Many inspirational quotes will encourage you to keep going after what you want — but how do you know what you want in your life, what comes next, or how you want to get there? You probably have some sense of it, but it’s hard to figure these things out exactly, when we’re working with only a fuzzy picture of ourselves and our unique mission. This is where the personal mission statement comes in.
A mission statement is a concrete artifact that captures your most central values and desires. We talk often at Smarter and Harder about the importance of identifying clear goals, and isolating priorities in order to reach those goals. But this is something that underlies all that. A personal mission statement is how you define the version of yourself that you aspire to be. If you want to be your best self, you’ll first need to figure out who your best self even is.
Individual goals come and go. Some go because you accomplish them and set your sights on the next milestone. Others go because circumstances change, and you need to pivot away from a goal that is no longer serving you.
But this is not the case with personal mission statements. They do evolve alongside your understanding of yourself and your beliefs. But by and large, what a mission statement aims to define is not something that often needs to be switched out. It has no concept of individual milestones or accomplishments. You only need one mission statement, and it stays with you always. It remains as a steady reminder of your values, and who you want to be as a whole person in this world.
Benefits of Having a Personal Mission Statement
We’ve all had moments where it would have been absolutely invaluable to have a loving and all-knowing soul point us in the right direction. Well, good news. There is just such a soul, and it’s you!
There is a reason that nearly every business has its own mission statement. And believe it or not, it isn’t just some kind of corporate nonsense. Just like with written goals, there are true practical benefits, for both person and organization alike, to writing down your core values and defining your mission. Let’s dive into those now.
- Clarity in your decisions. A mission statement is built upon years’ worth of your own wisdom and self-guidance, and can be an indispensable advisor in navigating life’s difficult decisions
- Appreciation for yourself and your choices, because it’s far easier to feel good about your direction when you are following your internal compass
- Confidence in your journey, knowing that introspection and self-awareness are guiding you, rather than emotion and impulse
- Results for the goals you set. While the mission statement doesn’t contain individual goals, it usually does influence your commitment to systems that move you toward and beyond each goal
- Growth that aligns with who you want to be. Of course, what you set your mind to, you inevitably manifest into reality. With a constant reminder of your ideals at your side, you will find yourself in a steady state of asymptotic ascent to your own ideal version of yourself
Think of this artifact as your personal guide to life, as defined by none other than yourself. We have most of the guidance we need already, we just need a way to distill it and bottle it so that it’s ready when we need it.
What Do They Actually Look Like?
So, what does a personal mission statement look like? The short answer is, whatever you want it to look like! It is yours, after all. But if you’re looking to get started on one for the first time, that’s not exactly a helpful answer.
Let’s start with a few basics. Every personal mission statement should:
- Be in a format that you can check regularly, and easily recognize
- Clearly remind you of the values you most believe in, and the principles you want to uphold
- Exist in a way that you can update it over time as you refine your ideas, and clarify your values
And that’s about it for the rules. From there, it is up to you to determine what goes into your unique mission statement, and how you prefer to delineate it.
It can be simple prose, like a paragraph or a page describing your values and mission to yourself. It can also be a simple bulleted list of statements to yourself (this is what I do). Or if you’re especially creative, it could be in the form of a poem, an infographic, even a painting. So long as it meets the three guidelines above, it can take whatever shape you like.
How to Get Yours Started
Whatever format you go with, start small. Ask yourself what is most important to you in how you live your life, jot down a few things, and go from there. You only need a few of your most basic beliefs to start with. With time, thought, and further life experience, it will become clear to you what is missing from your mission statement, what can be refined, and what no longer fits. There will likely be lots of these changes at first, but it will solidify over time.
Though perhaps “solidify” isn’t the best metaphor, because it should never be set in stone. Give your statement room to grow alongside yourself.
It takes a while to expand and refine this artifact to be something that truly reflects your principles and serves as a valuable guidepost in your life. This is not something that is made on one fine day and then set for life. It is slowly refined through ongoing experience and the combination of many moments of clarity. This is the difficult thing about a personal mission statement, but also what gives it such power. It takes the tightly-packed wisdom and clarity of your past, and turns it into a guiding hand to help you navigate your present and future.
My Personal Mission Statement
Okay. I’m a little nervous about this, but I’m going to share my own personal mission statement with you. Partly as a tangible example of what we’re talking about (here are some more examples), but also to let you in and get to know me a little better.
My personal mission statement is (currently) 15 short phrases that remind me of what I have discovered is most important to me. I started this list years ago, and still review it nearly every day, occasionally tweaking it as I go. It has helped me countless times, and continues to remind me of what I strive for. It guides me through low moments as well as high ones, and keeps me on track with my best understanding of who I want to be. Okay, seems like enough preamble. Here is my personal mission statement, listed in no particular order:
- Make time to think
- Give and earn respect
- Attack problems, not people
- Listen twice, speak once
- Give love freely
- Lead through action
- Do more with less
- Find opportunity in challenges
- Be better today
- Take health seriously
- Never stop learning
- Celebrate every day
- Subtract the negatives first
- Keep the goal in mind
- Nurture good relationships
These are not goals. There will be no moment in my life when I “complete” them. These are the principles that help me to live my life the way I want to, and be the person I want to be. What are yours? You may have a fuzzy idea already, but without building a personal mission statement of your own, you’ll never know for sure. Start something imperfect today, check back with it often, and give it room to grow right along with you!