If you have been in the armed forces, or know someone who has (that covers every one of us!), then you also know that they live (and die) by their mission that is defined as — “an operation that is assigned by a higher headquarters”. No ambiguity there. For us civilians who work for organizations, there is typically a mission statement that embodies that enterprise. Starbucks, for instance states its mission as “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time”. Or Nike “To Bring Inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”. So, what you may ask? Let me get to the punch line — on your deathbed let’s say your closest friend asks you “Mission Accomplished?” — what would your answer be? Stumped? Most of us will be. Why? Because we never stop to ponder our own mission. I still recall diligently memorizing the Vision, Mission, and Strategy of one of my former employers as I frequently got them juxtaposed. #WasteOfTime. What was I doing parroting a large soulless organization’s purpose in life while ignoring my raison d’être?
Why is this the case? Simple. Because if we look at the four circles of life that define us — Hang with me here if you have not heard this before — take a deep breath — “That which pays us”, “That which we are good at”, “That which we love” and “That the world needs from us” (from the Ikigai definition below)
— Where this idealistic picture starts to fade is when we are sucked into the vortex of ‘That which pays us’ and thus have to acquire skills to feed that circle and that expands “That which we are good at” circle. And that frenzy consumes us. As we get better at something, we get paid more, and we acquire more skills and so on. In the process, what gets left in the dust is “That which we love” and “That the world needs from us” — which is where our true mission lies.
This became blindingly clear to me in 2017 due to a sequence of events (more on that in a future blog) and since then my life has taken on a different trajectory. But my journey is a work in progress towards the two elusive circles — “what we love” and “the world needs”. Far from done. But why not take inspiration from one of the most accomplished photographers of our time and a great humanitarian — Jeremy Cowart — from this 25 minute super inspirational video — but if you have only a couple of minutes let me give you the gist of it. Author of 4 photography books, celebrity photographer, photos publishes in Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, 1M+ followers social following, Huffington Post names him ‘The most influential photographer on the Internet”. And then an emptiness strikes him and he realizes “Greatness should serve a greater purpose”. And he changes his life and millions of people around him using his photography as his platform (now if your interest is piqued watch the video). He embraced the circles “That which we love” and “That the world needs from us” and his mission became crystal clear.
It is not easy. Especially as the “good at” and “paid for” circles are all that we have known. The “what we love” and “the world needs” look daunting, ephemeral, uncomfortable but unless we embrace that, try and fail repeatedly, until we finally find our ‘Why’, our mission will never come to light. Unlike the military, there is “no higher headquarters” who will define this mission for us. And unlike a large corporation, there is no McKinsey or highly paid corporate strategist who will craft cleverly worded mission statements for us. This is ours to define. And if we don’t, who will? And above all what will your answer be on your deathbed to your friend? “I never knew what my mission was”. #WhatAWaste.
Originally published at medium.com