Mission Statements Demystified

Have you heard the phrase “personal mission statement,” and if so, do you know what it is? Given that this is a personal growth magazine, I’m expecting the percentage of readers who answer “yes” to be extremely high. In case you don’t, a personal mission statement is a written description of one’s life purpose.

There are many advantages to having a personal mission statement:

  • It acts as a compass for navigating difficult choices.
  • It unites the different facets of your life in support of a common purpose.
  • It provides long-term motivation for achieving your goals in the face of distraction, temptation, and adversity.
  • It answers the big question, “Why am I here?”
  • Living your mission is fulfilling because you are contributing to something bigger than yourself.
  • And, to quote Nietzsche: “He who as a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Given this list of advantages, wouldn’t you agree that it’s valuable to spend some time clarifying and writing your personal mission statement?

Okay, so let me be blunt:

Do you have a personal mission statement? (The percentage of readers who answered “yes” to this question just dropped substantially in comparison to the previous questions.)

For those of you who do have a personal mission statement, have you read it-or recited it from memory-in the past 24 hours? (The percentage of readers who answered “yes” to this question just dropped to almost zero.)

If we recognize the incredible value of a personal mission statement, then why do so few of us actually spend the time writing one? And, for those of us that have written one, why don’t we use it on a daily basis?

In my experience, the answer lies in the difficulty of actually choosing a mission for ourselves. Of all of the possibilities available to us, of all of the things we want to do with our lives, how do we choose just one or two? And what if we do choose something and it turns out to be “wrong”? In sitting down to write a personal mission statement, it can feel like we are being forced to choose the direction of the rest of our life. That kind of pressure is pretty intimidating, isn’t it?

But here’s the good news…

All it takes is a shift in perspective to remove much, if not all, of that pressure.

Instead of approaching the question from the perspective of “What do I want to do for the rest of my life?”, ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” When you get clear on exactly who you want to be, what values you want to personify, and what example you want to set for others, then the details of how you do that will follow naturally over the course of your life.

You have the power to decide who you are. No one can decide for you unless you give them that power. Victor Frankl learned that lesson in the death camps of Nazi Germany. In Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Decide who you want to be, and let that dictate what you do. Then, writing your personal mission statement almost becomes a formality-a living, changing document that flows naturally from the core of who you are.

©2005 Curtis G. Schmitt

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