The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car... a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. They expect little and as a result they get little - Ben Sweetland

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Why write a mission statement?

What is the difference between people who are successful (however you might define success) and those who are not? Well, there is a long answer and a short answer. I know the short answer, but I'm not going to tell you (just yet - this is for another article!) but one of the key differences is that successful people have a compass. They have a clear direction, a sense of where they are going and, as importantly, why they are going there. This compass is a mission statement and, like all successful organizations, individuals who aspire to success need this guidance system. I have written about the importance of a personal mission statement elsewhere. Here, I would like to expand a little on why mission statements are so important.

Steven R. Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, tells us that ‘all things are created twice,’ once in the mind, and once in the world. Although this idea that ‘thoughts become things’ (to use Earl Nightingale’s expression) has been widely disseminated by self-development books and movies such as ‘The Secret’ in recent months and years, most people do this without any conscious awareness of the process. It is happening all the time, but most of us simply create our experience by default through reactive and habitual thought patterns that we have picked up from parents, friends and society at large.

Successful people are conscious of this process and use it more deliberately, but there is another, vital aspect to our ability to orchestrate our own experience, and it is this – life is all about flow. We need to give and we need to receive, and Covey tells us that ‘paying attention to the development of self in the greater perspective of improving one’s ability to serve, to produce, to contribute in meaningful ways’ will enable us to create in a sustainable way. To ignore this give and take is to cause stagnation and decay, like a pool with no outlet stagnates and dies. I am reminded here of the story of the goose who laid the golden eggs. The farmer focused too much on the eggs and, in his greed, killed the goose. We need the eggs (what we create) but we also need to keep the engine of creation going, and we do this by honoring the fact that all life is about giving and receiving.

Bringing these two basic truths together – that we create twice, and that we must work with the flow of life – brings us to the point where we must think deeply about what we want and where we are going in life. If we fail to engage at this point, we will continue to drift along, either experiencing by default (as most people do) or creating our life in a way which ultimately leads to stagnation and decay.

The most important step is to identify your values, those basic principles which are most important to you. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl suggests that we detect our meaning in life, so it is worth spending some time seriously reflecting on what values we live by, what really moves us. Steven R. Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that we imagine ourselves attending our own funeral and listen as we hear the eulogies being reads out about us. Do we like what we are hearing? What do we want to hear? How have we been remembered? We need to identify what is deeply important to us.

If these values can be distilled and concretized into a personal mission statement (what you want to be and do, based on your personal values), then we can live out each day deliberately creating an experience which leads to sustainable growth and happiness.

We need to decide where the focus of our life is located. People have many focuses – work, money, family, friends and so on – but the truly creative person has his or her core values at the center of life. Steven R. Covey identifies four features which flow from this center and which need to be in harmony in a truly creative and successful life.

First is security, our sense of worth and emotional anchorage. In an value-centered life, change should seen as an exciting adventure and an opportunity to learn and grow Secondly, guidance, our sense of direction. Here, we should be detached from life’s changing landscape and guided internally by our core values. Thirdly, wisdom, or how we respond to events. In a value-centered life, we do not respond reactively to the vicissitudes of life but proactively make decisions, not being acted on by others but acting independently and skillfully in the world. Fourthly, power, our ability to achieve. Here, we should recognize that what we achieve is our own responsibility and is not determined by the beliefs and behavior of others.

The mission statement itself should be short and encapsulate the core values in your life. It should be personal, positive and is probably best written in the present tense. But this is where guidance has a limit – above all, this is a personal exercise, and the act of engaging with it and really thinking about what the mission statement should be like is an individual and immensely valuable process.

A wide range of personal, corporate and other mission statements can be found at Here is my own mission statement.

I experience abundance in all areas of my life by working with the natural flow of things. I deliberately orchestrate my life through a permanent connection with the Universal Mind and, in so doing, I recognize that I am responsible for my experience. Remembering that change is inevitable and continual, I embrace it, always seeking to learn and grow in all areas of my life. Living interdependently, I teach and learn from others.

Thinking about your core values and writing your mission statement is one of the most important things you can do. I recommend you engage seriously with this activity – your life will be all the better for it.


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