33 Clarifying Words

We've all heard the term "mission statement."  Companys have them.  Starbucks.  Nike.  The Ford Motor Company.  It's a short statement that encompasses that company's purpose and goals.  Walmart's is by far one of the shortest: "We save people money so they can live better."  The benefit of having a mission statement is that it guides every decision a company makes.  Its employees know what they are about.  It's the principles that guide every decision that company makes.

But individuals can have mission statements, too. In fact, they should!  Too many of us drift through life without any real clear direction or any sense of purpose.  A mission statement can be a powerful tool in finding that direction for your life, defining what you're about, and can be used to help you make every major decision in your life--it's either in line with that purpose (your mission statement) or it's not. 

I'd attended an online seminar a few months ago.  It was a couple evenings, and I'll be honest I thought it was dumb at first. Somebody that was advising me suggested it--they thought it would be a good exercise for me to go through as I'm going through a transition period right now as one career winds down, and I begin training for another. My opinion quickly changes, and before I got even an hour into the first evening, I realized my advisor was right.  I decided I wanted to work on having a personal mission statement.

And I took my time about it.  I spent a few weeks creating a personal mission statement.  There's a lot of ways of going about it, and a lot of books on the subject--you won't have any trouble finding help on this subject if you need it.  I keep a daily journal, and I have for decades so that was a big part of my method. I kept track of things that were important to me as they occurred to me throughout the day.  I picked out a special color ink, and every time one of these guiding principles or goals came to my mind, I jotted it down in my book.  I started out with many of them on a daily basis, but as time went on, I was jotting down fewer and fewer new things.  And when that flow of principles I was writing down tapered off to almost nothing, I knew I could begin putting that mission statement together.

I went back and pulled those statements and principles out of my journal and typed them up--there were several pages of line items, and the task of narrowing that down to a short statement seemed impossible.  But I quickly realized that all those items on my list fell into a few big groups.  It happened to be four groups for me.  I quickly sorted them out into those four groups, and it wasn't that challenging to find short statements that encompassed each group.  When I was finished, I had four sentences--a total of 33 words.

So what purpose does it serve? 

It's a statement I can go back to each time I have to make a decision.  It's a statement I review frequently (actually I've memorized it) to remind myself of what my guiding principles are.  Part of my statement is aspirational, and part of it is functional--there are some reminders to keep working on certain areas I struggle with as well as reminders of how I should be focusing the majority of my time and efforts.  It wasn't intentional, but my statement of four sentences broke out like this: one sentence describes my purpose, one sentence describes my primary roles in life, one sentence describes how I want to conduct myself, and the last sentence describes what I want my purpose to be.

Like I said, I've found great value in taking the time to do this.  One of the best short books on the subject was written by well known writer Stephen R. Covey "How to Develop Your Personal Mission Statement."  It's very short, just the basics, and last I looked it was a .99 cent download and a very short read.

I think what you'll find is the same thing I did.  We all think we know what we're doing in life, but too often we aren't working towards what's truly important to us.  A personal mission statement is a compass that keeps us from drifting off course.  We can look to it frequently to make sure we're still pointed in the right direction as we interact with others, make decisions, and face the daily challenges life throws at us. 

It's well worth the time, the thought, and the effort!