In search of purpose
You are probably familiar with the concept of a mission statement. Certainly in the context of organizations. The idea is to create purpose beyond merely selling a product or service. A larger cause at stake. If the execution of that mission is done well, it motivates employees, fosters camaraderie, and makes a genuine impact.
Consumers also seek purpose in their preferred brands. This is the “Start With Why” adage made famous by Simon Sinek. If you’ve never watched the video below, I highly recommend checking it out. As Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Such an aphorism can seem surprisingly revelatory to many of us at first utterance. But it makes perfect sense. As a species, we are uniquely obsessed with meaning.
And while we are generally comfortable with establishing a raison d’être for an organization, we aren’t inclined to do the same for ourselves. Conversely, we treat personal purpose as something we need to find. As a result, our sense of an individual why often remains nebulous and vague. Loosely defined, if at all.
In fact, most of us have never thought of crafting a personal mission statement. It’s a notion I certainly hadn’t considered until hearing Evan Hafer, Founder of Black Rifle Coffee, talk about it on the Joe Rogan Experience. During that conversation, Evan recounted his experience leaving the military and his realization that he needed to give himself a new direction. So he penned a short mission statement which was simply “to transition out of government service and live a happy and fulfilling life.”
In terms of creeds that may seem prosaic or even banal to you at first glance. But even something as simple as this can have immense power and impact if incorporated into everyday waking existence. In fact, the more I thought about what Evan had done, the more I realized that a personal mission statement is not only important but also vital. I now view it as the cornerstone for the overall orientation of your mind1. The bedrock of mindset. Everything else gets built on top of it. How can you properly evaluate what you do or categorize something as “fulfilling” if you don’t have a definitive “why?”
It’s also galvanizing. Sinek repeatedly talks about attracting people who believe what you believe in business. About the power of inspiration to create a successful brand. The only difference with a personal “why” is that your target audience and company are identical and consist of one person - you.
Creating a mission statement for yourself is especially critical if you’ve spent a long time dedicated to an occupation that seemingly gave you purpose, like the military. After all, defending the nation is a big “why.” I can attest to the feeling of personal worth and import ending in tandem with such a career. But failing to realize, along with many others, that the military didn’t create meaning for us. Its mission simply aligned with our values. We sought out the job because its “why” was our “why.”
The trick is to reify those personal values and create something tangible that can carry you forward, regardless of your situation. Don’t look for purpose. Define it. Then make sure your occupation, and more importantly, your life, is congruent with that credo. This is true for anyone – veteran or not.
That’s exactly what I did a few months ago. And I must admit it was much harder than I was anticipating. However, it afforded me the opportunity to codify a method that others can use to do the same thing. I’ve created a worksheet that will guide you through the process, including step-by-step instructions, as well as my own input as an example.
Think of this as a blueprint for your “why.” A youprint if you will… As you are filling it out, be as comprehensive and specific as possible. And honest. Remember, you aren’t doing this to impress someone else. Here are the steps:
Write down everything you value. For me, this included things like integrity, humility, family, friendship, fitness, and music.
Write down everything you don’t value (but are prone to engage in). What I call anti-values. For example, negative emotions like anxiety, anger, regret, and selfishness.
Turn each value and anti-value into an action. How can you embolden yourself to champion the things you value and oppose the things you don’t? Try to make these positive and use “do” instead of “don’t.” They will become the building blocks of your actual mission statement.
Write down short and long-term goals. Be as specific as possible. Note that goals support your values, but they are not the same thing. For example, if you value physical fitness, a goal might be to run a half marathon. You don’t need to have one for every value and anti-value. But if you have any goals that don’t trace back to either, you must determine one and backfill.
Combine as many values as possible into a single action. In my case, I realized that values like charity, generosity, friendship, and family, as well as the anti-value of selfishness, could all be addressed by the action “give back.”
Choose the combinations that matter most right now and craft your personal mission statement. It must be something you can remember off the top of your head, not a page or paragraph. No more than twenty-five words total. We are looking for something concise and inspirational. As a reference point, here’s mine, along with some explanation and background:
To think well, act honorably, learn humbly, create passionately, give back, stay fit, and laugh.
Thinking well. I have become someone who “lives in fear,” as my wife once told me. She’s right. Overcoming anxiety is the #1 thing I need to change. I also must avoid stewing on past mistakes. Both entail being aware of my own thoughts.
Acting honorably. Honor is huge for me. But at times, I overcorrect for it to the point that I lack the conviction to say what I really think or do things that need to be done (like writing this Substack.) I must be confident enough to speak and act on noble intent without worrying about the opinions of others.
Learning humbly. Education doesn’t end with school. I believe in a life committed to realizing how much I don’t know, remaining curious, and pursuing wisdom.
Creating passionately. Specifically, when it comes to music. Art may be the only arena where humanity has improved upon nature. I want to be a part of that contribution.
Giving back. I’ve been extremely lucky in my life. To me it feels right to pay it forward as best as possible. This applies to my family, friends, and community.
Staying fit. Both in body and mind (obviously). Maintaining a routine that involves exercise, meditation, and breathwork is critical.
Laughing. Especially at myself. The times I run into trouble are those when I start taking “me” too seriously.
Now it’s your turn. Write a personal mission statement in the next 30 days. Feel free to use mine as a guide or start from scratch. Just make it about you. About now. What do you value? Who do you actually want to be? What kind of impact do you want to have? It doesn’t have to be set in stone for the rest of your life. You can change it later. In fact, the original version of this article I wrote for the GORUCK blog contained an earlier form of my own mission statement. Just get something down.
Then the challenge is living up to it. Defining a mission statement is a great first step. But means little if you don’t embody its espousals. So print the damn thing out and put it places you see often to hold yourself accountable. Hang it on your wall. Use it as the descriptor on your social media profiles. Make it the master Sisyphean task on your to-do list. Perpetually checked off with disappearing ink. And if you’d be willing to share what you come up with publicly, please post it with #RARESENSE.
So that’s your homework. If you don’t do it, the only thing you risk failing is yourself. There is no test other than… life.
Your mindset starts here. Stop searching for purpose. Give yourself one.
DISCLAIMER: RARE SENSE content is not medical advice. Nor does it represent the official position or opinions of any other organization or person. If you require diagnosis or treatment for a mental or physical issue or illness, please seek it from a licensed professional.