People often ask why they aren’t successful, wondering about the trait they’re missing, that others seemingly possess. And for most of us, the answer is vision. I don’t mean your dreams or goals and conceiving your future after achieving them; I mean seeing that thing that too many can’t or won’t allow themselves to. Vision is the dividing line between heartbreak and glory. Vision builds companies, friendships, romantic relationships, and championship teams.
When my clients struggle with failure, I frequently tell them about the head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, and his method of team building; Bill does what others don’t because of his vision. On a podcast episode with Frank Caliendo, former offensive lineman Mark Schlereth described Bill as a visionary because he chose players that other teams didn’t want. He saw value where other teams couldn’t. When teams scout players, they search for a complete talent, meaning that they want to find the best players they can. However, Bill realized that some of the most significant players are just good enough. They may not be able to provide value for the entirety of a sixty minute game, but can be incredibly useful on a handful of plays. Those guys, who can give you about six solid plays, can decide the game’s outcome. Belichick saw it while the others didn’t.
And it’s a similar tale in the book and film Moneyball, wherein the Oakland A’s general manger, Billy Beane, was berated for thinking differently, for signing players who were seemingly bad because, together, they were unimaginably good. Another saga; another vision. It’s always difficult to go against the grain and, most of the time, unappealing to do so. But, from my perspective, great success (even if it’s only great to you) mainly stems from the rule-breakers. We play it safe for most of our lives because we prefer stability over growth, which is an inborn inclination. So, out-of-the-box thinking falls into the void. For example, it’s easy to accept the sense of comfort accompanying the title of mid-level manager, even though it’s likely that you’re unfilled by that role. Like me, I’m sure most of you wonder how these outsiders muster up the courage to risk their careers.
Additionally, most of us wonder how some even muster up the courage to care enough about another to create a thoughtful gift for them, which happened to me this past year. My friend and podcast co-host Alen gifted me a box of cigars for my birthday, but these weren’t ordinary cigars; I mentioned them in passing on a trip we took over a year ago with a group of our friends, noting their price and why, to me, they’re the best of the best. I didn’t think anything of my comment, but Alen remembered it. He did something that most people don’t; he actually listened. In this respect, his vision is related to friendship, to putting oneself out there in a vulnerable and considerate way. He could’ve been rejected in some sense, particularly if I forgot that I mentioned them or if he wasn’t important to me. Yet, he fought through the fear.
Alen, Bill, and Billy Beane took the risks because they believed in themselves and in their ideas. Maybe they did what William James advised and took baseless leaps of faith or, more likely, engaged in critical thinking and asked: Will I succeed? The visionaries can drown out the noise and listen to reason; they can accept significant feedback and move forward with it. Most of us posses the ability to think and, as significantly, think critically but choose to forgo it. It scares the hell out of us to walk off of the usual road. And it’s easier to believe that in order to rebel one has to be blessed with a special character. But, all of us can, even those struggling with clinical anxiety.
The above mentioned individuals realized that the usual ways weren’t working. And, usually, when everyone is going one way, you just tend to get lost in the traffic. If you think about it, all Alen did was listen and all Bill did was pick up some outcasts. Yet, they did what others didn’t think of or thought of and feared. If you’re consistently asking yourself what it takes to be a good friend or to be a good leader, inquiring into how others fail and how you yourself have, the answers become apparent. Rather than a gift from a muse, vision is the natural outcome of persistent and diligent effort. Sometimes, your vision will suck and you’ll have to begin again, but, in the long-run, you’ll surprise yourself with how much you learn just from questioning yourself.
Unfortunately, certainty doesn’t exist so most of the trendsetters have to take somewhat of a leap of faith, but, fortunately, one doesn’t have to be fully blind in order to jump. It seems that most of us struggle with introspection and instead prefer to think about checklists and other mundane tasks, so if you want to become a better thinker, you have to keep trying. In the short-term, it will be incredibly uncomfortable, but in the long-run, there’s a high probably that you’ll escape your rut. Whatever you’re doing that’s causing you to fail entails some level of bad reasoning and, if I had to guess, some form of mimicry.