Recently, I mentioned that setting goals is an important part of taking control of your personal finances, focusing on the idea that the best approach is to determine your major, non-financial life goals first. This is a difficult process for many people, and many people go through life without determining a direction.
There’s nothing wrong about not having a major purpose for your life. I wouldn’t criticize someone who blindly lives decision to decision without a driving force behind the choices made every day. Living without direction is still living, and it is possible to be a positive force in the world without setting out to do so.
Choosing a life goal isn’t a final decision, and it’s a process of feedback. It may take some time living before you decide on a goal, and your experiences will help shape the goal you choose. In turn, the goal provides an ideal that will guide you as you make everyday decisions. What you experience as a result of those decisions can shape, refine, and change your goal.
Again forgetting about “SMART” goals, the concept promoted by people who want you to work efficiently and earn more money for your employer, here are 8 tips for helping you find a direction and focus on yourself.
1. Think about your passions. Many people throughout the world have limited options. Living conditions force the less fortunate to focus on survival only. Others have the luxury to pursue activities beyond the search for sustenance. Even for those with time to read about and participate in a number of activities, finding a passion can be difficult. What do you like doing? What kind of activities do you get excited about? Is there something unique you can bring to the table?
If you really, really love playing video games, that may be your passion. Other people may see you as a couch potato or a kid trapped in an adult body, but perhaps you can turn your love into a mission. Perhaps your purpose is to create video games that bring enjoyment to teenagers, training to the military, or education to children.
2. A natural skill leads to a natural purpose. Do your friends and family look to you as an expert in some activity or skill? Many “big fish in a small pond” become overwhelmed at the realization that the world is an ocean with many other big fish. With the right approach, you can view this as a challenge to present your skills to the larger community in a unique way.
If you have a knack for public speaking as well as a passion about a particular issue, perhaps your purpose is to advocate for your cause. Do your talents lean towards mathematics or can you naturally understand complex scientific concepts? Your purpose may be to discover a new way of understanding the world in which we live and translate concepts to the public.
3. Your values define your purpose. People are not born with values, they are learned from our environment. Parents and community define the values we hold. Your purpose should take these values into account, be they community service, family, God, self, human rights, or any other issue. Values set the parameters for the choices you make, and it makes sense to integrate them with your largest life decisions.
If you can’t pin down your own most important values, do not worry. Think about the people you care about the most. What are their values? The values held by the people you admire most are most likely the values that will feel right to you. Talk to these people about their values and you may find that certain ideas feel comfortable for you.
4. Create a mission statement that describes your purpose. Your passions and your skills should lead you to your mission or purpose. Your mission statement should concisely describe your long-term purpose in no more than three sentences. It should an idealistic view of the best possible situation. Defining your mission statement is not the time to limit yourself.
Development consultants want you to focus on your job when you design your mission statement, but this view is far too narrow. It should apply to your life, something much bigger than your job or career.
Your mission statement should be everything that follows, “My purpose is…” Here are some examples:
To educate women about breast cancer through sharing personal experiences, and inspiring others to share their own, to build public awareness about the disease.
To encourage participation in the performing arts through grants.
To inspire young people to learn about personal money management and provide ideas for building a solid foundation for financial success.
To live life completely and honestly with guidance from a higher power and be the best possible father to my family.
5. Write down your mission and display it prominently. Once you’ve developed your mission statement, write it down. Tape it to the inside of your bedroom door so you see it every day. Post your mission statement to your refrigerator with a magnet.
The local Chick-fil-A restaurant has their mission statement displayed above the counter, facing the employees. Every time a cashier looks up, they are reminded “to be Quakerbridge Mall’s best quick-service restaurant at winning and keeping customers.” You can perform this basic form of brainwashing on yourself by doing what you can to create a constant reminder of the effect you would like to have on the world.
6. Involve friends and family in your mission. The people who know you best are those most likely to support you as you reach for your goals. Not only will they be your cheerleaders, they might offer suggestions to help you refine your mission or select your path. Stay away from those who criticize or try to bring you down to earth.
7. Determine the goals that will lead you to achieving your mission. What do you need to accomplish along the way towards completing your mission? Just like setting savings targets, you can start to get more specific. These are the milestones you need to pass.
The best way to plan is in the form of a pyramid with your purpose at the top. Determine three specific goals that will allow you to achieve that purpose. For example, if your ultimate goal is to encourage participation in dramatic arts, three major goals that you might find necessary could be running a successful theater foundation, writing a play for young actors, and creating a touring acting company that visits elementary schools. From here, determine three steps along the path to each of these three goals.
8. Remain flexible and welcome changes to your mission. If a person is the sum of his or her experiences, a person changes every day. These changes can have an effect on the way you see yourself. Your purpose should always be highly relevant to who you are, so you should reconsider your mission when you feel it is necessary. If you find, however, that your mission changes every year, then you may not be ready to set a long-term goal. There’s nothing wrong with this; continue to discover more about yourself and a solid mission will eventually feel natural.
Remember that your mission doesn’t have to be your ultimate goal. You might be lucky enough to fulfill your purpose before you expect. Rather than ceasing purposeful existence at this point, consider expanding your mission and moving forward. Or take what you’ve learned and forge a new path.
9. Maintain a mission journal. I must say, right up front, that one of the best things you can do for your mission is to keep a public journal online. Today, the quickest and most efficient way to accomplish this is to start a blog. You can create a blog for free on wordpress.com. This blog should be focused on your mission, and you should try to write every day about something related to your goal.
Just like Consumerism Commentary allows me to hold myself accountable for my finances, publicly writing about your daily progress towards your mission will force you to think about your decisions from the right perspective. The journal doesn’t have to be public, but opening yourself up to the constructive criticism of strangers can give you wonderful insight.
Not everyone needs a defined purpose in life. I am not a fan of personal development gurus who claim that mission statements are the key to a fulfilling life and career, particularly when they encourage focusing on career-oriented goals. I do, however, think it’s important to keep your eyes open to the world and using your interests and talents for the benefit of many. Consumerism Commentary readers are lucky or blessed and have advantages well beyond the majority of people all over the world. If making a contribution to the world is important, thinking about your purpose and creating a mission statement is a good way to formalize what you would like achieve.
Do you have a mission statement? If you have any tips to share for other readers, please do.
Updated December 22, 2010 and originally published December 19, 2008.