Part 1 — Answer These Four Questions
Many years after my dad passed away, my cousin Bridgette was visiting and we were chatting about him and something her mother (his sister) had told her. Of course I wanted to know. She conveyed that my dad wanted four main things in life. To marry my mom. To have a family. To fly airplanes. And to live on a farm.
Well there you go. He had such a clear, simple vision for his life. What is astounding is that he knew he wanted those things in high school.
That was his vision. What was his strategy though? Did he manage to do it? And if so, how?
My grandpap drove an eighteen wheeler for a fish company. His route went from Pittsburgh to Baltimore and back for blue crabs, to Boston for haddock, and to Maine for fresh lobsters. When my dad graduated from high school, he too started driving a truck for the same company. And yes, we ate fish every Friday night.
My mom was beautiful and willowy with green eyes and brunette hair like Elizabeth Taylor back in the fifties. She was smart in mind and dress, a cheerleader and prom queen, and she spoke un petit peu French. All the guys with a promising future would consider themselves lucky to date her. My dad, who graduated a year ahead of my mom, was a smooth-talker; our last name is Wylie. He was handsome and charismatic in a James Dean sort of way, and somehow the year after graduation he talked my mom into eloping with him to West Virginia of all places because you could get married there at eighteen without your parents’ permission. When she went back to tell her mom, she was greeted at the door by my grandmother holding a pillowcase stuffed with dirty laundry. She threw it at my mom and said, “Get used to it. You’ll be doing it for the rest of your life,” and unceremoniously slammed the door. She was crushed. She had wanted better for my mom than for her to marry a poor truck driver.
Mission accomplished — number one on my dad’s vision. Age 19.
The next year my older brother was born.
Mission accomplished — number two. Age 20.
Next was flying airplanes. As he was driving a truck, he scrimped and scraped and spent every extra penny and then some to take flying lessons at the local airport. He quickly flew a plane solo and continued racking up his hours. I was born two years after my brother, and I remember my early years as eating a lot of Spam with ketchup. If you don’t know what Spam is, join the crowd. I don’t think anyone really knows what Spam is. My mom made all my clothes, and bought used furniture and recovered it. Christmas was one gift and oranges and crayons in our stocking. My grandparents, whose view of my dad had softened thank goodness, used to make food for us and bring it over.
Back then, in the early 1960’s, you only needed a certain amount of flying hours to become a pilot. My dad carefully kept track of his, and wrote them meticulously in his flight logbook. After several years doing this, he finally had enough hours to be hired by Allegheny Airlines.
Mission accomplished — number three. Age 27.
Relatively quickly his salary grew to the point where he was making more money than anyone in his whole family and even our whole neighborhood.
After a couple more years and my two little brothers, we needed to find a bigger house. I had to share a tiny bedroom with my youngest brother who at age one discovered the light switch above his crib and like a hunter spotting deer turned the lights on and off all night. We lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh, but my dad figured if we moved further north to Butler County, there was farmland and it was still within an hour’s drive of the airport. He never liked living in or near a city. He and my mom started looking for a farm to buy.
They learned of a widow of the owner of a local hotel and restaurant. Like an original farm to table, the restauranteur grew the vegetables, and raised the livestock that he used in his restaurant. He had died suddenly and left his wife with much debt and few liquid assets. The farm had a huge, beautiful house on a hill with 32 acres of woods behind it and fields and pasture in front of it, two barns, a greenhouse, a built-in swimming pool in the lower pasture, tractors, a garage, a chicken coop, a river that ran through it, and two caretakers’ houses. To all of us, it felt like we had moved into a palace. I was ten years old. My Christmas present that year was a pony. We stopped eating Spam. My life was then complete.
Mission accomplished — number four. Age 31.
My dad accomplished his vision by the age of 31. I was jealous. Granted I had successfully co-founded, managed and sold two companies, but none, I felt, was my dream, my life’s purpose, my vision. When I finally figured out my company, my vision, Bloomers Island, I was pushing 50. Side note: it’s never too early and it’s never too late to bring your vision to life. Colonel Sanders was in his sixties.
The Magic of Four
The American psychologist, George Miller, is known for testing and developing a theory that the human mind could only digest and remember seven pieces of information at a time. Supposedly, that is why phone numbers became seven digits long (before area codes). Later, through follow up research from Gordon Parker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, that number was changed to four. His research showed that it is hard for the human mind to concentrate on more than four things at once. The seven digits Miller wrote about would actually be broken into four pieces by people. For example, if a phone number was 789–5876, us humans would break it down into 78 95 87 6. That would be the easiest way to process and remember the seven digit number — in chunks of four.
The author of “Chart Your Own Course,” Caryn A. Spain (mentioned in my last article, “Start Here to Figure Out Your Life’s Purpose”), used this theory when she came up with the methodology for writing a strategic vision statement. Her approach was somewhat novel; most vision statements are simple, one or two sentence lines that are easily memorized, but in my opinion, not of much use if one doesn’t include a strategy to achieve it. My favorite business quote is: There are no good ideas. There is only good execution.
A vision strategy should focus on four things then. Please note that this doesn’t mean you are not going to do other things, it merely means you will spend most of your resources — time, energy, money — on making sure that you focus on doing a fantastic job on those four things. More on this in Part 2.
The Four Questions
In case you didn’t read my aforementioned article, I will summarize it here because you will need to use it as a foundation to build your vision strategy. It is a list of at least fifty skills, strengths and talents that you possess. I call the list, My Top 50.
You can do a vision strategy for both your career/business and for your personal life. You will just need to do a separate Top 50 for each. I recommend doing that anyhow.
Consider your Top 50 list and pick out the talents, strengths and skills that best answer the following four questions:
1. How have I made the most money?
2. What will be most relevant for the future?
3. What do I do better than my competitors?
4. What is my personal definition of success?
You can only pick one for each question, and you can’t use the same skill for more than one question. Go ahead and write those down along with accompanying notes, and sleep on it for a few days.
My next article will be Composing Your Vision Strategy Part 2.