“The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected.”
— Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning
So, how often do you think about who you are? Every day? No? Then it’s time to start! It’s not a self-involved question for egomaniacs. It’s a necessary inquiry for people who want to live with clarity and intention. To know who you are is essential for those who want to grow, to be their best selves, to fully explore happiness. If you don’t know who you are you can’t know where you are, where you should try to go. And if you aren’t clear on your starting point and a worthy ending point, how the $%^& can you hope to get there?
A lot of people, including yours truly, often call themselves “self-sabotagers”. But is that true? When you KNOW what you want, and then when you go toward it and get some momentum and then you stop. That’s self-sabotage. When you ask yourself questions that slow you down, that hinder momentum, that’s self-sabotage. BUT, if you are fearful or procrastinating and haven’t started yet, that’s not self-sabotage. It’s not self-sabotage if you haven’t started yet. Maybe you are catastrophizing, blaming <fill in the blank> or doing something else to keep from starting. Or maaaybeee, you just don’t know where to begin. Or you don’t know where to head. Perhaps you don’t know who you really are, what you really want, so you have no clarity on what should do or where you should go. You have no North Star.
Creating a powerful personal mission statement – or even a less-than-powerful mission statement – is not only giving yourself that North Star, it’s the first important step on your journey to reaching it.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – some guy names Socrates
The first question clients ask when I suggest they craft a mission statement is, “How long should my mission statement be?” So, before we get all nitty-gritty, I’ll answer that question. There’s no answer. Your mission statement can be only a few words. (Brendan Burchard’s statement is “Live fully, love openly, make a difference”.) Or it can be several paragraphs.
However, I strongly suggest you keep it to a length you can memorize. This mission statement should be one you know by heart, or at the very least check in on daily (or even twice a day. (That’s right, every day.) Keep who you are (or who you want to be), what you are about, and where you want to go to the front of your mind. This will help you keep from letting procrastination, fear or laziness get the best of you. It will help keep you from letting constant questions, worry, and self-doubt (good ole self-sabotage) hinder your momentum. It will help you keep your priorities clear and help you live each day with intention.
“Begin with the end in mind.” – Dr. Stephen Covey of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Ask Yourself Some Questions (A LOT of Questions)
Step one, ask yourself some questions to drill down deep. Some of these questions may seem like corny job interview questions, but they are questions you’re asking yourself for the biggest job you have – your life.
- What are the most important roles you currently perform or want to perform in the future?
- What are the 3 most important values, qualities, factors in your life?
- What do you want to become?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- What do you want to have?
- How do you want to live?
- Who do you want to be?
Take each item from the list and think about it. A lot. Ask yourself “Why? WHY do I want this?” List all that comes to mind. More questions:
- What should be the meaning of your everyday work?
- What do others think of you? Which of these opinions and perspectives surprise you? Which make you happiest? Proudest? Do any disturb you?
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What are your passions? Your hobbies?
- What are you really good at? Stop being humble. Jeez.)
- What books and magazines do you like to read? What podcasts and websites do your regularly consume?
- What have you been doing for years? What does this tell you about yourself?
- What did you like to do when you were a kid? What did you want to be when you grew up”?
Now, don’t expect a memory like, “I wanted to be a podiatrist! Feet are my destiny!” But let’s say you wanted to be a farmer – maybe it’s because you wanted to be like your grandfather because you admired his character.
“People are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren’t getting very far. They, in essence, are pushing a rope with all of their might.”
– Dr. Stephen Covey, & Habits of Highly Effective People
- What do you consider your greatest success? Why? When you think of others, do they all have something in common?
- Who are the most important people in your life? Why? Who people you admire most (dead and alive) – and why? What is it about them you most admire?
- What sort of activity or work gives you the greatest feeling of importance and satisfaction? Why?
- What have you always wanted to do, but you’re afraid to try?
- What big thing would you try or do if you knew you could not fail?
“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein
- What would you dare to dream if you knew for sure you could not fail? What would be your life’s goals if you knew you could not fail? LIST THEM.
- What are some specific situations where you felt loved and happy? What made you feel that way? What would you do to repeat that feeling?
- What are the jobs or projects you enjoyed doing? Why? What factors or attributes made them enjoyable for you?
- If you were given a million dollars today (tax-free!), how would your life change? What would you start doing? What would you stop doing?
“It’s the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him.”
– John Steinbeck, famous author
Some Helpful Exercises:
1) Visualize how your life will be in 5, 10 and 20 years if you don’t make any significant changes or decisions. If you just go with the flow”, what will be the consequences to your health, relationships, wealth, career, personal growth? If you’re happy with the current status quo remaining the same in 20 years – hooray! You are living your personal mission now! Write down what you’re doing right, and keep doing it!
2) Imagine you’ve 100% achieved a goal. How does it feel? What does it give you? For example, if your goal is to make 200K a year, what does that give you? Ex: Ability to travel in style, enough money to take classes, hire a nanny, not stress about bills, etc. After you decide what it gives you, then ask what does that give you?
For example, if your goal is to lose 30 pounds, imagine what losing 30 pounds would give you. Let’s say it would make you feel more confident about your appearance. If you felt more confident about your appearance, what would that give you? Maybe it would allow you to take dance classes and martial arts classes. If you took dance classes and martial arts classes, what would that give you? (Strength, health, a feeling of getting better at something) Maybe feeling more confident about your appearance would make you feel comfortable being in YouTube videos? What would that give you? (For example, willingness to be in YouTube videos would give you the ability to help you build your brand.) Just keep going through the exercise again and again.
The string of questions and answers should lead you to a point where your world feels just about perfect (to you). Keep going as each answer gives you an even more wonderful experience.
3) Imagine your own funeral. Who’s there? What are they saying about you? Extra credit: Write your own specific eulogy, the one you’d like there to be. Actually write it. Then, think about what that says about the kind of person you want to be, the kind of impact you’d like to have, the kind of activities you want to engage in.
OK, Time to Write!
Alright, you should have a LOT of notes by now. You can also supplement your answers with language from other sources – famous quotations, lyrics, fragments from poetry or literature, religious text, even advertising slogans.
But if you’re anything like me, at this point you are overwhelmed with notes for your mission statement. You need to find a way to organize your notes and refine your message(s). As you go about organizing these notes, you might want to keep certain categories or themes in mind. These might include:
Stephen Covey recommended that we write personal mission statements as a list of affirmations in the present tense. (EX: I am, as opposed to I will.) He also suggests you make them positive, personal, emotional, and visual. (make them meaningful and easy to picture.) It’s best to frame things as positives not negatives because the subconscious mind ignores negative statements. It’s better to say “I am sober” rather than “I do not drink”. Apparently, your mind hears the ‘drink’ but not the ‘not’.) Also, by being positive rather than negative, it helps keep the end in mind. If I write, “I don’t watch a lot of TV”, I can still find a way to fill up that time with other distracting activities. It’s best to focus on what I want to be doing, rather than what I want to avoid. I may still end up watching TV, but I’ll also have focused on those things I wanted prioritize.
Also, if you’re anything like me, you’ll obsess about re-writing and re-working the mission statement. Is this the best way to work on changing how I think, feel and behave? Is this the true expression of who I am and who I want to be? Well, calm down. It takes a few weeks to get used to your personal mission statement. Let it sink in. The words you need to delete, the ones you need to add, they will all come to you. There’s no perfect; it’s a work in progress. Just make sure that after a few weeks it’s at a place that is meaningful and useful to you. This is your personal mission statement. – The only audience that matters is YOU.
“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Now, USE IT
This personal mission statement is not meant to be an achievement, a document you put in a drawer of folder. Look at it and think about it every day. Ideally when you wake up and before you go to bed. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your best self. This is a life mission, something you work at fulfilling.
In addition to, or in lieu of, reading your personal mission statement, you can:
Listen to it. Record it. (On your phone – maybe set an alarm so you hear it every few hours.) It’s not really as annoying as it sounds. I think.
Visualize it. Close your eyes and imagine what it/you look like. Examine all the details. Really soak it in. You might also make a vision board.
NOW – Feel good about this. Feel good about you. Reportedly only 3% (!) of Americans have stated goals, much less written down. We can imagine then that an even smaller percentage has a personal mission statement written down. You are entering an elite minority of individuals not willing to live Socrates’ “unexamined life”. Congrats! And speaking of Socrates, I’d like to end with a wise quote from one of my all-time favorite philosophers:
“Find out who you are, then do it on purpose.” – Dolly Parton