Nailing Down Your Vision & Values

Nailing Down Your Vision & Values

At this point, you might be tempted to jump into fun stuff like naming your tribe and setting up the technology to run it—all of the outward facing stuff.

Before we can get to any of that, we have to look inward first. More specifically, we have to understand our vision and values, because these two things will be the guiding principles on which we build our tribe.

Trust me when I say that vision and values are one of the most important aspects of this course. If you get this piece of the puzzle right, your tribe will gel together beautifully and thrive.

If you ignore this stuff, chances are it will lead to a tribe that doesn't work well together, doesn't share the same goals, and has no vested interest in the success of its individual members.

So yeah, it's important stuff.

Also, a lot of this lesson comes straight from my other course, the Filmmaker's Guide to Success. If you're interested in developing a great vision for your career, then actually make consistent progress in pursuit of that vision, I recommend you check it out :)

That said, let's dig in!


Vision is all about the direction you're traveling in your filmmaking journey, and what it would take for you to feel like you've "made it."

In other words, it's all about determining your own definition of filmmaking success.

This is incredibly important in the context of building a tribe. For the tribe to function symbiotically—where by helping others move towards their goals, you're also moving towards yours—everyone needs to be traveling in the same direction.

That's not to say that everyone in a tribe needs the exact same career goals. But in my experience, a tribe functions best when everyone shares a similar long term vision for what they want out of their films, and out of their lives more generally.

For instance, if most people in a tribe are aiming to be independent documentary filmmakers, but one member defines success as working in the film industry on dramatic TV shows, that's a major mismatch in vision. That one member is going to feel frustrated when the others work on projects that move them towards their goals, but not his/hers.

That's why it's so important to take some time to understand what your vision is for your career. Because it's going to be a defining element of the tribe you're building. You'll want to fill your tribe with people who share similar visions, so that you can all work together and make collective progress.

But all of this begs the question, how do you determine what your vision should be?

Questions to identify your career priorities

Deciding on a vision for your career isn't an easy thing, especially if you haven't taken the time to think through this stuff before. In fact, it probably seems like an overwhelming proposition.

But I've found that you can make a ton of progress on this by sitting down for a few minutes, asking yourself a few tough questions, and being completely honest about the answers.

So here are a few such questions to get you started:

  • What does your body of work look like in two years, five years, and ten years? Hell, what about twenty years?

  • What impact do you want your work to have on audiences? Does it entertain them, change them, make them think?

  • What’s the ideal balance between work that you do for money, and work that you do for yourself? Or are those one in the same?

  • How skilled do you want to be in the craft of filmmaking? Do you want to master one specific aspect of the craft, or do you want to be a well-rounded jack-of-all-trades?

  • Is it important that you develop a unique voice of your own?

  • How would you like the act of making films to fit into the larger picture of your life? Do you spend 80 hours a week in the throes of the filmmaking process, or do you spend time with family and friends, pursuing outside interests and hobbies?

You’ve probably already realized this, but these questions are difficult and a bit uncomfortable to answer. So no worries if you’re drawing a blank at this point.

My favorite technique for pulling out answers is called freewriting. Basically, just sit down at a computer (or a blank piece of paper), read over the questions to prime your mind a bit, and then start writing anything and everything that comes to mind. Even if it's unrelated or nonsense. Do this for 10-15 minutes, and you’ll start surprising yourself with what comes out of your mind. Trust me, it works.

Success is a state of being, not a destination

Now that you've got a good sense of what's important to you in your career, it's time to put it together into a handy little vision that you can reference throughout the course.

But first, a useful little lesson in psychology.

There's an idea known as the "hedonic treadmill" or "hedonic adaptation." Essentially, it states that we all have a baseline level of happiness. When we achieve big goals, we get a temporary boost in happiness, but we always revert back to baseline eventually.

This is why I'm generally against tying your vision of filmmaking success to one specific event or destination (winning an Oscar, for example). Because while that one thing may be a great achievement, you'll invariably go back to the baseline.

Hence the reason I recommend defining success in a way that isn’t tied to a single event or some end destination. Instead, think of filmmaking success as a state of being that generally raises your baseline and makes your more fulfilled more of the time.

So the trick here is to consider your answers from the above questions, then put together a statement that addresses the state of being you’d like to achieve.

Here are some examples.

  • Instead of… “I’ll be successful when I land a five figure video contract with a client I like,” try… “I’ll be successful when I have a thriving and profitable production company that serves businesses I believe in.”

  • Instead of… “I’ll be successful when I sell my first feature film,” try… “I’ll be successful when I make a full-time living from my original indie features.”

  • Instead of… “I’ll be successful when I get my first job as an editor in Hollywood,” try… “I’ll be successful when I make my full time living editing dramatic feature films and television shows.”

No matter what your career trajectory is, I’m willing to bet there’s a state of being that you’d be incredibly satisfied to reach and maintain. Your job here is to find it.

Once you do, that's your vision for right now. Write it down somewhere you’ll be able to come back to later. And don’t hesitate to keep tweaking the vision as you think more about it.

Now let's move on to the next piece of this puzzle… values!


On the surface, our values are simply the things that we value in our lives. Things like family and love and success.

But values are more than that. They're also the most important tool we have for making wise decisions, and they're instrumental to building lasting relationships.

That's because deep down, values are beliefs about what is good and moral and worthwhile. They're internal guidelines that help us define boundaries and take the right actions. When we act in alignment with our values, we're laying the foundation for a good life.

(Also, a quick side note for you. Remember the idea of the hedonic treadmill from earlier? Well, it turns out that acting in alignment with your values consistently is one of the few surefire ways to raise your baseline level of happiness and contentment in life.)

Basically, what I'm saying here is that our values are really damn important.

For the purpose of this course, however, we're concerned with values primarily because they can help us build great collaborative relationships and move towards our vision with integrity.

When you and your collaborators are in alignment on core values, it acts like a strong bond. You may be different from your collaborators in many ways, but when values (and vision) are shared, it’s like a magnet.

And just as a mismatch in vision can cause strife and conflict within a relationship, so can a mismatch in values. For instance, if you value creative collaboration and spreading credit evenly amongst everyone, but one of your tribe members is looking for a disproportionate share of the credit on a project, that's gonna cause a major rift.

That's why understanding your values, as well as those of your tribe members, is essential.

How to find your values

Now, if you’ve ever dabbled in the world of personal development, you know there are all sorts of needlessly elaborate systems for finding your values. This won’t be anything like that.

In fact, finding your core values should be a relatively simple process, though it requires some curiosity and the willingness to explore thoughts and feelings that may be a little uncomfortable.

Anyhow, there are two basic techniques to try here.

Finding the root of peak experiences.

  • In what specific moments in your life have you felt most happy, fulfilled, or proud of yourself?

  • Then dig into each of those moments to figure out what caused you to feel that way. What internal values were you aligned with?

Finding the root of shitty experiences.

  • In what specific moments have you felt like you were letting yourself down?

  • Just like before, dig into those moments and figure out what specifically gave you that feeling.

For example, one of my favorite moments in my life was screening my first real short film. The film wasn’t very good in retrospect, but I had poured almost nine months into making it, and it was the first time I had written a script from scratch and brought it to life. Plus it was an ambitious project and it felt great to have it completed.

From that experience, I learned that I place huge value in creating and finishing original work. It gives me a rush like nothing else.

On the flip side of that experience, there were a lot of anxious and downright uncomfortable moments leading up to the day the film was actually done. I had a fairly overwhelming sense of perfectionism with this project, and it led me to treat myself badly and my collaborators badly. There were a lot of stressful, anxious nights in the edit bay.

And it’s largely through that experience that I learned that perfectionism isn’t and shouldn’t be a value of mine. I don’t like who I am or how I act when I try to be a perfectionist. So I value finishing work on time, and getting it out into the world, even if it's not perfect.

And just in case you’re wondering, my core values at this point in my life are: autonomy/independence/self-reliance (these are technically all a little different, but I like them bundled up together), producing creative and useful work I’m proud of, ethical and honest business, constant personal growth, anti-tribalism and open-mindedness, and integrity.

Anyhow, now it's your turn to find your core values. Like before, if you feel blocked on this stuff, you may consider doing some freewriting or journaling here.

A giant list of personal values

If this is your first time thinking about values, this might seem a little overwhelming or vague.

Luckily, there are a few lists floating around the internet that will help. You can just read over a giant list like this one and find the values that really resonate with you. Here’s one of the smaller lists, which comes from James Clear’s site. This way you don’t have to leave the page to do this exercise.

  • Authenticity

  • Achievement

  • Adventure

  • Authority

  • Autonomy

  • Balance

  • Beauty

  • Boldness

  • Compassion

  • Challenge

  • Citizenship

  • Community

  • Competency

  • Contribution

  • Creativity

  • Curiosity

  • Determination

  • Fairness

  • Faith

  • Fame

  • Friendships

  • Fun

  • Growth

  • Happiness

  • Honesty

  • Humor

  • Influence

  • Inner Harmony

  • Justice

  • Kindness

  • Knowledge

  • Leadership

  • Learning

  • Love

  • Loyalty

  • Meaningful Work

  • Openness

  • Optimism

  • Peace

  • Pleasure

  • Poise

  • Popularity

  • Recognition

  • Religion

  • Reputation

  • Respect

  • Responsibility

  • Security

  • Self-Respect

  • Service

  • Spirituality

  • Stability

  • Success

  • Status

  • Trustworthiness

  • Wealth

  • Wisdom

And with that, you should have everything you need to start identifying and honing in on your core values.

Write down five or so alongside your vision, then get ready for the next lesson!

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