What value does writing your personal mission statement offer? Let me start by asking a different question — do any of the below thoughts sound familiar to you?
- I just can’t make myself feel motivated to save for retirement.
- How do I prioritize my hobbies, time with my family, and my career? They’re all important to me.
- I’m overcommitted with too many social and volunteering obligations. But I don’t know what I can say “no” to because they’re all good things!
- Why would I ever I quit my job? I could always work at my job just a little longer. The transition might be hard. If I keep working, I can always keep saving more and more.
- I never seem to meet the goals I set for myself.
If you find yourself having thoughts like these, writing a personal mission statement may help bring clarity to your life.
As a starting point, let’s talk about personal core values.
An article from Psychology Today explains that identifying your core values offers nine benefits:
- Reducing your stress
- Boosting decision-making skills
- Inspiring better habits
- Revving up your willpower
- Helping you act more assertively
- Helping you communicate with more compassion
- Making wiser career choices
- Bolstering your confidence
- Increasing relationship intimacy
Why Are Core Values Important?
Identifying your “why”, or your core values, helps inform how you build the rest of your life.
Greg McKeown, in his book Essentialism, says “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
In the past, I have often been victim to this. It’s so tempting to say yes when asked to join an organization or go to an event. It can be hard to feel like you’re disappointing the person who invited you if you decline.
But if you’re not intentional, you’ll realize that your life doesn’t reflect your own priorities! Your time is limited, so you need to learn to say no to spending time on things that are just “fine,” or even “good,” if they’re not absolutely essential to your goals and values.
As McKeown writes, “If it isn’t a clear yes, it’s a clear no.”
Examples of Core Values
Company core values are meant to unify a group of people towards a common cause. These core values tend to be very general and morality-based.
These tend to be nouns or adjectives.
Here are examples of a few popular ones:
- High integrity
Broad-sounding core values like these may be an appropriate starting point, but they’re too vague to be actionable.
Instead, leverage your core values to write personal mission statements that are specific and actionable.
An article from Harvard Business Review explains the difference between aspirational values, permission-to-play values, and accidental values. They discuss these topics in the context of company values, but I think they’re meaningful in a personal context too.
Aspirational values are those that you currently lack but need to succeed. You want to gain these.
Permission-to-play values are the minimum values required of any employee.
Accidental values arise spontaneously without being cultivated by leadership and take hold over time.
Be careful not to let accidental values be the guiding principles in your personal life.
How To Write Your Personal Mission Statement
Now, let’s use your core values to write personal mission statements. You may want to have multiple statements that reflect different areas of your life that are important to you.
A helpful tool to force your thinking into a long-term perspective is to ask “How do I want to be remembered after I die?”
Think of personal mission statements as the big themes throughout your life.
I recommend formatting your personal mission statements as verbs — things you can tangibly do.
Here are examples of possible personal mission statements:
- Build something valuable
- Create something beautiful
- Experience something meaningful
- Give to a cause
- Go somewhere significant
- Lead a group
- Love a person or people
- Pursue a passion
- Serve an organization
- Teach children or adults
I made those pretty vague, but I encourage you to explain your own mission statements very specifically.
Try to think of the 3-5 personal mission statements that matter most to you.
I encourage you to literally write them down.
My personal mission statements are:
- Love my wife and our family well
- Serve people in our church and community
- Make our travel goals a priority
- Teach young adults
Those are topics I think about a lot, so in a sense, choosing them as my personal mission statements was easy. But, as I was deciding, I noticed that having a high-profile career with lots of accolades, for example, did not make the cut. Occasionally I’m tempted to want such a career, but in the long-term it’s not what is most important to me.
Ultimately, writing your personal mission statements is not a practice of saying yes to a few things, but of saying no to the non-essential elements of your life so that you can invest your time in what’s truly most important.
The exercise of actually writing down your values and mission statements can help you identify what’s most essential in your life.
Personal Mission Statements and Goals
Next, think of goals as the specific things you want to do to fulfill your personal mission statements.
Re-evaluate your goals and consider setting new ones.
Pursuing goals that reflect your personal mission statements will bring clarity and meaning to your life. Goals that are relevant to your mission statements will help you take forward steps towards those values.
For example, here are goals I have that correspond to my mission statements:
- Mission statement: Love my wife and our family well.
- Goal: Make time for my wife every day. Understand her values, goals, and needs and invest in them.
- Goal: Be present and active in our future children’s lives. Help equip them for the future.
- Mission statement: Serve people in our church and community.
- Goal: Serve in our church when possible.
- Goal: Pursue adoption in our 30s.
- Mission statement: Make our travel goals a priority.
- Goal: Go to California this year. Go to Europe in 2020.
- Goal: Visit all 50 states in my lifetime.
- Mission statement: Teach young adults.
- Goal: Facilitate discussion and practical knowledge in the Semi-Retire Plan community.
- Goal: Semi-retire to a teaching career at a local college.
Beyond your goals and mission statements, you can also write down your financial bucket list to keep yourself accountable.
Progressing Towards Your Personal Mission Statements
Whenever you consider spending time on an activity, ask yourself if it helps you achieve your goals (and therefore if it helps fulfill your personal mission statements).
For example, I have political opinions and I think following politics is interesting. But if someone invites me to join a local political action club, I am going to say no! This club may be a good thing, but it does not relate to my goals or mission statements, and therefore it is not the right way to spend my time. It is not essential.
You have limited time, so anywhere you choose to invest your time necessarily has a trade-off.
Time you spend pursuing anything non-essential is taking time away from an activity you value more.
This set of tools is practical for semi-retirement too.
If your full-time job strongly aligns with your goals and values, you might actually prefer to not semi-retire. And if that’s the case, great!
For the rest of us, once we have our plan in place and enough savings to leave our full-time work, it may be tempting to delay. We may think, “Why not stay at my job a little longer and save more?”
If your full-time job is helping you achieve your goals and mission statements, then it can be considered essential. Once you have enough savings in place to semi-retire to meaningful part-time work, though, that crappy office job becomes a clear no!
Are you finding it hard to decide how much of your current income to spend versus save? Consider if spending it would help you move towards your goals or mission statements. Consider if saving more would help you move towards your goals and mission statements.
For example, travel is important to my wife and me, so I refuse to feel guilty for spending a moderate amount of money on it each year.
Having a new or impressive car would be fun, but it’s not essential for me. So, I drive an 8 year old paid-for Camry and I plan to keep driving it for several more years. Spending more money on a nicer car is a clear no for me right now.
What changes do you find are needed in your life once you write your personal mission statements? What are some seemingly good things in your life that you are now prepared to say no to?