As a professional ballroom dancer and coach I have to keep everyone motivated — including myself. Spending god-awful amounts of money to travel the country and compete in a sport that is as difficult as gymnastics but as subjective as a beauty pageant often creates conversations and situations where assessing one’s vision, goals and actions are critical for long-term sustainability.
“Why is that person ahead of me?” or “How could I have gotten 6th in that performance, it was one of my best!” are echoes of feelings that have been expressed both in myself as well as my clients.
The truth is, life is like a dance competition. The most important things are subjective — success, love, wealth.
All of these things are abstract results that are different for everyone. What may be success to you may seem like a prison to me and vice versa. We’ve all heard the adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and, what these sentiments point to is that life is, ultimately, what we make it.
But that assumes that you are engaging in making it. I often say to people, “Create or be Created” — the music of life will keep playing and you have no control over the tempo, but you can dance your heart out and make it a good one. If you decide to sit out and watch other people having fun, one day the band is going to stop playing and it will be time to go home — leaving you with memories of watching other people dance instead of having made your own.
Over the years of teaching and competing I’ve had to hone my skills in maintaining my ability to create the future both in myself as well as with my clients because, let’s face it, any place worth going to will come with a fair share of pitfalls, reasons and obstacles.
Most people quit one of two ways — before they ever start or shortly after starting. The number one reason? A weak connection to their future.
This can mean a few things. Some people have a hard time seeing the bigger picture — their vision — while others suffer in being able to create amazing ones but not see the small steps to get there and get disillusioned easily. As a coach I have to understand both sides and, through my years of practice, I’ve created a simple way to look at anything in life through something I call VGA Power: Vision, Goals, Actions.
The Big Picture
Take a piece of paper and lay it out horizontally. On the left write “Vision” and draw three lines moving to the right from it. Next write the word “Goal” at the end of each line. Leave enough space because for each Goal you are going to repeat the process by drawing 2 lines that move rightward and label those “Action.”
You should now have a sideways pyramid that flows from Vision to Goal to Action.
Now it gets even more fun. Draw a curved arrow that flows from your actions upward into your goals, and vice versa the other way back. The point? To see the relationship between the two.
This part is the most important, and if you do it for the whole chart (you will have a lot of lines everywhere so it may take a few times if you’re a perfectionist) you will see a critical part of the future creation process — that everything is related and causing everything else.
Traditionally, we assume that your Vision (long-term) will generate Goals(short-term) and those will create the Actions (now) that you need to take. This is still valid, but it is just one angle to a multi-dimensional puzzle. How do your actions support the Vision you are after? Once you’ve set a Goal and begun working on it, how does it need to adapt or change? Maybe halfway through doing all those Actions and completing all those Goals you have a change of heart and a different Vision arises. What then?
Thinking of this more as a fluid matrix allows you to constantly evaluate yourself in relation to both your past as well as your future. While we are creatures that plan and create based on time, the reality of the matter is that there is nothing else beside the present. That is all there is and all there ever will be — right here, right now.
Being able to relate that now consistently to where you came from as well as where you are going throughout the actualization process is key to fulfilling it and that’s what VGA Power is all about.
Creating a Vision
Travel makes a perfect metaphor when we discuss Vision because it is utilizing a map to arrive at a future destination. What would we be without GPS these days? Sure, there are also times when you travel spontaneously and just for the sake of getting lost — but if your intent is to get somewhere then you need a map.
This is the purpose of Vision. It is for creating those future nows that you want. What do you see for yourself? Your ability to daydream a bit will come in handy. Some people struggle at this point — either because of fear or something worse like cynicism. Our ability to dream up the future and create in our minds instantly is a gift unique to our species, yet how many times have we thrown that imagination out the window for a more reasonable existence?
Create or be created.
Life and the system we live in will create your Vision regardless, the question is how much of it will you add? Some other useful questions for discovering your Vision:
What lights you up inside?What are you passionate about or really enjoy doing? Does it empower you? What difference will it make for those around you or impact on society? Who will you get to be, what will you get to do or have as a result? What stage are you at with your Vision: impossible, possible, written down or acting upon?
Consider these questions when brainstorming the Vision of your life and remember that it will always change and adapt based on your Goals and Actions. That’s the beauty of how we dance our way through life, allow it to evolve as the music plays.
SMART Goals and Actions
While Vision lives in the fuzzy realm of our greatest dreams, ambitions and hopes — Goals and Actions work in the material world and, as we all know, the material world doesn’t always turn out the way we dream, hope and want.
It is full of things we cannot control, and so the ability to distinguish the things we can is crucial in fulfilling our dreams of parasailing in Hawaii and drinking margaritas on a private beach in the Seychelles or taking the Lamb out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon to race your friends.
Enter SMART — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound.
A simple matrix for evaluating your Goals and Actions, SMART gives you 5 parameters for making sure that you actually get done what you set out to do. I always check to see if my Goals (and Actions) are specific — if they are too broad you are going to run into trouble executing them or seeing them through.
Remember, people tend to quit one of two ways — before they start or shortly thereafter. The reason? A weak connection to the future. If you recall our pyramid, this can (and will) happen at every stage of the process. The link between you and the next step, between you and the Vision, is constantly in threat if you are not maintaining a SMART approach to your Goals and Actions.
Dance Your Way Through Life
Because competitive dancing is a subjectively judged sport, I learned to create different kinds of Goals. SMART planning is important, but another distinction within that planning is that of qualitative and quantitative benchmarks.
Too often we get caught up in the results we want for our Goals — that is, we want them to be specific and measurable but we get attached to the number we have created. This can cause disappointment (because again, you can’t control everything in the area of a Goal), a disconnect from our future and Vision and — worse — quitting.
Benchmarks are great because they are easier to detach from than a hard Goal we have set in our mind. They are something we are shooting for, but also patient enough to wait it out a little longer if it doesn’t happen exactly as we thought it would. With myself as well as my clients it was always important to create qualitative benchmarks for every experience — that is, experiential markers of what we would want out of that particular competition or show as a measurement of success.
Some good qualitative benchmarks are:
Did I have fun? Did I perform to the best of my ability? Did I try 100%? Did I make any friends?What did I learn?
These kinds of qualitative measurements serve as great Goals alongside your more tangible ones because they offset your perfectionism. It is very easy to get wrapped up in only measurable Goals and numbers and, while those are important, a balanced execution of a Vision encompasses both the tangible as well as the experiential.
Having a good dance with someone is not about how many turns you can both do or how fast you can dance, it is about other, less tangible things that are still nevertheless very real.
Life’s music is always playing, dance your way through it.