I’ve been mentioning “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” a lot more than usual of late. I decided to re-read my favorite book after a fun conversation about books a few weeks back. And, I’m glad I did that. One of the exercises in Habit 2 is to draft a Personal Mission Statement. Interestingly, this is identical to the idea that Clay Christensen talks about in the “Finding your purpose” part of his great book. However, I didn’t make the connection. Instead, I spent a lot of time attempting to decode his notes. Now, I wish I’d thought of going back to Covey’s work as he lays it out quite beautifully.
I thought I’d share my Personal Mission Statement with you. It is now in its 5th iteration, I think. I’ll also share what I’ve learnt from the process in case you’d like to consider building one for yourself. The act of doing this has added an incredible amount of clarity in my life over the years. So, should you choose to do it, I trust you’ll find the exercise valuable as well. And, if you’re looking for more convincing, think about this – what would you think of an organization with no mission or vision statement? And, why should you be any different?
That said, over to the learning.
Learning 1 – Approach building a mission statement like a hypothesis test. Let me start with a quote from holocaust survivor and logotherapist extraordinaire, Viktor Frankl.
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.
Frankl wisely tells us that it is up to us to find meaning in our lives. A way to do that is to ask ourselves – what must our life be for it to be meaningful? Or, in other words, how will you measure your life?
There isn’t a single, easy answer. But, it isn’t an unsolvable riddle either. Once you decide to do it, approach it like a hypothesis test. For instance, the first version of my one line mission was – “To inspire and be inspired.” But, it didn’t feel right after a while. So, my next version had something about relationships and impact. Then, someone who knew me well said it should be about “active relationships” since I loved building things with people I cared about and engaging them. And, thus, the next iteration happened and so on.
Start with a hypothesis. And, keep revisiting till it feels right.
Learning 2 – If you are stuck, take a trip into your future and paint the picture of your ideal life. Thinking about what you’d like your life to be 20 years from now is often a nice place to start. Or, you can go straight to your funeral and imagine what people say about you. These are all ways to get ideas flowing.
Learning 3 – There isn’t a template. Your mission statement can be 1 line, 1 page or 10 pages. Whatever it is, make it your own.
Learning 4 – Simplicity helps a ton though. Over time, I’ve found myself consistently shortening my mission statement. This is partly because I’ve come to appreciate and strive for brevity over time (the irony about this post being very long is not lost on me :)). And, partly, it is because I’ve found my mission statement to be most useful when I can easily remember it.
For example, my one line mission gets shortened into three values in my mind – people, learning and impact. And, my principles are integrity, love/growth and consciousness/engagement (a new addition). This makes it so much easier when I am stuck on a decision.
Learning 5 – It helps, at first, to make these actionable and check in on these from time to time. I started with daily checks, then a long list of weekly checks combined with a log of how I spent my week. This, then, become a shorter list of checks that took 5-7 minutes every weekend. As of last month, it is a much shorter list (shared below) that takes a couple of minutes. I expect to have no such checks in a few years. But, for now, I find it helpful to check in with myself every weekend to build my instincts as they generally suck at first.
Okay, now to my current version.
My personal mission statement is the same as my “why” or my “purpose”
Build active relationships with framily (close friends and family), learn, and strive to have a positive impact on my world and, in time, “the world.”
These also form my 3 core values – People, Learning, Impact.
(These align with my intrinsic motives – learning and impact are high and my values remind me to make sure I remember that people are all we have.)
3 principles that govern my life and that I need to commit and re-commit to:
1. Integrity: Integrity is making and keep commitments. I commit to walking what I talk and talking what I walk.
2. Love/Growth: Love is the will to extend oneself for one’s own or another’s spiritual/mental growth. So, I commit to doing small things with extraordinary love and to continuous growth.
3. Consciousness/Engagement: To focus on consciousness is to commit to the process of life, to experimentation and to the idea that “this might not work.. And that’s okay.” The important questions I need to ask are not about perfection or performance. Instead, they are – “Am I engaged? Am I being conscious about my decisions?”
I live and measure these in my 4 roles (in order of priority):
1. Leader of self
2. A caring member of my framily
3. A learning focused teammate
4. A responsible community contributor, i.e., the world
And, here’s a screen shot of my check in list.
Hope this helps. Happy reflecting!