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!

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?

10 New Year’s Resolutions I wish I’d made

10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 that I didn’t make, but had 100% success meeting.

Ah… the smell of New Years Resolutions!  The scent of goal-setting for 2015 is in the air.  Which is why I thought I’d take a minute and list the 10 New Years Resolutions I should have made in 2014 for ultimate successful achievement.

  1. Learn 90% of the countries in Africa.
  2. Volunteer over 100 hours.
  3. Make at least 3 new mom friends.
  4. Set aside money for Christmas gifts each month.
  5. Gain 5 pounds.
  6. Participate in a Craft Fair.
  7. Be the #1 NSCBC church softball fan.
  8. Take a business strategy MOOC (and pass).
  9. Read over 75 books and listen to at least one book on tape.
  10. (make my husband) Paint/Update the bedroom.

I’m getting sick of my New Years Resolutions practices, which have basically been the same the last 3-4 years.  This isn’t to say they haven’t been effective, or that I haven’t learned something.  Any time I’ve made a goal, and reflected on the process of achieving or discarding that goal, I’ve learned something about my habits, personality, motivation and abilities.  In fact, in most years, the practice of setting and attempting NYR has been most of the fun.

But… next year I’d like to try something different.  At the moment, I’m trying to decide between going with a word/phrase approach – like many bloggers who have set themes like “Simplify” or “Take Risks.” Approaching the daily business of life with a specific lens certainly appeals to me… and provides a specific way to reflect each month.

Or, there’s always simply filling out a chart, or other cute resolution template that I can search for via Pinterest.

Who knows, maybe I’ll abandon the idea of New Year’s Resolutions totally!

Creating a Habit of Self-Reflection

Here are the habits I’ve created to cultivate a lifestyle of self-reflection. What do you do? Is self-reflection important to you?

Self Reflection Habits
Photo via Flickr: Nomadic Lass 246:365 – Journaling

The post I wrote on 5 Ways to Gain Self-Knowledge continues to be my most viewed post at All Growing Up.   Self Knowledge is one of my core values and an activity that I spend time in weekly, monthly, and yearly.

However, in the original post I really focused on two types of Self-Knowledge activity,

  • Broad and ongoing suggestions.
  • One time (or infrequent) specific actions that you can do such as taking the Meyers Briggs or other tool like the DiSC or Strengths Finder.

Developing good habits is usually contingent on attaching the new habit to an already established one. Habits make up a lot of our day and adding in another step to your routine doesn’t have to be difficult.

Here are the habits I’ve created to cultivate a lifestyle of self-reflection. 

Please add your own in the comments section.


WEEKLY

My Journal – is a significant part of my self-reflection process. Each Sunday I sit down and take inventory of the past week – what were the highs and lows, what are the priorities for each week.   I try to hit on the things that I’ve been mulling over, or things that I’ve realize about myself based on conversations, events, and readings.  I also make my to-do lists – with about 10 projects each under the categories of Friends and Church, Home and Family, Self Development, and Career and School.

Update my GoodReads List – I consider Goodreads a form of micro-blogging, similar to Facebook and Twitter. Updating Goodreads with new books I want to read is an excellent chronology of what I’ve been hearing about or reading. I also like to date books finished.

Using technology to track moods and influences, to take a pulse, certainly simplifies data collection, and can be visually stunning – and possibly even obsessive. If you haven’t heard of Nicholas Felton, who created Daytum, you should look him up. If I had a smartphone, I’d use this

MONTHLY

Graph Paper – As much as I’d like to say I use my smartphone, I’m still stuck in 2003… and sometimes 1980. I often get into these real data gathering moods on basic health indicators, like hours slept, or days exercised, how many servings of produce I eat each day, and if I flossed my teeth. But then I put it on graph paper I keep in a Dunkin Donuts calendar next to my bed and calculate rough percentages at the end of the month.  Super low tech – maybe I’ll ask for a fitbit for Christmas.

Answering Set Questions over a period of time is a useful way to see change. Each month I try to answer the following self-reflection questions (in said journal).  If my answers align with my beliefs, I’m on the right track.

  • What do I want to do more of?
  • What do I want to do the same?
  • What do I want to do less of?

 YEARLY

10Q Questions – At the beginning of October I finished my yearly 10Q reflection. The site, run by a Jewish organization, sends you a set of 10 questions that allows you to reflect back on your year.

GoogleDocs – I also reflect around New Years Day (January), and my often my Birthday (April). For these, I generally open up GoogleDocs, where I have a couple dozen documents with titles like “5 Year plan” and “Career Goals 2012-2017.” This is a work in progress for me, since I don’t follow a predetermined set of questions or system. Who knows, maybe that should be a goal for my 40 before 40 list. Ha.


What about you – do you have self-reflection habits? Are they daily, monthly, yearly? Do you think a system is best – or should it be more organic?

What about apps or websites – how do you organize your data?


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.