There is so much to be said about knowing yourself. What do you care about? What interests you? What are your talents? What makes your heart skip a beat? Knowing and honoring your authentic self sets you up for a lifetime of fulfillment and helps you steer away from pain.
John Mellencamp says, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” And we should listen to John, even though he smokes and rides a motorcycle without a helmet sometimes, because falling for anything in your personal and professional life is dangerous and usually hurts, especially when you’re not wearing a helmet, John.
So, let’s start with what you care about. In organizations, foundational principles explain why a company does what it does. An organization with obsessive clarity about what it stands for will have employees who can make decisions with confidence, knowing and understanding how actions align with the identified core values. In much the same way, adopting your own personal values will save you from wallowing in indecision.
I worked for a client in outdoor recreation who was new to business. He was becoming inundated with requests for financial support from local non-profit organizations. The good-hearted business owner had a genuine interest in helping the community and there seemed to be no shortage of wonderful, important, world-changing charities lining up at his door for a donation.
With no filters in place through which to screen requests, the owner tried to help everyone. Noble, sure. Sustainable? No. Saying no is not easy for many of us and that’s why we all need to know and be very clear to ourselves and others what we’re about and where we focus our energy and resources.
For the client, the answer became easy: identify what fits. If you are an outdoor recreation company, maybe you support organizations that fight childhood obesity through active outdoor programs for youth.
For instance, Arizona Snowbowl supports many, many organizations and each alignment makes sense. As an example, Snowbowl conducts an annual coat drive to help people of all ages, sizes and styles stay warm during the winter. The ski area also provides firewood for those who struggle to keep their homes warm in cold months. These charitable endeavors fit with a business that celebrates snow.
After my client got razor sharp about what his business was all about, he added a page to his website that described causes he supports that fit with his mission and core values. Non-profit organizations could then self-select whether they were within the scope of this business’s priorities and efforts.
Getting clear about what you, personally, and your work, professionally, stand for makes all kinds of decisions simpler, faster and less messy, whether they are about selling a new product, joining a company, forming a partnership or eating another slice of pizza.
Google says a mission statement is a “formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization or individual.” My favorite mission statements are concise and leave no room for interpretation, like TED Talks: “Spread ideas.” As a writer, my professional mission is “To help people feel.”
A personal mission statement might describe how you want to live your life, like “Spread kindness.” Mine is “Follow the love.”
Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization. They are guiding principles that should be unwavering and serve as a measure against which any idea or action in question can be measured. They look like: integrity, commitment and perseverance. Nike’s include performance and innovation. NASA lists teamwork and excellence. Southwest Airlines is about cultivating a Warrior Spirit, Servant’s Heart and Fun-LUVing Attitude.
I first realized the value of a mission statement when I was sitting in a lobby, excitedly waiting to be called in for an important job interview. The session was held in an auditorium. It took a while to walk all the way in to where the hiring panel was seated in a little circle in the middle of the auditorium. It also took a while to walk all the way out when the interview had concluded. It seemed longer in pumps with the sound of each step bouncing across the mostly empty space.
As is often the case, busy people conduct interviews back to back. So, as I was walking out, I passed a colleague who was walking in. Awkward? Yes. But it gets worse. I sped up my exit as much as I could while my heels clicked against the concrete floor and echoed through the auditorium.
And guess what I learned? Voices also echo in this space. Honestly, I did not intend to eavesdrop, Kathy, I’m really sorry! However, I could not help but overhear the opening statement she gave in her interview. It went something like this:
Hiring Panel: Why are you interested in this position?
Kathy: First of all, my personal mission statement aligns with the purpose of this incredible organization and the important goals it seeks to achieve that will set the tone for our community’s sense of place, economic sustainability and quality of life for generations to come.
Me: Holy cow. I’ve just lost this job.
In that amplified moment, as my steps became noticeably quicker toward the exit, it became loudly and embarrassingly clear that not knowing and not articulating what I stand for just cost me.
“You owe it to yourself to understand what motivates you, and match those beliefs with your personality, skill set, interests and values. Only then will you be able to optimize your prospects for success, fulfillment and happiness,” says author and business coach Fred Stuvek.
Don’t I know it, Fred. But wait. There’s more.
Think about this: “If you are doing something just for the money, that’s a mismatch, and ultimately dissatisfaction will manifest in stress and burnout, and, more than likely, spill into your personal life,” says Stuvek.
Knowing who we are grounds us. And being truthful, or at one with the truth, provides serenity, says Cristina DiGiacomo, founder of MorAlchemy, a philosophical consulting firm and author of “Wise Up! At Work.”
DiGiacomo coaches executives to tap into the wisdom of ancient philosophers to solve modern problems. She says folks like Aristotle and Socrates tried to teach the people of their day how to live well with their timeless messages.
“I believe we’re all searching for peace of mind,” she says. “Peace of mind is the ability to sleep at night, to look at ourselves in the mirror, and to be okay with what we see. Philosophy really, truly teaches us how to act. It helps us and our ability to negotiate and operate in the real world, and it remains a protocol for engaging with the world.”
So, back around 400 B.C., Plato said, “Truth is its own reward.” Our truth – what we stand for and why we do what we do – is a first step toward knowing what motivates us and what direction to take for a gratifying life.
“You are fulfilling your mission and purpose on Earth when you honor the real you,” says Oprah. “Your whole life becomes a prayer of thanksgiving.”
I don’t know about you, but when John Mellencamp, Plato and Oprah are aligned on the same stage, I want to be there, too, without the noisy heels and reverberating auditorium. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN
Bonnie Stevens is a public relations consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.