Be! All That You Can Be! (aka: Personal Mission Statement)

got purpose

I grew up with one foot on each side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. During the week, my brother, sister, and I lived in the east bay with my mom and stepdad. And every other Friday evening, our mom drove across the bay to drop us off at our dad’s house in the city.

 

emeryville mudflat sculpture

 

That meant a lot of time stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A lot of time munching Happy Meals in the car, admiring the Emeryville Mud Flat sculptures through the window, and trying not to drive Mom bonkers. Once in a while, our favorite commercial would come on the radio, and we kids would belt out the jingle at the top of our lungs.

“BE! ALL THAT YOU CAN BE! YOU CAN DO IIIIT! IN THE AAAARRR-MY!”

No, none of us had future aspirations of joining the military. There was just something about those lyrics. The excitement. The passion. The promise of possibility. If you just do this thing, then you can grow to become all that you can be.

Be all that you can be. Just like I can’t forget singing that jingle at the top of my lungs as a kid, that idea has stuck with me throughout life. Each one of us was born with a certain measure of potential. We all have talents — some well-honed, some raw, and some yet undiscovered. We each have gifts, whether they are the skills we gain from developing our talents, or some special spark in our personalities just waiting to catch fire. And every one of us is capable of growing, of taming those gifts and using them to enrich our lives, and the lives of others. To achieve excellence. To be all that we can be.

Mission-Vision-and-GoalsEarlier today, I attended a leadership class in which we explored our strengths and weaknesses, passions, goals, and values. Then we took those pieces we identified and spent time crafting our personal mission statements. For many, this was a very challenging exercise; one that may take much more time to complete and get just right. For me, the pieces of the puzzle linked together almost like magic, until my personal mission statement appeared on the page; the phrase which captures who I am, what I value, and what I hope to achieve in life.

“To share my gifts with others, to live as a positive example and inspiration to those around me, to be all that I can be, and to find joy in the journey.”

That’s it. Me in a nutshell. My life’s purpose, in one neat quote.

Steven R. Covey, author of the iconic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, considers a personal mission statement “like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.” Others who tout the importance of a personal mission statement suggest memorizing it, or hanging it up in one’s home or office as a daily reminder of your sense of mission.

So how do you go about creating a personal mission statement?

  • Determine your core values. What is most important to you in life? Family? Faith? Creativity? Generosity?
  • Identify your contributions. What do you want to do? What are you passionate about? Giving back to your community? Climbing the career ladder? Raising happy kids?
  • Set your goals. Be sure that these are tangible and attainable. Which goals matter most to you?

Finally, take what you have discovered about yourself and use this to create your own personal mission statement. It may help to read some examples of other mission statements, for inspiration. Remember that there is no right or wrong mission statement. This is your baby. You own it. Also keep in mind — your personal mission statement is not set in stone. It is okay to revisit it and refine it from time to time, as your goals, priorities, and values may shift.

personal mission statement example

You will know that your personal mission statement is just right when you believe in it; when it expresses the core of who you are.  Now write your phrase on a sticky note and put it on the bathroom mirror. Add it to a bookmark. Repeat the words to yourself when you need to get back on track to achieving your goals. Or shout it at the top of your lungs like a kid on a road trip. Whatever works. Let your personal mission statement be a lighthouse to guide you home, and to help you in your quest to be all that you can be.

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

A Souffle is Not a Life Goal (aka: Pondering the 5yr Plan)

“What is your dream?”

future aheadOne of my coworkers wrote this question on the top of a large white board that hangs outside his cubicle. Over the course of a few days, other workers stopped by to scrawl their ideas on the board, some realistic, some not so much. I paused a few times just to stare at the blank white space, as though waiting for inspiration to appear below the colorful writing.

But nothing came.

What is your dream? Sometimes, I look around the internet and begin to feel left out of this whole passion movement. “Follow your passion.” “Don’t give up on your dream.” “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I feel a flutter of panic – wait, I’m supposed to have a dream? I’m supposed to have some specific, long-range goal that fills me with fire whenever I think about it? But what if, right this moment, all I have is a half-dozen lukewarm short-term goals? I would really like, for example, to learn how to cook a soufflé. Does that count as a dream? Is it healthy to crave a simple glass of water, or must I desire the entire lake? perfect cheese souffle

It isn’t that I never have large goals. I have set and fulfilled some rather large goals in my life, which were important to me at one time or another along the journey. But now?

Then I had a bright idea – Pinterest! Surely Pinterest can help me to organize my muddled dreams and goals for the future. Okay, I’m totally kidding. Except for the occasional awesome recipe (like soufflés, for example) or hilarious joke, I mostly find Pinterest a dull way to spend time. But the other day, a particular post jumped out at me: The 5-Year Plan. So I clicked the link, and found this:

5-Year Plan Template

Well, that seems so simple. It should be easy to make a 5-year plan, right?

Wrong.

It was far easier to come up with tentative, bucket-list style plans that may or may not ever happen. It is far, far harder to make attainable, realistic, mid-range plans, especially if you also have to muster up some passion about them.

Career – This is the simplest. Finish earning my two college degrees and a couple more IT certs. Get a decent, full-time, well-paying job in the industry – preferably one that will lead me down the Systems Admin/Network Admin trail. This is definitely my career goal. Am I confident about it? Absolutely. Passionate? Some days.

Financial – This totally depends on the career goal.

Social – Umm…next?

Family – Well, I’ve already got this great family with my three great kids and me. Adding a dog would be cool, if our landlord allowed it. I hesitate to use university as a family goal, since a college education should be my children’s goal for their lives, not mine.

Health – Stay healthy. Keep on keepin’ on.

Relationship – Nada.

Travel – This is the only life goal that really gets my heart pumping. I have a long list of places I am dying to visit. But within 5 years? That all depends on financial goals, which all depend on career goals. So it is really hard to invest energy into getting passionate about it.

After pondering this plan, I also perused a few other websites about creating a 5-Year Plan. But the ideas were quite similar. Decide where your passions lie (Travel, doing fun things with my kids, my career path, writing). Write out a 5-year plan. Then create short-term objectives toward reaching that goal. Since the only solid plan I made had to do with career, the next step was easy: get off the computer and do your homework, dummy!

The perfect soufflé can wait.

So Many Poppies (aka: Follow the Yellow Brick Road)

wicked witch of the west

I’d be all, “Why are you green?”

I would have made a terrible Dorothy Gale.

Let’s just say that if a giant twister had picked up me instead of her and transported me to the magical land of Oz, then we’d be looking at a whole ‘nother story.

For starters, I would have questioned everything. Was the tornado actually a wormhole to another dimension, or am I lying in a coma and experiencing all of this in my mind? Did the Munchkins relocate to Munchkinland on their own accord, like some sort of Little People Cult Compound, or were they segregated from the rest of Oz society and banished there like Native Americans to a reservation? Also – does Glinda the so-called Good Witch really expect me to hike for miles along a brick road while wearing uncomfortable, tacky pumps that had just been on the feet of a dead woman?

magic sneakers

Still tacky, but probably a lot more comfortable than the slippers.

I’ll just walk in my bare feet, thanks.

Then there’s that little issue of people. Er…or whatever one would call the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy Gale was clearly not an INTJ. Would I have stopped to help the Scarecrow down from his stake or offered oil to the Tin Man? Well, maybe. But I doubt I’d start telling them all my business, the way naïve, trusting little Dorothy does. Because you never know who might be hiding beneath that friendly scarecrow mask.

True, they turn out to be good guys. And true – they discover that the four of them have a shared goal of reaching the Emerald City, and so help each other along the path. Kind of like Harry Potter and friends, supporting one another through their years at Hogwarts and beyond.

Huh. Guess that makes me like Voldemort. Only without the evil and horcruxes and megalomania.

The other problem I would have if I were in Dorothy’s place is the poppies. Those lovely poppies, blooming so innocently along the path. See, that is already an issue for me at times. The Emerald City always glows in the distance like a giant jewel. Maybe it is the goal of completing a novel and getting it published. Maybe it is finishing my second-time-around college education. Or some other huge life goal. And all I have to do is stay on the yellow brick road. See yellow bricks? Keep walking forward. Keep studying the things it will take to establish you in your new career field. Keep writing and editing your novel.

sleeping in the poppiesBut then, there are those damned poppies.

Other exciting things to study that are not related to my career. Brainless television shows and book candy. Writing countless stories and blog posts and poems that are not my novel. And okay, it’s not so bad to stop and gather a few every now and then. But sometimes, I lose sight of the bricks. Off I go, skipping across another field of poppies, until I am completely distracted and filled with the intoxicating fragrance, until yawn…I just want to take a nap and forget about responsibilities and goals and…what novel? Zzzzz…

Dorothy needed a nudge to wake her up and set her back on her path. Luckily, she had the watchful eye of Glinda the Good Witch, who sent down soft, cold snowflakes to revive her (and her apparently good-for-nothing friends, who fell asleep, too). And hooray! They were back on track, and on their way to the Emerald City.

Follow the yellow brick road

Sometimes, I need a random snowfall to shock me awake, too. Or maybe an alarm clock. Or hypnotherapy. Whatever it takes to make sure that I stop playing in the stupid poppies and get back on my merry way. Because the Emerald City awaits. And the only thing that’s going to get me there is the power of my own two feet – ruby slippers or no ruby slippers.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It (aka My Dream Job)

Maggie Q as NikitaI have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. My dream job is to be a spy. It is such an ideal career for someone like me! Just imagine – I could live overseas, speak different languages, wear cool disguises, and spend my time deciphering codes, solving puzzles, and extracting sensitive information all in order to protect our nation’s security. And maybe I’d even get to do occasional amazing things, like skydiving at night, or rappelling down the sides of buildings, or sparring with bad guys who get in my way.

Well, unfortunately, I discovered my dream career a few years too late. Apparently, the CIA does not hire people over the age of 35 to work as Operations Officers. And also, it’s not the kind of job that goes well with parenting three kids.

Sydney Bristow Alias

Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, the best female TV spy ever (in my opinion)

My inner child is crying. “Waaah! I wanted to be Sydney Bristow! So unfair!” The life of espionage is so seductive. And is it any wonder? Film and TV role models of female spies, like Sydney Bristow, Nikita, and yes, even Foxxy Cleopatra are super sexy, intelligent, and independent. Plus, they can kill a man with their bare hands. Plus, they get to use high-tech gadgets like tubes of lipstick that take photos and lift secret files from an enemy’s computer. And they get to do all of this while wearing disguises, like Spy Barbies.

Beyonce as Foxxy Cleopatra

But alas, such a life is not meant for me. I guess it’s just as well. I’m actually scared to death of heights and could never bring myself to jump out of a plane to complete a mission. Guess I will have to face the fact that I am only a typical soccer and gym mom, teacher, and suburb dweller who bakes fresh bread and never does anything out of the ordinary.

Or am I?Spy hiding

A Different Kind of Gardener (Why I Love My Job)

“Teacher, you’re skinny,” said one of my students. My mouth dropped open in surprise. She smiled up at me, completely innocent of the impact her words had just made. Me, skinny? I never think of myself as skinny. But five-year olds have this way of speaking with complete, unbridled honesty. Which is why I cringed a moment later, when the same little girl pointed across the room at her mother. “But my mommy isn’t skinny. She’s very fat.”

“My mommy is fat, too,” said another girl.

“And so is Miss Veronica,” said a boy, pointing at my assistant.

I cleared my throat and quickly tried to turn the moment into a lesson about how people come in different shapes, sizes, colors, etc. Because that is what I do. I am a teacher.

Some days, I absolutely love my job. I love seeing the wonder in children’s eyes as we erupt baking soda volcanos from paper cups. I love their enthusiasm as we read stories, play with parachutes, or stomp around like dinosaurs to Laurie Berkner music. I love to blow bubbles, kick soccer balls around the playground, and show kids how thrilling it can be to hold a ladybug or let an earthworm wiggle in their hands. I love the messy fingers and sticky tabletops as children create, explore, build, and discover new concepts.

Some days, I do not love my job. It can be very difficult to manage the huge amounts of paperwork, meetings, and deadlines that come along with a public-funded preschool program. It can be tiring to be the person in charge of supervising 24 kids, two assistants, and a number of parents, some of whom have rather demanding personalities. If something goes wrong, it is my fault. If the paperwork is not perfect, I must correct it. Just this year, I have had parents fighting with each other, a (possibly) drug-abusing assistant (whom I fired, of course), and an out-of-control, violent student who was terrorizing the other kids. Sometimes I want to quit teaching and become something completely different, like a computer programmer. No drama. Just peace and quiet, and typing in code on a screen. Sounds relaxing, really.

But then I remember the importance of my role. Computer programmers do not get to teach dozens of children how to be kind to one another, to love healthy foods, to read, to throw and kick a ball, to write their first words, to pretend, to dream, to love science and math and literature. Computer programmers do not get to work with low-income families, inspiring young adults to be more effective parents, to be actively involved in their children’s learning, and to make healthy choices that will benefit their families. Computer programmers do not get to plant seeds of learning in people, nurture them, and watch them grow. But I do. That is what teachers do best. And that is what I love most about my job.

Sadly, due to state budget cuts, my job may not be available next fall. So who knows…maybe I will have to sign up for some programming classes after all. How sad. But what is sadder is thinking about all of those low-income families whose children will not get to come to preschool next year. Each one of those children is like a garden of potential, but I, the gardener, will be stuck at home with a pocketful of seeds and nowhere to plant them.