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Building a Life of Purpose and Self-Direction
On my long and continually growing list of books to read, I finally tackled one this fall that has been at or near the top of every “must-read” book list among artists and academics I follow. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (by Stephen R. Covey) is a book title that would not necessarily appeal to me at first glance. I have no desire to be a highly effective and productive pawn in a corporate setting in which my exhaustive efforts inflate the coffers of millionaire CEOs. That dynamic is not for me, but thankfully, this book goes much deeper than that.
It has valuable kernels of wisdom that resonate with my own thinking and learning over the years. I have become so enamored of it that I have taken a slow and deep dive through its pages. In the time it would have taken me to read four or five books in the last month and half, I have been gently reflecting on each chapter, taking notes, and journaling about the book’s ideas. I am actually not done reading it as of this posting, but it has one particular idea that I wanted to share.
The concept of a mission statement as a way to guide a set of goals or programs is not new to many businesses and organizations, but its origins actually grow out of crafting a mission statement for oneself exclusively.
The book insists that the contents of a personal mission statement not be based on a person, place, or thing, but rather on a set of values and principles. For example, someone might say that the core of their lives is their family and everything centers around their relationships with family members. Someone else might say that their job is the grounding force in their lives, and its ups and downs dictate the mood and flow of their every day. While one’s family and job can certainly be important, contextualizing your entire life within those specific and singular realms does not necessarily reflect the evolving and complex person that you genuinely are.
Using a set of principles you choose for yourself allows you to define who you want to be across all aspects of your life. They will apply toward your friends, family, community, spirituality, love life, and any valuable relationship, and unlike the US Constitution, the bible, or other dogma, your personal mission statement can change whenever necessary and at any time.
So, why is this valuable?
I want to look back at my life someday and feel satisfied by how I treated people and what I did with every precious second of this all-too-brief life I have been given. Molding a set of guiding principles for myself allows me to steer my ship and set my specific course despite the numerous obstacles in life that are outside my control.
My own personal mission statement, which I wrote as a result of Covey’s book, currently fills up one page of the 5X8 inch notebook I use to capture anything I want to regularly reflect upon.
Here are some, but not all, of the principles that currently guide my life:
I will listen more than I speak.
I will prioritize rest, self-care, and good nutrition.
I will fight distraction with artistic creation, personal reflection, and meditation.
I will lead with generosity and kindness toward all animals and people.
Every morning, part of my daily ritual is to read my personal mission statement. This often feels like hitting a reset button for my brain. All the aggravations from the previous day diminish, and I am nudged back on course.
I have to say that this has felt good to me. In concrete and no uncertain terms, my behavior and decisions become more fully aligned with what I value and the kind of person I want to be in every different realm of my life.
To be fair, I understand that crafting a personal mission statement may not appeal to or work for everyone, but even if you did it once as a thought experiment, you might be surprised by what you come up with.
What do you value?
What do you want to prioritize for yourself exclusively?
How do you want to interact with others?
How do you want to be remembered?
What impact do you want to make in your family, friends, and community?
There are no limits to what you can address. These guiding principles can be encapsulated in one sentence or several. All of it is entirely malleable and subject to your discretion.
I invite you to give it a try. Write something down and see what unfolds. You may never look at what you write ever again, but in the moment, if you get even a modicum of clarity, then it is surely worthwhile.
P.S. For those of you who live in the greater Nashville area or in Sarasota, Florida, here are my upcoming shows:
12/03/2023: the French House in Nashville, TN (w/ special guest Josephine)
12/10/2023: Piano Sessions at Aviva in Sarasota, FL
Please mark your calendars and come out to a show!
This past Wednesday night, MaxZine and I went to an artist talk by our friend Bill Steber at Middle Tennessee State University. He is a fellow musician and an accomplished photographer who worked for many years at the Tennesseean in that capacity. This talk was part of a career retrospective centered around an exhibit of his photographs of blues musicians living in the Deep South (Mississippi and Louisiana, among other places). The body of work on display was truly impressive and clearly borne out of a genuine love of blues music and culture. The photos are simply stunning and capture an era in America’s cultural history that is unique and unparalleled. I was happy to hear Bill talk and give him a hug afterward. It is not often that I get to see how someone built a monument in one’s life. He has so many rich and inspiring tales to tell.
Check out Bill’s exhibit here: https://www.baldwinphotogallery.com/copy-of-exhibitions.
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