In the previous article, we discussed the three questions that can change your life forever.
Who am I? Where do I want to go? How do I get there?
Many readers commented that these questions are easier asked than answered. You are absolutely right. They are.
However, we need to remember that as children and adolescents, we learnt first how to read and then to write; then to do maths and understand complex concepts in chemistry and social science. None of these were easy when we began. Each subject took time and effort and hard work to learn and master.
These life questions, too, need focus and study and commitment. As in any learning, the time you spend is a worthwhile investment in yourself. And the returns can be amazing.
Let us recap what we know of mission or purpose. Who am I?
Your mission statement is your unique identity – it describes who you are, what motivates you, what and what is really important to you.
It articulates what success looks like to you.
It crystallises your aspirations, hopes and dreams.
It integrates the various parts of you, drives focus, and defines your ‘Why’.
(At this point, I would strongly recommend Simon Sinek’s amazing 2009 TED Talk, where Mr Sinek eloquently discusses how understanding one’s purpose leads to inspiration and success, both for organisations and for people)
Finally, the true brilliance of a mission statement is that, in addition to defining your WHY, it does two seemingly contrary things – one, it establishes boundaries, and two, it gives you freedom.
What? you ask. How can creating boundaries give me freedom?
That is an understandable first reaction. I agree – boundaries are rarely associated with freedom.
But think about it this way – boundaries are essential if we want to avoid distractions and focus on the things that we find most fulfilling. Setting clear boundaries relieves you of uncertainty.
Once we have set the boundaries for what we will and will not do in our life, whenever we come across anything outside those boundaries, we don’t have to even think or worry or agonise about it.
This frees us to focus our mind and energies on pursuing what we really want, without diversion or disturbance.
In my case, as part of writing my mission statement many years ago, I realised something about myself. I was a coward. I was very risk averse. Uncertainty of any form stressed me out and paralysed me. This realisation helped me recognise that I would never be an entrepreneur. I needed the safety and comfort of a monthly salary cheque. Once I had this clarity, I focussed on my corporate career, built a vision that would lead me to becoming a CEO, which gave me an immense sense of satisfaction and achievement. Through my career, I encountered many proposals to start or join start-ups. I did not have to agonise over these. Each time, I said thank you, but no thank you – this is not who I am. My mission statement released me from decisions that could have cost me tremendous amounts of time, effort and mindshare, and allowed me to focus on my core aspiration.
So, how do we create a mission statement?
A meaningful personal mission statement needs you to introspect and ask yourself questions and understand four aspects of yourself.
One, know your personality, emotions and motivations. (What makes you happy? What angers you? What excites you? How do you react? What do you covet? What do you ignore?)
Two, know your values, beliefs and principles. (What will you stand up for? What will you fight for? What will you walk away from? What keeps you awake?)
Three, know your interests, passions and drivers. (What do you look forward to doing? During which parts of your life did you feel truly energised? What do you postpone? What bores you to tears?)
Four, know your strengths, talents and skills. (List your inventory – all the assets that you have and use. You will be surprised at how much you have, which you have never noticed!)
This leads to you knowing who you are. By truly knowing yourself, you are ready for the next step, which is to answer the following four questions:
- What do I really want out of life?
- What do I want my life to stand for?
- What do I believe is my purpose in life?
- What am I uniquely capable of achieving?
The answers, collated and summarised in one or two paragraphs, will form your personal mission statement, your statement of purpose.
What is the best method to define your purpose? You can surely do this by yourself, but if you can identify and work with an experienced mentor or life coach who will guide you through the process, it makes the exercise easier, faster and even enjoyable.
What do mission statements look like?
Recently, I met a dedicated teacher, Joell, who shared his mission statement with me. “I want to inspire positive change through teaching and coaching”, he said, “and by doing so, create opportunities for today’s youth.”
A close friend, Tanya, who is a home-maker wrote on her blog, “I want to establish a happy, healthy and joy-filled home, based on the right values and living by the right principles. I will ensure that my family greets every morning with joy and anticipation, and lay their heads down every night with a feeling of satisfaction.”
David, a CEO friend whom I respect tremendously, laid out his purpose, “I want to create value through leading people in delivering services that contribute to the betterment of the industry.”
And finally, Rita, a former colleague, who is a now business director with a global IT services company. Recently, she recounted this anecdote in a company town-hall meeting:
“I was 33 years old. I was unhappy and dissatisfied. I was going through the motions in my career and my life, but not really enjoying what I did. This general misery was bleeding into my marriage and my relationships with my friends.
“I did not understand why. All in all, I had had a good childhood, a lovely family and a reasonably decent career. But something was missing.
“I joined Shesh’s team in 2006. In one of our first meetings, he asked me what I wanted from life. That was the first time anyone had asked me this question. I tried to answer, and after some stammering, realised that I had absolutely no idea.
“We spoke about the need for a purpose and a vision. In the beginning, I was sceptical. These seemed very theoretical ideas. Over the next few weeks, I thought more and more about my purpose. Finally, I asked for a few days leave, and spent these reading everything I could about personal missions and visions and roadmaps. I realised what I was missing. I was going through life without knowing my why, my where or my how.
“That was the busiest ‘holiday’ in my life. By the time I returned to work, I had drafted my own mission and vision statement. For the first time, I knew with certainty who I was, what I wanted and where I wanted to go.
“I went back to Shesh and shared this with him. Together, we analysed what I had done, and polished the statements. Thereafter, we scheduled and had three meetings over weekends to work out a practical roadmap for me to achieve what I aspired.
“It is now 13 years. Every day of these 13 years has been fulfilling and meaningful. I get up every morning with anticipation and I go to bed every night with satisfaction. My career has bloomed; I am doing exactly what I want with the team I want. I am learning and growing all the time. I believe I am a more effective manager, a more capable leader, a better mother, a more supportive spouse and a more reliable friend. I am truly happy.”
Discovering and living your purpose guarantees you meaning, fulfilment and happiness.
Photo: Alan Light