Discover more from The Ask Newsletter — by Ellen Donnelly
Do you need a personal mission statement for your career?
What is a personal mission statement, why you (do) need one and how to craft yours.
A new week and a new question for you. If you’re reading this for the first time, each week I write in-depth answers to commonly asked career questions. My thoughts derived from almost a decade working in executive & startup recruitment and more recently as a coach for The Ask. coaching people pursuing courageous career paths.
Today’s question: Do you need a personal mission statement for your career?
Yes is the answer.
I first touched on this topic in my article How to Carve a Unique Career Path You’ll Love with These Six Steps.
Now, let’s go deeper.
i) What is a personal mission statement
A personal mission statement directs you towards something bigger than yourself. It is about finding a purpose you care about, that you are uniquely placed to help solve in the world.
Missions are big and lofty. They are not something you ‘achieve’ in a year but rather create a path for you to follow; outlining a framework for your decisions and goals to fit into. Following a mission means intentionally building towards a career and life plan that is personal to you.
(Illustration by @lizzies_lines)
Most companies have their own mission statements. A commonly cited one being Google’s which is to ‘organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful’.
Companies need mission statements to align employees towards the same goal and let their customers know what to expect from their operations and products.
A personal mission statement should energise you and create fulfillment in your work. Your mission may be large and it may never truly ‘completed’ but this is a good thing — it can sustain your interest over the long term.
The beauty of a mission statement is that it is not linked to one job, company, industry, or type of work. You can do multiple different things that ultimately ladder up to the same mission. This is a good thing in a world of short term work assignments, ongoing uncertainty, and massive technology shifts.
Whilst where you work and what you do might shift, your why and purpose behind your work can (and should) remain your true north.
My mission is to help people to do the work they are uniquely placed to do. It’s a mission I feel called to solve from my experiences as a recruiter and a coach. It excites me because it’s a big goal, and there are many ways I could go about it.
Many missions are meaningful and some may appear more meaningful than others. Poverty, world peace, and climate change might feel lofty missions to go after, for example. Having an expectation about what makes for a ‘good’ career mission could indeed make it harder to choose; so the most important thing is that your mission has meaning to you personally.
The meaning may come from life experience or a skill you’ve developed. Or simply something inside you that speaks to you.
Your mission isn’t the same as just your interests, but rather its the accumulation of your desires, your values, your strengths, your passions, and the vision you have for your life.
However, whilst your personal mission statement is personal, at its heart it is about how you will show up for others.
As humans, we derive happiness through relation to others, and we are hardwired to give. Find a mission that allows you to use your talents to serve others in some way and you’ll be on the road to career fulfillment in no time.
ii) Why have a personal mission statement
I once met a coach from Google who coached the Founders of the startups that Google acquired. Pretty cool job, right?
We met in 2017 which was shortly after I’d left headhunting to work for a startup accelerator. I was really happy in my new role but I didn’t have a new narrative or understanding of what this change meant for me in the arc of my career overall.
He told me to write out my mission statement.
He said forget about the company, but imagine I was the CEO of my own life. That I needed to explain to my investors, customers, and colleagues why I exist and what I am about.
He said that writing my mission statement over and over until I was proud of it, would be the best thing I could do for my career. He said once you have this, you will seek out opportunities that support that statement, thus building momentum towards something bigger than you.
There are many studies that show those who write down goals are much more likely to achieve them. I believe the same to be true for your mission. Without a mission (aka a blueprint) how will you know you’re on track?
Your mission is what you are here to do. Its what gives your work purpose and helps you choose the right path and the goals worth aiming for. Your mission informs your strategy of how you will make that happen.
What do I mean by strategy?
A strategy can support you with the following three things:
A hierarchy for your goals.
As taken from Angela Duckworth’s book Grit. With a mission, you can align your goals up to one over-arching goal. The top goal is your main purpose and smaller sub-goals ladder up to it. This alignment helps you be more resilient in the face of setbacks as there is more purpose behind each of your goals, you are more likely to be persistent in the face of adversity.
Learn to say no
We find it difficult to say no to other people’s demands on our time and energy. If you are struggling to decide where to focus, having a mission makes it a lot easier to say no with integrity and clarity of thought. And say yes to the things that matter.
Choosing which activities to undertake
Back to the CEO analogy, if you’re the ruler of your own life, you need to know what is included in it and what isn’t. A CEO who manufactures all products and all services to all types of people has a poorly designed strategy bound to fail.
The same is true for you. You need to know what is worth cultivating (experiences, relationships, education) and hone in on these things.
iii) How to craft your personal mission statement
This is the part that may take longer than skim reading this email. It takes some introspection. When you’re ready to figure out what yours is, set time aside to do it with limited distractions.
Remember, your personal mission statement should energise you, align with your authentic self, and give you meaning in the actions you take.
To get to this point, you can begin by answering these questions below.
Write freely, by hand ideally, and allow your subconscious to take over, do not filter yourself too much.
What is important to you?
List the people, places, causes you care about, and how you are living in accordance with those things (or strive to).
Where are you going?
Is there an endpoint you are headed, this might be a state of being, a place, a milestone, or a spiritual destination.
What is your best possible outcome?
What is the ultimate aim you have? When are you at your best?
What is the memory you want to leave with the world?
How will you be remembered, for effecting what impact or change, and to whom?
It’s ok if you don’t automatically know your mission statement just yet. Especially if you’re earlier in your life or career you may not have the life experiences to formulate it fully. However, you should begin to work on it and live with intention, as you can always iterate later on. In fact, if it doesn’t change at points during your career as you gain new skills and experiences then you risk missing the mark for what is needed most in the world.
Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People explained:
“A mission statement is not something you write overnight but fundamentally, your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”
So if you’re ready to give writing your mission statement a shot - go ahead.
Some guidelines: it should contribute to a cause or purpose bigger than just you, it should be short (one or two sentences) and you should feel comfortable sharing it with others who can then keep you accountable and provide you with the support you need along the way.
Need inspiration? Here are some mission statements from people you may know. Source.
OPRAH WINFREY, FOUNDER OF OWN, THE OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK
“To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”
SIR RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER OF THE VIRGIN GROUP
“To have fun in [my] journey through life and learn from [my] mistakes.”
AMANDA STEINBERG, FOUNDER OF DAILYWORTH.COM
“To use my gifts of intelligence, charisma, and serial optimism to cultivate the self-worth and net-worth of women around the world.”
As you can see some are more specific than others. There is no right or wrong here, but you should pick something that gives you the purpose and ability to filter decisions that will ultimately come your way.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s question. As always my inbox is open for questions or thoughts and the <3 button lets me know you’re enjoying!
If you know someone who might want to figure out their personal mission statement you can let them know you’re thinking of them by sharing below.