On Sunday I referred to Personal Mission Statements in my sermon. After the service someone asked me, “What is a personal mission statement?” The idea was new to them so I would like to provide some explanation and guidance that will help anyone who might be interested in creating your own personal mission statement. In the context of Sunday’s sermon, I was speaking about the habit (discipline) of reviewing and reflecting about your life. This is a very important discipline and a personal mission statement helps you in this reflective exercise. In other words, it is not enough to simply create a mission statement for your life, save it to your hard drive, and never look at it again. It has much more value if it serves to facilitate a more important goal, regularly examining your life to see if you are on track with who you are and what God has asked you to do with your life.
The idea of using a personal mission statement became prominent in leadership thinking a number of years ago during the emergence of a very popular book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Covey wrote about the idea of “beginning with the end in mind” and pointed people towards the idea of writing out a personal mission statement as a mechanism for living with the end in mind. As a result of Covey’s book and his suggestion to write a personal mission statement, it became very popular with coaches and consultants during the 1990s to offer products and programs to help people create their own statement, creed or philosophy. Even though it is no longer as popular, that does not mean that it is not a valuable exercise. Without the discipline of reviewing your life regularly it will very difficult to become all that God wants you to be, and a personal mission statement can be a helpful tool in that habit.
Even before I had read Covey’s book I had been exposed to the concept of “beginning with the end in mind” in college. One of my professors gave us an intriguing exercise during one of his lectures. He asked us to write out our epitaph. Despite the fact that we were all barely twenty years old, he asked us to write what we would want said at our funeral. He was simply asking us to consider what we would want people to say about us when our life is finished. That is a very practical way to think about what you want from your life and how you want to be known. Covey suggests the same exercise and provides some further guidance by suggesting that you consider this exercise from the perspectives of four speakers who are going to be at your funeral. One from your family, one from your circle of friends, one from your place of employment and one from your church. What would you like each of those speakers to say about you and your life? What characteristics would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions would you want them to remember? What stories would you want them to relate?
Whether you use this exercise or not, we all would benefit from some careful thought about the purpose, mission, or calling that God has for our lives. There are some people who just know what they want to accomplish, why God put them here on earth, and never waver from it. Most of us have to take the time to think about it and then to write it down and then refer to it often to ensure that we are in alignment with the values and vision we have outlined for our life. Our personal mission statement is a compass that keeps us moving towards our true north. It helps us as we can examine our day-to-day decisions and activities, and evaluate whether they are in alignment with what we say is supremely important to us and whether those decisions and activities contribute or distract us from the overall vision for our life. We are continually overstressed and overscheduled by the mundane tasks of day-to-day life and we can easily lose sight of the greater purpose and mission that God intends for our life.
There are three main ideas to focus on when you start the process of creating a personal mission statement: 1) priorities (what is important to me); 2) abilities (what strengths and talents do I possess); and 3) legacies (what do I want to be the result of my life upon others).
SECTION ONE – PRIORITIES
- Use the epitaph exercise as described above and identify the different sectors of your life (family, friends, work, church, community, associations).
- Think of someone you deeply admire and make a list of the qualities that person possesses that you would like to assimilate into your life.
- Write down phrases that describe who you want to become as opposed to what you want to have or what you want to achieve.
- Answer this question, “If you had unlimited resources, what would you choose to do?”
SECTION TWO – ABILITIES
- Make a list of those things you are good at. Where do you excel?
- Answer the question, “What do you love to do?” Most people are good at the things they love to do and whatever you love to do is what you are likely the most passionate about.
- Answer the question, “What do I understand and value that many other people do not?”
- Ask some trusted friends to identify the top three things you are good at. Some people have a hard time recognizing their gifts because the things we are good at come easy to us.
SECTION THREE – LEGACIES
- What changes and benefits in people’s lives, in your community, in your church do you want to see as a result of your life?
- Answer the question, “What small and significant ways do I want to improve the qualities of the lives of others?”
- “Am I doing what I say is important?”
- “Is what I say is important reflected on my schedule?”
Once you have written down these thoughts, take some time to synthesize your ideas and answers. This takes a lot of work but helps bring clarity to your personal mission statement. Over the next few months, continue to revisit the statement and reconsider the above questions. Ask someone you trust to read your statement and give you feedback.
A personal mission statement can be written out as a paragraph or a few sentences or also a list (as in the example I provide below). It is important to make the document a manageable length so that you can quickly review it often. Sometimes people will summarize their personal mission statement with a single sentence to make it memorable. I heard Joel Manby speaking at an event and he has done this very thing. Manby, who just recently became CEO of Seaworld Parks, wrote a book called Love Works in which he describes how he built a corporate culture at Herschend Family Entertainment based on the principles of 1 Corinthians 13. He summarizes his mission statement as, “I define personal success as being consistent to my own personal mission statement: to love God and love others.” He then expands it with an outline that is based on 1 Corinthians 13.
There are also some great websites that help an individual develop a personal mission statement. One terrific example is from Franklin Covey. You can try out the exercise here: http://www.franklincovey.com/msb
As I said at the beginning, the real value of this exercise is that you create a written and thought-out statement that serves as a plumb line by which you can evaluate and reflect upon your life on a regular basis.
In my files I have what I consider an excellent example of a personal mission statement. It is Rolfe Kerr’s personal creed.
Succeed at home first.
Seek and merit divine help.
Never compromise with honesty.
Remember the people involved.
Hear both sides before judging.
Obtain the counsel of others.
Defend those who are absent.
Be sincere yet decisive.
Develop one new proficiency a year.
Plan tomorrow’s work today.
Hustle while you wait.
Maintain a positive attitude.
Keep a sense of humour.
Be orderly in person and in work.
Do not fear mistakes – fear only the absence of creative, constructive, and corrective responses to those mistakes.
Facilitate the success of subordinates.
Listen twice as much as you speak.
Concentrate all abilities and efforts on the task at hand,
not worrying about the next job or promotion.