Crafting your personal mission statement
Knowing what you want out of life can help you become a better person and better business leader. One way to sharpen your focus is to put pencil to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and craft a personal mission statement. It helps zero in on why you’re here (surely there’s more to life than worrying your mother).
This gets you thinking big thoughts about what you want to give and get out of life. Think of your mission statement as a beacon in the darkness that helps you navigate indecision. It prevents dreams from drifting off course and getting dashed on the rocks of inertia.
Whether a single paragraph or a page, your mission statement can mean the difference between living a life of choice or a life of chance.
The act of writing out a vision crystallizes conviction and trues-up your internal compass. It also unpacks the wisdom of the adage, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” When I act in concert with my mission, opportunities are more obvious, big decisions come easier.
You’ll avoid bolting up in bed some night with the horrible realization that your dreams have gone unfulfilled, scattered to the wind like wisps of smoke. Do the work you need to do, right now. Don’t wait until you find yourself on your knees, awash in regrets. Been there, hated that.
Writing my mission statement reconnected my head to my soul. Yet I don’t expect it to shield me from life’s vicissitudes. Chaos and calamity may pay me another visit, especially when I lose focus and drift. The difference now is that it’s easier to regain my footing. Thanks to the stability and perspective of my mission statement.
First things first
In the time it takes to see a movie, you can finish the first draft of your mission statement. It’s a small price to pay — skipping the latest action flick — for supercharging your own life story. To set the stage:
Isolate yourself. Find a quiet place and turn off the phones. You may even want to tape a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.
Get in the zone. Close your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths, and mentally go to a calm, peaceful place — a river valley, a mountain glade.
Experience it with all your senses and let the tension melt away.
Sequester the judge. Give your inner critic the day off and let ideas flow.
Be patient. This isn’t “Jeopardy!” Take your hand off the buzzer and your eyes off the clock. Take as much time as you need to tap your longings.
Open wide. To the extent you can, temporarily suspend your analytical mind and material desires. Open yourself to a deeper source of wisdom. Sure, lofty profits and business awards are worthy goals. But you don’t stand a chance of fulfilling your destiny if your mission is grounded purely in egotism and material desires. As Carl Jung wrote: “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”
Ask the right questions
Take a deep breath, Clark Kent. You’re about to duck into a phone booth.
First, ask, “What was I sent here to do?” Yep, a broad question, one so often obscured by daily stressors. Narrow your focus by applying the question to life’s most important quarters: What was I sent here to do for my spouse, my parents, my friends, my career, my community, the earth, my children, my extended family, the world, my colleagues, my country and my spirit?
The only mission you can trust springs from your heart, mind and soul.
Strip away everything that has limited you — money, age, health, family, geography, and, the mother of all bugaboos, other people’s expectations. Forget all that. Concentrate solely on your destiny. Now jot down your thoughts. Your mission is a collection of simple guideposts, like maintain physical health through proper diet, exercise and self-care. Don’t worry about measurable goals — lose 10 pounds by next birthday — quite yet. To spur your thinking, ask, “What can I do every day to fulfill my purpose?” Here’s what I came up with:
• Nourish myself with more spirituality.
• Build my communication skills.
• Ignore distractions that impede growth.
• Care and love more.
• Guide people one-on-one and in groups.
• Model healthy living and well-being.
• Tap my higher source for wisdom and discipline.
Now imagine that one of the cool things you discover when you die is that you get to eavesdrop on your funeral. What will your friends and loved ones reminisce about? What do you hope they’ll reminisce about? Are the answers to those two questions different? What parts of your personality would you like to stand out? What deeds would you like to define you?
Here’s what I jotted down after pondering, “How would I like to be remembered?”
• He was a loving son, brother and mate.
• He was the best father he knew how to be — a friend and mentor to his sons.
• He shared wisdom that helped friends get what they wanted from life.
• He tried to find the goodness in everyone and to bring people together.
• He shared his blessings.
• He had a sense of humor, lightened the load of people around him, and had fun.
• He was caring, loving and gentle with himself.
• He stood up for his beliefs and challenged power in the name of community.
• He supported organizations that shared his values.
Putting it all together
After harvesting all these ideas, I sifted them around and mixed in a few more I plucked from my suddenly fertile imagination. Voila! My mission practically wrote itself.
It’s a living document, but here’s my latest:
1. To evolve toward an enlightened and loving state.
2. To strengthen connections to my higher power, family and friends.
3. To grow via education that integrates body, intellect, psyche and spirit.
4. To develop my knowledge and communication skills.
5. To build nurturing environments which contribute to the growth of family and friends.
6. To contribute to colleagues by helping them develop their talents and productivity.
7. To teach leadership skills to organizations that improve the world.
8. To tread lightly on the earth so future generations inherit a healthy planet.
9. To help people achieve their missions.
Next, working draft in hand, set aside 10 minutes here and there over the next few weeks and revise. Keep turning ideas in your mind as you garden, golf, or rock on the porch. If you can, get quiet and ask yourself whether there’s any more information. Be still, listen. Keep a note pad ready. When you think you’ve got it, repeat your mission statement out loud a few times to burn it into your consciousness. But don’t just say it. Display it. Frame it and hang it on your office wall, or put it on your desk next to family snapshots.
Make a wallet-size copy so it’s always in reach. But remember: Just as you can’t live in a house that exists only in blueprints, your mission can’t produce anything until you grab a hammer and nails and start pounding away.
This article is one of a series from “The Big Book of Small Business” by Tom Gegax with Phil Bolsta. Copyright 2005, 2006 by Tom Gegax. Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers.
Best-selling author Tom Gegax, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Tires Plus stores, served as that company’s chairman and CEO for 24 years. By the time he sold the company in July 2000, it had mushroomed from a concept sketched on a restaurant napkin to a market leader with 150 upscale stores in 10 states and $200 million in revenue.
Thanks to Tom’s warm-hearted, tough-minded approach to management, and his team’s relentless focus on customer service, the company’s turnover rate was low and guest enthusiasm rate was high.
He was named Modern Tire Dealer’s Tire Dealer of the Year in 1998 and a Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. magazine.
In 2000, Gegax founded Gegax Management Systems (www.gegax.com) to help growing companies raise profits and reduce stress through fast and affordable business management guidance.
For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.