Why Everyone Should Have a Personal Mission Statement

Ten years ago, I carried a 3×5 index card in my pocket everywhere I went. Every time I saw someone demonstrate an attribute or behavior that I liked, I jotted it down. If I noticed I was in a particularly good mood, I’d try to figure out why and add that to the card.

By the end of the summer, I had filled up two cards (front and back) and started a third. I spent the next month reviewing the cards, looking for patterns and common themes. Eventually, I was able to distill the cards down to four bullet points.

I printed them on a small piece of card stock, laminated it, and put it in my wallet, in that visible slot where you’re supposed to put your driver’s license. Every time I opened my wallet, I saw these four points, and I’d remember something about the kind of man I was trying to be.

Everyone should have a personal mission statement. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to shape your life, from what you do day-to-day to the goals you set, the jobs you take, and the person you become.

Photo courtesy of © iStockPhoto / Irochka_T

A mission statement:

  • reminds you of who you want to be. It’s easy to feel connected with a higher sense of purpose when you’re planning in solitude. What about when you get home from work, dinner’s running late, the game’s about to start, and your daughter wants you to read Imogene for the eighth (ninth?) time today. A mission statement can help you sustain that vision when you’re out on the battlefield. You have a clear sense of purpose. You know how you should respond.
  • doesn’t have to be a paragraph of business management jargon. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be. (I admit mine is dangerously close.) It can be a word (like the twelve virtues Benjamin Franklin cycled through), a poem, a song, a painting, or a dance. One of my favorites I saw on the back of a semi for a shipping company: “We help the world keep promises.” Beautifully simple.
  • should be written like it’s going to serve forever. Don’t worry—you can change it at any time. As we grow and change, our priorities shift. Or focus in life changes. It’s entirely appropriate to have our mission in life change to reflect that. But when you write your mission statement, phrase it with a sense of permanence. There’s something about that which our subconscious finds appealing.
  • is a personal constitution. The Constitution is the highest law of the United States. Every other law enacted at any level of government must adhere to its principles. A mission statement serves as a personal constitution, giving us a framework to guide our decisions, from our life plan all the way down to the heat of daily battle.

  • has personal meaning and significance. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. If it does, it won’t mean as much to someone else as it does to you. That’s okay. This is about who you want to be and how you are going to get there.

Several times over the last decade, I’ve sat down to revisit my mission statement. Some day, I might actually change it. I’m amazed that I was able to capture so much so succinctly. Those four lines still mean a lot to me. They still serve me well. I’m not yet the man I want to be, but they’re pointing me in the right direction.

Question: Do you have a personal mission statement? Have you found it helpful? Do you think it would help if you did? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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