The Business Cards of Life: Developing a Personal Mission Statement

I hate business cards. I conveniently forget to pack them in my luggage or everyday purse. When people hand their cards to me, I look at them once and throw them into what is labeled my handbag abyss. Every six months or so I clear out that space and come across about 10-20 business cards. For a moment, I think that maybe I should enter those into my email contacts list but then I get distracted by a shiny object and move on.  Ironically, I am in the middle of drafting a strategic plan for a non-profit agency based on interviews with board and staff alike. One key finding that the strategic plan must address is the ever-nebulous agency mission statement.  Or rather, the ever shifting agency mission. When agencies get caught in a national sea change do they change with the waves or do they hold steady to their core mission?  It all depends on the community needs, the strength of the product and brand, and of course the ego of the head of the agency. At the end of the day, an agency searching for its core is at the whim of its head.  If the head is inflated the core will suffer and possibly deflate or drift down a wild river.  And that my friends, is in a nutshell, how companies come and eventually go.


I am not here to wax philosophical about the state of the non-profit world or the egomaniacs that inhabit said world.  That rant is coming, just not today. I want to go back to the idea of a mission statement. In contemplating this agency’s strategic plan, I thought for a New York second that the agency should move forward with a new mission statement which the agency could place on its business cards. Placing the mission on the business card could help its employees become aligned with the core values and general steering of the agency. But if business cards are barely worth the time or paper they are printed on, why bother?


That got me thinking about my own life’s personal mission. Why don’t we as individuals carry around “cards” that affirm our values and note what our very own personal mission statement is.  Back in 1986, Madonna could have walked around with a set of personal cards that said “I am going to rule the world by taking on accents and wearing cone bras”.  That is way more informative than me knowing your email address and the name of the company you currently work for.  Let’s think about this. Does the agency you work for say much about you these days? Sure, it does. I would be silly to argue it does not. I work for a non-profit in a health field that does advocacy, research and trainings. It says I care about health disparities and have a social justice perspective. Well, it may say that to some and it would be correct. Others may take it to mean I do not like being highly paid and instead like being worked to death.  Tomato –tomahto.

But the business card surely doesn’t capture my snarky sense of humor, my jaded but well-informed opinions and my ability to be superwoman. That last quality will be the subject of a future post.  But for now, that superwoman quality means I am ambitious, strong and capable and one day I too would like to rule the world. Insert photo here of Austin Power’s Dr. Evil’s pinky finger. Ok, I will actually settle for ruling a small town. I need not rule the world.

It would be so helpful if every business card I receive at the endless meet and greets I must attend, actually stated what each person’s goal in life was and how they plan to achieve it. It would give me a better sense of whether to hang around with said individual, enjoy a lot more cocktails, or hightail it out of the room as quickly as posisble.  As Ernest Hemmingway noted “an intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.”  A personal mission on business cards could possibly save me the trouble of having to get drunk and spend time with fools. Looking at such business cards could also help guide one further on a set life trajectory. Is the person a pariah, a leech or a catalyst?  I wonder if I can get a Kickstarter project going to rule the world-ok, small town.

Next time you are in a business meeting, pull out your own personal mission statement and think about how that meeting is furthering or hindering it.  In an organizational assessment phase you can tell whether a large gap exists between the agency’s mission statement and the employees’ knowledge of how their day-to-day actions fit within that mission statement. Similarly, a personal mission statement should be useful in allowing one an understanding of where one stands in that particular moment.

In a recent study (Rabow et al., 2009) of medical students’ personal mission statements, researchers found that there were high aspirations as to having true interpersonal relationships and finding work/balance. The question is what happens to those medical students once they leave school and enter the practice world.  In another study (Ickes, 2013) looking at the beginning-of-the-course student introductions,  those students  that had a very narrow self-focused introduction at the beginning of the course tended to perform less well than others with a wider self-focus.  The nugget of information to gleam from this study is that you should not think of your own personal mission statement just in terms of yourself. Think about your impact on the world and your inter-connections with others.  In that respect, I really like Chipotle’s mission statement:  “Food with integrity.”

All one has to do is listen to Ernest Hemmingway when he noted that “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”  If all did that, then we could know if a certain person’s personal mission is just about making as much money as they can hoard, getting as many accolades as their ego can suck in or whether they truly invested in a greater good.  What is the person passionate about?  The personal statement as such should be about your character, your values and what you will do based on those values.

What’s in your wallet? Here is my statement:

I will find laughter in all tiny nuggets of life. I will judge each situation judiciously and fairly with a steady core of integrity. As such I can get through anything. Eventually I will bring great change to the world.



10 replies »

  1. Ooo love this! I’ll come back when I think of my personal mission statement..At this point that isn’t quite so easy for me..So many things I am/have grown to be/and still yearn to get to reach my God created potential..2 thumbs UP on your write!


  2. Bravo!! Love your mission statements and your courage to state it. I identify with the laughter statement, recognize the desire to judge fairly and to be the change I want in the world. Now that I have retired my Public Health career I am only interested in Laughter.


  3. If we ever met we could discuss this topic threadbare – but, in the end, it would boil down to tomato-tomahto 🙂 But seriously, I agree with “you should not think of your own personal mission statement just in terms of yourself. Think about your impact on the world and your inter-connections with others.” Very nice post.


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