Just as a business cannot function without a mission statement, which defines the objectives and goals of the business, each person must have a personal mission statement. As we begin the new year, following the holiday season, here is a practical guide how to discover your mission in this world.
How to Find Your Personal Mission Statement
As we leave the rich holiday season and reenter our daily routines, now is the time to chart a course for the new year.
Indeed the holidays are a spiritual oasis. They nourish and nurture our psyches and empower us with the ability to take on our lives with a new passion and commitment. But then we must leave the embrace of the holidays and enter into a hostile world, charged with the mission to illuminate and warm our corner of the universe, and transform it into a home for the Divine.
In this week’s Torah portion Noah is commanded to leave the ark, which protected him from the raging floodwaters. We too are commanded to leave our spiritual environment of the holiday season to rebuild the world.
Just as the universe began completely submerged in water, we all begin our lives in water—spiritually and physically. Our lives begin and our beings are shaped in the nine months we spend in the waters of the womb. But then comes the time of birth: We must leave the comfort and protection of the watery womb and enter dry land. On land we may feel disconnected from our source (unlike life in water, which is always connected to its source). And that precisely is the challenge: To create awareness in a dry and detached world.
Life consists of two components: Means and ends. Tools and goals. Form and function. Another way of putting it is: body and soul. Now, form must always follow function; the means must be directed toward the end; the tools are to be used to achieve the goal. The body must follow the soul, not the other way around.
But if we don’t know where our soul wants to go, how then can we use our tools effectively.
But if we don’t know where our soul wants to go, how then can we use our tools effectively. That would be like a hammer trying to knock in a nail without any sense of what is being built. Is it possible that we are spending most of our time and energy on the means, without really knowing the ultimate goals of all our efforts?
This brings us to the mission of our lives. To live efficiently and find true happiness, you must know your mission. This is turn directs all your tools, resources, forms and means toward the goal and function.
I therefore would like to take this opportunity, as we leave the “ark” and enter into the quotidian, to discuss methods how to discover your personal mission statement.
This will also serve as a response to questions many of you have posed addressing this question. Here is one example of an e-mail letter I received.
Dear Rabbi J.,
I have heard you speak many times about the critical need for each of us to have a personal mission statement. How true and tragic it is that in business we fully understand the need for a mission, but in our personal lives most of us do not feel the need to define our mission.
As you accurately point out, a business will simply fail if it has no mission statement. Even with a mission, businesses always struggle to maintain their course and ensure that all their departments and employees are aligned to fulfill the company’s mission. How then can we expect to succeed in our personal lives without a clear, concise and defined mission statement?
My question to you is this: How do you find your mission statement?
Business is actually a great barometer by which we can measure the clarity of our personal missions.
The first thing that must be stated is this. I have asked many people to define their personal mission statements. Most people answered: “to be happy, “to make a lot of money,” “to establish security,” “to provide for a healthy family,” or on a more personal level: “to live a fulfilling life,” “to make a difference,” “to make this world a better place.”
All these answers are good, but they don’t answer the question. It would be like saying that the mission of your business is “to make a lot of money,” or to “make a difference.” Every business wants to make money and offer an indispensable product to customers. A mission statement is not a generic declaration that can fit any company or organization, but one that is unique to YOU. How do you intend on making money? What will be the exact function of your company? On the personal level: How do you intend on being happy? What exactly will make you happy? What will you do with the money you make?
The accumulation of wealth is a great distraction. It can deceive us into thinking that it in itself is a mission. Indeed, money with a few other obsessions preoccupies almost 100% of our life goals. But for all its power, it is merely a means not an end. Yet the means are so seductive, that they can lull us into thinking that there is no other mission in life.
The means are so seductive, that they can lull us into thinking that there is no other mission in life.
Nothing is farther from the truth, and nothing can be more destructive.
The first and foremost thing each of us must know is that we do have a mission in life. We were sent to earth for a purpose, and if not for that purpose we would not be here. Period.
We must also know that survival in this world produces an elaborate amount of tools that can distract us to the point that we may end up being too busy with the means to pursue our calling. We therefore need constant reminders to keep us awake and aware of our higher purpose.
Life’s general purpose and mission is, in the words of the Midrash, to “make a home for G-d in this lowly world.” This is the generic mission of all human beings: To utilize all your resources and opportunities to refine your life environment, and transform it to channel the sublime.
In mystical terms the Baal Shem Tov puts it this way: Each of us is allocated an exclusive number of “divine sparks”—essentially, spiritual opportunities—that lay embedded in all our life events and experiences. Our job is to recognize these “sparks” (opportunities) and “release” and “free” them, thereby actualizing their true potential and purpose.
For instance, when we travel to a particular location, we may be going for personal or business reasons (as we check off our customs forms). However the true reason for our journey is to encounter places, people, experiences and/or events that carry spiritual opportunities. Our mission is to uncover and develop these opportunities.
When we eat a meal, we may be driven by hunger or just plain desire, but in truth the food contains “divine sparks” that are meant to nourish our souls and in turn, to be “released” and fulfill their true purpose. When we use the energy of our meals for productive purposes, the food then becomes a “partner” in changing this world for the better.
Every one of our desires and interests, every one of our experiences and encounters contains and is sustained by our unique “sparks,” which we are charged to release and actualize.
Therein lies the key to discovering your particular mission: Look closely at your life experiences and you will see patterns emerge that will direct you toward your mission.
It would have been nice if G-d sent us to Earth with a little “notebook” stating our mission. The fact that we don’t have that luxury tells us that part of the mission is to discover the mission on our own.
Yet we are given many signs and directions how to do so. By studying our own lives, especially the “givens,” the forces that we do not control, we can, without much difficulty, recognize our calling.
Look at these four general resources in your life:
All these four dynamics are driven by Divine Providence. They are not accidents. They therefore contain a myriad of invaluable information regarding your mission in life.
Personality: You have a unique personality, with specific desires and interests. Artistic, scientific, analytic, emotional are but a few descriptions that define your unique nature. Some people are cold-blooded, others warm-blooded. Some are more intuitive, others more rational. Some are more organized, other more spontaneous. There are introverts and extroverts. The list goes on.
Each of these features is shaped by your particular “divine sparks.” Even your desires and your looks, every part of your personality, temperament and disposition, is beneath the surface untapped energy waiting to be released.
Your unique character—your qualities and virtues, and for that matter, your weaknesses and vices that you discipline and channel—are all signposts telling you about your mission; that your mission is to utilize your distinctive nature to refine yourself and the world. An artist, for example, must use his skill to open up people to new ways of looking at life and G-d. A sensitive soul must utilize her empathy to give people hope.
Self-awareness, in other words, is the first step in recognizing your mission.
Opportunities: You were blessed with particular opportunities. Family and friends provide various connections, which can open up all sorts of opportunities. Education is another source of unique opportunity, as is also the resources you have earned or inherited. Different offers will come your way throughout your life. Your family’s business, a friend’s introduction, even a seemingly “random” encounter may bring you new opportunities.
Your work is another major spiritual opportunity. It can reveal much about the Divine. For example, a physician can learn and teach about the cosmos by studying human physiology created in the “Divine Image” (“from my flesh I behold G-d”). A scientist can do the same by reflecting on the parallels between science and spirit. Every line of work contains “sparks” and carries lessons about our own spirits. In addition, your work offers you ways to fulfill your mission by making your mark and helping other with the opportunities you have—through charity, volunteerism and other ways.
Every opportunity is essentially another form of “sparks” waiting to be actualized by us. These opportunities are meant to not merely be exploited for personal gain (the means), but primarily to be used for spiritual gain—to fulfill your mission.
People: The people you have met and will meet in your life—family, friends, co-workers, even so called “random” encounters with strangers—all carry “sparks” of opportunity, that can further direct you in discovering your mission.
These people have their strengths and weaknesses. The fact that they are part of your life means that your mission includes dealing with them, even if the relationship may be a challenging one. In addition, you learn lessons from these people, which teach you about your mission. Often, these people can be mentors that help you discover your calling.
Places: The places you have lived and traveled to add another dimension to your spiritual opportunities (“sparks”). Each place has its own character and offers unique possibilities.
“G-d leads the footsteps of man.” The reason you find yourself in these places is because you need them to fulfill your mission.
These four factors—your personality, opportunities, people and places (POPP or OPPP for short)—carry the mission and destiny of your life. The reason you have your unique personality and opportunities, people and places, is because their cumulative energy is essentially your mission statement.
When you apply yourself and study these four factors your mission will not take long to emerge. Your unique calling is a combination of each and all of these four factors, in a twofold way: 1/ To develop all these four areas of your life and 2/ allow them to catapult you in discovering new opportunities and ways to fulfill your higher calling.
It may take some work to review your POPP. It’s always a good idea to consult with an objective friend who can help you look at these four areas, and see how they define your mission. The more you invest in this discovery, the clearer will be your results.
Remember: Form follows function. Once you come to recognize your calling, all your tools and resources will take on a new and focused direction.
As we leave the “ark” to go fulfill our mission of rebuilding the world, may you be blessed to discover/embrace your mission and implement it in your daily routines.
It will change your life.
P.S. We have developed a series of workshops specifically geared to help you discover your mission in life. If you know why you are here in this world, everything else follows. Find out more here.