Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It


Crafting personal mission statements of our own can empower us.

By Lisa Lawmaster Hess

Discerning our mission can ensure that we’re equipped for the journey, that our road map revolves around our values and priorities, and that these are reflected in our day-to-day interactions with others.

A few weeks ago, I had my students draft personal mission statements. Ranging from a single sentence to an entire paragraph, these declarations of intent were inspiring. Full of hope, promise, desire, and determination, they were blueprints for full, well-rounded lives. They — and their writers — made me proud in the moment, but if my students live out the mission statements they crafted, they will make themselves proud for so much longer.

Granted, my students are college freshmen and we’d just finished discussing Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. But their work made me think. Years ago, when I attended a required training on Covey, I drafted a personal mission statement of my own. I was much younger then, and my daughter, now a college sophomore, was still in preschool.

If I wrote a personal mission statement today, what would it look like?

The older I get and the closer I draw to God, the more I believe that teaching is something I’m meant to do. I didn’t always believe this, and I never actually set out to end up where I am. At seventeen, just a little younger than my current students are now, my personal mission statement would have included being Bob Newhart, or at least having a job like the one he had on his show (when he was a psychologist, not an innkeeper). I would earn a PhD and have fun small-group sessions with wacky adult clients, but more important, I would help people solve problems and live psychologically healthy lives.

Not quite what my life looks like now, but many of those elements are, indeed, in place.

Covey calls the personal mission statement to “a governing constitution.” More than just a long-term goal, or even a collection of them, a personal mission statement ought to be a living, breathing document that encompasses who we are and who we aspire to be. Embedded in this deceptively simple statement are what Covey would call our “big rocks” — the things that matter most. Our faith, our families, our hopes and dreams.

Our mission.

Schools and business have mission statements, and business magazines are loaded with the mission statements of successful people and instructions for writing one of your own.

Although these are useful as blueprints, I think that, as Catholic educators, our personal mission statements should center on not just what we want for ourselves, but what God wants from us. Many of us feel called to teach, but not all of us teach for the same reason, teach the same way or hope to achieve the same things with our students.

For our students, personal mission statements, like everything else we teach, will vary from age to age and from child to child. For elementary-school students, the starting point can be as simple as “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and “who/what matters to you?” We might ask middle-schoolers where they see themselves in ten years, and high-school students may be ready to draft personal mission statements that rival those written by their parents and teachers.

Many people find it beneficial to post their personal mission statements online and/or tuck them into a wallet or planner. Our mission statement not only look forward, but they’re the litmus text we can use when we feel as though we might not be moving in the right direction. In challenging times, we can regard our earlier thoughts with fresh eyes, drawing strength from something bigger than the troubles of the day. Or perhaps, through this reflection, we’ll discover that what lies ahead of us is a path that curves away from the one we’ve always followed, yet leads to an equally valuable destination.

Helping our students to craft personal mission statements can be fun, rewarding and revealing. Knowing where our students want to go can put us in a position to help them map out their journeys, step by step and brick by brick.

Crafting personal mission statements of our own, however, can empower us. Discerning our mission can ensure that we’re equipped for the journey, that our road map revolves around our values and priorities, and that these are reflected in our day-to-day interactions with our students and colleagues.

Want to write a personal mission statement of your own? Here are some questions to help you get started.

  • What’s your mission? How does this align with what you understand about God’s plan for you?
  • Why do you teach? To impart knowledge about a particular subject? To mold young minds? To help students uncover their capabilities?
  • If you didn’t teach, what would you do? Ah, digging a little deeper. Do you teach music, but secretly wish you could make a living as a freelance musician? This question might uncover — or remind you of — talents and passions that practicality has pushed aside.
  • What matters most to you? For most of us, this answer is simple, but it sometimes gets lost in the day-to-day crush of worldly duties and expectations.
  • What drives you? What makes you happy to get up in the morning? What do you still want to achieve?
  • What do you stand for? What are your non-negotiable values?

For more information on personal mission statements in particular and Stephen Covey in general, visit FranklinCovey.com.

Lisa Lawmaster Hess is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania and a former elementary school counselor.

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