Mission impossible?

I was recently asked to define my mission in life i.e. why am I here and what do I want to achieve. Should be an easy concept right? Surely we would all naturally know our purpose and why our being around adds value to the world. But as I sat down to put my purpose to Powerpoint, I suddenly found it extremely hard to a) define my mission and b) articulate it. Now I’m sure those of you reading this who are parents (for example) may find at least a part of your mission fairly easy to define (or else scoff at me for even having the time to think about such things 🙂 But for us lot who are not yet in a place where family and cohabiting are on the agenda, how do we get to a point where we know that the things we do in life are making a difference to the world? Or indeed, even if we do have families and partners how do we make a mission that includes our role as a mum /dad/husband/wife etc but doesn’t define us only by it? I refuse to believe that my mission and reason for existing is to become a wife or a mother – valuable as these things may be!

So before continuing, perhaps it would help to give a little background to this topic. I’m currently studying for a diploma in leadership and management – a core part of it is based around the concept that to lead effectively, you first need to know who you are, what your values are and what you want to achieve in work and within life more generally. This is often known as your ‘brand’ – defining what it is that you’re offering or selling to people (an employer, a friend, a partner etc). Personally I really buy into this idea – how can you expect others to want you, support you and go with you if you can’t give them any clue as to where you’re heading and why they should be around you? I’m also a firm believer that the better you know yourself and what’s important to you, the happier you’ll be.

So as I sat down to pull together my own brand I foolishly thought it would be a straightforward, quick job since I always believed I was fairly self-aware and clear on where life is headed. An hour and a half later and I was perplexed as to why this wasn’t coming naturally to me. Why could I not pinpoint my mission, values and ‘what makes me different’ in an instant?! On reflection, there are a number of factors as to why this was hard (such as never really allowing quality time to think about purpose or thinking it a little self indulgent) but the main reason for the block was that I was trying to make it too complicated. I wanted it to be some earth shattering, amazing revelation and of course, was finding it hard to find such a thing in my relatively modest way of life. So I finally found success when I decided to keep it simple – think about what are the things I really want out of life and how can I make them happen. I came to this:

My mission is to live, learn, love and laugh…and to help others to do the same.

That is it. Simple I know and who would believe it took such a long while to reach that conclusion (perhaps it was just my slow brain on a Sunday night or the fact that Homeland was proving a tempting distraction! 🙂 But the conclusion I came to, simply put, was that life is for enjoying and living to it’s absolute fullest. I always want to keep an open mind so I can continually learn and see more, I want to love the people in my life with all my heart and I want to laugh as much as I can (that last one is particularly important by the way 🙂 And the way I can make sure this happens? By playing my part in helping other people to live, learn, love and laugh too – to do what I can to help others to be happy.

Okay, I am well aware of how cheesy my mission sounds – really I am. Usually I’m the first to cringe at overly soppy or lovey sentiments…but there is no other way of putting it, so indulge me for just a second! The reason I’m sharing this is because just by doing this relatively small exercise, I’ve found it has helped to clear the fog in several areas of my life. For example, at work I’ve recently been feeling somewhat flat and I’ve felt myself slightly losing the passion and enthusiasm I used to pride myself on. The more I became flat, the more miserable I started to feel because I couldn’t work out what was wrong. When I did this exercise it helped me to see the reason for why I was beginning to feel flat. It was because I couldn’t see through my role at work, how I was helping people – something I now know is really, really important to me. In fact, the nature of the work I do and sometimes the attitudes of the people around me are such that I often feel like a nuisance rather than a help. My biggest ‘highs’ have been when I’ve been out talking with those who need support and advice because I can see clearly how my role helps them to be happy. So now I’ve realised what was causing my ‘flatness’ I can spend valuable time sorting out a solution to it. But had I not realised the link between mission and my funk, I would have been in a downward spiral to the murky depths of miserable… As a positive aside, I also feel that should the time come to apply for jobs in the future I now know what I am looking for and how I will communicate all of this to prospective employers at interview – everyone’s a winner 🙂

The second aspect to this exercise was also about defining what makes you different – your unique selling point. Again, this was a tough job! But I came to find that the mission and defining your difference are very closely linked since I believe that what makes a person different is how their mission manifests in practice. Let me give an example to illustrate the point:

Many people’s mission in life is to be healthy. For one person this will manifest in structured lifestyle choices – a gym session twice a day, healthy food regimes and early nights since they are looking at health mainly in the physical sense. For another, this will manifest as complete lack of control – health is more psychologically based and therefore takes the form of lots of nights out, treats, spending sprees etc. And for another, perhaps a balance of both. The thing that makes each person different is the little routines, mantras, activities they undertake…essentially their behaviours. All have a common mission to be healthy in this example but each will have a very different approach to achieving it.

The reason the link is important is because if we’re honest, many missions will sound similar-ish. More often than not once you’ve written your mission you then start to think ‘well this doesn’t make me very unique at all!’ – beating yourself up for being just one more face in a very large crowd. But then if you have a think about the things you do to help make your mission a reality, you’ll soon find hundreds of things that are unique to little old you (some of them perhaps a little too weird and wacky so keep those bad boys to yourself please! 😉 For example, I’m well aware that the slogan ‘live well, love a lot and laugh often’ is a well-used phrase and my interpretation doesn’t set the world of USPs alight by any stretch. But what does make me different is the way I will choose to make my mission happen – the extent to which I passionately believe in it and the way in which I will always openly share it with others.

So at the end of this blog rather than offer my key learning points as is usually the way, I’m going to be different (see what I did there?!) and set a small challenge instead – how about you have a go at establishing a bit of a brand for yourself by writing down the following things:

– Your mission
– Your values and beliefs
– What makes you different

If I was selling this exercise as a product, this would be the point at which I would say 100% satisfaction or your money back…but seeing as no money is exchanged I can’t really offer that, sorry! But what I will say is that if you trust me (and hopefully because you’re reading my blog you do!) give it a go – it’ll help you in some way whether that be securing a new job through your newfound vision and focus, re-evaluating your current one or just getting a bit of insight into what really makes you tick 🙂 I’m sharing this because I genuinely think it’s helpful…and chuffing hell, if you didn’t know how much I love helping people before this it should be unequivocal by now! So, as Jerry Maguire so passionately puts it ‘Help me to help you!’ 😉

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