Creating and integrating an empowering personal mission statement is one of the most important investments we can make. (Stephen Covey)
– Desiree Panlilio
What is a personal mission statement, and why does my teenager need to have one? It is a question I am asked on a frequent basis. After their teenager has written a personal mission statement and created goals and objectives to follow, the next question I often find myself answering is, do you work with adults to create their personal mission statement? The answer is yes, of course. However, the first question, what is a personal mission statement? When I work with clients, I define a personal mission statement as a statement of no more than twenty words that reflects how you want to do things in your life and your behavior that facilitates you achieving your future goals. It is how you live your life. For teenagers it involves looking at principles and values.
Teenagers inherit their principles and values from their parents and those who provide the most influence in their lives, such as teachers and family members. Teenagers’ brains are developing, and they are gaining metacognition and critical thinking skills. It is a great opportunity for the life coach to help them understand what their principles and values are and how they define them to themselves and to others. For a teenager to write a personal mission statement these two words, principles and values, are very important.
Principles are rules or beliefs that define our behavior and the consequences of our behavior. Principles have a cause and effect and in reality have been woven into the fabric of human society. An example of a principle is integrity and honesty. If you lie or steal there are personal as well as societal consequences. An example is if you steal a candy from the candy jar and lie about it, your integrity and ability to be honest is compromised. As an adult if you steal a car there is personal loss of integrity but society also holds you accountable through the laws of the land. I have teenagers. Think about the principles that matter most to them and encourage them to use these principles to create a measuring stick which they can refer to whenever they need to evaluate any particular opportunity, behavior, or situation. As a life coach and parent, we must encourage these principles to be a part of the fabric in which the teenager uses to make decisions and to construct their personal mission statement and goals. Principles are guiding tools that do not change with age.
Values are a belief and opinion that an individual holds in reference to a specific issue or idea. Values are emotionally charged. Therefore they are subjective, internalized to the individual. Many arguments are based on a person’s current values and not taking the time to see the other perspective and not working at listening to understand. Values can be argued either for or against. It all depends on how you view the value. The great opportunity values present is that they change over time. Values will change as the teenager gains knowledge, education, life experience, and perspective. An example I discuss with teenagers is that of gangs. I ask if gangs have values, and most often the answer is no. It leads to a great discussion that in fact gangs do have values, but they are not principles. Values drive the behavior of the gang, and because their values are not based on long standing principles valued by society as a whole, they often pay the price by going to jail when they are caught doing things that are against the principles of human society.
As a life coach I like to share with teenagers that this is all reflected by personal accountability. It is defining those principles and values so that they begin to understand who they are and what is important. I tell the teenager that they are free to choose but not free from the consequences or reward of their choice.
The process of writing a personal mission statement is easier to begin once the teenager has an understanding of principles and values. The most important thing for a teenager writing a personal mission statement is that it has to be short and easy to remember. The initial personal mission statement is long and together the statement is broken down into something catchy and short that they can remember. I have the teenager write the short catchy phrase on an index card that they keep, or some create a screensaver with their catch phrase, so that they are constantly reminded of their personal mission statement, principles, and values. It makes it easier for them to then measure all activities against these and helps to stay focused on their goals and objectives. The steps to writing a personal mission statement are many but I like to have teenagers do the following. I have them think of their ideal self, what others would say about them. This gives them the starting point using their principles and values to guide the development of their ideal self and start of a personal mission statement. I ask them to define their purpose and understand what their strengths are and to incorporate that into the statement. This is enough material to get started and allows for discussion and refining of their personal mission statement. I do believe that teenager personal mission statements are constantly evolving as they grow and their values change. I have the teenagers reassess their personal mission statement every semester, as their values and their ideal self is still evolving as they are growing and trying to find the best version of themselves.
An example of a teenager’s personal mission statement may be, “To pursue dance and gain admission to New York University for dance. Change the world and increase tolerance through dance. Love my family and friends and be present. Listen more.”
Another example is, “To push myself to be the best that I can in school, the soccer team, and student council. I want to encourage and support my mates. I do not want to be jealous of their success but to raise them up.”
As you can see for teenagers it incorporates who they are now with the principles and values of where they are and where they want to be. The time to create a personal mission statement for a teenager allows them to reflect on who they are, what they want to change and how they are going to do that. Teenagers are a chameleon of sorts, trying to understand the world around them and how they are best going to fit into it. The exercise of writing and re-evaluating their personal mission statement allows for this opportunity and discussion to help them to keep moving forward toward their goals.