Personal Mission Statement

Some people are lucky. They know what they want to do from the moment they hit middle school, maybe even sooner. But not me.

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Salem Sunrise

Some people are lucky.  They know what they want to do from the moment they hit middle school, maybe even sooner.  Some people look at their personal path extending back into childhood, remembering a love of writing, or horses, or cars, or math.  Although I, like Arthur J. Miller Jr. think that we can look back at childhood skills and flow experiences and point to innate skills, it’s not always easy to put together these things into a coherent career path and say “Well, I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter!”

Here’s a taste of my winding 12 year path –

  • I loved reading and writing and wrote my college essays about how I dreamed of starting a girls magazine.
  • By the time I graduated from college I thought I wanted to open a bakery in Seattle, building an intentional living community and hosting speakers.
  • Two years out of college I talked about my dream to manage a retirement community and direct activities for older adults.
  • A year or so into my first adult job I loved watching our therapists at work and I started taking courses at night with the hope of being a nutritionist (or maybe a physical therapist, or occupational therapist) and helping people reach their goals for healthy living and pain-free work.
  • Five years ago I wrote a different personal statement for graduate school about how I was excited to learn how to provide the structure and organizational development needed for people to flourish in the workplace, and for businesses to achieve better outcomes.

When I considered the various interests I’d had and what I wanted to accomplish, you couldn’t just point to them and say well, it’s “obvious” you’ve “always” wanted to work in a particular industry, doing a particular job.  Although the liberal arts are widely mocked as not pointing to a specific career – not every person can say they’ve always wanted a specific career.

I didn’t have one unifying vision throughout these 12 years post high-school to gain a specific position.  What did I do during this ambiguous time?  I explored my values and beliefs, as well as a wide variety of fields like social work, sociology, biology, psychology, business.  I tried out hobbies like leading an exercise group, taking courses in grant writing and anatomy & physiology, and volunteering with the SalemRecycles committee.  And let’s not forget attempting to be a North Shore Blogger.

This May I got a position as an HR Coordinator handling recruiting, organizational development activities, and organizing training opportunities at a small company.  I am happy here. For now.

Still, the story of Eric Liddell, the runner profiled in Chariots of Fire, haunted me. The famous line from the movie – “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure” –  is endlessly presented in Christian blog posts as the ultimate construction of how you can know what you’re designed to do, a personal mission statement.

And goddamn it, I wanted a mission statement too!

I wanted it because I believe a personal mission statement provides overarching guidance on what activities you should choose to spend your time on.  Life is equally about knowing your priorities and what you should do, and carefully choosing what you won’t.  This quote by Steve Jobs says it well, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”  In August of this year that I was finally able to articulate what my mission statement is for my life.

So here it is –

My mission is to aggregate information, to create connections, and to stimulate reflection.

And when I do those things, I do indeed feel God’s pleasure.

This is a mission statement that fits in well with human resources, but this is a mission statement that could equally well apply to another career path I might pursue, such as a teacher, a therapist, a community organizer, a career coach.  Therefore, it’s a mission statement that can grow with my own experiences and expand to hold my ambitions. Looking at my previous career aspirations, it could have fit equally well for me if I’d been the director of a retirement facility, as if I’d been the editor of a magazine.

Ultimately those three actions are the way I orient my life, and the way I create value on teams.

How do I aggregate information? I read a lot. A lot.  But I don’t just read that information and keep it, I pass it on. Hence, creating connection.

Create connections?  I’m not a social butterfly, and never have been.  At best, I’m an ambivert, happily making friends one to two at a time, asking my friends for introductions to their friends, and slowly amassing an empire. I don’t do lighthearted easily, I’m much more likely to connect with you at the coffee shop and get your full life story.  Then, I use the information I’ve read, or gleaned from conversations to solve problems, and help improve lives.

How to stimulate reflection?  I’m a reflective person, but I would like to help others live intentional lives by asking open-ended questions that get at the transcendent things of life.

I feel simultaneously comforted and inspired by my mission statement, as though I put a missing piece into place in my life – the final thing I needed to help my values make sense.

What’s next for me?  Well, I’ve got the Mission, and I’ve got the Values, but the truth is – I’m still working on the Vision.

Hopefully sometime in the next 12 years, I’ll figure it out.


Other posts I’ve written about self-reflection you might like:

Creating a habit of Self-Reflection

5 Ways to Know Thyself!

Age-Blind, Experience Rich.

I was obsessed with my RA in college.  She was equal parts friendly and sarcastic,  her humor was at times sophisticated and other times involved a lot of poop jokes.   She had a phobia of feet, and the fact that I can remember this twelve years later, but hardly any of my freshman year classes, amuses me.  I lived on her floor for 2.5 years, only spending one semester in off-campus housing.  Because I ended up graduating a year early, we were in the same graduating class.  Still, she seemed much older and wiser, and I looked up to her.

In much the same way, I met plenty of other people who were a year, maybe two, ahead of me at college, and they all seemed laden with knowledge I would never acquire, always scrambling to catch up to their achievements.

Then I graduated, and suddenly the artificial construct of grades fell away completely within a few short years.  In the closeness of the North Shore I met plenty of people who had also gone to Gordon College, had been a few years ahead of me, behind me and we hadn’t managed to meet during our time on campus.  I felt that we were all in this together, all the same age, all sharing a similar past experience.

I also started making plenty of non-Gordon friends, some who were 4 or 5 years older than I, even 10. Others were 3 or 4 years younger.  Age started to blur even more as other significant milestones took their place – marriage, baby making, house buying, promotions, second degrees, business starting.  The type of things that happen to different people, at different times.

MSGraduation

Still, I sometimes run into those people I had classes with who were, like my RA, seemingly older and wiser during our college years.  The senior in the lit class, when I was only a sophomore.  It will come as a shock that they were often only six months, maybe a year older than I was, that in fact, we were the same age.   I find myself still somehow mentally believing in their extra wisdom.  Turning to them for advice, checking my assumptions against their vast experience.

The older I get, the more time I spend making new friends, and then the more I find myself to be strengthening ties with wise and mentoring people, regardless of their actual, or perceived ages.  I’ve also been happy to find myself able to be the “wise” friend some of the time too, although this role still scares me.  More and more, I want to become like a woman I know who someone described as “age-blind.” Her friend’s ages span decades on either side of her own.

There is wisdom to be found in people of all ages, whether six months older than me, or sixteen years, or sixty.  So I hope, pray, that I’ll be able to find it.

The first 30 days of 30

In my first 30 days of being 30 I started on some new projects – like learning to play banjo, improving paltry my Excel skills, buying a smartphone and getting a job!  I also fought the same nemeses I grappled with in my twenties – lack of focus, despondency, days of purposelessness, flashes of anger.  Unfortunately I didn’t wake up on April 3rd I with flawless self-control, enduring positivity, and perfect poise.

Idly, I wondered about various immature things I still do – Should I still be putting my knees on the back of the pew at church and slumping during long sermons?  Staying up until 2:30 am reading fantasy novels?  On runs around the park I considered if the Christmas weight stuck with me because my metabolism slowed? Or because I eat dessert every day? What is with this tight calf muscle that won’t go away? Why do I still have all these pimples?

As I’m helping a professor with her tenure porfolio and sorting through conference presentations, professional memberships, and board obligations I’m impressed with her C.V. and consider my own short resume.  What are my priorities in for the next ten years? Are the ones I came up with a few years ago still relevant? Do I want to continue investing my time writing these blog posts or should I spend more time writing the rough draft of my eBook on career change in your 20s? Should I be reaching out to be on the board of a nonprofit the way I always have wanted?  Should I look for more speaking opportunities?

But so far, overall, I’m happy.

Outsize Influences in my life

Three people with an outsize influence on my sense of self-efficacy, skills, and personality.

One of the things I wanted to tackle on my 30 before 30 list was acknowledging people who have had an outsize influence in my life.  I chose 3 people, but of course, there are many.

Dad:

My dad is the archetypal engineer.  Task oriented, outcome focused, brusque, somewhat exacting.  Nuggets like “Most of life is just showing up, ON TIME” would often march from his mouth, typically as I scurried into the car on a Sunday morning after he’d already started the engine.  As a kid, my weekends were filled with one project or another my dad wanted to do and needed me and my siblings to help with.  All the projects were carefully mapped out with seemingly interminable multi-page lists.  Building a back porch.  Stacking wood.  Digging a hole to put in a pool.  None of my other friend’s dads were so ambitious or orderly.  Weekdays he would patiently suffer through crying algebra tutoring sessions, insisting that I “show my work” so he could improve my problem solving and decision making. In large part, my ability (and desire) to do big things was fostered by this environment, I was becoming a person with a strong sense of self-efficacy.  Anything could be done, with the right amount of research, the correct process, and an ability to continue trying until it came out right.

Luckily, for me, it has turned out being an adult is basically the same as building a back porch.  Determine what you can do with the environment you’ve got, research, make lists, and then just keep nailing one board in after the other.

High School English teacher:

Ms. English Teacher wore sweater sets, khaki skirts, and purple Doc Martens.  She was in her mid-twenties, barely older than us, and corrected our papers in vibrant splashes of inimitable (though we tried) pink, green, and orange pen.  She was nerdy-cool before I realized that was truly possible.  I had her as a junior for English and chose her elective Creative Writing, where the phrase “skittered and bobbed” imprinted in my memory as an example of superlative prose.  Her dictum on writing papers, “The beginning is important and the end is important, but the end is more important than the beginning”  I repeated endlessly to struggling peers.  It’s to her credit that I can recognize appeals to pathos, logos, and ethos.  After I ended up reluctantly in college, it was to her influence that I chose English as my major. Freewriting, short stories, poetry.  I attempted all these things in her creative writing class, learned that I loved to edit, and honed a skill I didn’t realize would go on to become my strongest tool, writing.  Through her love of teaching and language, I received a gift and skill I can continue to use my entire life.

Toughest Coworker Ever (TCE):

TCE was my personality opposite, though we never compared Myers Briggs, alas, I’m sure she would have mirrored my own ENTJ. An older woman, nearly 60, she had been a military brat as a child, and experienced a difficult and traumatizing car accident as a young adult, which she referred to frequently.  Widely read and curious, her forays down informational back roads, and insistence on endlessly seeking input from our clients irked me.  She had a gentle interpersonal style and worked well in 1:1 situations.  The multitasking and frequent interruptions in our work environment wore her down, flustered her.  She wanted to process events at the end of the day, I wanted to finish paperwork.  She wanted to determine the best course of action, I wanted to get things done.  Our clashes were epic, not because of their volume, but because of the dwindling goodwill which eventually froze the room to an icy standstill.  This was the real world initiation I had to topics like academic psychological topics like motivation and personality.

If not for TCE, I would be at the mercy of all the flaws of the ENTJ personality.  Likely, I would still be a steamroller, barrelling down the hallways of whatever work or volunteer situation I ended up in, convinced my way was not only right, but the only way to get things done.  I would not have learned the value of seeking diverse opinions, nor would I have read the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  I would never want to return to the stress of the year and a half that we worked together, but then again, it would be impossible for me to return as the same person who caused those misunderstandings.


What about you?  Are there people who have had an outsize influence on you?  Taught you what it meant to be a responsible person?  Given you tools and skills you use to this day?  Caused you to reexamine how you saw the world and yourself?


Be Beth.

Be Beth. Why acknowledging what you like to do is a key part of growing up. Or… why I shouldn’t make resolutions to drink more.

happiness projectc overI am re-reading Gretchen Rubin’s book ‘The Happiness Project’ for the third time cover-to-cover.  I am always struck by her artful blend of practical and theoretical wisdom, all the while championing check charts, clean closets, and community.  It’s no wonder that I feel we’re similar.  Also, like Gretchen, I hate shopping, love YA literature, and take notes for no obvious reason.

Yet another way we’re similar is the wish to have other interests.  As she puts it, “Just because something was fun for someone else, didn’t mean it was fun for me… I love the idea of playing chess, going to a lecture on international markets, doing crossword puzzles, getting a pedicure, eating dinner at a hot new restaurant, or having season tickets to the Knicks. (115)”  Yet, she ultimately decides that a major Secret of Adulthood is “Be Gretchen,” to “acknowledge to myself what I enjoyed, not what I wish I enjoyed (116).”

Why am I reflecting on this now?

My 30th birthday is in six weeks and I’m trying to neatly package up the 30 by 30 list in (recycled) wrapping paper with a bow on top. If all goes as I hope, I will finish 19 of the items (possibly 22).  (Don’t forget I had to discard 2 items after multiple failed attempts) Yet, two of the items are staring me in the face, really simple items.  If I cared about them, these would have been knocked these off the list in the first 2 days of the project, and I would have been knocked out from the liquor content.

Learn to make 5 drink recipes by memory.

Learn four new functions on my camera (you know, to complement my full knowledge of how to use the auto function).

Yet, I’m sitting here at night, after my son is in bed with my full cup of… coffee, and adhering the last piece of tape to the box with my busted camera, ready to be sent to New York for repairs.

paintnight

My list of things I wish I enjoyed: attending rock concerts, going to paint nights, salsa and swing dancing, drinking alcohol, and taking pictures.

I hate admitting I’m totally apathetic about doing these things!  I feel strange for saying that, because everyone I know really loves and is passionate about them!

In fact, I have spent years coming up with sophisticated reasons for why I don’t like drinking, or taking pictures, not to mention the other 3.   Most people don’t even think about taking pictures, they just do it.   I’ve been known to say things like “I’m not that visually oriented.”  Yet, I’m as prone as anyone to oversaturate on pinterest and get all geeked up over a good infographic.  But, pull out my phone? Remember to bring my d-SLR with me?  Yeah, right.

As for alcohol, while I genuinely dislike most beers without fruit in them, I do enjoy a good mixed drink. I did learn how to make a Dark and Stormy, and it’s very similar cousin, the Moscow Mule.  However, I quickly lost interest in tasting various rums (another hobby I wish I had) or mastering the Margarita and perfecting a Cosmopolitan.  I’d rather just drink coffee. Or seltzer. Or hot chocolate. Even better, I’d rather eat dessert or any sweet food.  Weeks can go by, and I don’t drink alcohol, or even think about it.

Winter break Books

What additional items on the 30 before 30 list would have reflected a more genuine attempt to “Be Beth?”

My list doesn’t have any reading goals!  This absence is like a car with no engine.  Reading is a core aspect of who I am, and without adding it, I didn’t get very far, or acknowledge that a lot of my goals assumed I’d be reading.  It would be as if Lena Dunham decided to make a 30 by 30 list for herself this year, and yet didn’t set any writing goals.

Creating reading goals seemed like a cop-out, I was going to read whether I put it on the list of not!  However, it also ignored what it means to “Be Beth.”  This is definitely an example of poor self-knowledge, which is a key part of becoming an adult.  Case in point, my progress toward making mixed drinks included buying a book for to learn how to do it.

Lesson learned!  In the future, maybe when it comes to making that 5-year family plan, I’ll acknowledge who I really am.

Now… maybe I should just focus on making 5 mocktails from memory?

Why I Participate in Lent

Three reasons I participate in a season of Lent; community, reflection, intentional living.

Artist Chris Clark's rendition of Jesus using quilting.
Artist Chris Clark’s rendition of Jesus.

This year, Lent takes place for the seven weeks between Wednesday, February 18 and Saturday, April 4.  There are 3 reasons for why I participate in Lent.

Lent is public yet simultaneously exclusive, private, yet simultaneously communal.

I love a good paradox, and Lent seems to be that.  Although the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are more commercial, Lent has not become that way, and frankly, probably won’t.   A season devoted to giving things up? How can you capitalize on that*.  Therefore, I don’t have to listen to ads for Lent, buy special products for Lent, and start complaining about Lent decorations in late January.  More on Lent decorations in a minute.  However, Lent isn’t so foreign, at least in Catholic Massachusetts, that people don’t know what it is.  Nevertheless, few people care about Lent who aren’t fellow followers of Jesus, or practice any of the traditions.  Also, the significance lies both in personal change and devotion, as well as a communal acknowledgement of our collective necessity for self-discipline, change, and reliance on God.  Therefore, I find it public, but simultaneously exclusive; private, yet simultaneously communal.

Jesus praying in Gethsemene

Lent is a time for reflection.

This is a habit I’m diligently enfolding in my life with intent for behavioral change and spiritual growth.  It also means a few more lines to my check charts.  While reading in Mala Power’s 1985 book Follow the Year with Ethan I loved these lines,

The first day of Lent is named Ash Wednesday.  In nature many things have to wither and decay and turn to ash before new life can spring forth.  Early Christians held that before each person can experience the new life of Easter Time, he has to let some of his faults and bad habits die away and thus ‘turn to ash.’

Which faults and bad habits will I let die?

Lent is a time of being intentional. 

I acknowledge all that I have, and give up some of it for a season.  I’ll be giving up taking baths (but will not give up ‘bathing,’ don’t worry), an activity I love, and instead donating money to Charity:Water in remembrance that what I often take for granted, others don’t have at all.  I also want to kick some of my worst eating habits, such as eating after 8pm by re-framing it as “fasting after 8pm” and like many others, eliminate sweet things from my diet in favor of simpler food.

Another, harder change, one of the aforementioned bad habits and faults, is that I would like to stop be-laboring the point with my husband.  I’m not a nag, really, but when I latch onto a thing I wish he would change, it’s as though I’m attempting to prove the folly of his ways for a dissertation.  One hundred pages seems like just enough space to cover why leaving socks on the floor is the worst, most despicable, trait in the history of mankind. That is, until you get me going about leaving tupperware in his workbag.  I’d like to replace this negative pastime with a more positive one – like doing one special thing daily, such as actually taking my fair share of turns putting our son to bed.

Will I decorate for Lent?  Likely a few touchstones will make their way into our house.  A few years ago I created these items and wrote a blog post about it.  Perhaps adding a few pages to my altered book will help me spend time in reflection.  Searching for “folk art Jesus” and “Mixed Media Icons” have inspired me to try and fill what is currently a void.  If you haven’t heard about creating calendar nuns for Lent, you might enjoy this cute, brief, story and craft.  This website also details traditions for Ash Wednesday, many of which are family friendly, and other Lenten customs.

Will you celebrate Lent? Practice Reflection? Give up anything?


 

My brother-in-law has written several posts about Lent that I highly recommend reading.

Give Lent a Chance!

Is Lent Really 40 Days Long?

Bible Reading Plans for Lent

*My pet theory about MacDonalds filet-o-fish sandwich is that it’s designed for the 7 weeks Catholics can’t chow down on burgers.  I don’t want to know if that’s true.

In Praise of Box Checking

checkheart

We live in a culture that prizes emotions and passion.

In our romantic relationships we search for our “true love,” preferably “at first sight.”

In our education and careers we’re dared to “follow your dreams.”

In our faith we’re proudly taught to declare we have “a relationship, not a religion.”

And so, the idea that growth – in love, career, education, and faith – can come through carefully following a formula, and checking a box daily doesn’t sit well with the modern zeitgeist.

We ignore, at our own peril, the wisdom of authors and notables of past eras, Benjamin Franklin comes to mind, that practice and daily check charts are the way to improve.

Surely, box checking is a rote, mechanistic way of living life? If we peck our significant other on the lips a 5 times per day, that can’t really lead to more love can it? If we read Leviticus 13 and 14 just to check it off the Bible-In-A-Year check chart, that surely can’t lead to spiritual growth, right?

Yet, William James, famed psychologist, and one of the first scientists to hypothesize and note that rather than actions arising out of emotions, our emotions come out of our actionsCurrent research indicates that participants who are tricked (!) into smiling feel better, even without a stimulus present to make them feel happier.

In the words of one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, I need to “Act the way I want to feel.”

Perhaps, instead of box checking being the problem, it’s the mistaken idea that that these small habits will not add up to measurable and meaningful change?  Or worse, that we much check all the boxes.  Certain measures of love, career growth, and faith may be foundational to success and mastery, but they aren’t all equally important or useful to everyone. Then it becomes important to know our own values and personality before we can determine which ones to practice, and how we’ll do so.

Rather than waiting for a feeling of ‘readiness’ to strike us, we must create habits and patterns that force us to follow actions that allow an atmosphere of careful growth, even if this studious approach seems somewhat counter-intuitive to more contemporary mindsets of love, creativity, and passion in pursuit of ambitious dreams.


PS: You might also like my post about why your priorities aren’t the same thing as a to-do list.