Visioning: map your purpose and change the world

Feb 16, 2018

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Everyone's talking about purpose these days. Everyone tells you that you need to find yours — for your own sake and for that of humanity’s.

Maybe you read that Mark Zuckerberg delivered the 2017 commencement address at Harvard. The focus? As he said:

"The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.”

His talk was less about finding your own personal purpose — and more about a shared sense of purpose serving a larger mission.

"Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.”

Tara Parker-Pope wrote in the New York Times in 2015 ("Creating a New Mission Statement"):

"While it is common for businesses to define goals and values with mission statements, most people never take the time to identify their individual senses of purpose. Most focus on single acts of self-improvement — exercising more, eating more healthfully, spending more time with family — rather than examining the underlying reasons for the behavior, says Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, an Orlando-based coaching firm."

There's even a "Purpose Economy." From the eponymous book by Taproot Foundation founder and social entrepreneur Aaron Hurst:

"The future is purpose. It is what is driving innovation and radically reshaping careers and organizations. We are prioritizing relationships, impact and personal growth and in the process changing the economy.”

Consider the following questions used by the Human Performance Institute's Corporate Athlete program (from the Times piece):

  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • How do you want people to describe you?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • Who or what matters most to you?
  • What are your deepest values?
  • How would you define success in your life?
  • What makes your life really worth living?

Really, what's more important?

As freelancing changemakers, especially, we need to not only continually stimulate our creativity, we need to keep our hearts open to remember whom and what we’re working for. That's purpose.


There is a growing proliferation of books and articles and workshops with various approaches promising to help you find yours. One approach is visioning, a vogue-ish high-level process used in business, urban planning, nonprofits... anywhere where thinking strategically about future direction is helpful.

Zingerman’s, which Inc. Magazine called “the coolest small company in America,” has been visioning for nearly 20 years. Founded in 1982 as a small corner delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, today they have eight unique businesses with 600 employees and more than $45 million in annual revenue. Their long-term vision is to grow to include 12-18 businesses.

They use visioning frequently, for "really small ideas like moving the office copy machine to really large ones like where the Zingerman’s community of eight businesses will be in the year 2020." They've been featured in the Harvard Business Review and on MSNBC for their business practices.

Zingerman's defines vision as "a picture of the success of a project at a particular time in the future." I define it perhaps much more broadly — that project could be you, and the particular time in the future could be your funeral.


Over the years I've tweaked and adapted several visioning exercises that have helped me — and others, through workshops I've facilitated since 2009 — to create a clear picture of life goals and deepest dreams, personally and professionally.

Most approaches focus on mind exercises of some sort. My own are a mind-spirit mix adapted from MIT consultants and New Age gurus.

While those are important to the process, I've found that just as important is creating the right space — mindset and setting — so you can listen to your inner voice. A space that puts your mind at ease and body in balance, and opens your heart.

As poet William Blake expressed in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (with a metaphor later borrowed by Aldous Huxley):

"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern."

My partner Amy Soucy, a yoga and mindfulness instructor and singer-songwriter, and I created what we think is a unique, profound way to both find your purpose and explore the creative process by combining the strategic visioning exercises with awareness-based practices (yoga and meditation) and community support. We also include silent, mindful nature walks, because — surprise! — hiking makes you happier.

Our intention with the Visioning for Change workshops has been to gather change-making creators of all stripes: social entrepreneurs, activists, nonprofit leaders, organizers, artists, educators and anyone willing to stand in the fires of change in order to create a better way for themselves and a better world for others.

Philosopher/psychonaut/ethnobotanist Terence McKenna said that the world is made of language. Other philosophers, sages and Buddhists believe ideas and thoughts become living entities, realities.

If language initiates reality, then the visioning process is simply coaxing sometimes unconscious thoughts into existence.


I've found this process to be... well, magical. I mean that in a poetic sense. It's guided me consciously and subconsciously.

Over the years I've evolved from being simply a PR guy, to a writer, to a progressive (public interest) PR guy, to adding social entrepreneur and nonprofit leader to my bio and working towards social impact in a myriad of ways I never would have imagined: founding a social venture and a nonprofit, producing events, and creating workshops like Visioning for Change.

If we're going to change the world for the better, we need more people to find their purpose. And act on it.

Scott Tillitt is a connector — of dots and people. Throughout his 20-plus year career he has been a strategist, publicist, marketer, social entrepreneur, nonprofit leader, and writer. He's the founder of BEAHIVE, a coworking community, and Antidote Collective, projects and consulting for social impact.