Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

A focused life (writing a personal mission statement)

What is the difference between a traveler and wanderer? Both carry baggage. Both visit new locations. Both sleep away from home. Both collect stories and photos.

There is one key difference: a traveler has a destination. She is going somewhere on purpose. Which are you?

Kelly Hunter (Creative Commons)

Kelly Hunter (Creative Commons)

In the world of marine biology, the jelly fish is a wanderer. It floats along with the waves, susceptible to changes in tide and current. Life is not necessarily bad. The sea often carries it to the right spot at the right time. However, a high tide can leave it washed up on the shore, stranded and helpless.

The dolphin, however, is a traveler. It goes wherever it wishes with a flip of it’s powerful fin. Neither current nor tide can stop it from reaching a determined destination. It cuts purposefully through the waves, soars through the air, and enjoys the freedom of its strength.

While we all like to think of ourselves as a dolphin, too often we act like jelly fish. Life’s circumstances push us here and there. We begin to feel helpless—like a victim in our own story. We dream of swimming free, but find ourselves washed up on the shore.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change, we need a clear destination. We need a purpose compelling enough for us to fight the waves. We need a mission.

Perhaps the idea of a mission statement is overwhelming for you. Perhaps it sounds corporate and cold. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, I think you can come up with a compelling mission statement by asking yourself the following two key questions.

1) Who are you?

Take out a piece of paper (or open a Word document) and write out everything you know about yourself. What are your talents? What is your personality type? What activities energize you? What drains you? What are your key values? What are your strengths? weaknesses?

[If you aren’t sure, check out these resources . . . ]

Once you make your list, sit back and look over it. What do you learn about yourself?

Are you a leader?
Are you a creator?
Are you someone who loves a challenge?
Do you love working behind the scenes?
Are you consistent? spontaneous?
What are your weaknesses? strengths?

It is important you understand yourself before determining a mission for your life. There is not one correct mission statement for everyone. The more it reflects who you are, the more it will awaken a passion in you for change.

Have you ever tried to change for someone else? Perhaps your mother had a plan for your life she wanted you to implement. Perhaps a leader/teacher had a plan for your life he wanted to you to adopt. How did that feel? You may have tried in order to please them, but the motivation just wasn’t there.

[tweet_quote]When we tap into the uniqueness of how we were created, we find power to become who we were created to be.[/tweet_quote]

Your mission starts with a deep understand of who you are. Then ask a second question . . .

2) Where do you want to go?

What if you used your specific gifts to live out your values? What if you maximized your strengths and minimized your weaknesses? What if your personality blossomed and you lived out your true self?

What would happen? Where would you go?

Let yourself dream. Then write out what you see.

A number of years ago I went through this process in a leadership course. I learned a lot about myself that summer. Most of it confirmed what I already suspected:

I love ideas.
I lead.
I have a lot of energy but need to manage it.
I can ignore relationships in pursuit of goals.

None of this was surprising, but the confirmation was powerful. This is how I was created.

As I dreamed about the future, a picture came into view: a great oak tree growing beside a river in a beautiful field. The roots gripping the earth were my character. The solid trunk was my relationships. The leaves lifted to the sun were the strengths given me by God. And the extended branches were my influence.

I really wanted to see that tree grow. But I knew it wouldn’t develop if I didn’t focus my efforts on the right things. What is the use of having influence if I didn’t have the character to uphold it? What is the value of my gifts if relationships are weak?  The tree would topple.

So I wrote out this mission statement—

Every year I am alive, I want to:
Grow in Character
Deepen in Relationships
Focus on Strengths
      (and as I do these three things I will . . .)
Increase in Influence
For the good of others and the honor of God.

These words have focused me through the past decade. They help me assess my current situation and adjust the balance of my time and effort. They remind me of the priority of character and relationships over success. They help me make choices.

Now it’s your turn. What do you see in your future? Where do you want to go?

About Josh