Whether you’re still hearing “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or feeling the pangs of mid-life crisis, it’s never too early nor too late to define your personal life mission. Otherwise, you risk years of doing what’s “supposed” to be done or following everyone else’s advice—and never grasping why no amount of outward success alleviates your chronic boredom and unhappiness.
Introduce your children, early on, to the concept of personal mission statements. And if you’ve never written one for yourself, by all means do so now. Make it a family project!
Here’s what makes an effective mission statement:
Most people believe in integrity, spirituality, and loving relationships. But what do these really look like in your mind? What does “your” religious tradition mean to you personally? What appeals to you in others’ traditions? Where does “honesty” mean speaking the truth in love, and where does it allow for letting people make their own mistakes? What “love language” do you speak, and do you love others enough to speak their “language” when a giver or a receiver?
Usually, what we enjoy coincides with what we’re good at. The exact fit isn’t always obvious, though. If your son is a star on the basketball court but loathes the noisy, competitive atmosphere, consider whether his agility might really belong on the ballet stage. (Many passions that differ from what “people like you” are “supposed” to like get shape-shifted into something similar, yet never fully satisfying. Don’t let any gut reaction make you afraid to follow your true passions or support your children in theirs.)
These put passions into concrete form. For the aspiring ballet dancer, a dream might be “become a leading performer in a major ballet company.” Once that is put in a life mission statement, it becomes easier to set the first goals: “complete a basic ballet class”; “get a professional assessment on my potential.” (Note that goals are rarely part of the actual mission statement, which is for a much longer term.)
The more specific and vivid a mission statement, the better. As noted above, “honesty” as a general principle carries less weight than specific pictures of what being honest means to you, and clear dreams rooted in passions have stronger effect than one-word descriptions of the passions.
That said, clarity goes hand in hand with brevity, and you don’t want to stuff your statement to the point of dilution. An effective mission statement rarely is longer than 100 words; rather than allowing for every contingency, it provides a long-term summary to review daily and make other decisions by.
To see examples of personal mission statements, read:
Finally, understand that while personal mission statements are for the long term, they aren’t meant to be forever inalterable. Basic passions and talents are ingrained for life, but their most effective manifestations change and evolve, as does everyone’s self-understanding. Do a solid review of your statement every five years (if you’re under 25, do it annually) and make any needed updates.
God bless you and your life’s mission!