Crafting your own Mission Statement

In ancient China, a Buddhist monk was walking on a road. Presently, he saw a horseman coming up the road at quite a fast pace. The horseman passed him and went on. A short while later, the monk heard hoof beats behind him and turning back was surprised to see the same horseman, now riding down the road and past him.  The monk disregarded this peculiar behavior and plodded on, only to see the same horseman, once again rushing up the road! The monk could control his curiosity no longer and hailed the rider. The horseman struggled to rein his horse in and asked the monk irritably what he wanted. The monk asked him where he was going. The horseman was puzzled and replied, “I don’t know that! You’ll have to ask the horse!”

Friends, as you have by now guessed, this is a Zen Buddhist story. It uses a metaphor. The path on which the rider is moving up and down is our life. The rider is every individual born into this sublunary abode and struggling to make a meaning out of the chaos. The horse can be anything! It can be our mind; it can be our circumstances; it can be our intellect. It is everything that we need to control and use. But most of the time don’t we, like the poor horseman, hang on for dear life while our circumstances, our mind, our prejudices, our deep-rooted habits and behavior patterns take over and run our life for us?

Do you know what the most powerful force in the universe is? If you thought it was the force of gravity, think again! The most powerful force in the universe, friends, is the Force of Habit!

Have a quick look at the picture in Fig 1. What do you see? Is it a girl? How old is she? What would you say if I told you that you are looking at the picture of a seventy year old woman? Look again.

Could you see her now? Ah, yes! I can actually see the brightness of discovery on your face as you suddenly discover that there are actually two pictures. It is obviously an optical illusion.

Your Life is Your Message

Mahatma Gandhi said, “My life is my message.” A life well planned and lived is its own reward. Most people are clear about their immediate goals in life. For example, they want to get a good job, earn more money, and get married to a beautiful/handsome girl/boy and so on. Or, they simply say I want to be successful and happy.

Did you notice the words in bold in the above paragraph? They are all adjectives. They do not say much about the goal. In fact these are not goals! They are no more than wishes and articulated desires. A goal is a bold statement of a vision which has the following key characteristics:

Specific:  Goals should be clearly articulated and linked to concepts that are not vague.  The goal should be clear to everyone and should give the same meaning to everyone who hears it.

Measurable: The goal should be quantified in monetary or other terms that can be measured by universally accepted yardsticks.

Achievable: “I want to become the President of India” is no doubt a laudable goal! But is it achievable. Setting more realistic goals that are within the compass of our attainments would make our life more meaningful if not less frustrating.

Reviewable: Evaluation and feedback are a sine qua non for effective goal setting. Just as companies and other entities present an annual report to their members, we should also present a periodic report of our performance to our most important stakeholder, ourselves. A friend of mine spends about four to five hours every 31st of December answering the question “What did you do to justify being allowed to live for the last 365 days?” Does this sound extreme? But it seems to be quite effective!

Time bound: Remember, A Goal is a dream with a deadline! So set a limit time limit for attaining your goals. Deadlines spur us to action and act as a motivation for doing something as against thinking about doing it!

Taking a line through the first letters of the words specific, measurable, achievable, reviewable, and time bound, we have the acronym SMART Goals.

Does this mean SMART goals are restrictive and bounded? Not at all! This framework merely provides the stability that we need while setting meaningful goals for ourselves. Remember, Goal setting is not just about setting goals! It’s also about attaining them and resetting them for a larger space.

Echoing the words of Rabindranath Tagore let “tireless striving stretch its arms towards perfection!” We can never attain perfection simply because as we attain a higher levels of performance and achievement, the environment places even tougher challenges in our way. This spiraling process of evolutionary growth keeps pushing us higher and higher in our life.

The Need for Thinking Big

Naladiyar a Tamil work on personal growth and ethics, says, “Far better is the arrow that misses an elephant than that which hits a mere jackal! Great people always aim high!”

The famous Tamil work Thirukkural speaks eloquently about the need for a positively energized attitude in goal setting. The poet Thiruvalluvar says, “Just as the height of the lotus flower in the pond is raised constantly as the water level rises, so is our position in life raised by the attitude of our mind.” People who have achieved greatness in their lives are those who truly dared to dream. But as our great President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalaam remarks, “To dream we have to close our eyes. But to attain our dreams we have to open them and start working!”

A greater part of success is defining direction and destination clearly, unambiguously and firmly. Goal setting is a function of great vision with great focus. Vision is aiming high or thinking big while fixing the target. Focus is concentrating on and hitting the target. Good planners need both these faculties.

 The process of Goal Setting:

Define your Mission:

The first step is to define our mission or our governing values. These are the rock bottom foundation of our lives. If our values are strong our goals are clear and meaningful.

There was a man who had  a value system that said “Anything is OK so long as the money is flowing in”. He did indeed make a lot of money. But occasionally he would  have that niggling doubt about the meaningfulness of his life and actions. When this happened he simply looked at his Rolex watch and told himself, “Oh my God! It’s already time for my next meeting!” Do you know this person, by any chance?

On the other hand listen to this story about a Japanese fisherman. A Japanese fisherman had a contract to fish on a lake between midnight and three o’clock in the morning. Everyday, the old fisherman and his son would take their motorboat out on the lake. One night, the son felt a tug on his net. It was a large fish! He was about to struggle with the fish and land it on the boat when his father said, “Son, let it go. The time allowed for our fishing is almost over.” The son tried to argue and said that it was just a few minutes beyond the stipulated time. But the old man was firm and they returned with their catch minus the big fish.

Five years later the son was out fishing on the same lake with his son, a young boy. He told him, “Son, we are rich and prosperous today! But, our prosperity is based on a lesson your grandfather taught me in this very boat on this lake five years ago.” And he went on to share the same lesson with his son!

This is called a value system. Individuals and firms that have a value system produce institutions. People who don’t understand the value of values just make a lot of money!

 Goal setting is not simply about making money, or becoming famous or powerful. It is about defining our life and actions within the four corners of a special set of beliefs or values.

You can do this by writing out your own personal mission statement that describes what matters most to you, including your vision and values.

Identify Roles and Goals

Next, you should list the various roles that you play in your life. I can actually hear you asking me whether we are Sivaji Ganesan or Kamal Haasan to play roles! Believe me; every one of us is playing easily fifteen to twenty roles in our life. In one of my workshops a participant could identify twenty-eight meaningful roles for herself!

We should then proceed to identify the important roles among these and set goals for each one that are aligned to our vision and values. A clear awareness of your roles and goals enables you to balance your life.

Goals are ideally set for a month and then for a week. While daily planning is needed, this should not be the only planning that happens in our life. To quote Stephen R. Covey from his latest best seller The 8th Habit, “If you only do daily planning—outside the larger context of your values and your goals for each of your roles in life and outside of weekly planning—you’ll spend your time in firefighting and crisis management. Urgency will define importance and will become addictive. You’ll spend your stressed life in the thick of thin things.”

Do it!  Have a bias for action!

William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar has this to say about the need for a bias for action:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which taken at its flood leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and miseries”

Our own past Prime Minister, the late. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, used to stress the need for a bias for action. Extreme addiction to planning and scheduling is called analysis paralysis. The only way to break the stranglehold of procrastination is to do something!

 Feedback and Review

“The efficient planner is one,” says an ancient Sanskrit verse, “who knows the good and the bad of that which is to come; who is able to take a snap decision or act immediately when there is a change in the circumstances; who, at the end of the activity, pauses to review the work done and knows the balance work to be done.”  This, incidentally, corresponds with the Quality Control concept of PDCA or Plan, Do, Check, Act.

Planning is most effective when it is coupled with a thorough review mechanism. It is not always possible to do everything that we planned. Given infrastructural and external constraints as well as our own inherent weaknesses, it is extremely probable that there will be a gap between expectation and actual performance.  A good planner uses every setback as an opportunity for learning and does what I call Successful Failure Review.

The tremendous learning opportunities in failure review are optimized in a systematic failure review. In fact failure review also makes it impossible for us to be depressed after failure because we would be too busy extracting learnings from the event to feel moody or despondent.

Thomas Alva Edison burst 999 bulbs before he invented the electric bulb. When asked about these ‘failures’, he simply said, “I had to go through 999 steps before inventing the electric bulb!’

The true test of good goal setting is not success but the effectiveness of the review. Review leads to identification of the root cause for the failure as well as new opportunities which in turn lead to growth and success.


As a last word of suggestion let me request you to bring both your right as well as left brain to create meaningful goals. Your creative, visual right brain would be your greatest asset in visioning and defining your mission statement, while your logical, verbal left brain would help you to capture the images produced by the right brain and convert them into the words of your goal statement.

Just imagine the kind of change you can produce if only you can define your inner values and mission and share it with a committed team. Every large organization and every great achievement was first of all a picture in the mind of one person. Are you that one person?  Go ahead and discover it for yourself by preparing your own mission statement.

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