Personal Mission Statements and Leading a Meaningful Life

I vividly recall a meeting several years ago with one of my executive coaching clients when we were about two weeks into our working relationship. She walked into the room, obviously very excited to share something with me. She placed a two-page document on the table between us and declared: “I want to discuss mission statements today!” It was clear that these pages represented hers. She then asked me to share my own mission statement before we discussed hers and my client eagerly took out her notebook to write down what she assumed would be a lengthy description of my own mission statement.

“It is only two words, so there is no need to take notes.” I said, much to her bewilderment.

“How can that be? I want to hear your mission statement and there is no way it is only two words!”

I smiled at her and said: “If you will let me finish, I will tell you. My mission statement is simple: serve others.”

Now she was totally flabbergasted. “I just don’t see how that can be your mission statement. Mine is almost two pages!”

“Well, when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I probably had something that looked like yours. But, as I have grown older, I have embraced simplicity and come to realize that I get everything I need in this life by putting others before myself. I learned this lesson from my parents, countless life experiences and my faith. By serving the needs of others I make a living and support my family through my coaching, consulting, books and speaking. I am part of a worthwhile mission by helping others achieve their full potential. My company is called Serviam Partners and Serviam is Latin for ‘I Will Serve’. I love what I do and feel very fortunate that my work and mission are so aligned.”

She was speechless as she took all of this in. We carefully reviewed her two-page mission statement and eventually got it down to two sentences from the original two pages. Much of it sounded like a master’s thesis in college and we removed the unnecessary and superfluous language. She gained greater clarity and focus with a simple and more focused version of what her mission was meant to be.  Whenever we touch base all these years later, we always talk about this mission statement conversation and she has frequently encouraged me to share the story with others.

What is your mission?

Many of the leaders I have encountered over the years struggle to answer this question. They are often successful by the world’s standard, but feel strongly that something important is missing in their lives and they lack direction and purpose. If compelled to come up with something, they typically offer a rambling version of what my client shared at the beginning of this post.

Mission statements should be clarifying, aspirational and actionable. In my opinion, the most meaningful mission statements are connected to giving and lived in the service of others. They are not created for show and have deep personal meaning. As every day begins, we should know with every fiber of our being what this mission is and how we will integrate our actions and words into making this mission come to life. Your mission statement will ultimately serve as a guideline for all of your habits, routines, decisions, and future goals.

Here are a few relevant examples:

  • If the mission is to be the best mom or dad you can be, go to work determined to do excellent work to financially support your family. Be clear about your boundaries and strive for better work/life balance. When spending time with the family, give them your full attention and avoid distractions. Make work serve your family, instead of having them serve your work.
  • If the mission is to serve your community and great causes, consider each day how to utilize your influence in getting your company, work colleagues and extended network to support the community in which you work and the causes that matter to you. I have a son with autism and I have never hesitated to promote autism awareness and enlist support for helping people on the autism spectrum from my work colleagues and friends.
  • If the mission is simply to be happy, consider carefully those actions, experiences and people that bring you happiness and strive to spend as much time doing these things with this group of people as often as you can. Also consider that igniting happiness in others each day is another way to fulfill this mission.

If you are looking for practical steps on how to get started in defining your mission statement, try these four steps:

  1. Make a list of your core values. What are the principles by which you wish to live each day? Where do your values come from? How do I think/act from a values-inspired perspective every day?
  2. Make a list of your skills/talents. What are you good at? What can you offer to others?
  3. Make a list of everything you care about. Family? Friends? Community? Excelling at your career? Learning new skills?
  4. Boil it down to something simple. What is the simplest way possible to live out your values, maximize your skills/talents in the service of the things/people you care about each day to facilitate greater happiness and a sense of mission? For me, this exercise led me to understand that a determined focus on serving others was the most effective way to serve God, my family, friends, clients, the community and live out my values. This service brings me fulfillment and joy and permeates everything I attempt to do each day.

I shared this post because knowing who you are and what you are called to do is a critical component of living a more meaningful life…and a strong personal mission statement can help you get there. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I was focused on climbing the corporate ladder as fast as possible with little understanding of what I would do if/when I reached the top. After a 25-year career in Corporate America, I launched Serviam Partners in 2013. One of the primary motivators for starting the company was my desire to more intentionally fulfill my mission of serving others in all areas of my professional and personal life. It is important to realize that mission statements can and should evolve/change over time. My mission statement at 32 is vastly different from the mission statement I now have in my early 50’s.

Probably the greatest revelation for me over the years has been the sense of peace and joy I feel which only comes from helping and serving other people. I work every day through my coaching, consulting, books and speaking engagements to influence positive outcomes for the people I encounter in my life. I make a lot of mistakes and certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am clear about my goals and my desire to take the right approach in the service of others. The path to get here had many twists and turns, but I have attempted to be very intentional along the way and am grateful for the countless lessons from this journey.

I encourage you to reflect carefully today on this idea of a personal mission statement. If you have one, kudos to you! If not, I hope this post will be a source of encouragement and help you develop one for yourself. It has made a tremendous difference in my life and will in yours as well.

Good luck.

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