Our purpose and mission shine a light on what we value most. We need to know where we want to end up, to know if we are getting closer.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS ARTICLE

  • We need a concise Purpose Statement that summarizes what matters most to us.
  • We need a concise Mission Statement that summarizes what matters most at work.
  • Each statement should be condensed to only a single sentence.
  • Our Purpose Statement and our Mission Statement are the tools needed to achieve the goals most important to us as human beings.

Sound interesting? Read the rest of the article:

WHAT’S YOUR PURPOSE? WHAT’S YOUR MISSION?

Every one of us needs a personal purpose and a career mission. Work should be something that makes us feel good about what we do. Knowing our purpose and having a mission are critical factors in making it happen.

What am I talking about? These are mine:

My Purpose:

Make music, make art, help others.

My Mission:

Help people feel good about going to work.

In my case, now that I’ve retired from full time work, my purpose speaks to the things that matter most to me, while my mission is focused on my career goals. My work mission is completely in sync with my personal purpose, even though it has little to do with my “other life” as an artist and musician.

Your Purpose and Your Mission Matter

Going through life without having a very clear personal purpose is likely to result in a lot of floundering and frustration. Unless you have an idea of where you want to end up, there will be no way to know if you are getting any closer.

Having a well defined mission statement guarantees that you will never lose focus on what matters most at work. Going to work without a clear idea of your mission pretty much guarantees that even if you work hard, the work you do will not always help you succeed.

Our purpose and mission provide us with instant shortcuts whenever we feel lost or unfocused. In meditation terms our brief statements function much like mantras. In a busy world full of distractions, diversions, and crises a short, well crafted statement helps us return to the path we were meant to follow.

What is a “Purpose”?

A personal purpose statement needs to be as concise as possible. Brevity is best. Your purpose should encompass the values that are most important to you, expressed as an actionable goal. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

I want to help girls achieve and maintain the healthy self-esteem they deserve so they will develop into happy, self-confident women.

I want kindness, compassion, and empathy to be the most important part of everything I do, at home, and at work.

I will incorporate creative self-expression into every aspect of my life.

Brevity can be harder than it looks! There might be a few things that are important to us that will get left out of our purpose statement. That’s OK. The purpose of a good, brief, purpose statement is to keep us from losing focus on the things in our life that matter most to us, and to maintain focus on things that are vitally important, but easily “misplaced” by less important busy-work. Values such as loving our life partners, caring about our family, staying active and healthy, will not matter any less if they are not in your purpose statement. On the other hand, if you are the type of person who becomes so entranced by work that you allow important things like these to slip, then you should consider including them in your personal statement. Maybe;

I will be the person that always works the hardest, accomplishes the most, and always remembers to show the people I love that they matter more to me than this.

What is a Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a purpose statement that is dedicated primarily to your career goals. The purpose statement above is a good example of a statement that could function in both roles. However, I like the idea of having dual statements, because a personal purpose is meant to be job and career independent. Your purpose can be the same for most of your life, changing only as you grow as a person. A mission statement on the other hand can change each time your job changes or you change careers.

A good mission statement will align perfectly with your personal purpose statement AND the mission statement of your employer. A good employer will have an organizational mission statement, and that statement should be as concise as yours. People who are fortunate enough to have such and employer should be able to come up with a career mission statement pretty quickly. Since a mission statement should align the organization’s mission, your job description, and your personal values, having a clear purpose statement, a succinct organization mission, and a clear job description will be straight forward. The only major challenge will be maintaining brevity.

Brevity is important. A mission statement that is not brief, simple, and memorable, will be nearly useless. The entire reason for having a mission statement is to be able to always understand how the work you are doing for your employer contributes to the goals of your employer, while remaining true to yourself.

I once worked for a major employer that had an excellent mission statement. It was a big urban university that had multiple faculties, dozens of departments, thousands of employees, yet their mission statement was concise and totally focused on the university’s purpose as a leading teaching and research institution. The mission statement today has been updated to reflect contemporary values. It may be a long sentence, but it is still very good;

The University of Toronto is dedicated to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.

Of course not every big organization has a good mission statement. Some organizations are so unfocused that they fail to have one. Others have statements that themselves are unfocused. Even at the university, some senior leaders were unable to follow the lead of their employer. When tasked with developing a mission statement for our department, the director presented a multi-page mission statement at an “important” meeting. It was so full of platitudes and contradictions that it was essentially meaningless. All present made commendable efforts to stay awake, and left the meeting to continue doing their jobs the same way they always did. Eventually that department head was promoted, and from his new, more senior position tried again. This time he said simply that, “kindness and compassion should be part of everything we do here”. A great example of personal growth and professional development.

Some people reading this article will be fortunate enough to work for organizations with highly focused, and meaningful mission statements like the university’s. Many will be working for employers that have either no mission statement, or meaningless mission statements. If you are in that unfortunate position, don’t despair. It is still possible to write a mission statement that clarifies the value that you bring to your employer, and encompasses the values that you hold dear.

Here are a few examples of mission statements that I believe are effective. I’ll start with a couple of excellent corporate mission statements:

Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.

LinkedIn: Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.

It’s pretty easy to see how instantly relatable and effective these are, and how easy it would be for any employee to come up with a personal mission statement based on these. In fact, I’ll invent one for each of these!

Manager at Google: I want to help the people I manage by making it it as easy as possible for them to write code that organizes the world’s information and makes it useful and accessible.

Starbucks Barista: I will stay true to myself while I do my best to inspire and nurture every person I serve.

Upgrade Sales at LinkedIn: I will help people become more productive and more successful by making more meaningful connections.

Now it’s time to revisit your employer’s web site and read the mission statement on the “About” page. Hopefully there’s one there and it’s easy to decipher. Then think about your own personal purpose. Write it down!

When you have a Purpose Statement to remind yourself what you are all about, you can write your own work related mission statement so that everything you do at work is meaningful to you and makes you valuable to your employer.

Work should be something that makes you feel good about yourself. Knowing your purpose and having a mission are the most important steps towards that goal.

SUMMARY

Each of us needs a purpose and a mission. If we want to serve our purpose and accomplish our mission, we need to be able to surface them easily and frequently. A single sentence statement is the most effective way to do this.

Obviously, no human being can be reduced to one or two sentences. These statements are useful tools. They are the starting points to fulfilling work and a fulfilling life.