4 Reasons You Don’t Need a Mission Statement

PlansPundits tout the benefits of mission statements for both individuals and businesses, but let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment. This post is inspired by David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, who wrote an opinion piece in opposition to Clayton Christensen’s essay in the Harvard Business Review on the importance of planning your life. In his essay, Christensen compares a well-planned life to that of a well-planned business strategy that can be designed and carried out to fruition.

He speaks a little bit about his essay on how you’ll measure your life at the beginning of this interview with Charlie Rose:

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Is it necessary to plan our lives?

Consider these four reasons why you might be better off without a mission statement:

  1. You Can Focus on What Really Matters
  2. A personal mission statement lays out our goals with the premise that we put in our full effort to achieve them. The potential downside that Christensen himself points out in his essay is that high achievers often dedicate their spare moments toward their goals. This is in line with the business model of productivity, but it doesn’t leave space or time for relationships, health or other important things that don’t furnish you with an immediate reward. John Lennon said it best: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

  3. You Can Respond to Your Environment
  4. When you have a personal mission statement, your focus is on yourself and what you can do to keep in line with your plan. In contrast to Christensen’s “Well-Planned Life,” Brooks proposes the “Summoned Life” in which you are conscious about and sensitive to your surroundings, responding to what the situation and circumstances summon you to do. It’s a lifestyle that’s rooted in the context and your social role rather than a long-term plan.

  5. You Can Explore the World from a Place of Openness
  6. In his essay, Christensen advises students on the importance of knowing your purpose and planning your life from that core, but is it even possible for every single person to know the purpose of his or her life in university? A couple years after graduation, I still don’t have a complete notion of the purpose of my entire life and my partial representation doesn’t feel enough on which to base a life plan. Without a clear purpose, I remain wholeheartedly open to where life may lead me. As Brooks says, “Life isn’t a project to be completed; it is an unknowable landscape to be explored.

  7. You Can Welcome Change
  8. Philip Crosby, a businessman and author, once said, “If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.” The inevitability of change is the hallmark of the cyclical worldview held by the East and by ancient cultures, such as the Mayans. The contrasting linear worldview is unidirectional and logical, demarcating a beginning and end. As North Americans and Europeans harboring a linear worldview, we typically believe that we can control outcomes if we can understand the cause-and-effect relationship between events. But if we can let go of the Cartesian search for certainty, we can instead focus our energy on accepting and maneuvering through the unpredictable changes of life.

If Not a Personal Mission Statement, Then What?

A personal mission statement is a plan that can help you clarify your values and give you direction, but it’s not the only way to approach life. Not all successful businesses have a mission statement; what’s important is having a vision and a strategy.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Let your mission statement assist you in planning; just don’t ever forget that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Instead of panicking when life sends you “off-track,” you can take the opportunity to roll with the punches and continually reinvent yourself.

Do you agree or disagree? Why? What are your experiences with a personal mission statement?

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  1. Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    Obviously, I disagree with Brooks (not the first, nor will it be the last time). Brooks fails to comprehend that we are sentient human beings. That means we evaluate our actions vis a vis our mission and vision, and recognize that each choice we make may not be 100% aimed at our goals. But, overall, they are.
    I will present two simple scenarios. I was very young when I started out in business. I traveled the world visiting clients, helping them acheive their goals and visions, developing new products, and having a ball. But, I went to many exotic locations- and never deviated from the “shortest distance between two points” routing. Until, our company had revenue with 2 commas. (This was a LONG, LONG time ago.) Then, I began adding a day onto certain trips, a week onto others. I visited the cities and learned the mores of the locales I visited. I still worked with my clients, I still helped them reach their goals, and I was still OBSESSED with our vision. But, I could enjoy not just the journey, but the byways.
    That never would have happened if I did not have a roadmap to get us to a certain level and then develop a different path for the next leg of our journey.

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      Wow! Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your early career story, Roy! It was so great to learn more about you. I’m imagining you as the world traveler you describe! =)

      This is a great example of how sticking to goals can lead to success and still allow you to “enjoy the journey *and* and the byways.” I’m so glad you shared your testimony! Thank you!!

  2. Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    I am truly awed and inspired by this post!

    While working on my Professional Development plan I was reminded to include my values in my plan instead of only the result I am trying to achieve being mindful that my desired result is based on my work values and interest- what really matters to me.

    I love the idea of being open to possibilities and this openness to myself and the world around me allows me to interact with my changing situation as it is, instead of only seeing it as I want it to be.

    I have heard it said, “plan the plan, not the result”.

    Great article, Sam!

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Chrysta! I love the idea of making my values the foundation of any goals or plans I make for myself, which makes reassessing our values so important!

      I see that we totally share that love for openness! =) It’s so true that even apart from our goals, that openness is what we need to see the truth in life.

  3. Posted July 30, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Hi Sam, I think it is important to have a mission statement and goals which don’t need to necessarily be written down. In my case I am happy that I have a written version to turn to when I need it. I think what worries people is that they feel that if they have something written they are not able to edit, they feel they are stuck. This is not the case, you can edit your mission statement and goals as your business grows and develops.

    • Posted August 11, 2011 at 2:57 am | Permalink

      That’s a great way to put it, Karla! It may be less intimidating for others if they don’t have to write it down. But we all need a mission or purpose in our hearts, or at least be in search of one. =) Love your logic, friend! =)

  4. Posted July 30, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting Samantha! You are continually helping people in your blogs, comments, and actions. Thanks for being you! Carolyn Holcomb

    • Posted August 11, 2011 at 3:00 am | Permalink

      Aww thanks so much for your compliment, Carolyn! =) I’m so glad that this post could be helpful!

  5. Abe
    Posted July 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I agree!!!! A personal mission statement is nice, keeps you on track and will help you occomplish your goals but it is far from nessecary. I have found that part of the success in life is the journey you take. Mission statements can eliminate that journey and relieve you of spontainious discion making that may get you someplace better or faster. Little room for change is left and often involve the approvel from others to make a change. If you are riding a winning horse, don’t get off. But if you do want to, don’t let a Mission statement get in your way. Remember, A Mission statement is a directional tool of who you want to be, not a meaturment tool of who you really are.

    • Posted August 11, 2011 at 3:06 am | Permalink

      Wow, Abe! I really love how you say, “part of the success in life is the journey you take.” That’s exactly what I’ve learned living here in Peru. It’s about the journey and the process, which needs freedom and space to unfold.

      Like you say, missions statements can be useful for many as “a directional tool,” but it doesn’t mean that they are *necessary* for anyone.

      Thanks for identifying with me here, Abe!

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