Personal Mission Statement

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As a kid, I didn’t belabor over this question.

When I was 5, I wanted to be a hairstylist because I loved climbing up onto the back of the couch to comb my maternal grandfather’s soft, wispy white hair.

In elementary school, I wanted to be a pediatrician because I personally hated hospitals (still do) and wanted to be the person who helped kids feel better. (To this day, I still think all of the whimsical elements that make children’s hospitals great should be applied to hospitals for the general population – why can’t adult hospital rooms be painted in bright colors, or have teddy bears to hug?)

In middle school, I wanted to be a writer, particularly a poet – and enjoyed a class project where I created an “exhibit” of personal poetry based on life events or sentimental items.

By the time high school rolled around, this question became a bit more serious and less obvious. I loved Astronomy and Cosmology, but found Calculus very challenging. I enjoyed Chemistry, but wanted to work with people instead of substances. History was intriguing (and I’ve always loved stories of how things came to be) but I was more interested in technology and things of the future. English remained a passion, but I wasn’t convinced I was the next Thoreau or Frost. The social sciences (Economics, Psychology, Sociology) made sense to me, and seemed very applicable to understanding both interpersonal and societal issues – but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a therapist, or an academic researcher.

In college, I found Industrial-Organizational Psychology, which seemed like a niche I could belong to. I liked the psychological underpinnings of the field and the ability for its theories/research to be readily applied to real-world scenarios (workplaces, organizations, etc.) and thus create real and tangible improvement for people in the area of their adult lives in which they would likely spend the most time (work!). I’ve now followed that trajectory through undergrad and a Masters program, and think a PhD is the next logical step.

But even if a PhD is the next move, what will my life be like beyond that? I know I am not the type to commit myself to 30 years in one type of profession/job, I’m going to need lots of variety, with new ideas to consider, new projects to tackle, and new people to meet/learn from. Granted a PhD offers lots of flexibility- there are teaching opportunities, research, consulting/industry projects- but will that be enough? I also need a creative outlet, and the ability to find meaning in what I do by directly impacting people.

And what if a PhD is not the next move? Would my Master’s enable me to do some work that I find intellectually stimulating (and let’s not forget, self-sustaining/financially supporting) on its own? What if I worked multiple part time jobs, or what if I changed fields entirely?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My peers seem to have it easy. They are lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers…my path is a bit less straightforward, and less conventional in some ways.

What if we changed the question…

“What do you want out of life?”

Now this, I can answer.

I want:

  • an intellectually stimulating life (lots of projects, travel, and learning opportunities)
  • meaningful relationships
  • the ability to create things/ express myself (writing, art, dance, etc.)
  • my health (ability to be mobile and active)
  • a sense of inner peace and self-contentment

The problem is…how do I match “what I want to be” (realizing that I will likely “be” many different things)  with “what I want out of life”?

An industry friend of mine recently said “Sarah, you have goals, but now you need a mission statement – a strategy to achieve those goals.” He’s right.

Of course all three: goals, mission, and strategy/implementation, are interrelated in an integral way – but different in how they function. I need goals to know where I’m going, a mission to guide decisions on how to get there, and strategy to actually dictate action.

So how do I create this personal mission statement? What strategy will lead me to the end game I seek?

Let’s start with a personal mission statement (which, by the way, will take some time).

The well-known Stephen Covey, suggests the following when crafting a personal mission statement:

  • Write down your roles as you now see them. Are you satisfied with the mirror image of your life?
  • Start a collection of notes, quotes, and ideas you may want to use as resource material in writing your personal mission statement.
  • Identify a project you will be facing in the near future and apply the principle of mental creation. Write down the results you desire and what steps will lead you to those results. (Credit: Link)

The Leadership Development Institute at Kent State University also offers these ideas: Personal Mission Statement

Or for those of us that prefer step-by-step action items: Quint Careers- Personal Mission Statement

For now, I’ll start with Covey’s role suggestion. Here are the major roles I currently play and some initial adjectives/thoughts that come to mind. I’ve put a + next to items that might be positive, and a – next to items that might be negative.

Girlfriend

+ supportive, encouraging, playful, loving, affectionate, companion

– cranky, emotionally vulnerable, insecure, uncertain/anxious

Friend

+ supportive, encouraging, caring, friendly, affectionate

– geographically removed, moody

Daughter

+ supportive, caring, affectionate, translator

– emotionally vulnerable, anxious, moody

Sister

+ supportive, playful

– geographically removed, indifferent

Niece/ Cousin (I noticed these had the same descriptors so I combined them)

+ thoughtful, caring

– geographically removed

Colleague

+ insightful, hardworking, collaborative, detailed

– geographically removed, motivation varies

Student

+ patient, hardworking, curious

– motivation varies, misunderstandings, frustrated

Mentee

+ good listener, curious, thoughtful

– motivation varies, misunderstandings, frustrated

Client (Work)

+ hardworking, collaborative, communicative

– geographically removed, misunderstandings, frustrated

Client/Patient

+ collaborative, communicative, willingness to be vulnerable

– misunderstandings, annoyance, lack of privacy

Frequently used words from above:  (+) supportive, curious, collaborative, caring; (-) geographically removed, motivation varies, emotionally vulnerable, misunderstanding

Other things that stood out: I noticed how closely the negatives related to my role as a girlfriend and daughter overlap (familial relationships definitely impact romantic partnerships; I’m sorry Dan), how geographical location impacts lots of my roles/relations, there are many references to communication (listening, misunderstanding, collaboration), and there are many references to motivation and vulnerability.

So to answer Covey’s question, “are you satisfied with the mirror image of your life?” I suppose if the answer were yes, I wouldn’t be crafting a personal mission to begin with, but that aside, no I’m not completely satisfied (and will I ever be completely satisfied is another question entirely).

In doing just the role exercise I notice lots of hints towards themes of traits I’ve always been praised for (caring, supportive) and traits I’ve been criticized for (geographic distance, misunderstanding, etc.). And what I notice is the imbalance – how I seem to be giving more than I’m taking (hence the frequent use of caring, and frequent use of misunderstanding), and how geography plays a larger role than I perhaps give it credit. And I’m somewhat disturbed by the fact that I consider emotional vulnerability to be a negative – I suppose I frame it that way because true emotional vulnerability makes  me feel extremely uncomfortable (which doesn’t exactly feel good), but the irony of course is that I’m seeking deep intimate connections with people (Dan, my family, close friends), so I might need to change my categorization of emotional vulnerability.

At any rate…more on this to come.

Do you have a personal mission statement? How did you determine what your life goals are?

Thanks for reading,
S

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About regulardaze

Hi, I'm Sarah. I enjoy photography, dancing, travel, theatre, delicious food, and learning (constantly, about almost everything imaginable). I currently live in Austin, TX. Thanks for sharing in my thoughts and adventures! :)

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  1. My Story « regulardaze - March 28, 2012

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