Forget the New Year’s Resolution: Start 2021 with a Mission

Key Takeaways: 

  • A personal mission provides focus, direction, and prioritization.
  • Your students or mentees can use this personal mission exercise as a focal point when applying for jobs or graduate school.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. There’s nothing wrong with them, but most seem to fall by the wayside in short order. When starting a new year, I do like to pause, reflect and think strategically about what I might wish to accomplish. Reflecting back over my 34 years in industry, local government and higher education, the number one thing I’ve found to keep me on track is having a personal mission.

A personal mission describes what you believe is most important in life, what you wish to focus on and what you want to be known for. It’s your “why” as Simon Sinek (2009) terms it. It directs your thoughts and actions each day, allowing you to say “no” to things of less importance. It has the potential to change your life — as well as the lives of those you lead, coach, and mentor.

Great leaders must be driven by their own purpose and mission prior to leading others. Can you readily state your personal mission right now? Or would you like to further hone your vision, goals and dreams for your personal and professional life? Below are four simple steps that can help.

The Personal Mission Exercise:

1. Think about your core beliefs and values. Write down three or four keywords or phrases for each.

  • Core beliefs:  What are some key things you believe?
  • Core values:  What are some key things you value?
  • Overall, what really matters in life? What’s most important?

2. Think about your hopes, dreams, desires and goals. Do not limit these based on current circumstances. Jot down two or three items under each category. These are not commitments — just possibilities.


3. Leave a legacy.

  1. How would you like to be remembered? What one thing do you want people to say about you (now or after you’re gone)?
  2. What have you contributed to the world so far?  What do you dream of contributing in the future?
  3. What steps can you begin to take to achieve your desired contributions, hopes, dreams and goals?

4. Draft your personal mission:

Review everything you’ve written so far. Circle or underline the words that really stand out in your mind. Now use these keywords and ideas to write your mission. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. You may refine it later; it will evolve over time. Aim for one sentence if possible. Perhaps you could begin with: My mission in life is to…

The Two-Word Challenge:

Can you boil your mission down to just one or two words that will provide daily guidance? Perhaps this seems too simplistic; but I challenge you to give it a try.

As you complete the exercise, ask yourself whether your friends, co-workers and family members know these things about you. How might you share your mission in life with others as you begin this new year?

PS:  If you’re coaching or mentoring someone, try this exercise with them. When I share this with my undergrad and graduate students, I suggest they use their mission as a focal point when applying for a job. Having (and referencing) a personal mission can help them stand out from other candidates. Graduate school applications often request a personal philosophy as well. This can be an excellent start.


Sinek, S. (2009) Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
CAPTCHA This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.



Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.