My sophomore year of college was plagued by classes I didn’t care about taught by professors I couldn’t relate to; I felt the business world had nothing to offer me; and I was deeply considering a major switch to psychology. Management 200 won the worst of my contempt for poorly covering grossly outdated psychological theories and obscuring common sense by transforming every simple, common-sense concept into a multiple-step monstrosity. Its only value derives from a mandatory service-learning project, contingent upon the slim possibility that the benefit of your team’s work outweighs the burden of your attempt at charity.
I lucked out, however – my professor was an adjunct and recognized the flaws with the typical classroom management education and would sprinkle in nuggets of real-world wisdom when the monstrosities would allow. On the final day of class he strolled into the room, noticeably abandoning his typical professionalism in a final attempt at salience and delivered the assignment that would become his greatest success: “If there’s only one thing you take away from this class, it should be the value of a personal mission statement.” I rolled my eyes, silently commending him on another flimsy idea from the first chapter of a bad self-help book. He wrote his own statement on the board knowingly, clearly a result of great practice, and instructed us to do the same.
Humoring him, I put pen to paper and was struck with the difficulty of the task. Summarize your purpose on Earth in about 40 words. I had to start small, but specific. I want happiness – but how do I get there? What makes me happy now? A sense of progression, we’ll start there. I don’t want to be selfish, I want to help others and myself. I like learning and being curious, but I don’t want to be too gullible. I look for truth- no, understanding. What’s this all for anyway? To try and realize potential, to live the best life possible, to be the best human being I can.
The professor closed the class as I finished writing and I left staring at a note card, surprisingly proud of my little creation. I got home and taped it above my desk, humoring my professor one last time, and read it. “I am never complete. Every day I seek to improve my own life and the lives of others. I will always remain curious and skeptical, facing the world with an open mind and a desire for understanding in all forms. Following these ideas will allow me to actualize my full potential as a Human Being.” The following morning, the newest addition to my decor caught my eye and I read it again. I felt powerful, led by these few words like a soldier in battle and an unexpected desire to try and live them. I considered my statement in the context of my life, comparing my stated ideal to the path I was traveling, and realized the two were incongruent. The decision to switch majors became easy because switching would allow me not only to pursue my mission in college, but could lead to a career where I made a living by living my mission.
The power in a mission statement comes from its guidance. Wondering how to spend your time? Consult the words. Dealing with a difficult decision? Ask the words. Much like marriage vows, a personal mission statement is there for you to fall back on when doubts and questions arise. When you’re frustrated, or sad, or confused, the words remind you of the promise you made to your potential self. They’re a compass in an unexplored land. Try creating your own mission statement. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time around, just write something and change it as you grow. Add to it, erase it, trash it. It doesn’t have to be long, or profound. Be nice to everyone; try something new every day; learn as much as possible; whatever empowers you – cliche or not. Picture your ideal self – what would you need to do every day to become him or her? Identify the simple actions that will lead you there, write them, and read them. Read them when you wake up, read them before bed, read them at work, read them while you study, and bask in the power of your mission.