There are many benefits to living an intentional life, to creating a mission statement and then living by it. This week in my classes at the university, I spent a lot of time teaching about the power of mission and how to write one. It is such an important lesson for people of all ages these days because we live in a time when we are bombarded with information and opportunities. I've noticed that my students are already feeling spread too thin with their time because they say yes to too many opportunities. I see this as a reactionary lifestyle. We have to be more proactive about how design our lives so that we can give more in the long term. A mission can help us do this. It has helped me significantly throughout my own life, as my life-long challenge has been to keep focused. I love people and I love doing so many things. I've had to recognize that is my tendency to do too much. So beginning a number of years ago, I began simplifying my life. It's a constant challenge to remain balanced. When I realized this years ago, I began resigning from organizations and cutting out activities. My lifestyle changed so drastically when I started a family, that when I was wrapping up my obligations with the intention of then resigning, I couldn't adapt fast enough. I found myself sick and at the doctor asking, "What's wrong with me?" I learned that what I was experiencing was stress induced. This is when I had to cut even more drastically.
What to keep? What to cut? I ended up cutting out great organizations that I was a part of. I ended up choosing one organization as a part of taking care of myself, because I needed to at least keep something linked to my passion, identity, and source of friendship. So I kept this for me, while cutting all else out. Today, I say "no" so often in order to fiercely guard my time and to remain focused. I've learned that this is the only way to become an expert in anything or to be thought of as the go-to person when people have a specific need. My highest priority has been to spend time with my family. I figured out this week that I spend 7-8 hours per day with my kids most days. There are a couple of days when I have a longer work day, but I've created a lifestyle that allows me to maximize my time with them, while living out my enduring purpose, which is to help others to reach their fullest potential and to inspire hope that individuals, their teams, and organizations can be their best. I would be re-missed if I didn't first concern myself with the two little leaders growing up in my home. So, this is my definition of "having it all." It's not really doing it all or having it all, but focusing in on this mission, so that I can make a greater impact in a few things - namely with my family and my enduring purpose.
The way I do this is by considering my mission and then my priorities as the standard when people ask me to volunteer my time. I ask myself, "Does this help others to reach their fullest potential?" Even better, "Does it relate to helping leaders, specifically? Then, I consider the question in terms of its effect on my family. Will it be challenging for my husband if I say yes? What will be the effect of my yes on others? For example, I am often asked to speak to groups. I was recently asked to do a training by our local chamber of commerce regarding conflict styles. This opportunity fit directly into my mission, it was during the day when my kids were at school, and it was on a day that I didn't teach. Yes! This was a yes, because it was in line with my mission and my priorities. On the other hand, I am often asked to participate in what to me seem to be random good things. These options that I have stem from a noble mission, but do not relate to my mission. So, I say "no."
Last year when I was doing a training on "how to say no without feeling guilty," I was reminded of a book I used to assign in my Negotiation classes called, "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most,"
by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen. There are so many rich lessons in this book. But one chapter is about the importance of grounding your identity. The authors state that there are three questions people often ask themselves. "Am I worthy of love? Am I a good person? Am I competent?" If you think back to times when you felt especially upset with someone for seemingly misunderstanding you, or to a time when you felt especially defensive, it was likely because one of these questions was challenged. So, as I was teaching about saying, "no" in order to say "yes" to what matters most, I realized that when people ask you to do things for them or for a cause, that happen to be noble and good, and we say no, in that moment, the question, "Am I a good person?" is challenged. Even though in our minds we know the answer is still yes, we have to deal with the other person's response or lack of understanding. They might look at us as if they do not understand or ask, "But why?" I recently had a friend ask me to be on a board of an organization -TWICE - hoping that perhaps I'd say yes the second time. Alas, I did not. It is not the right choice for me or that organization, but this was only understood by me. I am confident that someone else can do that job well. So when people constantly ask you to do things for them, it can feel like a bombardment of this question. "Are you a good person? Are you a good person? Are you a good person?" Over and over again it happens. Many people fall prey to this and say yes so that they can still feel good about themselves.
But this is the big lie. Saying yes to everything that others ask you to do for them doesn't necessarily make you a good person. It can actually lead to a situation where you don't know who you are or what you're about anymore. A person who is this scattered can feel lost, because they lack direction. On the other hand, people who are mission driven take back their power. A mission serves as a compass that helps you to keep focused and to make a greater impact. A mission helps you to answer the questions, "Who am I? Where am I going? Where do I want to end up?" People who have a sense of answers to these questions (but also a healthy understanding that these things can change in a heartbeat), are very confident. You have a stronger sense of identity so that when life does dish you change, you remain hopeful. I often use my husband's story as an example of how one's life can change in a moment. He was injured in a snow skiing accident at the young age of 21 and was left a T-5 paraplegic. Immediately this could stir identity questions such as, "Am I competent? Am I worthy of love?" Thankfully, his identity was based firmly in his love for the Lord and he leaned in toward God, instead of pushing him away. He understood that his life had worth beyond the details of his loss. For years beyond his accident, he has lived an inspiring, joyful life, that is full. So, we must be ready. We have to be intentional with our lives. We have limited time and resources. We need a mission and also priorities in order to know what choices to make each day. We have to determine the truth of why we are competent, worthy of love, and a good person, despite what ever happens or what ever is said about us. When we do this, we are not shaken to the core and left hopeless in our loss. When we do this, we find the kind of freedom that one can find inside of a budget, to give freely up to that boundary we've given ourselves. This is how to live a life without guilt or regret and to put first what matters most.
I challenge you to write a mission. Put it on paper. It sounds hokey, but it is more common than you might think. Answer those three core identity questions. And when you do, begin by talking with God about these questions. The right answers to these questions are going to come when you seek him first and find your identity in him. I promise this will help. It has helped me. It's a constant work to find balance. It's an imperfect process, but you'll be healthier for it and will experience less doubt and guilt. Discover your enduring purpose and strike a balance without apology. When you do, you will give yourself the gift of more peace of mind and spirit, and you will extend more grace to yourself when you say no, instead of feeling guilty. You deserve this. You work hard. You should have something to show for it - your health, a healthy family, and a sense of worth.