Get A Vision, Have A Destination & Ask The Right Questions

One of my favorite classical books has always been Alice in Wonderland – a story with enough allusions and alogeries to keep you thinking for years. Today, I am reminded of an interesting quote from the tale where Alice meets Cheshire.

`Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. `Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

`–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’

Perhaps on some existential level, we might determine that Cheshire is pointing out the fact that people need destinations before directions, and often times, we confuse them with one another. We believe that having direction means having a destination. Often times, in our pursuit for directions and guidance, we forget that we require a destination – or at the very least, have our minds dead set on one. Instead, what we get, are pursuits to get “somewhere” positive and we feel that this in itself is a good enough desire or ambition.

The reason I mention this is because it’s a problem I see having adverse affects on a country like Jordan.

From people to institutions to businesses, I see a lot of ambition and a lot of desire to head in a positive direction, but the destination is unknown. We are constantly on the move and constantly wanting to get “somewhere” but we have no idea where it is specifically that we want to go and thus, how to get there. Our concern becomes so much entangled with the latter – the need to have directions and to be led or guided by others – when in reality, such guidance is lost if the destination is unknown.

And so, every time I’ve read a mission or vision statement written by a company in Jordan, I sigh. It usually tells me absolutely nothing about who they are, and more importantly, where they want to go; their destination. They usually want to be the best and the greatest, but that’s not really a destination; it’s an aspiration. Every time I speak to people, especially if they’re young and ambitious, I end up getting the sense that they don’t know what their exact destination is, they simply want to be on that train going to successville, wherever that may be.

In truth, Jordanian youth are not taught to have visions or even a great sense of direction. They are taught to see life as a preset to-do list they simply need to accomplish in order to achieve fulfillment. Tawjihi, university, work, marriage, children, restart. That’s the path. While these are all activities, and certainly life pillars to most, they are not part of a vision. In fact, it seems any young Jordanian who dares to pursue anything outside this to-do list – to have a different vision than the one set before them by their parents and community – is deemed a heretic or a fool. We are taught that visions are for Kings, which is often why when I speak to a politician in this country, they’ll constantly say phrases like “in line with His Majesty’s vision” – as if to have an alternative is a sin. As if visions are an unaffordable luxury.

All in all, you can’t have a destination without an underlying vision – a pursuit that your mind is set on fulfilling and thus has a clear and required path to follow. But more importantly, to have a vision, you have to ask the right questions, and that’s often where I see most people struggling, and that includes myself. The difference may be that most people don’t recognize they’re asking the wrong questions.

If you’ve ever had a problem or a question you needed an answer to, and resorted to using Google, then you’ve probably experienced the following. You put in your search term, sometimes even in the form of a question, and then you spend about an hour clicking away on the search results, not finding what you specifically need, then rephrasing your question, then clicking away again at the new results. You end up repeating this process for quite a bit sometimes until suddenly you pick up a new keyword. You may have caught a glimpse of it, bolded some where in the search results, but suddenly, that keyword restructures your question completely and when you run a new search with a new question, you end up with the results you needed.

You begin to realize that the answers were there all along, you just weren’t asking the right question. And asking the right question is often times more important than the answer itself.

The beginning of every single thing we do in life, begins with a question. Questions lead to pursuits, and pursuits lead to destinations. We exist on a never-ending timeline of pursuits whether we acknowledge it or not, and every single one of them starts with a question and the need for an answer. If the question is wrong, what becomes of the answer?

I see so many young Jordanians of my own generation wanting to desperately be entrepreneurs in order to become wealthy. I often wonder how many of them ask themselves whether they truly want or need wealth, and more importantly if they feel entering the entrepreneurial ring is the right way to go about it. How do they even define wealth?

Perhaps many of you reading this might think that visions are indeed the stuff of kings, and most Jordanians are just trying to survive. This is because we’ve convinced ourselves that visions are by definition grandiose in nature, when in reality, I’ve met the simplest people in this country who have the simplest of visions. It’s a testament to the fact that visions do not necessarily need to be world-changing, just as long as they’re life-altering visions. But irrespective, who says that only kings can afford to have grandiose visions? A quick look at some of the stories that have emerged from India in the past few decades sees people much worse off than the average Jordanian pursuing visions that we would ordinarily deem to be sheer lunacy.

What saddens me about all of this is that probably few will see any of this as a problem to begin with. Few will recognize that without personal visions we are destined to remain stuck, recycled in the same compost of what we’ve been producing for the past half century. Where the input equals the output. Few will realize that visions and pursuits are what allow the next generation to aspire to something greater than what was afforded to those that preceded them. It is these visions, clearly defined and articulated, that are the very gears of innovation. After all, an ideas economy usually requires an idea, and that is something that can only thrive within the confines of a vision.

And while I’m sure someone will be along shortly to blame the government, the education system, Zionism or the US – the truth of the matter is, the elements which have the biggest impact on whether or not a person has a vision are the elements that surround him. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, peers, colleagues, and yes – teachers. Our pursuits are greatly dependent on whether or not these elements “allow” us to have a vision to begin with.

Without the proper support mechanisms, visions will find difficulty in surviving the pressures of external forces. When we look at historic renaissances, we tend to romanticize them as if they emerged out of no where – as if the people were just suddenly enlightened by the power of a lightening bolt. In reality, renaissances took years and years to create, and at the heart of them are individuals with grand visions that had the support of others. A man with a vision was an apprentice to another man with a vision who played his mentor. The mentor-apprentice relationship is what fuels a vision. It is what allows it to survive in a world bent on destroying it – a world that promotes conformity above all else.

So to anyone reading this who has a desire to get somewhere but doesn’t know exactly how to get there, start with asking the right question – form


  • this whole topic reminds me of a book i really like,the 7 habits of highly effective people!

    nicely phrased and said nas as usual 🙂
    ur posts are always a pleasure,but even more a pleasure when ur far from home 🙂

  • Since I have the attention span of a 5-year-old, I tend to skim my way through long articles and getting the main idea rather than read the whole thing, but I couldn’t not read each and every word of this, perhaps because it all [sadly] rings so true.

    I always used to think that we never got where we wanted to go because we were always given false directions [if any], but maybe we had no idea where we wanted to go to begin with.

    Very inspiring words, always a pleasure to read them.


  • Excellent.

    Sounds like you are on the verge of starting a mentor-pairing support group for indie thinkers. Mentoring was the theme of my 2009, the intentional cultivation of relationships that inspire and fuel vision. In both directions.

    So tell us how you were mentored some day.

  • I was mentored. I am still mentored. I am a mentor. Let’s see how many people might apply those phrases to their own lives? Thank God I can, and will. Somewhere along the way, “wasta” replaced true apprenticeship, instant gratification replaced work ethic, and underhandedness replaced too many virtues to mention.

    Here’s to making 2010 a year of direction with a destination for us all.

  • This post reminds me of an interview I was watching some years back with the inventor of the
    Chips Ahoy cookies. What he was saying during the interview among other things is that if a person has an idea and he truely believes in his idea he should pursue it assertively without regard for whatever his parents, friends, or neighbors will think of him. He stated that he himself was ridiucled by everyone he knows when he mentioned that he was starting the business of manufacturing, packaging, and marketing the Chios Ahoy Cookies. He dismissed all of his critics and moved on, look at where is his cookie empire stands today. It is true that everyone needs someone else to believe in whatever the innovator is saying and lift him up morally and financially, but this again depends on that person’s pursuasive abilities, and that would take us to the one minute elevator rides in which the innovator has 60 seconds to convince the person riding the elevator with him about the wisdom and functionality of his idea. Personally, I have never been much of a visionary guy beyond the education, work, marriage, children, getting old and retire. Actually, I’m a firm believer that most of us that were born poor will die poor regardless of their visionary outlooks. This may sound very discouraging but it is only my opinion. I think that luck, being at the right place and the right time with the right people may help the person get his break in life, but again that moment is only illusary and may or may not ever arrive. To me a journey of a thousand mile begins with the first step. If you maintain your health, career and relationships, inshallah with time you will get there.

  • This is truly an inspirational and a visionary article.
    I would suggest translating this into Arabic so more Jordanians and Arab read it.
    Thought: I would like to mention religion here since it is the way of life for Muslims. Many older generation Muslims think, mistakenly, that if the younger generation follows non-Muslim mentors or acquires non-Muslim role models they will lead the generation astray. They believe our role models should ONLY be Muslims which I totally agree with, except for the “only” part. I think this is one important reason why the concept of mentoring or role-model is not developed in Jordan. With the almost not existing book reading habit, the youth generation learns about the world from parents, school (not a very efficient education system), and the general public (e.g., internet, peers, people and media) which may not be the best source to learn about setting goals for an inspirational destination.

    Excellent article!

  • “And while I’m sure someone will be along shortly to blame the government, the education system, Zionism or the US – the truth of the matter is, the elements which have the biggest impact on whether or not a person has a vision are the elements that surround him. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, peers, colleagues, and yes – teachers. ”

    you cant deny that those are some of the reasons. developed countries never want poor countries to develop. how about we list all the stuff you said plus this ? you always think that its just one reason and not a combination of all.

    im sorry but you cant discuss something like this without going into politics. there are some nations that did have a vision for their people but now they are in conflicts and war. dont ask me how 🙂

  • I was wondering, what vision you may have and you think society/family will stop you? Getting into the parliament? Starting a real political party that gathers all JO from all background under the equal-rights umbrella?

    Now, there shall always be pioneers (aka. nut job or that 40 something girl who achieved many WOW things and ended up unmarried) and so on.

    Anyways, the Tawjihi/College/Career/Marriage/Kids cycle is staying for ever. Here is what goes in the mind of any dreamer : This is the norm, everyone is doing it, if I take the risk of dreaming too much in this part of the world were everything is broken, then I’ll end up not achieving my dream or societie’s. So for most young people : The vicious cycle is their safest option.

    As a twenty-something dude, life has taught me not to dream too much and first afford the very basics. Parents are getting older,hence need financial support. Keeping up your current life standards requires too much sacrifices on behalf of your dream, always choosing the safest path/cycle to get the basics covered.

    I would start persuading my destination if I had the basics (affordable housing within like-minded community (aka. no hafartal) , a good health care insurance and service, and a stable income. Until then, the cycle is my safest choice, though the marriage part could be left out 🙂

    Good job on your article.
    Looking back at what was achieved during the past decade, I draw the conclusion that I had no destination and the cycle is bad too!!

    Mid life crisis at your 20ies? Now that is the spirit!

  • “Until then, the cycle is my safest choice”

    The thing is, very few people try something outside of the cycle, so I can’t really tell whether it’s safe or not…

    Also, I don’t know how it feels to have a vision and run after it, maybe that feeling would outweigh any concerns of safety… At least, I hope it does… Maybe there is safety in the mere pursuit of your dreams, who knows…

    Great article Nas… Can you think of any solutions to this problem? On a small scale, maybe?

  • first of all , i really want to know exactly , what do you mean by vision ? is it the dreams that want any body to acheive in life or a crazy idea cross the mind to make it real or what ? the fulfillment ?

    i think u r talking about the space ofcreativity . and that need a practice from childhood to teach kids the way of thinking and to broaden their horizon to find new ideas and different definitions , this is something we lack in our eductional system and in our society …… no wonder if you find the youths here dont know exactly how to break the cycle for something more fulfilling …….

    you r advicing the youth to ask the right questions , but i think we reach to the point that we dont have questions at all !!!! just walking with the group and being carfull not to miss the pace ….

  • Hey mate, this is a really well-written and interesting article. I unfortunately have to agree with your assessment that “[young and ambitious people] simply want to be on that train going to successville, wherever that may be”. Without a true understanding of what our ultimate goal in life is (I use the word “goal” to refer to an achievement or change in society, not a milestone experienced all around the world on a daily basis) I think we will never realise our full potential and will be lacking in the happiness department. Progress is not a comfortable process, but the pains are worth the growth.

  • This reminds me of the times I spent with hundreds of university-aged students in Jabal Nathif discussing their dreams and ambitions. When asked to tell me what they would do if they could do or be anything in the world, they would invariably give one of two responses; one was “there is no point in talking about it because it’ll never happen” but the one I would hear more often than not was “I want to work behind a desk!”

    When I probed the “desk dream” further I would not get very far. Questions like “what would you do behind the desk?” and “what does being behind a desk mean to you?” would usually lead to answers like “I don’t know” or “be a boss” or “it’s prestigious.”

    Once kids could see the point in articulating and sharing their desires and dreams, the other answer took the conversation, and them, quite far. Omar Abdelnabi, for example, who was studying to be a nurse at a two-year community college (and hating it) told me he always wanted to be a filmmaker, but felt that given his family’s financial restrictions and the fact that he had never met or known anyone who was a filmmaker, meant that it was completely out of his reach.

    Now less than three years later, Omar is on a full filmmaking scholarship at SAE, has taken part in training workshops in the Arab world and Europe, and is making his own films and films for others. I use Omar as an example because he himself would admit that until he spoke about his desire and destination out loud, he was certain it could never happen for him. Once it was out there though and he received a bit of support to get started, there was no stopping him.

    Let’s create a way for young people like Omar and others who share similar experiences help other kids to see the value and necessity of setting a vision for their lives and seeing it through with passion, resourcefulness and hard work. I think a mentor support program is a great idea, with one major difference; have young people who break through barriers be our mentors and each other’s.

  • Great post. Interesting that you chose Alice in Wonderland… wasn’t it meant to describe how one sees the world under the influence of LSD?
    But then, vision does require out-of-the world thinking. ‘Out of the box’ too often translates into ‘into a larger box’.
    I particularly like the part about renaissances being the product of years, not immediate circumstances. I think too many people think of change in terms of a set of procedures, or even directions, and not as a process. Directions will get you anywhere, like you argued, but the right questions, and a vision, have the ability to transform. The only thing I would add is questions need to be rethought and asked over and over again, and not only at the beginning. Because creating a vision is a fluid process, or at least needs to be in order to be sustainable.
    Happy 2010 – hope its a year of realised visions (even if smaller ones) for you.

Your Two Piasters: