Using a Personal Mission Statement to Chart Your Career Course


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by Katharine Hansen

Hypatia Society

As the popular 1996 film Jerry Maguire opens, the title character is wrestling with a number of issues that make him question who he has become. These issues offend his set of values.

In the opening scenes, sports agent Maguire goes so far as to say he hates himself -- and then corrects himself to say he hates his place in the world.

So, he writes what he calls a mission statement, "a suggestion for the future of our company." Among the values he talks about in the mission statement are the "simple pleasures," "protecting clients in health and injury," "caring," and being "the me I always wanted to be." He harkens back to his mentor, Dickie Fox, who said sports agentry is all about personal relationships.

Above all, the mission statement inspires him to say: "Id started my life." As the film progresses, and the mission statement turns out not to be well received by his company, we realize that what Maguire has written is a personal mission statement for his own life rather than for his company-a suggestion for the future of his own life.

In his book, First Things First, Steven Covey points out that mission statements are often not taken seriously in organizations because they are developed by top executives, and theres no buy-in at the lower levels. But it's a pretty safe assumption that there probably is buy-in when we develop our own mission statements.

Jerry Maguire said that people in his business, including himself, had forgotten about what was important. Writing a personal mission statement offers the opportunity to establish whats important and perhaps make a decision to stick to it before we even start a career. Or it enables us to chart a new course when we're at a career crossroads.

Covey refers to crafting a mission statement as "connecting with your own unique purpose and the profound satisfaction that comes in fulfilling it." Sounds pretty close to what Jerry Maguire did, doesnt it?

First Things First is actually about time management, but Covey and his co-authors use the personal mission statement as an important principle. The idea is that if you live by a statement of whats really important to you, you can make better time-management decisions. The authors ask, "Why worry about saving minutes when you might be wasting years?"

A mission statement may be valuable, but how in the world do you go about crafting one? As one way to develop a mission statement, Covey talks about visualizing your 80th birthday or 50th wedding anniversary and imagining what all your friends and family would say about you. A somewhat more morbid approach is writing your own obituary.

A number of other exercises from various sources designed to help you get started on a mission statement are at Are You Living on Purpose and Develop Your Mission Statement.

As Covey points out, some people are inspired by the mission statements of others, while some are inhibited. Read some sample mission statements that may inspire you.

Another approach -- more concise and career oriented -- is suggested by Brian Krueger in his excellent College Grad Job Hunter.

Fast Company magazine's Web site offers this very helpful resource: Deciding on Purpose.

Covey's own site offers this interactive tool that may help you get started with your mission statement.

However, you approach it, here's hoping the mission statement you write will describe, to paraphrase Jerry Maguire, "the you you always wanted to be." Ideally, it will make you feel you have started your life.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Katharine Hansen is a former speechwriter and college instructor who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and prepares job-search correspondence as chief writer for Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters. She is author of Dynamic Cover Letter for New Graduates; A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market; and, with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters and Write Your Way to a Higher GPA, all published by Ten Speed Press. She can be reached by e-mail at

Genius ain't anything more than elegant common sense. 
~Josh Billings