Episode 9

What's Your Personal Mission Statement?

Gracious & Strong Podcast with Celia Swanson

How can leaders go from being successful to significant? Today on the Gracious & Stong podcast, we’re covering a topic that can be a real game-changer for you — creating a personal mission statement.

The following is a transcription of a podcast and may contain grammatical errors.

Celia Swanson: Hi everyone. I’m Celia Swanson. And I want to welcome you to today’s Gracious and Strong podcast, where you can discover the authentic and resilient leader inside of you. 

Welcome back listeners to the Gracious and Strong podcast. This is Celia Swanson, and I’m thrilled to have you with me today because we’re going to take on a very special topic. And it’s quite honestly a topic that changed my life early in my career. And the topic is writing a personal mission statement. So I’m going to start with a question. Are you being guided by a personal mission statement? Have you taken the time to write one down, to try it on for size, to put the words into practice and to use it as a mirror to validate that what you’re doing today reflects what’s truly at your core and your purpose in life? Well, we’re going to tackle this topic, and I’m going to give you some stories in a formula on how to put together your personal mission statement. While you may have written a personal mission statement along your journey, I challenge you to find it, dust it off, read it, and make sure that it still is valid for where you are in your career and life journey.

I started in my career with a development program called Influence of Omaha, and during that one-year development program, I was exposed to the importance of writing a personal mission statement. But I’ll tell you that along my journey, there were moments where I would question, what am I meant to be doing with my life. So, are you facing a job or a career crisis, or are you facing a personal crisis? You know, we are all leading in very unprecedented times—times of great change, polarized social and political unrest—and there may be many moments, even as we think about going back into the workplace after COVID that cause you to be anxious or unclear. I invite you to walk through this guide with me today on the important topic of developing your own personal mission statement. 

You know, I discovered the importance of a personal mission statement, as I said early in my career. And it’s been my North Star through many professional and personal transitions, but it was never more important than on the morning of February 3rd, 2016 when I woke up in a panic. You see, I had retired from Walmart after 26 years on February 2nd. I was clear every single day in my working life about what I was doing, why I was uniquely qualified to accomplish the results I was delivering, and how I wanted to leave my legacy. But you see, I made a mistake that oftentimes people make, and that is I defined myself by my title and my status at Walmart. And on February 3rd, 2016, that was no longer my reality, and I had to look in the mirror and say, who really am I? And how am I going to make choices in my life now for this next stage? What is next for me? What am I uniquely qualified to do? And will those skills be marketable outside of a high profile career? But most importantly to me, was this shift in how do I move from being successful to significant? 

That’s where my personal mission statement came into place. It was so important for me to take that mission statement, to dust it off, to read it through, and to adjust a few words and focus of that personal mission statement. Because if you don’t invest time in finding your purpose and living up to that purpose every day of your life, you will have a tendency to wander and to flounder. And I didn’t want to do that in my next chapter of life. Worse yet, you could actually have someone else defining what it is that you’re going to do in your next chapter or in your current role, and just not have clarity about what it is that you want to leave as your legacy and as your leadership following. So, spending time refocusing on my personal mission statement, dusting it off and refining. It was a critical exercise for me when I made the transition from a full-time career into writing a book, holding podcasts, being a board director. 

But where do you start? You know, that so often is where people get hung up. It’s it’s an important topic. I get that it’s valuable, but I don’t even know where to start by thinking about how to write a personal mission statement. So I’ve got four steps that I’d love to share with you. 

Let’s start with step one and that’s understanding your values. We’re going to talk for just a few minutes about choosing your values. You know, values are very personal to you, and they really are at the core of what makes you tick. Being guided by your highest values brings immense satisfaction and meaning to your life. And so there are seven F’s that I’ve learned over the years to use, to frame my values. We’re going to walk through those seven F’s, and then I’m going to ask you to rank order them, but let’s start with the seven F’s.

Number one is family. Oftentimes your family is in your top prioritize, as well as should be, but you play many roles in your family. Perhaps the role of a spouse, a parent, a child, a sister or brother, or an important role in an extended family. Number two is firm. This is focused on your career. This category includes all aspects of your job. You might play many roles as a leader, as a subordinate, as a peer, as a teacher, as a mentor. Number three is fitness. And here I include both physical and mental fitness. How fit are you emotionally, spiritually, physically, and professionally? Fitness plays such a vital role in your health and your vigor. Number four is faith, and faith begins with your role in relationship to your inner life and your contribution or giving back. Faith entails all of this. Number five is friendship. Relationships that inspire challenge, support and celebrate. They might include intimate relationships, casual relationships, neighborhood, and professional friendships and relationships. Number six is finance. This area addresses your family and personal budget, taxes, estate planning, college funds, retirement planning. It ensures you keep focused on your short- and long-term financial needs. And number seven is fun. This includes hobbies and enjoyable activities where you can relax and renew yourself. Those are the seven Fs: family, firm, fitness, faith, friendship, finance, and fun. Now, for the exercise. There are seven Fs. Rank order them from number one—most critical and highest importance to you—to number seven important—important but seventh in the list. And then I’d like you to narrow down and look at your number one, two, and three choices. What I will tell you is that when I was pursuing my career, my number one, two, and three values were firm, finance, and family. But on this day of February 3rd when I reflected on what was next in my life, those priorities changed. And my top three today are family, friendship, and faith. So they do change over time and reflecting back on those based on your season of life is a very important step to ensuring that your personal mission statement is still relevant for where you are today. 

Step two. Step two is, let’s start with your why, what is your why? Having a personal mission statement gives you the opportunity to bring real definition to why am I here? What is my purpose? What am I meant to really accomplish and deliver and leave as a legacy in my life? The person that does the best job of describing start with your why is Simon Sinek? And if you have not listened to any of his podcasts or viewed any of his work, you should do so. And he has a YouTube video from a TedX talk that’s called The Golden Circles: what, how and why. If you haven’t watched it, I would highly recommend it. But Simon Sinek makes the case that you are a brand. And that’s what we’re going to build on just a little bit here because inspired leaders think, act, and communicate from the inside out. His premise is that people don’t buy what you do. They buy, why you do it, that you are a brand and that people are choosing every day to buy a relationship with you or not. If you want to be a person of influence, then you need to be a leader where people are wanting to buy your brand. He uses an example of Apple products, and the way that he describes a new way of positioning, your brand statement is not about what you do then how you do it and ending on why you do it. Begin with why you do what you do, then how you do it, and then what you do. So for example, with Apple products, he describes it as Apple says, Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we think differently is our products are beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We make great computers and phones, want to buy one? The concept here is think, act, and communicate from the inside out. The sense of mission gives meaning and significance to our lives. So if a man or a woman has a why to live for, she or he can stand on any how. So what is your why? Take a few minutes and think about your why. Write it down. 

Step three is to choose your mission. After carefully considering your values in step one and writing down your why so that you start with your why in step two, you might have a clear idea about where your mission statement is headed. But a good mission statement needs to have two components: it needs to be aspirational and it needs to be clear. What is my calling? What is my life’s aim? What inspires me the most? What activity or service are my core values urging me to pursue? And what makes me great? Well, there’s a formula. And for those of you who know me, I think very much in formulas and models. And, in this step, we’re going to put together all the pieces and parts and have you write down your first draft of a personal mission statement. The three components here are the value you create is component one, who you’re creating it for is component two, and what’s the expected outcome is component three. And when you can put those three pieces together in a sentence, you will have written a personal mission statement that is noble and worthy of your life. 

But let me give you a couple of examples of some notable mission statements, just for you to, to contemplate. I’ll start with somebody that’s very well known to all of us and that’s Oprah Winfrey. And Oprah’s personal mission statement is: To be a teacher and to be, be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be. Another individual that you would probably know is Eric Schmidt, who’s the CEO of Google. And his mission statement is: To collect all the world’s information and make it accessible to everyone. I think he’s done a pretty good job of achieving his mission statement. Another one is Richard Branson. And Richard Branson, who’s the founder of Virgin group. His personal mission statement is: To have fun in my journey through life and learn from my mistakes. Another individual was CEO at Campbell’s Soup, and her name is Denise Morrison. And her personal mission statement was: To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference. Now, wouldn’t you want to work for a CEO with that personal mission statement? Well, I’m going to give you one more example of a personal mission statement, and that was Sam Walton and Sam Walton’s mission statement was: To work together to lower the cost of living for everyone, giving the world an opportunity to see what is like to save and have a better life. He’s definitely a CEO that I aspired to work for and in his organization. But see the components of these mission statements. They have the components in the formula that I gave you, which is what is the value you create? Who are you creating that value for? And what’s the expected outcome that you would like to accomplish. I’m going to share one last mission statement with you. And that’s my personal mission statement. My life’s mission is to use my voice for women and children, empowering them to break through barriers that limit their ability to be significant. This is important to me because what is my unique value? My unique value that I bring is my voice. I have platforms and boardrooms and leadership influence where my voice has impact and influence. And I want to use that voice on behalf of women and children who may not get the opportunity to be in those same situations and circumstances. And I want to bring the expected outcome of empowering them to break through barriers that limit them and their ability to be significant. I said to you in the beginning, when I thought about what was this next chapter of life going to bring, it was important to me to move from success to significance. And I want to make that opportunity available for women and children across the world.

Another way that I was able to bring my personal mission statement to life while working at Walmart was the creation of the Women’s Officer Caucus. I’m proud to have left that legacy inside the Walmart Inc organization. And today it is still alive and thriving. And I’m so grateful to the women who have continued to carry on the legacy of the Women’s Officer Caucus. The Women’s Officer Caucus was a way for senior women leaders to be able to welcome and bring on new women officers into the organization, and help them find their way to success and how to navigate the organization. We also worked with directors and senior directors in helping them be equipped to have the skills and success as an officer in the organization. We also worked to give back in the community to organizations that were helping develop women and their career skills. And we created mentorship opportunities for leaders inside the company. And I’m proud that that organization is still thriving within Walmart today. 

But let’s go to step four and step four is taking action. So now that you have your personal mission statement written, and it’s on paper and you feel really good about it, then actually share it with someone, share it with your friends, share it with your trusted colleagues, share it with your spouse or significant others, and have them give you feedback on does that fit you? Is that the way people would describe the value you bring, who you bring the value for, and the expected outcome that you’re delivering in your life? If it doesn’t, then tweak the words until you have the composition of those words exactly as you would like them. And then, try it on for size, tell people what your personal mission statement is, stand up in your own mind and in your own behavior to the standards that you’ve established in that personal mission statement. Evaluate your daily actions to see if they align with this mission statement. Does it feel authentic to you? 

One story that I will give you is when I was working at Sam’s Club, and I got all excited about Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and the giving campaign that we were driving that particular year, and we were significantly increasing the gifts and contribution from associates and customers and members to children’s hospitals across the nation. And we were celebrating in one of our Clubs just a significant milestone in the gifts that they were able to contribute to Children’s Miracle Network campaign that year, and they broke all records and the market manager shaved his head so that, that he would recognize and celebrate with those associates in the Club what a great milestone they achieved. But this club was about to move across the street, and they were being the gift of a brand new Club. But with that brings lots of costs and a need to grow their membership base—double it in size—and they weren’t making the progress that they needed to make. And so I got caught up in the moment, and I stood up in front of the Club associates and declared that if they would double their membership base over the course of the next 12 weeks before their Club opened that I would shave my head. Now, let me tell you, I did not think that they could double their membership base in that 12-week period. And I certainly did not think I would be shaving my head, but never, never bet against a team of people that you believe in—and I did believe in them. And four months later, I was held to a standard of living up to what I committed to because they more than doubled their membership base. And it was at a fall managers’ meeting, and I gave the opportunity to the market, the club manager, the market manager, and the regional manager to shave my head. They said, oh, no, we’re not going to do that because you’re a woman. And we don’t do that to women. And I said, even more reason why I need to shave my head. So I made a commitment, this is about personal integrity, and I need to live up to the commitment that I made. So professional onstage professional hairstylist, and she cut my hair to less than one inch on my head. And then she added more to the story. She dyed one half blue and one half green. And I now have short hair as a result of living up to my belief and integrity and living up to my word. That’s how you can measure if your personal mission statement gets to your core and really reflects the authentic you. Is your mission statement noble? And do you feel a sense of pride when you live up to it? I certainly did that day, and I continue to feel inspired by the words that I’ve put into my personal mission statement, and that’s the point. The point is to be defined by excellence and to be remembered by significance. And you can do that by living out your personal mission statement every day. 

So why is this topic of having a personal mission statement so important? Because as you measure where you invest your time, your talents, and your resources, and are you leaving the legacy that you would like to leave, I believe that those of us with a personal mission statement that’s written down and we hold ourselves accountable to it in our everyday lives, have a greater opportunity of leaving a legacy of importance and significance. I believe that if you own it and you believe in it and you hold yourself accountable to that personal mission statement, the opportunity for you to be significant is tremendous.

And that’s what I want for all of you as my listeners is I want you to live your best life. I want you to leave your best legacy, and I want to hear your stories about your personal mission statements and the milestones and successes you’ve been able to achieve while navigating with the strong personal mission statement. I wish for you only greatness. And I can’t wait to hear how you put into practice writing and living up to your personal mission statement. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Gracious and Strong podcast focused on writing your own personal mission statement. I have a few resources to help you as you define your personal mission statement, just go to yourpersonalmission.com, and I’ll send you a free download and a worksheet to help guide you. I’d also love it if you would share some examples of your mission statements and stories about how you’ve applied your personal mission statement in your life. It would bring me great gratitude and joy to be able to share in some of the successes you’ve seen in living a life well defined by your personal mission statement. I wish you all the best. Have a great week.

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