ARTICLE: “Do You Know Where You’re Going To? Creating Your Life’s Mission Statement”


Tom Peters said, “Effective visions prepare for the future but honor the past.”  Do you have a set course in your life, an established direction, outlined with purposeful thought?  Or are you simply a boat floating on the water with a broken rudder, able to be pushed whichever way the wind blows, governed by the tides and external forces? 


Productive people have given a great deal of thought and time to planning their courses of action and life goals.  Their daily, weekly, and monthly activities all roll up to a mission statement, life goals, long-term and short-term goals, and project plans.  To be the guide of your own life, you have to get a hold of the rudder.


Much like a corporate mission statement, your personal mission statement defines who you are, what you’re all about, and why you’re here.  Why do you need a personal mission statement?

·        It helps you make difficult decisions when faced with the myriad of choices life presents to you

·        It helps you realize how very little time you truly have to accomplish the important things in your life

·        It helps you recognize when you’re off course and steers you back in the right direction


Life is precious, and time is short.  The best engineer cannot create more time, and the best scientist cannot invent more time.  We all have the exact same amount of time—24 hours a day, 168 hours every week, 86,400 seconds every day. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.  You cannot accumulate time or borrow tomorrow’s time.  Since it feels like we have plenty of time left, we take for granted our 86,400 seconds every day.


Discovering Your True Priorities


The main objective of a personal mission statement is to define what’s important to you.  Many people say “this is important,” and “that is important,” but how do you narrow it down to what’s truly important in your life?  I like to use the following visualization:


Scenario A


Picture a thick, banded-steel cable about 2 feet in circumference and 100 feet long, stretched out across the floor.  You are standing at one end, and I’m on the other.  I call out to you, “I’ll give you $100 if you can step onto the cable and walk across it like a balance beam over to me without falling off onto the floor.” Would you try it?  Sure!  Most people would.  Why?  Basically, it involves a fairly low risk with a relatively high payoff for the effort required.  It could be fun and a little challenging.


Scenario B


Now we’re going to suspend the cable just a “bit.”  In fact, have you ever been to the Royal Gorge bridge in Canon City, Colorado?  It’s the highest suspension bridge in the world, with a cable like ours spanning a chasm, with a little tram that travels across the cable.  Except you don’t get to ride the tram.  You are standing on one end of the chasm, and I’m on the other side of the chasm, with the cable suspended between us.  I yell out, “HEY!”  (Echo:  “hey..hey..hey”)  “If you can cross the cable like a balance beam without falling off into the river below, I’ll give you $100!”  There is no way anyone in his or her right mind would attempt that.  The risk is too high for the reward involved.  So let’s up the ante.  Would you cross it for $250,000?  No?  How about a million dollars?  How much would I have to offer you?  What if I let you crawl across on your belly?  For some of you, the reward would never be high enough to risk your life.


Scenario C


Let’s add a little wind (maybe, oh, a slight 40 MPH breeze) and a tad of rain to make the cable a bit slick.  I’m on one side of the chasm, and you’re on the other.  In my arms, I hold your child hostage.  I yell, “If you don’t cross the chasm in two minutes, I’m throwing your child in the river.”  Would you come now?  Of course you would!  Despite the incredibly high risk to your own life, that child is so priceless to you that you’d risk your own life to save another.


Perhaps if you don’t have children, it could be your parents, your significant other, or your friend.  Clearly, that person is a core value in your life.  What other things exist like that in your life?  What principles, values, or character traits are most important to you, such that if I were to rip it out of your life and throw it into the chasm, you would be willing to cross the bridge to save it?  What things are so integral to who you are that you cannot imagine existing without them? 


Determining Your Core Values


1.      Holding that visualization in your mind, read through the following list of values below.  They may be important to you; they may not be.  Go though the list, and this first time, circle any and all of the values that you’d cross the bridge for.  Add any to the bottom that aren’t listed here that are important to you.


Values list


·        Peace                              

·        Integrity                         

·        Power

·        Wealth                            

·        Joy                                   

·        Influence

·        Happiness                     

·        Love                               

·        Justice

·        Success                           

·        Recognition                   

·        Spirituality

·        Friendship                     

·        Family                            

·        Career

·        Fame                               

·        Truth                              

·        Status

·        Authenticity                  

·        Wisdom                         

·        Acceptance

·        Health                            

·        ____________                

·        ____________

·        ____________                


2.      Go back through the items you’ve circled and narrow it down to only six.  Which items are more important to you than the others?  Place a star next to your top six values.


3.      Picture this: you’ve got those six items lined up with you on the side of the chasm.  I have the ability to make you choose between them.  You’ve got to throw three away.  What things would go?  If all you had left in your life were three values, what would they be?  Cross out three of the six, so that your top three values are remaining.


4.      Lastly, rank order your top three values.  Which one would go first?  Label that #3.  Which one would go second?  Label that #2.  So if all you had in your life were one single thing, that would be remaining until the end.  Label that #1.


Defining Your Core Values


You have just listed the top three most important things in your life.  Rewrite your top three values in order on the blanks below.  Then for each principle, write a definition, a statement of what it means to you to be successful in that area.  At the end of your life, how will you know if you’ve succeeded?  If you put “family,” what does a good family man or woman look like to you?  If you put, “Spirituality,” how will you know you’ve succeeded at being a spiritual person?


1.  Value: _____________________________________________________________________


“Success to me means...” _______________________________________________________





2.  Value: _____________________________________________________________________


“Success to me means...” _______________________________________________________





3.  Value: _____________________________________________________________________


“Success to me means...” _______________________________________________________




Sit in front of a computer with a blank word processing page and type the three paragraphs together, merging them into one statement.  It could be several sentences or several paragraphs.  You’ve just created a personal mission statement for your life.  Think of it as your constitution.  It will become your benchmark, your standard of excellence.  Then you can get your behavior in line with your mission.  You will measure yourself against it. 


Continuously ask yourself if an activity is moving toward your mission in life.  This statement will whack you upside the head if not.  For example, if you say taking care of your health is important to you, then you eat 8 slices of pizza and watch 15 hours of television, it is very apparent you’re not supporting yourself with your actions.  When you’re making changes in your life and setting goals, refer to this statement of purpose.  I promise this activity will have an impact on your productivity.  It’s been said that “true character is the ability to carry out a goal long after the mood in which it was created has passed.”  That’s when the real challenge begins.


ã 2002 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP.  All rights reserved.  Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present:


Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”â helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it.  She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity.  Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at