What’s Your Mission?

Welcome back, everyone! I hope your holidays were restful and that you had plenty of opportunity to reconnect with family and friends!

With the holidays behind us now, we’re all thinking about what’s next. We’re making plans for the next year and expectations are high! I told you in my last post that New Year’s resolutions are ineffective, right? Well today, I want to start talking about what we should do instead to use our time effectively and make tons of progress!

First off, instead of struggling with little goals this year, I want to challenge you to think bigger. Let’s think about our goals in the context of life, not the next year. Instead of losing 10 pounds this year, let’s start getting fit for life. Instead of freezing the credit card, let’s start paying that debt off and be done with it forever. Let’s take our lives into our own hands and stop allowing outside forces to determine our fates.

We all want to be productive and important and memorable. We want to have enjoyable lives and contribute to society in our own unique way. To be able to do these things, it helps to start with the big picture. We’re going to do that by developing our own mission statements.

Why a mission statement?

There are lots of ways that a mission statement can help you get organized. Despite the name, I think a good mission statement actually has three parts: a mission, a vision, and an expression of your values. Each part has important benefits. You can think of them as parts of a map or a board game. Your mission is the destination, your vision is the path you’ll take to get there, and your values define the rules of the game. Once all three are in place, you have a recipe for rapid growth and extraordinary achievement.

Before we get into the how, let’s spend some time on the what and why aspects of a mission statement.

Your Mission

Defining your mission puts a big “X” on the map of your life. This is essential because you need to know where you’re headed if you ever expect to get there. If you’re trying to plan a vacation, what’s the first step to planning? Deciding where you want to go! Without a destination in mind, you don’t know whether to grab your bike or book a flight, or whether to pack light or load up everything you can grab.

Your mission is an expression of your long-term goals. It’s a description of just what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. There are literally an infinite number of different goals that you might focus on, and the vast range of what you can do in your life is part of what makes humanity so diverse. You might choose to focus on raising a family, achieving a high position in your career, doing charitable works, living in harmony with nature, being wealthy, or being very fit, just for starters. If you want to live a balanced life, you should choose several things like these that make you very happy, and go after all of them!

Here’s a simple example of a mission. In my personal mission statement, I have written that I want “to maximize my potential physically, mentally, and spiritually.” This might seem vague to you, but to me, it’s very specific. It expresses my goal of continuous personal growth in every aspect of my life.

Your goals can be more or less concrete than mine. The idea is to choose goals that inspire and motivate you to be productive. Defining your own goals means wrestling with some pretty tough questions, but before we get there, let’s talk about your vision.

The Vision

My mission to pursue personal growth gives me a general direction for my life. It motivates me to live a healthy lifestyle and it helps me make decisions. When given the opportunity to pick between reading a book or watching a movie, I’ll almost always choose the book. When given the choice between soda and water, most of the time I stick with water. However, this mission says nothing specific about what I need to add to my life to accomplish my goal.

To be concrete about how to structure my life to achieve this goal, I need to have a vision. My vision tells me what I need to do to accomplish my goal, and it defines a concrete path for my journey. If I want to go from my home in Texas to visit friends and family in New Hampshire, I can take the direct route through the middle of the country, or I can swing wide and visit more family in Georgia. My vision is the road map that tells me which way is best for getting to my destination, and having a vision for my life means I know which way I would take on this trip without a second of delay.

You should have a vision corresponding to each of your goals, and each vision should be specific. For example, I have a vision that goes with my goal of personal growth. Like my goal, this vision is broad and includes a lot of aspects of growth, one of which is physical fitness. My vision for becoming more physically fit means I lift weights three times a week and I do some sort of physical activity every day. This vision is what I mean by getting more fit — it is the path toward my goal.

Your own vision should serve a similar purpose. It should make it clear what each of your goals means to you. In fact, your vision should be concrete enough that you can use it to write a to do list of activities that are important to you, and each of these activities should get you closer to your goals.  Structuring my day around my mission and vision means making time for physical activity, reading, studying, writing, and reflection, all of which I might otherwise neglect.

The flexibility of a vision means that even for the same goal of getting fit, for example, you and I may have very different ways of achieving that goal. For you, that may mean being able to run a marathon. For me, that means trying to get stronger. Both are perfectly good ways of accomplishing the same mission. Any vision that gives you a clear sense of direction and a path to your goal is perfect.

The Values

We’ve already talked a lot about values. If you’ve been keeping up, you know I believe that goodness is the backbone of success. To that end, it’s very important that you take time to consider your values when you develop your mission statement. Your mission and your vision both need to be designed using your values as the cornerstone of your philosophy of life.

In the context of our road map analogy, values are like laws and road signs. You can ignore them, but you put yourself and others at risk by doing so. If you want to make a U-turn in the middle of the interstate, you do have the authority to make that decision, but you also have to take responsibility when shit hits the fan. When you’re offered a choice like this, a strong sense of values will make the choice for you.

All this is to say that you’re doomed to fail from the start if your goals are inconsistent with your values, and you should never abandon your values for expediency when devising your vision. Doing so leads only to regret, and it will come back to bite you. Better to avoid the problem from the beginning.

How to Write Your Mission Statement

You probably already know that mission statements are used by companies and organizations around the world to identify their core values, aspirations, and goals, and to provide direction to their activities. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s a big part of what this blog is all about! We want to develop our own mission statements so that we can clearly and succinctly express our greatest goals, ambitions, and vision for the future. Let’s look at an example.

Consider the mission of the United Service Organizations (USO) — “USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families.” This mission is succinct, yet very informative. It tells us that patriotism, family, and optimism are important to the USO as an organization. It gives us a rough idea of their activities, namely providing services and entertainment to US military members and their families. It also tells us something about what they don’t do; for example, they’re not a branch of the military.

When we write our mission statements, we’re going to imitate all of the nice features of this example. We’ll want the statements to be brief, informative, and inspirational. Doing this well is going to require you to grapple with a lot of very profound questions. What exactly do you want to get out of life? What are the values that you find most important? How do you want to be remembered? These are tough questions, but by tackling them now, you’re providing yourself with a powerful framework that you can use as a guide for years to come.

Choose Your Values

If you haven’t already, take some time now to brainstorm the values that are most important to you. Revisit my post on goodness, and decide the values and principles that will guide your life. This is important to do before you start writing because basic values are relatively fixed throughout life. They are much more constant than your mission and vision, which will change and grow with you throughout your life.

To get you started, here are a couple ways to find the values you care the most about. First, think about your role models and the qualities that you admire most about them. This could include family, friends, leaders in your career field, or anyone that you aspire to be more like. Try to boil down the basic positive traits that constitute their character, and add them to your list.

Then, think about the qualities that you like most about yourself and the qualities that you most want to improve upon. Liking these qualities is a sure sign of their importance, and wanting to improve certain aspects of yourself indicates that you care enough about a trait to focus on it. Once you’ve assembled a list of important values, go ahead and start thinking about ways to incorporate them more into your own life. These can serve as starting points for your mission statement.

Defining Lifelong Aspirations

In order for your mission to have relevance to your life, you need to choose overarching aspirations that will allow you to use your skills and interests. I advocate for dreaming very big here. After all, these are the aspirations that you’re going to be working toward for your entire life!

Finding your mission is a hard task because it means confronting the fact that you have a limited amount of time in which to accomplish these goals, and you can’t do all of them. You have to pick what’s most important to you and focus on those things. It means asking yourself, “What do I want my legacy to be? What do I want to do while I’m here? What is going to be my contribution to society?” These are hard questions, but don’t shy away from them. Answering them now is the basis for lifelong growth and accomplishment.

There are a few important things to remember here. First, your mission statement doesn’t need to be one sentence. I recommend keeping it brief because this indicates a significant amount of thought and consideration, but if you’ve thought about it a lot and it’s not getting any shorter, that’s fine. Second, your mission statement is for you. Don’t worry about what others might have written, or would have wanted you to write, or what others might think. Write a mission that’s inspiring to you and that speaks to your values and aspirations. Finally, remember that your goals don’t have to be outcomes; they can be goals for your growth instead, like my mission for continuous personal growth.

When you’ve finished writing your own mission statement, please share your ideas in the comments below!

Developing the Vision

After writing down your mission statement, you should have a clear, concise expression of your values and what you aspire to do in your life. The next step is to find ways to accomplish your goals that are consistent with your values and that allow you to take advantage of your skills and interests. This is what I mean by your vision.

Though I don’t have an explicit vision statement, my vision is nevertheless very clear to me. When I say I want to ensure a prosperous world for future generations, I know that I mean writing to motivate others to live positive, productive lives, starting businesses to help conserve the environment and protect the planet, and living my own life consistently with the values that I promote. Enjoying the full range of experiences that life has to offer means I want to write, travel, have children, and have lots of crazy and exciting adventures. You should have a vision that corresponds to each part of your mission statement.

Your vision doesn’t have to be on paper unless it helps, but it should be clear in your mind’s eye. This should follow quite naturally from your actual mission statement. As you wrote your mission statement, you probably thought about lots of actual activities, things that you enjoy and want to spend your time on, that led you to write the mission statement you eventually settled on. Those activities are the ones that you should focus on when you come up with your vision. Use each one of those activities to create a concrete path toward achieving your mission!

Conclusion

In case you’re wondering, here is my complete personal mission statement:

I want to enjoy the full range of experiences that life has to offer. I will make a point to maximize my potential physically, mentally, and spiritually. I will use all of my skills and potential to ensure a prosperous world for future generations, and above all, I will love deeply and live purposefully every day.

This statement is the sum total of what I want to do in my life. It inspires and motivates me to live my best life. It enshrines my values and it explicitly states what I hope will be my legacy. Every time I read this statement, I get fired up. That’s what your mission statement should do for you.


P.S. If you’re still having a hard time writing a mission statement, check out the awesome Mission Statement Builder by FranklinCovey (not an affiliate link — I’m just promoting a useful tool). I’ve checked it out myself, and it’s totally free and requires only an email address. It asks many of the same questions that we’ve addressed here and more. It also has options to build a mission statement as a family or team, and to discover your values. If you use this tool and find it useful, let me know!

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