My Quest For A Personal Mission Statement
In 1989, my father gave me a copy of the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It had already been on the New York Times best seller list, a place it would reside for a decade to come. It was written by Steven R. Covey, a notable member of the church and world renowned management guru.
It is a great book that I still have and refer to frequently. A portion of the book was devoted to developing a personal mission statement as a necessary component to the application of the principles and habits outlined in the book.
Upon completing the book, I said to myself, “I’m going to write my own personal mission statement”. I took a piece of paper and a pencil and I wrote a personal mission statement.
To this day I have absolutely no idea what I wrote. It amounted to a large pile of nonsensical gibberish. Reflecting on this fact, however, does not embarrass me because I tried my best. Neither did it discourage me. Unfortunately, throughout the years from time to time, I would try my hand at it again and again only to meet with the same results.
This exercise in futility reminds me of the proverbial author who, in an attempt to write a “best seller”, continually rips the paper out of the typewriter, crumples it up into a little ball, and throws it behind him only to start again and again.
Personal observations about the world around me, and all those I came in contact with lead me to conclude that no one I had ever met really had a personal mission statement. And that if they did, they were certainly going to extremes to hide it. How could I know if others had one or not? Is it none of my business? Is it so personal that it cannot be shared with others, like a patriarchal blessing? Or do they not even know what one is?
It seemed to me that people live day to day with little or no concept of a “Master Plan”. No real blueprint that maps out their mission in this life and acting as the foundation for everything they do.
If I was to hand out a pencil and paper to people, they would experience at least as much difficulty as I had. But it either doesn’t seem to bother them or they pretend to know what they are supposed to be doing. Anyone can scribble something down, but would it represent the daily driving force of everything their life is about “even unto death”. Will it ever change? Or is it permanent? Still undaunted, I always believed that someday I would figure it out.
Near the end of the millennium, with the year 2000 approaching, I decided within myself that I would make another attempt at developing a personal mission statement. This time however, I would come at it with a totally different approach. Instead of trying to figure it out myself, I would rely wholly on the merits of him who is mighty to save (2 Ne 31:19-21).
My plan was that I would fast for 24 hours each and every Sunday and Wednesday for as long as it would take to get a personal mission statement. I would abstain from all food and drink, twice a week accompanied by prayer and supplication to the lord for a personal mission statement and continue indefinitely. No end of the process was planned. If it took the rest of my life, so be it.
Beginning on the first day of the new millennium, I began my process. Praying each day and fasting twice a week.
After 90 days, at the beginning of April. I completed my Wednesday fast on Thursday at noon. To end my fast, I decided to take my lunch break and drive through McDonalds. There was one near my work that always had a promotional discount on the big red banner floating on top on the restaurant advertising “99 CENT BIG MAC”. I drove around the building and pulled up to the big menu board. I know that “Micky D’s” is not high on the “Word of Wisdom” top ten list of healthy foods, but that was not my concern at this time. I ordered the old Standard, two 99 Cent Big Macs and a courtesy water.
After parking the car in a secluded area of the parking lot, I ended my fast with a prayer, thanked God for the food and blessed it. After the meal, I turned my McDonalds receipt over and jotted down the words that would become the core of my mission statement. It was short, clear, concise, simple, yet thorough. I had it. I had a TRUE mission statement. What made it a true one was that it will never change. And that is the test. It will never change. Ways and means of getting there lie unknown on the road ahead, but the core principle behind it all is the foundation of an unchangeable core at the center of my being.
My mission statement centers around and has to do with building an eternal family. The elapsed time period of three months is notable, representing the natural order of things in a “season” of work followed by the harvest. I would later “wordsmith” the idea into a more complete statement:
My mission is to build a legacy of faith in Jesus Christ by raising a righteous posterity through priesthood power and service unto eternal exaltation for my family through all generations of time and throughout all eternity.
My heart was filled with gratitude. I was happy, relieved, and blessed. I had finally received what I had been searching for, for so long. I possessed a pearl of great price. Like gold, it is so rare because it was so expensive. I sat there reflecting on the enormity of it all and basking in the moment. What became clear to me from my current vantage point was this: That the great benefit far outweighed the sacrifice, even though the sacrifice was too great for others. I heard a little voice inside of me that said, “That wasn’t so bad”.
Like standing on top of Mount Whitney at 14,495 feet, overlooking the vast expanse of the Sierra Nevada mountain range after a week of hiking as I did in my youth with my scout troop, the work shrunk down to nothing as the accomplishment set in.
Like Elder John Groberg who lay starving on a secluded island during his mission waiting for food to arrive, I too became loath to leave my blessed state, even after food had arrived. “How much further could I go?” I wondered. I decided to continue my fast twice a week until the end of the year. That would be 104 days of fasting in one year.
Exercising your faith leads us down pathways that have unpredictable benefits not necessarily related to our intention. One of these unexpected changes was a great “paradigm shift” experienced by my consciousness. It is the sin of being a wasteful society. The great blessing of affluence to Americans should produce waves of endless gratitude. Instead it has created unmitigated waste in all its varieties.
In my own household, we have one huge trash container plus 4 regular sized trash cans, yet if we should miss just one weeks trash pick up, God help us! Each week, they are all filled to capacity. Most of it is packaging. From diapers and paper towels to appliances and automobiles, products are not designed to be repaired or reused, but disposed of and replaced. The waste begins at the drawing board, it’s disposable. Moreover, people threw away perfectly good and usable items not needed instead of giving it to someone that could use it or to a Charitable Organization.
Often the wasteful person will make sure that others know it was thrown away in a perverted ploy to exalt themselves above others economically. Perhaps it’s the “I wipe myself with 100 dollar bills“ approach to self esteem. For example, it has become a customary practice among business people to order a very expensive meal at a restaurant, eat a couple of bites and shove the plate away. They believe they are exerting economic supremacy over their audience. In truth, it is a hideous and discussing sin against God. In our Grand Parents era, it was “waste not, want not”. Little or nothing was ever wasted. If you ever tried to leave the table without “cleaning your plate”, you would get an earful you would never forget. Yet today gluttony has become a sport and wanton waste is the order of the day. If it is pointed out that there are starving people in other lands when seeing perfectly good food wasted, we laugh at their stupidity, scoff at their frugality, and look down at the “little people”.
During this time, on a few occasions, I ate at CiCi’s Pizza Parlor, home of the then very popular $2.99 all you can eat pizza buffet; good quantity food. My eyes were open to a certain social eating behavior. I was stunned and amazed at the utter waste of food. I saw people taking 12-15 slices of pizza and build a pyramid out of them on their plates at the buffet line. Then after eating 3-4 pieces, simply walk out the door leaving the topless pyramid to be thrown in the trash. Why did they take it if they weren’t going to eat it? Are they even aware of their tremendous waste? Do they even care? We all waste to some degree, but I found this practice to be particularly disturbing. I became aware that to be a wasteful person is ungodly and grieves the spirit of the lord. I learned how easily the Holy Ghost is offended.
On another occasion, half way through the year, we were asked to make a pie for the pie eating contest that would take place at our 24th of July celebration. At that time, my wife Cathy and I, with our kids, had paid money to pick our own bushel of peaches off the trees in a nearby orchard. Cathy and the kids spent hours slaving over a hot oven adding value to something beautiful (peaches) to create something wonderful (peach pie). The next day Cathy told me that she was donating one of these pies for the pie eating contest. It upset me greatly.
“You’re not going to put that pie in the pie eating contest”, I said. “They’re just going to ram their face into it, smash it around, and loose half of it on the table and the ground. Then when someone sees that they’re not going to win, they start a food fight by throwing the remains of their pie at someone else”.
On the fateful day, as the festivities approached, I respectfully declined an invitation to participate in the impending mayhem. I had just finished making final preparations as the featured pioneer “story teller” following the contest. As I watched from a distance, I heard the famous words “on your mark, get set, GO!”
At that instant, 15-20 faces simultaneously went down into their respective pies. I’m not 100 percent positive, but I thought I saw a shadowlike figure in my peripheral vision. It was a silhouette form flying straight up toward heaven. I looked upward towards the sky to get a better look, but it was already gone. Ever since that day, I have had a firm conviction that the Holy Ghost does not attend pie eating contests. My prediction of the outcome of the contest was fulfilled to a T.
An interesting side note, however, is that although I had strong feelings against such an event, I felt no animosity towards anyone who participated. I had love in my heart for all.
Some might say, “Well, come on Howard, ya gotta have a little fun every once in a while”. “Ya gotta relax and enjoy life sometimes”. One thing I know for sure is that a person sees things totally different based on how they have prepared themselves.
Waste, as a principle in and of itself is a sin, irrespective of the waster’s net worth. Unless one has prepared them self exactly as I did that year through fasting and prayer, they can never say that my paradigm presented here is incorrect, askew, or slanted. Others may never see what I saw or view things as I have viewed them, but I had prepared myself in a way that surpassed all expectations that have been imposed by my leaders.
Why are we such a wasteful people? Why do we feed our vanity and gratify our worldly desires by consuming them upon the lust of our flesh? Being a wasteful people is a reflection of our ingratitude.
I continued to fast throughout the year. In the middle of November, it was really starting to wear on me physically. I looked forward to the end of the year. I could have quit at any time, but I made a commitment and I was going to endure it to the end. The last couple of weeks were very hard, especially since Christmas and New Years is full of food and endless goodies. I remained undaunted and finished my commitment. It was an incredible year. I learned more that year then ever before. I had a mission statement. I saw life through a different set of eyes.
I marvel that for me to produce a personal mission statement, it took a monumental sacrifice. Does it come easier for others? Am I the slow and stupid one while this stuff comes natural to everyone else? Or am I the honest one surrounded by pretentiousness? Do the principles of the universe apply equally to all or is there a simpler and easier set of requirements for others. Could it be that most people will never know their mission because the cost to get one is just too great?
I have come to know that any religion or ideology that requires little or nothing of you, will make little or nothing of you. Promises by charlatans to the contrary should be a sign to turn around and run as long and as far away as you can get until you can’t hear them lying to you any more. It’s all very hard work.
In Steven R. Covey’s follow up book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families”, he talks about developing a family mission statement. He states, “My brother John and his wife Jane were both Parents and Grandparents when they developed their mission statements. They had married children living in different parts of the country as well as some children living at home. They spent eighteen months communicating with them in various ways, and they finally came up with this single phrase that embodies the essence of all they were thinking and feeling: “No Empty Chairs”.
As simple as this little phrase is, notice that it took the whole family 18 months to come up with it. Again, it’s hard work.
Is there anything worth having that doesn’t require hard work? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ hard work? If you say “no", your not in it.
“No Empty Chairs”, is probably derived from a famous talk by Ezra Taft Benson about a vision for his own family that in the hereafter, that there would be no empty chairs at the family table. The same sentiment embodies the essence of my own mission statement. Not in wording, but in principle.
If your process ends in the same result, then why not just take the Mission that others have already prepared and call it your own? Or take mine and put in your own words? Why go through all the aggravation if the work has already been done by someone else?
Because even though you might come to the exact same conclusion, the journey is indispensable. Without it you won’t have ownership over it. It will be meaningless to and invisible to you. It will not be in your consciousness day to day because it isn’t yours, it’s someone else’s. Each individual must go through the process in order to make it work.
It’s like getting a testimony of the gospel. Why not just believe it? The scriptures say it’s true, others tell you its true, and your parents tell you it’s true. It doesn’t work that way. In the end, the only way you will ever have your own testimony is for you personally to make the sacrifices. In the final analysis, there are no short-cuts. You cannot rely on another’s testimony. Even if you come to the same conclusions in the end, it is your journey that makes all the difference.
But be of good cheer. If you get there fast, it’s because you took a shortcut, it will fail, and you will have to continuously repeat the process with poor results. However, If you get there slow, and get there correctly, it’s done once and for all and you get the benefits from that time forward.
As Steven R. Covey points out, with things like this, fast is slow and slow is fast.
My most sincere prayers,