Going through family papers one day you find that there is a small piece of land once owned by a distant relative that is now yours. After the initial shock, you become curious. You decide to visit the property.
It is close to where you live, so you decide to drive. You exit the city center, pass the outer residential areas, pass the industrial areas that are even further out. Soon there is more glass, more trees, more sky.
You check your GPS, turn down a quiet street and find yourself at the edge of a beautiful lake that you didn’t even know existed. You double-check that you are in the right place, then park and decide to look around.
There is some construction equipment scattered about, but you don’t let that distract you. You stand on your land, beside an empty paint bucket, and close your eyes. You breathe in the fresh air, hear the birds calling, feeling the warm sun on your skin.
You imagine your dream house, the house you will build on this site. The image comes to you quickly. You imagine yourself standing in front of it. You open the gate and walk up the path. Soon you are at your own front door.
You turn the key and step inside. It’s beautiful and calming, exactly where you have always wanted to call home. You slowly wander from room to room, touching the fabrics, sitting in the furniture, looking out the windows and into the closets.
You walk out onto the porch overlooking the lake and stand there in happiness and awe. Your friends are all there. They are throwing you a housewarming party.
You open your eyes. You are are still standing on your vacant plot of land. The buckets are still lying around. But you are so excited, so excited to make your house a reality.
You think about how much money you’ll need to save to get started, where you could find an architect to draw up plans. You imagine overseeing contractors, watching them turn wood and glass and stone into your house. You imagine inviting friends to spend weekends with you.
You have a lot a work to do, but you are not afraid. You feel grateful, so grateful, that you have the opportunity to build this beautiful house. You are so eager to get to work.
Why don’t we think this way about social change?
But we don’t think this way about social change. Instead of seeing our ability to make change as a gift and opportunity we are fearful, consumed with self-doubt and cynicism. We convince ourselves change is impossible or that we are incapable of achieving it. Instead of realizing we will need people to help us realize our vision, we focus on our own lack of skill.
No one stops trying to build their dream house because they are not an architect. They understand that if they want to build a house they will need to hire an architect. Simple as that. In order to make any large social change we will have to hire or inspire many experts and helpers. Simple as that. It is possible.
When we think about our dream house we think from our hearts, not our heads. We imagine materials that makes us feel warm and safe, structures and styles that we think are beautiful. We get practical later. A vision may change when it is implemented. You may decide that you really don’t need that third bathroom or that you can use laminate instead of real wood in the kitchen.
But that doesn’t change your vision. You start with a picture of the future that moves and inspires you. Then you measure every tactical choice against that vision. It is the vision that guides you, keeps you on track. If you have a desire to change the world, start by clarifying your vision.
So how do you do that?
Listen to your heart.
What kinds of experiences give you energy? What pictures of the future fills you with excitement? What scenarios motivates your to get out of bed every morning? What activities in your day-to-day life give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment, of peace and connection? What articles do you read and then want to share with everyone you know?
Your vision is the picture of your future that stokes a fire in your heart.
So make that vision as clear as possible. Focus in on it. Spend mental time with it. Daydream.
Expose yourself to materials related to what you think your vision may be. Go to events. Read articles. Watch TED talk videos. Talk to friends.
Experiment with elements of your vision right now. Volunteer at an organization that does that type of work. Participate in a march, protest, or practical activity.
Then be attentive to how you feel. Does actually doing this thing make you feel contented? excited? alive? purposeful? These are all signs that you are getting close to clarifying your vision for social change.
Are you feeling discouraged? drained? frustrated? disconnected? useless? These are signs that you haven’t quite found your vision yet. Don’t give up. Keep reflecting. Keep experimenting. You will find it.
This is just the beginning.
image: Flickr/Travis & Flickr/Bust it Away Photography