Do you ever think about your personal mission statement? As members of the philanthropic and business communities, our organizations’ mission statements are important, encouraged, and expected. Yet few people actually develop their own personal mission statement.
Throughout the years I have found it useful to take time to look closely at my mission statement. It changes depending upon the season of my life. As a mother with young children, they always took priority. As they grew and went off to college, that shifted. I had more time to think about who I wanted to be.
Your mission becomes a guiding principle and an instrument for making big life decisions. During periods when major professional and personal choices were required, I revisited my mission to find clarity.
Certain themes take precedence on my list: I want to be a loving presence and to be healthy, happy, balanced, and of service. Prioritizing time for my family, friends, travel, physical activity, spirituality, reflection, and personal growth are essential to me. Those times in my life when I am most off-balance, I realize how far away those priorities have become.
To start the practice of writing a personal mission statement, find some quiet time to focus on one or two sentences that describe who you are as a person and how you want to live your life. The mission statement helps define and clarify what is important to you. It requires that you acknowledge your gifts and talents and what you have to offer the world. A mission statement can guide your decisions about your next job, your relationships, and purpose on the planet. Where can you be of the greatest service for your highest good?
Take time to listen to your heart and remember what makes your heart sing. Recently a friend told me “my heart doesn’t tell me anything.” As Sheriff Woody advises Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 4, “Listen for that still small voice inside your head.”
Consider what makes you happy and when you feel most satisfied. What makes you feel powerful and alive? Where do your passions lie? What gifts, talents, and skills do you offer? Where do you want to make a difference? What makes you laugh and is fun? What do you love?
Look to those who inspire you and learn about their personal mission statements. Some of my favorite examples are:
“To be a teacher and to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.” Oprah Winfrey
Oprah is so accomplished as a successful businesswoman, entrepreneur, television and movie star, writer, philanthropist, and North America’s first black multi-billionaire. Yet her mission is to be a teacher, inspiring her students. If you think about it, that is really where she shines. That is where she continues to make a tremendous difference in the world. This coming from one of the most powerful and influential women in the world.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was a gifted poet, writer, civil rights activist, and a professor at Wake Forest University. Her childhood memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, describes her struggles to overcome racism, rape, prejudice, and her long period of silence as a young child to protect her family. She did survive and thrive and changed the world with humor and style. Her pain and struggles did not keep her down but instead lifted her to higher levels of love, faith, and forgiveness. She was able to teach us how to be better citizens and her mission statement was a guiding principle for the way she showed up in the world.
“To laugh often and much: To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children: To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s mission clearly describes his beliefs in the fundamental goodness of people and nature. This mission guided him to make the world a better place through his writings and the way he lived his life. His mission statement touched on laughter, beauty, legacy, and affection. His writings continue to inspire and change lives even 126 years after his death.
Your mission statement will inspire and motivate decisions you make as you advance in your life.
A purposeful life driven by mission can make every day a joy. Look at your mission regularly. It should inspire you and keep you on your path. It will probably change from year to year depending upon your circumstance but allow it to guide your ongoing decisions.
I invite you to send me your personal mission statements and we can post them to inspire others. As members of the nonprofit sector, you are changing the world. Let us know about the mission that is guiding you.