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Personal Mission

What do you stand for?

Note that the original version of this post appeared on the GORUCK blog here.

You are probably familiar with the concept of a mission statement. Many organizations have one. For a company, it’s somewhat of a giant “duh” these days. It’s important to know your purpose, and relay it to not only your employees, but your consumers. More and more of them are making shopping decisions based upon purpose, in addition to product.

But have you ever considered writing a personal mission statement? I certainly never had. In fact, this idea hadn’t occurred to me until I heard Evan Hafer, Founder and CEO of Black Rifle Coffee, speak about it on the Joe Rogan Experience back in October of 2020. During that conversation, Evan talked about a period in his life when he needed to redefine his own purpose. So he wrote a short mission statement which was simply “to transition out of government service and live a happy and fulfilling life.” As I was listening to that podcast, I couldn’t help but think what a brilliant idea that was.

One of the things I’ve come to realize about my own mental health is that purpose is incredibly important to how I approach each day. And for many of us, when we lose our sense of purpose, we can succumb to the feeling that we don’t matter anymore. This is especially true if we’ve spent a long time dedicated to an occupation or goal that seemingly gave us purpose. We come to identify ourselves so strongly with that job or activity that when it ends, it feels like we are ending too…

Many people also think purpose is something you need to find. As if it’s already pre-ordained and “out there” for you. I happen to not subscribe to this line of thought. I believe purpose is something you define for yourself. And potentially more importantly, it’s something you can change over time. Your mission can start off as one thing (or many things), but become something else.

If you find yourself at a point in life where you are wondering about your own purpose, maybe it’s time you create one. Try to define it in clear terms, and actually write it down. This is exactly what I spent several days doing. And I must admit it was way harder than I was anticipating. Here’s how I did it:

To start, I wanted to be more specific than Evan had been. Conceptually I loved his statement, but it was too vague for my own liking. So I began by writing down two lists: one of everything I value – integrity, humility, family, friends, fitness, music, etc; and another of everything I don’t value (but am prone to engage in) – fear, anxiety, anger, regret, selfishness, etc. Put simply, I wanted to focus on doing the good things, and not doing the bad things.

The problem was that these lists were too long. And I liked the simplicity and brevity of Evan’s statement. Part of the drill here should be to figure out where we truly need to focus energy. We can’t include everything. I decided I had to set a word limit on my mission statement, and somewhat arbitrarily landed at 25 words. With that stipulation I set about editing my list by asking myself some questions. What do I really value right now? If only given an hour, how would I spend my time? Can I consolidate any of these items into broader concepts? This was a lengthy process, and the product went through several iterations. But eventually, I decided these five things are what I truly care about at the present moment:

  • Thinking better (specifically not being afraid). I have become someone who “lives in fear” as my wife once told me. And she’s right. This really is the #1 thing I need to change.

  • Speaking honestly. Somewhat related to the previous point, I lack the courage to say what I really think on a lot of topics. I have to stop doing this.

  • Acting honorably. At the end of the day, it’s what I do that matters. I want to always do the right thing, especially in a way that puts the welfare of others above my own.

  • Engaging in art (specifically music). Art is one of those things that I feel is uniquely human and also a place where we’ve improved upon nature. I want to try to create beauty.

  • Laughing at myself. The times I run into trouble are the times when I start taking myself, and what I believe, too seriously. I can’t let that happen.

With all that in mind, here is Chris Irwin’s near-term mission statement:

To think positively, speak honestly, act honorably, make some music, and not take any of it very seriously…

What’s truly been helpful about having this is that I’m starting to hold myself accountable to it. When an unhelpful or negative thought enters my head, or I don’t play guitar for three days I think, “dude you are betraying your mission.” And then at least try to do something about it. And that’s the real goal here. To actually live up to the standards I’ve now set for myself.

Give it a try. Write a personal mission statement. It doesn’t have to be the same for the rest of your life or anything like mine. Make it about now. What do you value? Who do you actually want to be? And what kind of impact do you want to make? Use my parameters if you want. Just make it about you.

If you find yourself struggling for purpose, maybe it’s time you give yourself one.

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