Look within yourself during turbulent times

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Bhagwan Satiani

There are many strategies people have for surviving turbulent times. At times like these, I am often asked for advice by younger vascular surgeons, trainees or colleagues.

Typically, I respond with a question: Are you following your personal mission statement? Most often I get a quizzical look in response. I ask: Do you have a personal mission statement Usually the response is “no.” Should we all have a personal mission statement?

Yes, of course. But permit me to interject a metaphor here before explaining the importance of personal mission statements, particularly in turbulent times. We are all familiar with organizational mission statements. These can be short or long; conventional or progressive; complex or simple; concrete or abstract. Some are easy to forget, while others truly stand out.

Like a good logo, practical organizational mission statements are recognized not only by members of the organization, but by individuals outside the organization as well. See if you can identify which organizations these mission statements represent.

“We fulfill our dreams through the experience of motorcycling.”

“Spread ideas.”

“To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

These of course are the mission statements of Harley Davidson, TED, LinkedIn and Google.

We need to write personal mission statements for the same reason organizations do. They help guide us in turbulent times. They help us to prioritize our work, our efforts and our lives. They define us and help us to plot a course for how we want to be known to ourselves and be known by others. Unlike organizational mission statements, which may be quite public, personal mission statements can remain just that—personal.

I bring this up now, because in times of turmoil we rely on tools such as personal mission statements to remain on track or to stay the course. We rely on our personal missions to help us remain true to ourselves and those around us. Are we treating people with dignity and fairness, caring for our loved ones, and are we tolerant of people who hold differing views?

We also can use our personal mission statements to evaluate our performance, judge whether we are faithful to our beliefs, or whether we need to adjust our path. Reflection is the key to professional and personal growth, and the bottom-line is having your own personal mission statement makes reflection easier.

Whether you choose a personal mission or vision statement is a matter of personal choice. Do whatever feels right to you. Remember, you can be as personal as you like since most of us will rarely broadcast our personal mission statements to the rest of the world the way organizations broadcast theirs.

How do you start? Think about those foundational values you have carried throughout life. These values may be rooted in family, religion, education, inspirational reading, etc. These are core values which define you or define how you want to be known or remembered. It’s OK to ask others who know you best for feedback or help. Once you identify these foundational values, jot them down. Some people use post-its and leave them where they see them every day. But then edit them often, until you feel they represent you in a holistic way. From this exercise will come a personal mission statement, one that represents your true north.

Can you change your mission statement? Sure, your mission statement may evolve. But if well designed and well thought out, it’s not likely to change very often. My personal mission statement was written over 20 years ago, at a time when I was forced to alter my career path. Since that time, it has sustained me and I have not found a reason to change it. I reflect upon my personal mission statement whenever my core beliefs are challenged, or when I have to make difficult decisions.

I have certainly not succeeded in being loyal to my statement 100% of the time. But the written word does prod my conscience when I am challenged or tempted to deviate from it. My personal mission statement does not follow a purist model. It is somewhat long and multifaceted, but it seems to cover most aspects of my life.

Rarely have I shared my personal mission statement with others. But if it will help you to develop yours, why not? Just do me a favor: Please don’t post it to social media!

“To remember my Creator at all times and know that I will have to answer for all my actions and deeds in this life.

To recognize that my potential for personal growth is infinite.

To lead my life so my family can remember me as an honest human being, who was trustworthy in marriage, who cared for them deeply, and left a legacy of love and core values to be passed on.

I will value loyalty, treat friends and co-workers with dignity, be tolerant, and strive to remain humble.

To be a model of professional integrity and have my patients say that I cared.

To try and maintain a sense of humor, know that perpetual happiness in life was not guaranteed at birth, and remember that the bad days shall pass.”

The hardest part about developing a personal mission statement is getting started. So…

Just Do ItTM. It is not too late.

P.S. My personal mission statement mentions nothing about following the rules of golf.

Bhagwan Satiani, MD, is professor of clinical surgery in the division of vascular surgery, the department of surgery, in the Ohio State College of Medicine at Ohio State University in Columbus. He is an associate medical editor of Vascular Specialist.

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