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This article is part-2 of Stage Four in the seven-stage Life Design process. Stage Four crafts personal purpose and/or why, mission, and vision statements.

Part-1 shared 70+ powerful questions to elicit input for the personal statements.

Below in this article, I share more background and exercises for creating personal statements. Each exercise provides additional process and structure beyond asking the questions shared in part-1.

Purpose and Mission

Background Regarding the Importance of Service

In The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness, author Emily Esfahani Smith quotes developmental psychologist William Damon who says that purpose is a “stable and far-reaching” goal.

Purpose involves a contribution to the world. Purpose is a part of one’s personal search for meaning, but it also has an external component, the desire to make a difference in the world, to contribute to matters larger than the self.

Later in the book, Esfahani Smith references Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant.

Grant’s research offers a clue about how people working in any sector can find purpose at work—by adopting a service mindset.

Purpose with a capital P is made through intention and commitment to be of service or benefit to others, whether one person or a million.

Process

Many authors emphasize that your purpose and mission are something only discovered through experience and iteration. For example, Martha Beck in Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live says:

I’ve been privileged to watch many people discover their own North Stars—and it always is a discovery, an “uncovering," rather than a creation ex niholo (out of nothing)."

Beck goes on to describe how the discovery process requires a balance between our “essential self” and our “social self.”

Your essential self is the personality you got from your genes: your characteristic desires, preferences, emotional reactions, and involuntary physiological responses, bound together by an overall sense of identity. Your social self is the part of you that developed in response to pressures from the people around you, including everyone from your family to your first love to the pope. Most of my clients are responsible citizens who have muzzled their essential selves to do what they believe is the “right thing.” To find your North Star, you must teach your social self to relax and back off.

In Full Life Framework: The Essential Guide to Create a Rich and Meaningful Life and Stop Surrendering to Your Circumstances (PDF), author Leon Ho describes American physician Dr. Alex Lickerman‘s suggestion to create a list of 100 things that bring you joy. 50 that have brought you joy in the past, and 50 that bring you joy in this moment. Dr. Lickerman’s advice is to craft a mission statement based on experiences you’ve already had, not ones you’d like to have. The idea is to discover your mission—rather than inventing it (an echo of Martha Beck.)

The HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose, by John Coleman offers a three-step process to mine your life and work for purpose:

  1. Conduct a survey
    • What are you good at?
    • What gives you enjoyment or flow?
    • What moves you at an emotional level?
    • Where is there a need in the world or in your life?
    • Is there anything you must steer clear of?
  2. Assemble a crew
    • Whose perspective do you respect enough to listen to?
    • Who will think and act with your best interest in mind?
    • Who will complement your personality and help you see things in new and interesting ways?
    • Which peers can challenge you and partner with you for life?
    • Who might offer wisdom and experience that you have yet to acquire?
  3. Drill into the raw material
    • Who do you serve in your day-to-day work?
    • What do those people need?
    • How can you be a positive influence on your colleagues?
    • Where, in your work, is there the opportunity for “craft”?

In From Paycheck to Purpose: The Clear Path to Doing Work You Love, author Ken Coleman emphasizes clarity, which means:

  • Being certain of WHO you are
  • WHAT contribution you want to make, and
  • WHY you want to make that impact.
Coleman goes on to say that your mission addresses five concerns:
  • Who are the people I want to help?
  • What problem do they have?
  • What do they need or want?
  • Why do I feel connected to them?
  • What solutions do I most want to provide them?

In Soul Salt: Your Personal Field Guide to Confidence, Purpose, and Fulfillment, author Lyn Christian suggests a “simple formula” for creating a purpose statement:

Step 1—Answer the following questions:

  • What is the most incredible power inside you?
  • What is the purpose of this power?
  • What do you hope to do in order to fulfill or use this power?

Step 2—Read your answers aloud. Share them with a friend or confidant. Notice the thoughts, remarks, and feelings that come up while you share.

Step 3—Write a one-to-three-sentence statement of your life’s purpose.

An article from the Berkeley Well-Being Institute suggests 5 Steps to Finding Your Life Purpose:

  1. Find out what drives you
  2. Find out what energizes you
  3. Find out what you are willing to sacrifice for
  4. Find out who you want to help
  5. Find out how you want to help

What Do You Really Do? Ask “What do you really do?” five layers deep. (Source: Adapted from Chip Conley, Living and Working on Purpose, Modern Elder Academy (MEA), as modeled on The Kingdom with Justin Michael Williams podcast that also includes the tip “Purpose is a verb”)

In her eBook ‘How to Find Your Life Purpose’, author Celestine Chua describes a brainstorming approaching to discovering your purpose.

In How to Develop Your Personal Mission Statement, author Stephen R. Covey emphasizes beginning with the end in mind. This is based upon the concept that all things are created twice: first in the mind, as a thought or intellectual creation; and second in reality as a physical creation. As you look at your mission statement, you’ll need to work basically on two things: vision—your sense of the future—and the principles that you want to live by. Covey suggests four criteria of a good mission statement. Your mission statement should:

  1. be timeless
  2. deal with both the ends (your destination, your vision) and the means (the way that we get to our destination)
  3. deal with all the roles of your life
  4. deal with the four dimensions of our nature (body, relationships, mind, and spirit) and our three lives (public, private, and inner life)

Covey shares his own mission statement, which is 169 words. In my model of personal statements, I view his mission as a long list of principles. Valuable and guiding; however, it does not crisply address how he serves and who he serves, which in my model is the crux of a mission statement. I share this as an illustration of an alternative approach from a well-known and widely respected author.

The Purpose Challenge from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley is a free four-day curriculum targeted at High School students to help them discover their purpose for use in college essays. Also useful for adults.

Templates

Astrid Baumgardner. Template: “The Purpose of my life is to [insert what I do to be on purpose] using my [insert qualities I bring] so that/in order to [insert impact or outcome].” (Source: Aron Croft (PDF))

If I stay high-level, completing this for my own life looks like this: “The Purpose of my life is to make the world a better place by positively impacting others using my 60+ years of life experience so that those that I impact become happier and more fulfilled.”

If I instead get more specific and bleed into what I consider a personal mission, this looks like this: “The Purpose of my life is to help people discover what’s next and go after it during times of major life transition using the methods of life design so that they become happier and more fulfilled.”

With apologies for the run-on sentences.

Britt Andreatta promotes Aaron Hurst‘s three drivers of purpose:

  • Who you want to impact (individuals, organizations, or society)
  • Why you want to work (karma/individualism or harmony/collectivism), and
  • How you want to achieve success (your craft: community, human, structure, or knowledge)

The drivers feed a template similar to Baumgardner’s: “My purpose is to serve [based on who driver] by [based on how drive] ‘in order to’/’so that’ [based on why driver].”

Again, completing for myself: “My purpose is to serve individuals by creating a practical solution based on the needs and desires expressed by the individuals I serve (i.e., the ‘human’ choice for ‘how’) so that they become happier and more fulfilled (i.e., the ‘karma’ choice for ‘why’).”

Zuzunaga Venn Diagram of Purpose

Part exercise and part template is the diagram below originating with Andres Zuzunaga in 2011. The diagram was later translated into English and widely misattributed as Ikigai, including in the image below.  

The diagram includes overlapping spheres covering:

  • What you love. This sphere includes what we do or experience that brings us the most joy and makes us feel most alive and fulfilled.
  • What the world needs. This domain connects most explicitly with other people and doing good for them, beyond one’s own needs.
  • What you can get paid for. Whether you can get paid for your passions or talents depends on factors such as the state of the economy, whether your passions/talents are in demand, etc.
  • What you are good at. This sphere encompasses talents or capabilities, whether or not you are passionate about them, whether the world needs them, or if you can get paid for them.

(Source: positivepsychology.com)

The Japanese concept of Ikigai (ee-key-guy) combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” When combined, these terms mean that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose. Nicolas Kemp has a well-researched article that describes what Ikigai actually is and the history of how the diagram below incorrectly became known in the West as Ikigai.

Four circle Venn Diagram
Image Credit: Toronto Star

Vision

Journaling

Highlight Reel. The easiest, most obvious place to find your vision is by looking at the biggest and boldest moments of our lives. Record the history of your shining, profound, soul-awakening, and joy-filled moments. The purpose of the Highlight Reel is to assist you in the creation of your vision by helping you reflect on those proud, happy moments that you most treasure. (Source: Your Life by Design: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Bigger Future, by Curtis R. Estes)

To Be List. Craft your ‘To Be List’ to identify who you want to be in your life. Consider the answer to these questions: What do I want people to say about me when I am not in the room? Where can I serve others and make an extraordinary impact? Imagine I am voted Person of the Year. Why? What did I achieve to earn this recognition? Etc. (Source: ibid.)

Good Times Journal. At the end of every workday, log what you were doing during the day when you felt bored, restless, or unhappy (i.e., disengaged) and when you felt excited, focused, and having a good time at work (i.e., engaged). (Source: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans)

Odyssey Plans. Imagine and write up three different versions of the next five years of your life. We call these Odyssey Plans because life is an odyssey. Your first plan is centered on what you’ve already got in mind—either your current life expanded forward or that hot idea you’ve been nursing. For your second plan, imagine that you suddenly can no longer do the first plan. What would you do? For your third plan, imagine you had unlimited resources, and your image was secure—you knew no one would think less of you for doing it. What would you do? (Source: ibid.)

Letter From the Future. Imagine yourself being 90+ years old and having lived a dream life with a dream job. Write a letter to the you of today from the you of the future. Describe everything you have accomplished in your personal life and work, how these accomplishments make you feel, and what you are most proud of. (Source: BetterUp)

Life Areas. Use bullet points to describe your vision and dreams for each Life Area defined in my How Am I Doing? article. Cover both your outer world (for example, a vision for family) and inner world (for example, a vision for your mental health).

Ideal Day and Week. Visualize your ideal day and week. In detail, what does your most productive/happiest/fulfilling day look like in your future? What type of work are you doing? What is your physical environment? Who are you with? Etc.

Bucket List. Create a “bucket list” and reflect on why each item is important to you.

What I Want in Life. Bullet-list brainstorm “What I want in life.” Then categorize each item by Expired (an expired version of me set this goal), Borrowed (a goal based on comparing myself to others), For Later (not ready for this goal), or True. Only keep the True items to work with to define your goals. (Source: Leah Smart)

I Am My Future Self, Right Now. “A personal vision is a picture of our future self taking root in the present.” A personal visioning brainstorming process. (Source: Dancing With Markers)

[added 23 February 2024] Arete. Arete is a concept in ancient Greek thought that, in its most basic sense, refers to “excellence” of any kind—especially a person or thing’s “full realization of potential or inherent function” (Source: Wikipedia). The MacSparky Productivity Field Guide suggests defining your arete in a bullet list for each of your roles. For example, a list of points that define what your vision of being an ideal spouse looks like.

Vision Board

A vision board is a visual rendering of your vision, The board can be either a digital or analog collage of images and words. Creating and then frequently seeing the board can be a source of inspiration and motivation. Some people believe that reflecting on the board leads to manifesting the life you desire. Learn more…

Photo Credit: Rachelle Welling

Quest

A vision quest is a rite of passage in some Native American cultures. It is usually only undertaken by young males entering adulthood. Individual indigenous cultures have their own names for their rites of passage. “Vision quest” is an English umbrella term and may not always be accurate or used by the cultures in question. Among Native American cultures who have this type of rite, it usually consists of a series of ceremonies led by Elders and supported by the young man’s community. The process includes a complete fast for four days and nights, alone at a sacred site in nature which is chosen by the Elders for this purpose. During this time, the young person prays and cries out to the spirits that they may have a vision, one that will help them find their purpose in life, their role in community, and how they may best serve the People. Misappropriation: Many non-Native, New Age, and “wilderness training” schools offer what they call “vision quests” to the non-Native public.

(Source: LibreTexts)

In 1995 I orchestrated my own three-day “vision quest” drawing from Native traditions for a long weekend break from my first year in business school. Albeit I didn’t receive some sort of divine vision, I did find the alone time and deep reflection to be valuable in setting my course for my remaining semesters and job search.

Over To You

What exercises have helped you find your purpose, mission, and vision? What exercises from the above will you use to craft or refine your personal statements?

Next in this Stage Four series-within-a-series is an article offering some lifestyle decisions that help to keep purpose, why, mission, and vision statements alive and evolving.

NOTE: Links to books are Amazon affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission on any purchases.

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