The next time someone asks you, “So, what do you do?” offer an intriguing answer that communicates your value, opens up the conversation, and invites that person to connect with you on a deeper level.
Answer by sharing your personal mission statement.
Here’s mine: “Inspire radical hope.” That’s been my mission throughout my careers as a business journalist, a global brand-marketing manager, and a leadership-development trainer.
Usually, when asked that rote yet requisite question, we simply state our job title or name drop our employer. Unfortunately, that allows the listener to buttonhole us into a single role or a stereotype. It’s also a good way to kill the conversation, especially when the listener isn’t genuinely curious about us, can’t relate to the profession, or misinterprets our brief answer for disinterest in discussing it further.
Instead, help people see you more broadly. Your personal mission statement will communicate the vision and value that you bring to the workplace, rather than just the job that you get paid do. It also will convey your personality, which could range from cleverness to compassion, depending on how you craft your mission statement.
This unconventional answer will feel particularly freeing for someone who doesn’t love his job. Is in between jobs. Wants to switch careers. Or works for no pay, whether as a non-profit organization’s volunteer or as a full-time family caregiver. And even if those situations don’t describe you, who among us wouldn’t want to be remembered as a dynamic, whole person instead of as a single-dimensional stereotype?
So what exactly is a personal mission statement? And how can you create a great one for yourself?
A personal mission statement is a concise, memorable articulation of what you set out to do. It declares your purpose and your results. It helps people understand what you aspire to and what motivates you. And it can open the door to your next professional opportunity, as it invites people to see the bigger picture of who you are and how you can add value beyond what your job description stipulates.
Every company needs a mission statement to direct its steps. You, as CEO of your career, need a personal mission statement to guide your steps.
Here are my top four tips – the CORE – for creating your personal mission statement. A powerful personal mission statement shows Conciseness, Originality, Results & Excitement:
1. Conciseness: Craft something short and simple. Aim to utter it in a single breath.
- That increases the chances other people will be able to remember it and will repeat it to even more people. (Set yourself up for viral, word-of-mouth marketing here.)
- That gives you flexibility to interpret, explore, and stretch your personal mission statement in new directions.
- I’m a huge fan of Six-Word Stories. In fact, I created an exercise leveraging that concept for a marketing training program at Yahoo! in 2011, and participants found that to be the most fun and inspiring part of our two-hour workshop. Constraints encourage creativity, so limit your personal mission statement to an encompassing six-word phrase.
- Be a bit more ambitious by crafting a three-word personal mission statement, something my friend Dave Chen told me in 2013 that Google encouraged its employees to do.
- Dave, an excellent people manager and tech lead supporting Google’s AdSense focus area, came up with a three-word mission statement for each part of his role: “People matter most” and “Make lives better.”
2. Originality: Showcase your individuality and your ingenuity.
- If your personal mission statement sounds like everyone else’s, then people may mix you up with everyone else. That’s not a great way to stand out from the crowd when a decision-maker is thinking about whom to give the next big opportunity to.
- This is your chance to define yourself and your work. Don’t let someone else or something else (especially a company’s HR template for writing job descriptions) box you in.
- Seek inspiration in mission statements from your favorite companies. Zappos famously declared its mission was “delivering happiness,” not the obvious “selling shoes online.”
- Instead of describing what you do, describe how you do it.
- To think outside of the box, brainstorm a statement using words that wouldn’t show up on a typical job description for your role.
- My personal mission statement reflects my personality, which is optimistic and enthusiastic. I bring that personality to all of my professional endeavors (as you can see from my LinkedIn recommendations) and that helps me drive results. If you look up job descriptions for business reporters, global brand-marketing managers, or leadership-development program managers, then you will not see the words “inspire,” “radical,” or “hope.” (If I’m wrong about that, then please send me the job description right away because that sounds like the perfect gig for me!)
3. Results: Write a personal mission statement that you can back up with proof of successfully doing what it says you set out to do.
- Without results, your goals are just grand, unfulfilled visions.
- In the beginning, you can back it up with the strategy of what you plan to do or even some day-to-day tactics.
- Over time, you will need to show qualitative or quantitative proof that you execute well on your mission.
- How do I show results for a personal mission statement as intangible as “inspire radical hope”? I have lots of testimonials from workshop participants about how the training frameworks I created as the instructional designer or the perspectives I shifted as the classroom instructor alleviated their discouragement or gave them the insights and the confidence to be more successful. My favorite anecdote proving my effectiveness is the Yahoo! people manager who shook my hand and thanked me on the last day of our June 2013 leadership workshop in Munich, Germany, saying, “You are the anti-me. You are so positive. You make me want to be a better person…. You put a human face on HR.”
4. Excitement: Pick words that energize you.
- If saying your personal mission statement doesn’t excite you, then it sure won’t excite anyone else listening to it.
- List your favorite words. Each person has keywords, those meaningful terms that you use in casual conversation abundantly, perhaps a bit subconsciously.
- Brainstorm through stream-of-consciousness writing or word associations. Start with how you view yourself or how others describe you, then expand from there.
- Draft several versions of your personal mission statement, using as many synonyms as possible.
- Read your personal mission statement aloud and observe how you react when you hear it. If your eyes don’t light up as your statement rolls off your tongue, then try another variation until you find the one that epitomizes and energizes you.
What’s your personal mission statement? Share it in the comment section below.