Personal Mission

All organizations have mission statements, but some are better than others. Nordstrom’s mission statement is often touted as one of the best, for good reason:

“In store or online, wherever new opportunities arise, Nordstrom works relentlessly to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible. The one constant? John W. Nordstrom's founding philosophy: offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality and value.”

There is a famous story of a customer walking into Nordstrom and stating that he wanted to return some tires. The clerk refunded him the money and the customer left, satisfied. The catch is, as many people know, that Nordstrom does not sell tires. This is an example of how Nordstrom lives its mission daily.

Even if you are not a multi-billion dollar company, I would argue that your value as a person, an employee, and a colleague stems directly from how well you know your own values. There are many ways to reflect on your values and name them. You can take a quiz, engage in an activity, fill out a personality assessment, ask your friends, or any number of other ways.

My favorite activity by far was introduced to me by Rabbi Will Berkovitz. He handed out a sheet of paper with at least 50 words on it that corresponded to values. It included things like love, community, freedom, compassion, generosity, autonomy, patriotism, family, friends, and dozens more. First we each circled our top 10, then narrowed it down to 5, then 3. After naming our top 3 personal values, we were asked to look at our credit card statements for the previous 3 months. Did our spending reflect our values? For me, that was a splash of cold water on my face. I was not living my values as fully as I would have claimed. That experience led me to reevaluate how I was living my values through my work and through my personal life.

Fear is a powerful motivator. We stay in jobs for too long because we are afraid of looking like a “job hopper” or someone who can’t figure out what they want. We compare ourselves to others and think that we’re the only ones who haven’t figured it out yet (like Lucy. I have so been Lucy.). We take opportunities that sound good on paper even when our gut says it’s all smoke and mirrors. We take less money than we are worth because we are afraid to seem greedy, ungrateful, or like we're not a team player. We can be drawn in by excitement, opportunity for growth, and money. All of those are great perks but if we don’t look inward and ask ourselves what gets us out of bed in the morning or what we want to hang our hats on professionally, we are just going through the motions.

I once took a job that sounded perfect on paper - it was exactly what I had been looking for, the convergence of all the things I cared about in one place. I received an offer and replied with my counteroffer. The director said he would get back to me by Friday. By Sunday, I had not heard, and my heart sank. For me, this was a red flag. I don’t work well in organizations where the person in charge routinely sets their own deadline and then fails to meet it without any explanation or interim contact. I did finally hear back from him at 11 pm on Sunday night. I weighed the counteroffer, the stated* mission of the organization, and my own desires. I ignored my gut and accepted the job. It went on to be one of the worst years of my professional life. This person’s tendency to overpromise and underdeliver showed up every day, in every way. It impacted every employee and every client. I had seen it before I ever accepted but I didn’t listen to my own values because I wanted to believe it wouldn’t impact me.

*The distinction of stated mission is very important here. To an outsider, the organization appeared to be fulfilling its mission. It can be very difficult to figure out how to identify alignment between stated mission and activities. Sometimes it has to be a leap of faith. Sometimes you can contact current or former employees, read publications, or even talk to a current or former client. But even in the absence of any proof, my gut told me this wasn’t right, and I ignored it.

In my experience, when people act emotionally or unprofessionally in the workplace, it's usually because they feel that a deeply held core value of theirs is being violated. When one can identify those values, they can usually figure out why they're so upset and try to identify solutions. But when an employee isn't attuned to their own personal core values, their emotions can overrun them and they often don't know why. One of the biggest mistakes we can make professionally is not knowing what our own personal mission statement is, regardless of the job we currently hold.

If you need some guidance, Idealist published a post with a simple formula to get you started on your own personal mission statement:

“To combine/synthesize/integrate/leverage (or similar verbs) my experience in _______ (a) with my interest in _______ (b) to _______ (c) for _______ (d).”

Give it a try and see what you discover about yourself!