Three Questions

There’s nothing quite like knowing who you are and what you stand for. One startup clothing company in Brooklyn knows all about this. Last year, their company mission statement – dubbed the “Holstee Manifesto” – accidentally went viral, quickly becoming an internet sensation with more than 50 million views in a couple of months. When Holstee turned that message into a poster, it quickly became one of the company’s top sellers. It’s full of great lines such as: “Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them.” Notice how people comes before things. I believe this message resonated with the masses because it was a statement of their core values, not a traditional mission statement. Most company statements all sound alike, because they have very little to do with the actual people who work there. While manifestos are public declarations of intent, we each have our own “personal” mission, and if we don’t, we would do well to consider what that is. A couple of years ago, after my father died, I wrote a short piece about him. He was well-liked in the town where I grew up – a man some people would describe as “Salt of the Earth.” I doubt sincerely if he ever wrote down his beliefs, but he lived by a simple code that defined him. He never had any doubt about who he was (himself), or why he went to work every day (his family). One of the major failings of our time is that so many of us live without a clear intent or purpose. There’s no right or wrong way to write a personal mission statement. It is simply an exercise to keep yourself in touch with what’s really important to you. For example: I want to be a good husband, mother or father. I want to walk lighter through the world and not take everything so seriously. I want to handle setbacks and crises in a level-headed, less reactive way. I want to live courageously and with integrity, critics be damned. The point is to be aware of your higher motives, and then when times get tough, your default programming helps you to stay connected with that better part of yourself. To help in crafting a mission statement, there are three questions that I find useful to ask.

Who Am I? The key here is in knowing what are my “core values.” What are the minimum basic standards I expect of myself and others. Knowing these helps me make better decisions on a daily basis. Without knowing these, you can end up appropriating other people’s values, until a slow erosion of identity renders you unrecognizable even to yourself. Very important: Do not let other people define your values. You must know what you stand for, and more importantly, what you will not stand for. Many people take offense when their values are affronted in some way. But remember, offense is taken, not given. When you are secure in your own personal set of values, no outside forces can sink your boat. In the words of William Ernest Henley from his wonderful poem Invictus: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” What Do I want? If you don’t know what you want, you usually end up getting a lot of what you don’t want. Deep down, most of us know what we really want to have happen. Oftentimes what we lack is the courage of our conviction. We are afraid of not getting it. And how will we cope then? So, better not to even want it, right? Wrong. I see this all the time in my coaching, and what I try to do is leverage the odds that something might be possible. Often that slit of light, that glimmer of hope, is enough to allow our own natural creative instincts to kick in and do the work. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. Then commit fully to making that happen. Like the old saying: “As you think, so you shall be.” Never stop planning. Never stop dreaming. Never stop trying. How Do I want to Be Remembered? This is the surest way to figure out how to live well. If we can begin with the end in mind, we will always be guided by our higher principles. What legacy do I want to leave behind? What will be my proudest accomplishment? Am I a good partner, a supportive friend, someone who makes the workplace a little better? Do I share my feelings with people openly and honestly? When the temptation is there to act small, think longer term and be the bigger person. Act the way you would want to be remembered. It’s worth taking a few minutes to write out your own personal mission statement. No one has to see it. You can keep it in your wallet or nightstand. When you look at it, let it remind you of the core values that define you. Not only will it guide you, but it may guide others as well.

Who am I? What do I want? How do I want to be remembered?