At some point in your life, you have probably read or heard the ancient Proverb: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This is true for nations as well as individuals. When you don’t have a plan, a goal, a mission statement, or even just an idea of where you’re going, life can quickly slip into chaos. However, when you create a plan or define your goals, you can sidestep the chaos and move toward prosperity.
There is no better example of this than from our own history. When the American Colonies defeated the British Empire in the American Revolution, there was much debate about what kind of government should take the place of ol’ King George. The most important thing to the people was preserving their rights and liberties. The colonists were very wary of monarchies and did not want anything that might restrict their freedom. On top of that, each colony was very different from the next in terms of economics and population. They were also very suspicious of large governments. In the end, they decided that a loose association or a confederation of states would be the best for their situation.
It didn’t take long for chaos to rear its ugly head.
Under the Articles of Confederation (the name of their governing document), the Congress did not have any power to make any meaningful and lasting decisions, nor did it allow for any kind of executive to enforce any decision made by Congress. Essentially, it lacked any real power or teeth. It was kind of like saying: “I think I’ll get out of bed sometime. I don’t want to make any kind of commitment.” Things got so bad, that a war vet named Daniel Shays gathered a mob and marched on the United States Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts with the intent of stealing weapons to overthrow the government.
After this, George Washington and many other leaders knew that something had to be done. There was no direction, and there was no vision. A new nation was already on the brink of collapse.
A Constitution Solution
The States sent delegates to Philadelphia to fix up the Articles of Confederation, but one of the leaders of the movement, James Madison, knew that it required something much more. He proposed that an entirely new system of government be created. It was debated, modified, and voted upon. The end result was a document much better than Madison himself had ever envisioned. The United States Constitution clearly defined the role of the federal government and gave it power to act, but it also put the government in chains. Thus, the rights and liberty of the people would be maintained.
You may be thinking that this all sounds great but does not sound like the nation we live in now. You might also be thinking that the Constitution is an antiquated document filled with racism, sexism, and bigotry. These are valid concerns that may be best addressed at another time.
For now, I want to focus on the vision the framers had for our nation. Our government has stood the test of time for over 200 years. In a way, they kind of predicted the future. Nearly every other country on the planet has modeled their government after ours in some way. Why? Because it works. The founders wanted to provide the people with freedom, so they clearly and painstakingly defined how to achieve it.
How many times does chaos creep into our lives? For me, there have been many times where my life seems to be overwhelming that I throw my hands up in the air in frustration and say that something has to change. But how do you know what to change? And how do you come up with a lasting plan?
The answer to these questions comes in understanding who you are and finding your core values. Core values are things we believe are important in relation to how we live our lives. Ideally, these values should determine the priorities in our lives. When we feel like life is going well, this is usually when our actions align with our core values. However, when what we do is out of sync with what we believe, that is when we experience frustration, unhappiness, and a lack of meaning. Sometimes, we feel like we need to march on the government inside our heads and rebel.
The best way to find these core values and to come up with a life plan that I have found comes from Stephen Covey, author of the bestseller 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. To find your core values and make a plan, Covey suggests you think about your funeral.
Don’t worry, it’s not as morbid as it sounds. It’s just an exercise many people refer to as the ‘eulogy’ or ‘funeral’ exercise. I would suggest that you do this exercise now as you’re reading and write down some notes as you go along. You can also come back to this page later if you don’t have time now.
The Funeral Exercise
What you need to do first is to find somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted. You want to be able to clear your mind so you can get the most out of what you will do.
In your mind’s eye, picture you are at a funeral. Notice the flower arrangements, the music playing in the background, the people gathering to mourn, etc. But this is not just any funeral. This is your funeral five years from now. As you go up to the front and look in the casket, you look down and see yourself. (I know this seems silly, but just go with it.) The people who are gathering to mourn are people who love and appreciate you.
When you look at the program, you notice that there are four speakers- a close family member, a close friend who can give people a sense of who you were, a person from your work or profession, and a person in your community or church.
This is where it gets even deeper. What kind of things would you want each of these people to say about you? What kind of son/daughter, brother/sister, husband/wife were you? What kind of friend were you? What kind of characteristics would you like them to describe about you? What achievements would you want them to remember about you? Most importantly, what kind of difference would you like to have made in their lives?
The answers to these questions will help you understand who you want to be, what your values are, and where your focus should be. Once you have some of these ideas, the next step is to create a vision for yourself- your own constitution by which you will live.
Personal Mission Statement
A personal mission statement is the best way to capture your core values and the vision you have or create for yourself. The great thing about a mission statement is there is no set way to create one. It could just be a list of your values. It could also be a few sentences describing how you want to live your life. A while ago, I chose to follow Stephen Covey’s suggestions and here is what I came up with for my own personal mission statement:
My mission is to live with authenticity and integrity and to help others maximize their personal freedom.
- I am a loving husband and father who gives his family members a priority on his most valuable asset: time.
- I am a leader in thought and action among those that I interact with.
- I am an entrepreneur in many aspects of life and seek to blaze new trails.
- Commitment – when I make a decision, I see it through to the end.
- Balance – balance among roles and responsibilities.
- Sincerity – speak and act without wax.
- Integrity – live the truth no matter the cost.
- Frugality – seek to create and conserve rather than consume and waste.
- Kindness – treat others with the respect you would want to be shown.
When we take action in our lives, we actually create things twice. First we have an idea or create things with our minds. Then, we go out and do stuff with our hands and with our words. A mission statement is the bridge between what is an important part of the first creation that happens in our brains and the second creation where we actually do something. A mission statement is not something that you just write once and forget about. You should review this frequently and continually update and modify it. If you don’t love it, you might want to make some adjustments. But don’t get frustrated or discouraged if you can’t think of what to write down. It took me quite a while to get my mission statement to where it is now.
The world today will tell you that in order to live a life with meaning, you must do the opposite of what I have just laid out. But just as the Founders wrote a mission statement for the country (the Constitution) in order to preserve the values of freedom and civil liberties, each of us ought to have a mission statement that governs our own lives to preserve our core values.
Without a direction, our lives will be managed by chaos and discontentment. I’m sure each of us would rather live with meaning and fulfillment. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln put it best when he said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” This is the second step to Self Governance: predict your future.