the money, why are you doing it for the money? Is it to pay your way through school so that you can get to your larger goals? Is it because work is the way you make a living and the things you do in your leisure time — like traveling or training for triathlons — is how you make your life. Do you do it to provide the life you want for your family because your family and not your career are you real reason why? Or are you doing it for the money because you think you don’t have a choice?

If doing it for the money serves a larger why or vision, then your actions may already be aligned with your vision. If, on the other hand, you’re doing it for the money because you’re afraid or feel powerless to change your life, you might want to dig deeper still to find out what your real vision for your life is. When you find it, you will have a powerful tool that you can use to discover a new set of life possibilities and, yes, to make a plan, something we’ll talk more about in a future post on The Planning Phase.

Tool #3: Excavate your childhood whys.

If you’ve lost touch with the meaningful whys in your life, follow my friend’s advice and ask yourself what you loved doing as a child just because. And then ask yourself what it is you loved about doing those things. I loved reading because those stories gave me a vision of how to live. The first book I ever read was The Little Engine That Could. It taught me to believe in myself. Another early favorite was Where The Wild Things Are. It taught me that my wild spirit was beautiful and that I could go off on an adventure to some wild, faraway land and return to a place where I would be safe. I loved nature because it made me feel the deep interconnectedness of reality. These two things — story and interconnectedness — are still what matter to me most. They are the why — or hidden vision — that’s directed the entire course of my life. I call this my hidden compass. We all have one.

Tool #4: Ask other people to tell you who you are.

Finally, follow my friend’s other piece of advice and ask other people to tell you who you are. We can’t always see ourselves clearly. We can get caught up in self-image, or lost inside of a goal, and in so doing, we may lose sight of the parts of ourselves that do not fit the mold. Other people tend not to fall into that trap. They see us as we are, not as we wish to be, and if we want to find our vision, we have to begin with who we are.

I’ll close with an example from my own life. For years I thought I was a writer (and arguably I am). Then, one day, I was talking to a writer friend who commented that if you’re a writer, you write. She argued that it doesn’t matter what you write; it matters that you write. As I listened to her speak, I realized that, by her definition, I was not a writer. It wasn’t important to me that I write. It was important to me that I have something to say. Writing was just one tool I used to say the things I wanted to say. Other tools I’ve used include acting and public speaking, both of which I love, not just in their own right, but because of what they’ve enabled me to do, which is tell stories and connect, the two whys of my childhood, the two whys of my life. Everything I do, including write, I do in the service of these whys.


I recently saw an interview on Oprah’s Next Chapter with Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the hit shows Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, among others. Years ago, Shonda and I were in the same, short-lived book club. At the time, we were both feature film and cable/TV movie writers. Fast forward a handful of years and Shonda was a new adoptive mother who was spending time with her baby and watching a lot of TV. She noticed that a lot of great storytelling was happening in TV, and decided then and there to, in her words, “change the world through TV.” Changing the world was her why, TV was her what (and all the things she did to make her vision reality were her how). The vision-plan-do/why-what-how approach Shonda used will also work for you.

PHOTOGRAPHY via Savvy Home

PAULA PURYEAR is a Lawyer, Film & Television writer, HuffPoster and Founder of Revel In It Mag.

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