I recently finished reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. For those who have not read this classic, I highly recommend it. It’s a dense read, so it took some time for me to get through it, but it contains a wealth of information on how to cultivate private and public habits that improve how you interface with people to accomplish meaningful work.
One of the exercises that the book recommends is writing a personal mission statement. A quick Google search reveals a wealth of articles guiding you on how to write a compelling and impressive mission statement. I had always struggled to do so because the task seemed so daunting and, frankly, I didn’t see the point. I wasn’t clear how authoring such a statement would be useful in navigating my career path. Shouldn’t doing the right thing be obvious?
I saw the urgency a few weeks ago while navigating a minor career “crisis” of my own. After that happened, and I had to make a choice based on my values (that wound up differing from the choices of some of my colleagues), I realized that having these values recorded someplace would have made the process much less stressful. Instead of organically arriving at my chosen solution, I could have done the hard work of laying out where I stood in a moment of calm, when my brain wasn’t clouded by the emotional intensity of the situation.
Covey points out that it isn’t easy to write such a statement, but having a mission statement powerfully impacts your daily work and therefore is an activity that offers a high return on investment. I wished he would have been more prescriptive in describing how to author the statement, but it is difficult to define what is a deeply personal process. What I did find helpful was his recommendation to generate different mission statements based on the roles you fulfill in different aspects of your life.
Below are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when writing a personal mission statement:
Choose roles that align with the goals you’ve set for improvement in different areas of your life. I chose writer, employee, friend, and human being.
Don’t worry about making it pithy. Lots of articles recommend that you craft a single sentence summing up your philosophy. That seems like a lot of work to me. I settled for generating a series of bullet points for each role that captured what I felt was most important. For example, here is my list for human being:
Cultivate sunshine and rainbows
Fight for what’s right
Renew your energy
If a single sentence works for you, great. I didn’t think it would stick in my head.
Dedicate the time. Crafting a personal mission statement is difficult work. It requires you to think carefully about what matters most to you and how you should approach difficult problems based on these principles. I set aside a chunk of time to generate the mission statement at a time of day when I am typically feeling most creative. It took me two hours to come up with something I was happy with.
Review and refine. I incorporated examining my personal mission statement as part of my weekly review. If I had a desk, I would hang it up so I could confront the bullets as part of my daily decision making. Do what you need to do to make the mission statement part of your routine, and measure your performance against it accordingly.
Happy writing! Let me know what personal mission statements you’ve adopted in the comments.