Best Practices: creating a personal mission statement

Many of us go through our lives without taking the time to focus on what is most important to us. Our lives can seem chaotic, overly busy and adrift.
October 1, 2010

Many of us go through our lives without taking the time to focus on what is most important to us. Our lives can seem chaotic, overly busy and adrift. The key, however, to having a happy and successful life is finding out who you really want to be and what you really want to do, and then aligning that with your daily activities. One of the most important tools in achieving this is the personal mission statement.

You will not have time to accomplish everything and you can’t afford to waste your time on issues that don’t fulfill you or get you closer to accomplishing your long-term goals. If you take the time to craft a personal mission statement, you will always be able to refer back to it and make sure that you are still on track, still effectively using your time to become the person you want to be.

There is no single, ‘correct’ way of writing a personal mission statement. It can be as short as one sentence and you can revise it as often as you want. It often takes time to find the words for a statement that inspires and excites you.

The first step in leading a successful life is deciding what matters most to you. Ask yourself the following questions: What gives your life meaning? Who are you? Who do you want to become? What do you stand for? What matters deeply to you? Write down the answers to these questions. This is the story of your life, or the story of the life you want to have.

As you think about what matters deeply to you, make a list of the top 10 things that matter most. Possibilities include: finding a partner; balancing your work and personal life better; earning enough money to support your family; developing your sense of humor or saving the environment for future generations.

Next, identify the most important roles in your life. Your roles are your key responsibilities and relationships, for instance: your role as father or mother, as artist, as entrepreneur, as friend, or as soccer coach. Pick no more than seven, but be sure that one of your roles is as a person who recognizes the importance of renewal and self-development. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anybody or anything else.

By identifying your different roles, you create a variety of perspectives from which to examine your life. Having this variety will help you both in setting specific goals and in maintaining balance. The purpose of a personal mission statement is to help you live a rich, fulfilled life. While it can be tempting to become preoccupied with work and with your career goals, having a happy home life must be among your highest goals in life.

For each of the roles in your life, identify the people who are most important to you. What kind of relationship do you want to have with them? What are the assessments you would like them to make about you at your funeral? Integrate these thoughts into your mission statement.

The purpose of a personal mission statement is to give your life a focus and help you decide at critical moments what to do with your time and energy. With this focus, you will be able to spend your time on what is most important to you and lead a happy, fulfilling life. Happiness is not a single goal but rather a consequence of pursuing what is deeply meaningful to you.

Chris Palmer is the director of American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking and author of the new Sierra Club book ‘Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom.’

Peter Kimball is an independent filmmaker and graduate student at American University

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.