Allison Rimm is a strategic planning and management consultant, coach, and award-winning educator. She is the former senior vice-president for strategic planning and information management at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is the author of The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life (Bibliomotion; September, 2013), from which this article is adapted.
The joy of a life well lived – our work well done, our cherished ones well loved, our potential realized. Isn't that what we're all after? Achieving this most fundamental and often elusive goal doesn't just happen. It requires a strategy. To create a meaningful plan, you need a structured approach that guides you, step by step, through the process of defining what is most important to you and what you must do to get it. The world's most successful businesses do this as a matter of course, and there is no more essential business than the business of your life.
I will be your guide as you work through my eight-step Strategic Planning Program. In each section, you will complete exercises to accomplish all the necessary steps. You will find tools you can gather to address your particular needs and assemble your own custom toolbox. You will do some organized, strategic soul-searching starting with Step One – Mission: Find Your Purpose.
Mission: Find Your Purpose
Every great strategic plan starts with a declaration of an entity's purpose that expresses why it exists, what its members value, and what these people intend to accomplish. Your mission is nothing short of your purpose here on earth, and you'll start your personal plan by spelling it out. I know that sounds lofty, as though we're trying to find the meaning of life. But the answer to the question "What am I here to do?" isn't as remote as you might think. What do you love to do? What are you good at? You'll find your mission right there – it's as accessible and profound as that.
I love author Matthew Kelly's definition of what we're after: "Mission is where your talents and passions collide with the needs of individuals and the world." (see footnote below)
Start by thinking of an accomplishment you're proud of, something that succeeded because of the unique blend of talents you provided. This could be anything. Maybe you pulled off a marketing coup, made a stellar presentation, or defused a volatile family situation. Perhaps you realized that some of the kids at your child's school didn't have coats and you organized a clothing drive. Or, it could be that you threw a killer salsa dance party that people still talk about years later. Grab your notebook and start writing. What was it you did that makes you smile just to remember the experience? It should be comforting to know that there are no wrong answers here.
Whatever the specifics of the accomplishment you chose, you're looking for a feeling of success and ease, the sense that you were the right person for the task because it called on your passions and talents so that you were naturally drawn to do it. These are the hallmarks of your calling.
Often, what you are good at is highly correlated with what you enjoy doing. One of the reasons I'm so passionate about creating a personal strategic plan is that I want to make sure my life is full of the things that I love most. To do that, you need to know what those things are. As sad as it might sound, a lot of us just haven't given much thought to what lights us up from the inside. Here in your virtual Walden Woods, you have the perfect opportunity to pay close attention to what you enjoy most.
If you find it hard to wax on about what you're really good at doing, it might help to think about how others see you. Who knows you best? What would they say are your greatest strengths?
A wonderful benefit of creating a mission built on the foundation of your talents and passions is that you're likely to craft one that plays to your strengths and comes naturally to you. When that is the case, success comes with relative ease.
Name Your Passions
What are you most passionate about? You can free-associate and write down anything that comes to mind in your notebook. If you're stuck, here are a few provocative questions to get you going.
- What are some peak experiences I’ve enjoyed in my life?
- What is my favourite kind of vacation?
- What do I do when I’m procrastinating?
One building block of your mission embraces your core values. These are the principles you hold most dear that will guide your path toward fulfilling your mission. What matters most to you? You need to think about that because what you value will illuminate your way, guide how you conduct yourself, and determine what you leave behind. Guiding principles serve as an excellent filter when setting priorities.
Write Your Mission Statement
You can use the following examples as models for crafting your mission statement, but please avoid the temptation to make a few edits to someone else's statement and call it a day:
- “To strive to achieve consistent growth and education in my professional career, in conjunction with a harmonious family life.”
- “To operate from a balanced mental, physical, and spiritual centre while sharing my creative talents in both my professional and personal life.”
- “To achieve personal and professional success by utilizing my knowledge and skill set when and wherever possible. I will also strive to help others and give back to the community in every way that I know how.”
Take one last look at your mission statement (of course, you can go back and revise it whenever you like) and put some final flourishes on it if you are so moved. Record your mission statement. You may even wish to make an attractive printout of your mission and hang it where you can see it every day to be reminded of what matters most to you. You may also want to consider writing another mission statement for any aspect of your life that seems to call out for its own. Most essentially, use your mission statements to remind yourself of what brings you joy and matters most.
Footnote: Matthew Kelly, Perfectly Yourself–9 Lessons for Enduring Happiness (New York: Ballantine, 2006), 180.