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.

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!

Five Ways to Gain Self Knowledge

5 Ways to Gain Self Knowledge

One of my core beliefs is the importance of Self-Knowledge.

Self Knowledge is vital in order to discover how you should act in the future. Self awareness can help you to be more consistent and authentic in your decision making, to be realistic when goal setting, and to allow yourself make mistakes and build up your areas of weakness.

Sure, I know I’m not a morning person and I love comedies, but I’m referring much deeper information.  I’m thinking more along the lines of what enduring traits do you bring with you to new situation? – or conversely –  how do you manage to get in your own way?

Self-Knowledge may seem as easy as taking a moment to navel-gaze on a quiet weekend, but there are a couple reasons it’s harder than you might think.

One of the biggest obstacles to self knowledge? People are constantly on the lookout for items that reinforce what they think they already know.  We have pre-conceived notions of ourselves that might have been formed in childhood by our parents or certain situations.  As we move through life we are likely to selectively pay attention to the things that confirm those opinions.  This is called confirmation bias. Just ask all those people out there who listened to their friends that told them they “couldn’t make art” and now they think they’re “bad at art.” (Personal belief: It’s impossible to be bad at art. Museum of Bad Art aside for a moment).

Here’s a story from my own life: In high school, I was told that I was a good student and smart.  I also got good grades.  But like I shared over at Connect Shore, I had terrible study skills, rarely looked for connections between subjects, and I just accepted what I read.  I would never have thought to examine my belief that I was a good student when I was younger, because I got good grades.

Here are some ways I’ve used to discover who I really am over the years – you may find them useful as well.

1.  Meet New People.  People tend to stick with friends and others who share the same interests as them, unsurprisingly, but it’s also common to stick within your same age bracket when meeting others. Are all your friends the same age as you?  Consider be-friending those who come from different backgrounds perhaps by volunteering.  Meeting those who are older – perhaps at work, through book clubs or other meetups.  Don’t forget to ask questions about what has made these people who they are – what are some of the defining moments of their lives?

2.  Search for Different Ideas – Ideas and movements change over time. Conservatives of the past used to be some of the most ardent conservationists, desiring to see green spaces preserved for future generations.  Now, much less so. While ideas from the past have changed the way life is today, they have also changed themselves in the process of changing the zeitgeist.  I love the language and imagery that Peter Berger uses to describe societies which are built upon the sedimentation of past novel actions.  Even as we perform our actions we are either harkening back to past times, or perhaps deviating a finite but meaningful amount – then creating a new story or role for future followers.   Reading old books, particularly those before 1970, and books outside of your own discipline can give you these moments of insight into yourself and our collective history.

3. Take a Personality Test.   While  quizzes that reveal which Harry Potter character you are may be endlessly amusing those are hardly the type I’m talking about.  Instead, both popular personality tests like Myers-Briggs and lesser known tests like the DiSC have helped me discover different facets of my personality, as well as providing context for the assessment.  I’ve loved talking a variety of career tests over the years such as the Strengthsfinder and O*Net occupational assessment.  Even serious psychology tests such as the Schema Therapy Test have been insightful, with a little help in interpretation.

4.  Keep a Journal. Journals don’t have to be for recording the day to day humdrum.  They can be for responding to prompts like “ At what point in my life was I the happiest?” “What is one lesson I want to learn from the last 3 months?”  “What do I want to accomplish in the next year?” “How did my parents marriage (and/or divorce) affect the way I see relationships?”  “Who was the biggest influence on the way I see myself.”  Examine defining moments in your life, or perhaps write down things that bother you. I am continually surprised by how much I re-write my own past in discussion, and upon rereading my journals realize I wasn’t nearly as clever –  or wronged –  as I think I was.

5. Create a Council of Friends. As much as you can discover about yourself from objective personality tests or seeing how you differ from others, very little can stand in for trusted friends or experienced mentors.  Although many times it’s tempting to relax with friends and move mindlessly from entertainment to entertainment – don’t neglect soul baring conversations.  Ask tough questions, or analyze past decisions you’ve made in order to discover how you think and what you can improve in the future. Asking for others thoughts on your choices can reveal both strengths and weaknesses.

Hey if it was good enough for the Oracle at Delphi, it’s good enough for me.

//this post was updated from an earlier blog post of the same title.

This I believe…

Artist Lynda Schlosberg captures some of the energy that I felt contemplating these ideas with her painting Matrix 10

Like so many heartfelt posts that I’ve wanted to write, this one has been written well over half a dozen times in google drive: testing, feeling, sounding out which phrases resonate with me.   I haven’t been sure whether to get really practical – as I usually do – or keep things on the level of musing, theoretical, and abstract.  In the end, emotions and ideas won out.

All during September we blogged and thought about Belief at Connect Shore, and so I got curious about what I really truly believed.  What makes me tick?  I couldn’t stop thinking about this for weeks.

As always, I found out as I wrote and tested these ideas  in ‘real world’ conversation, what I think is most shocking are instead the concepts that I talk about non-stop through my actions and facebook posts.  It’s not much of a surprise to others that I believe in these things.  But, the process of working through my core beliefs, all in one place, at one time, was very moving and exhilarating for me.

Actually making my beliefs into tangible tokens took those emotions one step further.  I literally couldn’t sleep for hours one night because I was so excited that I had made these particular beliefs so clear.  And then the next day (figuratively speaking) I was down in the dumps because even though I believe that these are the important things in life… I was worried that my actions don’t always match my beliefs perfectly.  This is something, even after making the cards and contemplating everything I still don’t have an answer for too.

Even though my created trump cards don’t live up to everything I imagined… they come close.  The idea of trump cards makes perfect sense in my head – Beliefs that supercede and engulf small waves of interpretation – like a Queen gobbling up a lowly Eight.  These are abstract principles that unify your life in all it’s seemingly – but not actually – disparate parts.  Principles that are called by so many other names like Core Values or in French – Raisons D’Etre.  These are my foundations. The undergirding of my actions and wishes to act.  They are strings that resonate throughout the symphony of my life; and I hear their tones repeated as point and counterpoint.

As I said, I didn’t want to just write a post about these things I believe, I wanted to illustrate them.

So I created a set of cards detailing six of my very most important beliefs.  I think they can be divided into beliefs that affect my inward life, and beliefs that affect my outward actions.

KnowYourTrumpCards

To sort them out I made lists of catchphrases that have resonated with me throughout my emerging adulthood.  I edited them for those strains which had lasted the longest and recurred the most times.  That is how I got six categories, and many phrases which I have repeated to myself like parables.

Inward Beliefs: Discipline, Wisdom, and Balance


Outward Beliefs: Stewardship, Community, and Hospitality

I realized that these particular beliefs for me are born out of being a Christian, and all of my beliefs spring out of Freedom within a Framework of Faith a phrase I was first introduced to at Gordon College.  I felt that I had to incorporate that somehow.  In order to represent my faith, I included the first line of the Apostles Creed, the essentials that I hold to be true when it comes to Christianity.  They also give me a freedom to practice my other values.   (I know that others can reach these values without a Christian background, but that is how I reached them.)

As I’ve been re-reading the wonderful book Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson I’ve been mindful to treat these values as  “familiar components in the response to new situations.”

I don’t think they’ll change… but maybe other beliefs will replace them over time.  I can only wait and see.

I think I’m pretty funny – Check out the post I wrote on Connect Shore for Monday (today)!

Connect Shore

After I started reflecting about the things that I believe and some of my core values this month – I realized there are a lot of things I believe and act as though they were true… but they aren’t.  They aren’t exactly lies… but well, you’ll get the picture.

8.  If I stay up late I will get a lot of things done.

(Wrong!  Likely I will watch youtube videos, read gofugyourself, and scroll through facebook.)

7. Grown ups know what they are doing.

And grown ups are always people who are (at least) 15 years older than me.

6.  If I go to college I will have a clear idea of what I want to be when I grow up.

Well… that didn’t work.

5. Everyone else’s house looks like this.

4. As Mindy Kaling so recently put it…

3. If I don’t read to my child at…

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