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.
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: