Are you happy with every aspect of your life? Are you sure that you’re in the best job, the best relationship, and the best living environment that you can be? Does the way you spend your time reflect your greater values and do you feel you are fulfilling your purpose on this planet?
If you’re like most people, you’ll answer no to at least one of these questions. And that’s why you should go on a vision quest at least once in your life. That advice comes from Stephanie Newby, founder of Golden Seeds, an early stage VC firm for women entrepreneurs and now CEO of the social data analytics company Crimson Hexagon.
Years ago, Newby participated in a nine retreat that culminated in a three-day Native American-style vision quest. During the vision quest, she says, participants were told to go out into the wilderness, draw a circle six feet in diameter, and remain inside it, never leaving it except to relieve themselves. They were given a plastic bag and instructed to undress and place their clothing inside in case of rain, so that they would have dry clothes to wear afterward.
It was a profound experience that completely transformed her life and her work, both in the short term and over the next several years. Here’s why she recommends a vision quest for every executive and entrepreneur:
1. It will help you realize your dreams.
Going on a vision quest will (temporarily) pare down your life and give you a chance to see what’s most important to you, thus empowering you to follow your dreams for your life and career. It will also put you in touch with your dreams in the literal sense–the ones you have while you’re sleeping. During the week-long leadup to Newby’s vision quest, the group she was with held daily dream workshops. Exploring the dreams you have at night will help you better understand your own aspirations, desires, and fears.
2. It will force you to unplug.
For most of us, going for several days with no mobile phone, television, reading material, video games, or social media is almost unthinkable. Yet it’s exactly what our brains need, Newby says. “It’s cleaning your brain out, getting the wiring all put back together straight,” Newby says.
3. It will get you out in nature.
You may love being out in nature or you may hate it. Either way, there’s ample evidence that spending time in the natural world is deeply beneficial to your brain function. For Newby, who’s loved nature all her life, the time spent in the wilderness was particularly profound. One change she made as a result of her vision quest was to create a wildlife refuge at her property in Connecticut, which she had certified and continues to maintain ever since. When she’s there, she says, “I measure the quality of my day by how much time I’ve spent outside.”
4. It will help your company succeed.
Speaking of nature, Newby says it’s no accident that 1-800-GOT-JUNK founder and business coach Cameron Herold recommends that company leaders go out into nature to write a vision for their companies or teams. This is an important thing to do whether or not you go on a vision quest.
“He says not to do it in the office–sit in nature somewhere,” she says. He was likely thinking of something more low-key than a full-fledged vision quest, she notes, but either way, being in the natural world is a very effective way to set your mind free. “Being in nature and being outdoors is really inspiring,” she says.
5. It will make you more observant.
This is one of the biggest changes Newby noticed in herself during her vision quest. With no technology and no distractions to suck up her attention, she became keenly aware of what was going on around her.
“You become much observant about little things,” she says. “You start seeing little things in nature as really big and really valuable. You clear your mind from all the clutter.”
6. It will force you to face your own weaknesses.
Alone in the wilderness, there’s nowhere to hide from the parts of yourself you’re not so crazy about. Even before she went on the quest, Newby learned some valuable lessons about her own weaknesses and perceptions. In the run-up to the quest, participants played a game called the deer hunter and the deer. Newby was a deer, identified by a number written on her face–if a hunter drew close enough to read the number, the deer was considered to be killed.
Newby had always been a fast sprinter and through much of her life had relied on her ability to outrun others as a way to keep herself safe. This time she learned the limits of that strategy. “I took off running, then turned around and there was a man really close to me, close enough to read my number,” she says. Although it was just a game, she says, “You felt really nervous and scared. Discovering that kind of vulnerability can make you more authentic.”
7. It will dramatically increase your creativity.
Getting out of your daily life, away from all distractions and connection with your work world, and having new and intense experiences in the wilderness will inevitably push your brain in new directions and down new pathways. And indeed, Newby returned from her vision quest full of new and wild ideas she wanted to try out in her job, at the time as an executive at J.P. Morgan. “Something about being away like that gives you the courage to come up with ideas that will seem crazy when you get back to the office,” she says.
8. It will help you make the big decisions you need to make.
At the time of her vision quest, Newby was pondering whether or not to end her marriage of many years. “I made the decision to go through with the divorce I had been equivocating about,” she says. “That was a really good decision for me. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my life. But I’ve had such happy years since then, I feel grateful that I did it.”
9. It may send you off in a whole new direction.
The divorce was only one big change that resulted from Newby’s vision quest. In time, she also decided to leave the her high-level Wall Street job and start an investment fund for women-led startups–what became Golden Seed. “I had sat on diversity steering committees on Wall Street and I thought, we’re never going to make any progress, the way these companies are set up.”
Then she had an eye-opening experience visiting a company led by a woman that allowed new mothers to bring their babies to work during the first year of their lives. That kind of change could never happen in the established Wall Street companies, she knew. “I had the vision of supporting women entrepreneurs so we would have more companies with women at the top,” she says.