Essay: Developing Career and Life Vision

Every person should have a “Career and Life Vision” (CLV) to guide them through career choices. At Stanford Business School, I teach a workshop for MBA students called “Career and Life Visioning.” The workshop is designed to teach students how to develop a framework for ongoing understanding, insights, and actions, though the ideas are applicable to any working person. The framework is adapted from Jim Collins’ and Jerry Porras’ Vision framework in Built to Last.

I define CLV as simply this: To be able to see your work and career — what you do and where you do it — in a way that is personally meaningful, stimulating, inspiring and fulfilling, and in alignment with who you are.

Career and Life Vision is not the ability to define a specific job in a specific industry at a specific company. That may be a career goal, but it’s not CLV. Many successful managers and executives will tell you that they didn’t have a plan for their career. What most of them had was an idea (an image) and understanding of what they like and do not like, as well as some general guidelines (and images) for what kind of life they wanted, in both their work and personal life.

Images are important because they come from your complete consciousness, not just what your mind or what others say is important. The images will reflect your desires about culture, pace, surroundings, activities, expertise, experiences, and broader life factors (family, friendships, community, time, possessions.) Once you envision these images, you can work backward to evaluate various career paths that could lead toward making these images real.

Why is Career and Life Vision important?

Career and Life Vision is a roadmap for where you want to go, keeping you focused on long-term objectives. It enables you to define and maintain your personal direction, so you are not swayed off track.

Often people desire to fulfill a dream that others think is difficult, risky, and even downright silly. Career and Life Vision is a means to maintain courage and break new ground, even when it feels like the rest of the world is against you.

Maintaining your commitment and motivation is crucial, particularly in tough times. You will need it to help sustain enthusiasm when the job search process is difficult, or when you’ve had a tough time at the office, or in your personal life. Rather than quitting or checking out, you will see these situations as challenges to overcome, rather than major roadblocks that force you to make drastic detours in your work or life.

How to develop CLV

The CLV workshop helps students reflect on their lives, their goals and dreams, their beliefs and attitudes, and future work and life situations and environments that are meaningful to them.

One exercise is called the Obituary Exercise. In just 10 minutes, students outline what they would like their obituary to say about them at the end of their lives. Questions they consider include:

  • What were my major accomplishments (at age 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70)?
  • What and who was important to me?
  • Why were these issues and people so important?
  • What was I passionate about?
  • What character traits and values did I consistently demonstrate over my lifetime?

Students examine their answers, which can reveal important data toward defining their Career and Life Vision. Question one addresses “big hairy audacious goals” that require a stretch of effort and perhaps unlikely events in order to be achieved. Questions two, three, and four address interests, passions, and purpose — things that matter most when considering work and life. Question five addresses values — important beliefs that are core to who you are.

With this data, students begin to define their core ideology — who they are and their envisioned future. By more clearly defining what matters most and where they want to be, students are able to make better decisions today. Their choices are aligned with their visions and values. Their choices are strategic, with long-term perspective underlying their decision.

Try this exercise and see where it leads you.


People often think that everyone else has their vision and life all figured out. Few actually do. But you can be one of the few. Make a conscious choice to do it — to begin the process. The sooner you understand the process for defining your career and life vision, the sooner you can begin moving toward the career and life that is inspiring, fulfilling, and satisfying — for you.

By Andy Chan

Andy Chan is the assistant dean and director of the MBA Career Management Center
at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business where he teaches and advises students
and alumni on career, leadership, and entrepreneurial issues.