As far as I know, none of the people I admire most in the world have personal mission statements.
Personal mission statements seem like the type of thing desperately bored housewives and unfulfilled middle managers do.
Recently, I decided to have a personal mission statement for reasons I’ll explain shortly. I’m also slowly convincing people in my life on the merits of having their own.
And now I’m going to try to do the same for you.
That’s this post’s mission.
Why Make a Personal Mission Statement
The 3 rationale that convinced me to give a personal mission statement a shot.
You’re the CEO
Every successful business has a mission statement.
My Life is my business, I’m the CEO, and I want it to be a success. So why shouldn’t My Life have a mission statement, too?
- Align the various departments in my life—finances, R&D, relationships, career, health, etcetera—toward a single long-term mission.
- Guide my decision making.
- Make clear to my stakeholders (friends, family, acquaintances, readers) where I want to go so they know how to help me and whether to invest in me.
- Hopefully deliver exceptional returns to my shareholders (my future selves).
Cover More Ground
I can either float around life aimlessly—getting tugged by others, busily going in circles, or letting the currents of fate take me adrift—or I can purposefully steer in a single direction.
Obviously, I like the sound of the latter. So having a personal mission statement as my North Star makes sense.
What’s more, it can save me from getting thrown off course by meaningless distractions. It can help me get back on track whenever I’m hit by life’s inevitable storms. And it can motivate me to stay sleek and streamlined rather than adding (or lusting after) useless bells and whistles.
Yes, there’s a risk that I pick the wrong North Star. But I feel that not making any choice at all is riskier.
Because it’s hokey self-help-ism?
I’m being rational here, not judging, so that’s not a good reason.
Because it’s a waste of time?
Yes, it takes time and mental energy, but even if my personal mission statement doesn’t pan out, I suspect this big-picture thinking exercise has value. It’s a strategic time-out in my game of life.
Because it’s impossible to encapsulate my life in a single mission?
Maybe some people can have multiple personal missions. But I am pretty sure that the more focused I am and the less I multi-task, the more progress I’ll make. (See: Reason #2.)
Because many successful people don’t seem to need personal mission statements and people who have them rarely seem to succeed?
I’m not sure I agree with this logic.
Maybe successful people could be even more successful if they had personal mission statements. Or maybe they have them and we don’t know. Or maybe they’re not as successful as they appear.
And maybe unsuccessful people are more successful than they appear. Either that or maybe (likely) they’re not executing their mission well.
How to Make a Personal Mission Statement
A personal mission statement is only useful if it hits the mark, you believe in it, and others know about it.
Be Serious About It
I don’t remember, but I seem to recall having wasted my time making a personal mission statement before. Probably at some self-help course in college or a career development seminar at work.
It was a waste of time because I wasn’t committed to giving it a shot.
This time’s different.
What do you want your best friend, spouse, or child to say about you at your funeral?
This question is a good way to get at what’s really important and come up with your personal mission statement. My only problem with it is that I hear it so often it’s become cliché.
So I found a similar, but fresher question:
What do you want your great-grandchildren to say about you to your great-great-grandchildren who’ll never meet?
I want it to be something along the lines of, “You would have liked to have met Great Great Grandpa Chris. He seemed to have cracked the code to life and inspired us all with his independent approach to everything he did.”
What makes you angry?
That anger indicates where your values lie and what you won’t get tired of working toward.
I get angry when people tell me what to do. And I get angry when people bully others for being different.
Include Three Things
Of all the structures for finding your personal mission statement I’ve found online and in books, my favorite is from this podcast episode by Donald Miller. It has three steps:
- Conflict. What problem do you want to take on? (i.e., What makes you angry?)
- Action. How are you going to solve it?
- Resolution. What’s the desired result of your mission?
For example, here’s Miller’s mission statement:
Many people are searching for a deep sense of meaning. I teach a series of frameworks that help them find meaning in their life so work and life are happier.
I like this structure because it sets the plot for living a meaningful life story.
In my case:
- Conflict: People are pushed to assimilate (through social pressure) and to do things the way they’ve been done before (through comfort and complacency).
- Action: I’m going to fight against that with uncomplacency, curiosity, and exploration and help others do the same.
- Resolution: To help create a world where the extraordinary is ordinary.
Make it Bigger Than You
Studies of corporate mission statements have found that the most effective ones look beyond the company toward its impact on society.1For example, Mission Statement Quality and Financial Performance concludes that “be responsible to the society in which you do business” is one of three main components of a successful mission statement. And the authors of Effectiveness of Mission Statements in Organizations – A Review write that “mission statement development ought to be directed toward both internal and external stake-holders.”
That makes intuitive sense. No mission’s going to be a success if it’s entirely selfish.
And that’s why my mission isn’t just about making my life as extraordinary as it can be, but inspiring others to do the same.
Get It Done
I’m not going to waste my life trying to come up with the perfect personal mission statement. Better to pick a direction, get moving, and adjust course along the way (à la game of Thermometer.)
Put It in Your Face
I’ve added my personal mission statement to the top of my weekly and monthly goals in my lifelogging practice so I see it every day.
Put It in Others’ Faces
I want other people to help me with my mission, and I want their feedback on it, so I’ve made it public.
I share it with my family and friends, it’s all over this blog, and I’ve posted versions of it on my Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.
My mission statement from 10 years ago would be very different from mine today. And I bet whatever it is 10 years from now will be different, too.
My Personal Mission Statement
To fight complacency, which lulls us into going back and forth in our lives’ paths until the ruts we erode are too deep to climb out of.
We’ll do so by enthusiastically exploring and blazing our best possible paths. And we’ll try to haul as many people as possible out of their ruts to do the same.
Because a rut-less world where everyone makes the most of their trips through life would be an extra extraordinary place.
“A mission statement is not something you write overnight. It takes deep introspection, careful analysis, thoughtful expression, and often many rewrites to produce it in real form,” wrote Steven Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
It’s not a task you complete. It’s an ongoing process. The value comes from going back to it, thinking about it, evolving it, and working towards it.
That takes forever.
It’s a personal summary of why you exist: the problem you seek to solve with your life, how you intend to do it, and your vision of what the result of your life will be.
Vision statements are about where you want to go and mission statements are about why you’re going there.
Some self-helpers say you need one or the other or both.
One statement’s enough for me. I think it should have both a vision and a mission. Call it whatever you want.
It should be short enough for you to remember and for someone to understand when you tell it to them.
But not as short as lot of the other big sites recommend (this, this and this post, for example). Their examples like, “To be a leader to my team, live a balanced life and make a difference,” or, “To inspire others to achieve great things” are too generic, unspecific, uninspiring, and unactionable to be of use.
Better to err on the long side to ensure your mission statement includes all the necessary components, then try to trim it down as you go.
Viktor Frankl, author of one of my favorite books, Man’s Search for Meaning, said we detect rather than invent our missions in life.
So think of it like you’re using a metal detector. Keep moving, experimenting, exploring, and listening until your mission detector starts beeping so loudly that it’s impossible to ignore.
The post I wrote on How to Be Extraordinary has a childishly simple approach to this.
“I, [Your name here] prefer to take shortcuts in life by using other people’s templates rather than doing the hard work of creating my own life and mission—and personal mission statement—from the ground up.”
Walk the Walk
Have I convinced you to give a go at making yourself a personal mission statement?
I hope so.
I’ve certainly convinced myself more than ever with all the research and thinking I did to write this.
And hopefully it’s not all talk. Reciting whatever big words we come up with for our personal mission statements won’t magically make them happen. We have to walk the walk.
I plan on doing my best.
For more on this, try The One Mindset to Hold Yourself Accountable.
- Building a Storybrand Podcast #180: Personal Life Plan. This episode is what first got me thinking of having a personal mission statement. The host, Donald Miller, is also the author of one of my favorite sledgehammer books, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. This book is a classic. Habit 2, Begin with the End in Mind, goes over personal mission statements in depth.
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