Having a personal mission statement has many clarifying and focusing effects, but how does one distill hopes and dreams into one sentence? First, it is important to recognize that the mission statement cannot and should not be a comprehensive representation. It is merely (but importantly) a crystallization of the essence of what you want to be and how you wish to be perceived. It need not be limiting or unchanging. Just as Nike is associated with an ever-growing number of goods, services, and causes, you have many facets to your life, yet the Nike swoosh symbolizes athleticism, and all Nike’s endeavors are, in some way, reflective of that mission. It is the cohesiveness that holds the company’s many endeavors together. The same should be true of your mission statement. Also, since a person’s inclinations change over time, so, too, mission statements should be reviewed regularly.
The most important part of drafting a personal mission statement is to WRITE. WRITE down your responses to each of the five steps; don’t just do it in your head. When you write, patterns emerge readily and those patterns are the key to your mission. So, with pen in hand, go through the five steps:
- Identify your passions. Ask yourself: What work do I find meaningful? What excites me? What am I doing when time flies? What would I choose to do if there were no obstacles or conflicting responsibilities? Another telling angle is to consider the people, living or dead, you most admire and specify the reasons for your admiration.
- Clarify your strengths. There usually is an overlap between passions and natural talents – a serendipity of desire and ability. Thus, indications of strengths would be situations in which you have been successful, contests won, and compliments received. Sometimes people do not recognize a strength unless they have received compensation for it, but remuneration has nothing to do with passion or strength, merely circumstance. Therefore, hobbies and extra-curricular activities are important clues. Asking friends and colleagues what they think are your strengths can also be telling because we often underestimate the uniqueness of a trait or skill we possess. Be as specific as you can when identifying strengths. For example: “good at written communication” is too broad; “effective at persuasive writing” is more precise.
- Specify your values. A mission statement not only indicates WHAT you want in life but HOW you want to get it. How do you view life and make decisions? Are there certain principles that guide you? Are there sayings or mottos you like to repeat or for which are you are known? Pull up a list of values from the Internet and check off those which resonate most with you.
- List your aspirations. Perhaps it sounds morbid, but asking yourself what you would like to hear said at your funeral reveals what is necessary for you to feel you have lived a fulfilled, satisfying life. The “would likes” quickly divide themselves from the “musts.” It is vital that you not feel pressured by what others think you want or should want. Remember that it will be you and not your family and friends who will answer for the way you spent your years; YOU must account for whether they were fruitful or wasted.
- Write your mission statement incorporating the patterns that emerged from your answers to steps 1-4. Don’t try to put in anything except obvious patterns; you don’t have room and it isn’t necessary. Tweak the mission statement until it is says the most it can in the fewest words possible. Revise it until it is both memorable and inspiring. Share it with a friend or colleague because their questions and comments often clarify ambiguities and lead to important revisions.
For additional help, I recommend StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, How to Develop Your Personal Mission Statement by Steven Covey, and Discovering Your Passion, The Thing that Makes Your Heart Sing by Kennette Reed.
J. Lenora Bresler, JD, SPHR, ASC graduated at age 20 from law school, J. Lenora Bresler is an attorney, SPHR, and leadership and engagement speaker, author, trainer, and coach. She is the owner of Bresler Training, LLC. dedicated to assisting organizations to create the best leaders, teams, and relationships on earth. An in-demand keynote speaker and consultant and a favorite with HR Florida audiences for years, J. Lenora specializes in bringing strategies that can immediately be applied. Her most recent book is Instant Insight: 15 Questions to Great Relationships. J. Lenora also teaches all modules of the certification review courses for two separate universities.
J. Lenora is Immediate Past President for Mid Florida SHRM, and currently serves as Editor for the HR Florida Review Magazine.