By Suma Varughese January 2004 The man whose ambition is to become a CEO by the age of 30 is not a visionary. But the man who dreams of creating an office atmosphere where people are happy, fulfilled and able to realise their highest potential, is a visionary. What would you gauge a person's potential on? His achievements, his character, his intelligence, his personality? All these count to some extent but I would put my money on vision. What exactly is vision? Vision is the essence of a person's perspective, values, mission and capabilities. Together, they cohere to form an overarching trajectory of his direction in life. Vision is not goal. Goal is more specific. With a goal, you can actually plot the steps you will take to reach there. A vision is at once far bigger and far more free-flowing. We know where we want to go, but we would rather not be too specific on how and when to get there. Why? Because we know that the less we sketch out, the more room there is for the universe to make the blueprint. The visionary knows that the power of his vision will itself draw it into reality. He does not have to put the nuts and bolts of the operation together. That is God's job and He will accomplish it in a far more satisfying and complete way than he can dream of. By allowing the universe partnership in the vision, we access the huge energies and resources of the universe which will come to our aid by introducing us to the people or skills we need, by placing resources in our direction and by effecting outright miracles to make it come to pass. The bigger the vision by which I mean, the more it goes beyond one's own aims and desires and needs the greater the success. The man whose ambition is to become a CEO by the age of 30 is not a visionary. But the man who dreams of creating an office atmosphere where people are happy, fulfilled and able to realise their highest potential, is a visionary. And he has a much higher chance of becoming a CEO, though perhaps not at 30. The greater the vision, the greater the power and the greater the conventional rewards of money and fame. But what distinguishes the visionary is that he is not focused on material achievements. He knows that they cannot be the goal, they can only be the byproduct. And that they are not worth pondering about. The visionary has a clear sense of the limited nature of material ambitions and is therefore unconcerned with them. One of India's biggest visionaries was Mahatma Gandhi, whose radical dream of getting India independence through means aligned to her non-violent philosophy was fully realised. But lofty though it was, it was not the end of his vision. Gandhi's vision extended to the society that free India would inhabit. He sketched out a vision of the political, economic and social systems that would create an India where the focus would be on the uplift of poorest of the poor through non-violent and harmonious ways of employment. Gandhi visualised a society where the haves would freely give to the have-nots and where man would be guided by spiritual and not material ambitions. I don't have to emphasise that his vision is far from being realised, but such is its power that it influences thousands of minds every year and when the circumstances are rife, will be the blueprint of future society. How can I be so sure? Because his vision is aligned to the laws of life and nature. These decree a way of life that is holistic, focused on the larger good, and facilitating the great purpose of human existence, which is self-realisation. Visionaries may take their time getting there, but get there they will. Take the writer Ashok Banker, for instance. When I first met him some time in 1992 while working for Society magazine, I was excited by this man's vision of what he wanted to achieve as a writer. He dreamt of revealing India to Indians and helping us see ourselves afresh; he dreamt of writing so powerfully that he would be able to penetrate the very soul of the reader. Although he was a relative unknown, I did a cover story on the man, predicting that he would be a great writer. After that little was heard of Banker for almost a decade. I was hardly in touch with him and there were times when I would wince at the thought of that rash prediction. Still, I didn't seriously doubt it. I was therefore delighted with the news that Banker has been commissioned to do a series of books on the Ramayan by a foreign publishing house, and given a very gratifying advance. His first book, Prince of Ayodhya, has been received well by both readers and critics. Fame has come, though he was not focused on it. Money has come, though he was not focused on it. In fact, I knew Banker in his impecunious years when he gave up the soul-sapping advertising world in order to write for a living. Money was tight in those days, but he refused to return to advertising, preferring to eke out a spartan existence through writing columns. It is this willingness to sacrifice for the realisation of the vision that gives the visionary his sustaining power. When he starts on his quest, he appears quixotic and odd to his fellow humans. Why is he so foolish, they wonder indulgently, as they sip their martinis and munch their cashews, comfy and secure in their clubs and pubs, while he, poor fellow, skulks in street corners, feeling at odds with everyone, and yet compelled to go on, for to give up would be to die inside. The visionary knows that it is better to die on the outside than on the inside. Christ knew this. So did Gandhi. Both were martyred for their commitment to their vision. Neither allowed that possibility to deflect them from it. So if you want to know your own potential, reflect on your vision. What drives you? What do you long for? What would you give anything in the world to achieve? Remember that each desire carries within it the energy to achieve it. So dream big and well beyond yourself.
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