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!

The Family Mission Statement

My management theories professor told us on the first day of class, “Be wary of organizations that call themselves a family.  Organizations are not families. You cannot get fired from a family!

Yet, as we explore organizational theory this semester, there is much crossover in the concepts. There are internal and external environments which impact the type of structure and hierarchy found within a family.  Culture and values are transmitted through myth, legend, and visible signs of mutual participation – like snuggling.

And of course, there is the ever growing popularity of a Family Mission Statement, which is barely only one step removed from a Family Business Strategy – and therefore slightly contradictory to my professor’s statement.  I first heard of this idea and I knew I wanted one with the same intensity that other people want family vacations.  I wanted a touchstone that I could recall when moments got tough, for example, waking up every few hours for the sick baby which happens a lot more than they lead you to believe.

Still – I am aware that the concept of family – of what a family is, should be, and should do – means many things to many people.  And I’m not even talking about gender roles and same-sex marriage here or how to define the members of an economic household for poverty threshold status.  Those are other tricky questions for another day.  I’m thinking more along the lines of questions such as – Do families have products?  Should they?  What are they?  Should they produce things for themselves, or others?

I probably wouldn’t even have thought about these questions if it weren’t for philosopher poet and writer Wendell Berry, who raises the issue in several of his essays compiled in “The Art of the Commonplace.

“A household, according to its nature, will seek to protect and prolong its own life, and since it will readily perceive its inability to survive alone, it will seek to join its life to the life of the community.”

And regarding offspring – “children need to see their parents at work; they need, at first, to play at the work they see their parents doing, and then they need to work with their parents…. it matters a great deal that the work done should have the dignity of economic value.”

Furthermore I am still brought up short by the unpleasant criticism that: “the modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming.  Nothing productive is done there.  Such work as is done there is at the expense of the resident couple or family and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology.  For entertainment, the inmates consume television and purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere.”

So we created a mission statement – which is very broad – more of a jumping off point than anything at all.  Like the beliefs, the trump cards, that I wrote about in this post – this is also a series of beliefs that resonate with us on a spiritual and theoretical level.  They are what we are aiming for, but we have yet to see the entirety of the pathway to take to get there.  I suppose hoping for that type of clarification is yet another reason why I write this blog.

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.

Your Life already IS more interesting than Television.

I don’t often do this, but I want to highlight this post by Donald Miller.   I read the post a couple weeks ago when it was fresh, but it’s been finding myself weeks later now still addressing mental comments to it as I walk to the park.

The premise of the post is that people watch television because they are dissatisfied with their own boring lives.  Why are their lives boring?  Because they play it safe.

Actually, the whole post is bait to increase your interest in this Storyline Conference which will apparently help you better understand your life in terms of Myth and Story.  I won’t make fun of it (much), because actually, I really like the premise.

Here are the things that Miller (and the Storyline Conference) want to get you to consider:

Your life is a Story – As totally cheesy as the idea of “You’re the lead actor in your own life”  is – it’s true.  Looking back on what you’ve done, what has happened to you, and how you handled it is a great way to frame your life.  But – I would add – only if you refrain from using a negative lens.  Take the Kelly Clarkson et al. way of viewing it – “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the “chapter” you are in right now that it’s easy to overlook the “whole book” picture, or to realize that you can make the chapters flow together pretty well with a little forethought.

Having a “Mission” in life will change your outlook during the mundane moments – There ain’t no way of living a totally radical off the wall life all the time – unless you decide to change the way you think about things like washing dishes, changing diapers, being poor, and getting education. Those are things that (at some point or another) need to happen and get done.  And some of them will go on for years at a time – but they aren’t the focal point of life.  Changing diapers and doing dishes is a contribution to family and a home filled with hospitality.  Being poor is just a phase.  Getting education is a way to better yourself, but then also to better the world by applying what you’ve learned.  As Jane Addams would say –

“We are learning that a standard of social ethics is not attained by traveling a sequestered byway, but by mixing on the thronged and common road where all must turn out for one another, and at least see the size of one another’s burdens.”  (Democracy and Social Ethics, Introduction.)

Having a mission in mind while your performing these actions will change your outlook, and will be a touchstone as you go through seasons of activity or solitude, despair or triumph.

Get yourself a Role Model – At first I really criticized the gimmick-y accusation that Americans watch a lot of television because their life is boring.  Especially since the Storyline Conference seems to help people match up their life with some of literature’s great characters, at first glance, a pretty similar thing.  Yet, it’s all in the quality.  Many of the character’s on television are leading their own superficial stories.  (I won’t touch reality TV right now.)  However, some really are attempting to lead great lives, but they are constrained by the medium of television.  They are reduced to caricatures of people.  This is why literature has more to offer – it allows characters to develop, change, and deepen.

Do you think of your life in terms of a story?  What is your mission in life?  What are your values?  How are they reflected in action?  Do you know any other conferences or seminars that do this same thing?

 

 

 

 

 

Complicating the Holidays

Thinking about changing the way you celebrate Christmas? Read on.

I finished reading Bill McKibbon’s book Hundred Dollar Holiday and I received the Center for a New American Dream’s newsletter in my inbox.  They both issue clarion calls to Simplify!

For several paragraphs though, I want to willfully ignore their rhetoric, and phrase things in a different way, a way that might seem a little counterintuitive.  Instead of simplicity, let’s talk about Complication.

What both of these organizations want is a reduction of stuff at the holidays, particularly some sorts of technologies, expensive new clothes, mass produced cheap shit, and anything that a fun-busting type character might point out with a dour frown, “well, you can’t take it with you.”

But the things we’re talking about replacing those items with are Complicated. Note the capital “C.”  Those are things like Relationships. Time. Energy. Thought. Care. Patience.  For example, the list of suggestions to simplify your holidays starts with something extremely personal and precious.  Your Time.  Whereas I can always earn more money, and will, I can’t earn back any of my time.  If I were to gift someone a party I would reckon that’s at least 10 hours spent on invitations, baking, and cleaning, not including attending the actual party.  That time might double or triple for teaching someone a skill (the third suggestion.)  Though choosing a holiday gift for someone does require some knowledge of their preferences, committing to spend a dozen odd hours of them will both deepen your knowledge of them and cement your relationship further.

It will also drive home some of the things that are frustrating about people.  I hate to be the holiday kill-joy here, but there are certain habits our familial relations have that are annoying.  I can’t name anything specifically about my own family, because my sister reads this blog but let’s just say my family’s not perfect either.

Complicating things is worthwhile, but it does require redefinition of some of our values.  For example, if we’re complicating things by making gifts, we certainly can’t prize perfection, because home made isn’t mass produced with machines.  If we’re complicating things by preparing a meal from scratch, we can’t prize efficiency too much.  No one wants a microwaved TV dinner for Christmas, however fast it might be.  And, if we’re complicating things by purchasing used gifts, we had better not have too much pride.  Giving someone a gift that has been used is a little exercise in humility, for the giver, and the givee due to some stigmas created in society.

I think simplifying the holidays here boils down to community, which is messy, time consuming business.  I’ve been appreciating this blog lately, and the woman who has been using December to promote community each day.  That’s complicating her life, I’m sure.  But in a good way.

So, Complicate on folks, it’s only December 5th, and there’s 20 more days for complication left (and 12 more after that if you like to keep on celebrating til Epiphany.)