Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 3/9/2004 3:59 AM
Random Thought: Personal Mission Statements, III

I've been sitting in the dark by the fish pond this morning, aching and thinking a tad more than usual. Aching because it was a very, very rough and tough walk. I barely made it. This powerful antibiotic the urologist has put me for the next couple of week is subtley killing me. Better an antibiotic should be "killing me" figuratively than to have a cancer do it literally. But, even if that Levaquin does drain some of my physical energy, having the biopsy come back clear as a bell, to use a mixed metaphor, is more than enough to give me an emotional and spiritual compensating kick. Thinking because I reflectively think and mediate each morning to prepare myself for the day, my sense of life is a bit more sharpened because of my near-death car accident in December and the deadly prospect of being afflicted with cancer, and because of the overwhelming number of responses to my first sharing on my personal mission statement.

You know, to acquire a personal mission statement does take a lot of long and hard personal reflection. That's not easy. Personal reflection stuff can be a tough swallow for those whom reflection is not their cup of tea. It is uncomfortable and difficult and humble question marking. It is not comfortable and easy exclamation pointing. Trust me. I know. I avoided it for decades and blamed the world for my pain. My unexpected and volcanic epiphany broke the pattern. Imprisoning blame has since metamorposed into a releasing responsibility. "Me" has since transformed from a comfortable, weakening, paralyzing, unnatural stasis-like "is" to a challenging, strengthening, dynamic, naturally ever-changing "becoming." Now, after over a decade has passed since that crucial moment at Hyde School, reflective time is built into every fiber and every moment of my life. I struggle to live a conscious, reflective life in order to know myself, who I want to be, what I want to do, to whom and what I want to give my life, the values I value, and the legacy I want to leave. It's akin to asking myself the tough question, "Will you follow me wherever I take you?" and coming up with the even tougher answer, "Yes."

"Know thyself." That's what the ancient, wise, old Greeks said to do. That sums up the purpose of a Personal Mission Statement. If you know who you are, you know what you must think, feel, and do. Institutions don't not have mission statements; people do! I think I've said that a few times lately. It's worth saying a thousand times to drive home the point. Institutions aren't sentient; people are. Anyway, if people want institutions to have mission statements, they each have to start with their own. Then, they can work long and hard to build from a "my" to a shared "our." It's no different from saying that if someone wants to change the world, he or she first has to start with himself. We each create and are contained in our perceptions, thoughts, personal relationships, and social associations. We create our own personal "systems." We choose to be who we are. To understand that simple fact, and accept the consequent responsibility, we have to acknowledge it. A personal mission statement is simply the publically articulated emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social "system" of our own creation in which we choose to operate.

A personal mission statement, then, is, as Emerson might have said, the blossom from which comes the seed that develops into the fruit. It is the inseparable cause of the effect. It is a suggestion for the future of ourselves, a template for meaning, a reason for being, a living "on purpose." It gives someone the chance to establish what is important, to chart a course, to go on an adventurous journey into the unknown, to draw energy, to weather the storms, to slog through the swamps, and to make decisions to stay the course. It's a way to connect with your sense of purpose, your vision, your mission, your doings, and get profound satisfaction from doing it. It is, as Maslow might have said, so compelling, so strong, it is inseparable from a person's self. For me, as my e-colleague, Stu Harvey, succinctly put it, you have to struggle to become your personal mission statement. A personal mission statement is for your own life; it is your life. If you live by a personal mission statement, you make the heady decisions and don't waste your time on the "small stuff." For me, as these past couple of weeks have shown me, acquiring a deeply reflected and articulated personal mission statement, and struggling each day to fulfill it, is probably the most vital thing I could have done.

My Personal Mission Statement talks about my own life rather than about my institution, although they can be a shared vision. It is a vision for the future of my life, not the operation of my institution, although they can be compatible. It is what Plato might have said is the "good academic life," maybe even just the plain ole "good life." By the "good life," I mean being in the place where I belong, being with the people I love, doing the right "on-purpose" work, using my talents on something I believe in and is greater than me, retaining my intellectual independence, holding on to my moral convictions, having an unshakable ethical anchor, being personally responsible, and being spiritually whole.

My personal mission statement, for me, meets my four criteria for a personal mission statement or maybe for any institutional mission statement for that matter:

1. It had to obey, as Newton phrased it, Nature's Law of Parsimony. It had to be short and simple, short and simple enough to leave no room for the meaningless and nice sounding embellishments and ramblings of those undefinable "oh, you know what I mean" shopworn buzzwords, tired cliches, and catchy phrases.

2. In its simplicity it had to have clarity, that is, it had to be clear enough to be understood by a teenager.

3. I had to be able to recite it instantly on Jeopardy.

4. It had to be at my moral, ethical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual core. Or, in the words of Steve Sample, it had to be the "hill you're willing to die on."

Oh, want to know what my Person Mission Statement is? I've said many times in the course of my sharing. But, I never tire of saying it: Just remember, it's mine; it's me. So far, it reads like this:

"I am that person who is there to help another person help him/herself become the person he or she is capable of becoming."

I still have to learn to better live it and better live up to it. More later. Until then....

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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