I’m not taking on a question this month; I have been grappling with one of my own. Two vibrant and amazing souls, my brother and one of my dear friends, died during the past two months. I am older than both of them. My brother was diagnosed with lung cancer five months before he died, taking away the most accepting and non-judging person I knew. I miss his generosity of spirit.
The other, a friend of over 22 years, had shared stories of living with hope despite her cancer, and she did for nearly three years. I marveled at her zest for life, her inquisitive mind, and her brain power.
Their deaths felt like a wake-up call to double check the true north on my inner compass. Anything need to be recalibrated? Am I living intentionally? Those questions took me back to a funeral hand-out I saved years ago from a woman I never had the honor of meeting, but I wish I had. She wrote in it, “I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
The question that haunts me when I read that, even now, is, “Am I living my life in a way that I wouldn’t change a thing?” I want to ask, are you?
All of these dear people left a beautiful legacy, and that is where I began to answer the question. Some of you may know right off the bat what you want to be remembered for and live your life that way. Bravo. I actually created a personal mission statement 11 years ago, and I reviewed it to write this column. The good news is I still have it, and it still fits me somewhat, but I want to update it. Now. The bad news is I haven’t looked at it since I wrote it in 2006. That’s going to change.
Writing or revising a personal mission is an inspirational process that helps us align our behaviors with our beliefs. The FranklinCovey Company offers this perspective, “Life is a journey, and your personal mission statement is your map.” I like that. It gives focus to creating a legacy.
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, captured that idea when he declared, “Writing or revising a personal mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply and carefully. As you do, other people begin to sense that you’re not being driven by everything that happens to you. You have a sense of mission about what you’re trying to do and you are excited about it.”
The best part of the personal mission statement is that our sense of clarity and intention shows up everywhere–at home, at work, with friends. It helps the best of us show up more often.
There are a variety of ways to approach creating one and I’ll offer a few here, the ones that really spoke to me, helped me. To get started, it’s useful to know what your values are and actually name them.
Here’s a great way to tap into what they could be: Draw a large oval on an 8-½ by 11 piece of paper. Think of this as the table for your personal Board of Directors. Then write the names of five to six people you would most like to be on your board around the outer edge of the oval. These are the people you want to influence you, advise you, and offer recommendations to you. You value their opinions for a reason.
After you have completed listing their names, identify those reasons. Ask yourself why you chose each person to sit at the “table”, and write that information next to each name, listing their attributes inside the circle. The reasons you just identified are your values, and can serve to guide you as you formulate more ideas.
Here’s another approach. Visualize yourself celebrating your 90th birthday with a host of people surrounding you, toasting you. What do you want them to say about you? What do you want to be known for? How do you want to be remembered as a spouse, as a parent and in-law, as a business person? What about your family? What do you want your friends to say? You can have some fun with this as you capture it all, getting insights into what matters to you. Write it all down.
When I took the time to do this, I surprised myself with what I wanted to hear and how emotional I felt. At the same time, I learned what was important to me and what I needed to start doing today to deserve those toasts.
My last suggested approach comes from Stephen Covey, and it’s the approach I used at the end because it enabled me to organize the ideas I had gotten from the other two processes. Covey suggests, “You may find that your personal mission statement will be much more balanced, much easier to work with, if you break it down into the specific role areas of your life and what you want to accomplish in each area. Roles give structure and organized direction to your personal mission.”
Thinking about my many roles helped to funnel the information into focus. It enabled me to make decisions about what I want to include in my days and how I want to show up to live up to those toasts. There is much I still want to do.
I ended up with about half a page of ideas that motivated me to align my behavior, to be on purpose in making them a conscious part of my life. It’s never too late to start again, to do it again. But this time, I have the memory of two beautiful souls who left way before I’m sure they had planned, who left a path of touching lives. They have inspired me to live my personal mission now so that in looking back, I can gratefully say, I wouldn’t change a thing.