Compass pointing to the word Mission.

How to define one’s mission in life

Donald Clifton, the Educational Psychologist who created the CliftonStrengths® assessment, devoted his career to studying what is best about people – specifically, their innate patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour which he described as ‘talents’. In his book, ‘Soar with Your Strengths’, he wrote: “Strengths develop best in the framework of a mission.”

Clifton believed that anyone can have a mission. The simple desire to provide quality to people in a product or service was, in his view, a meaningful mission. E.g.

  • the dentist whose mission was to help people claim their self-esteem. 
  • the female entrepreneur who helped women achieve professional recognition through offering them employment opportunities in the 1960s that didn’t exist elsewhere.

Clifton described mission as being altruistic (as illustrated in these two examples). He also described it as the antidote to selfishness. He defined goals, on the other hand, as the steps to achieving one’s mission. 

“When strengths are driven by mission, a circle is created. Strengths feed mission.”

So how do you identify your mission?

It’s easier said than done & can take months, years even, simply because life happens. One’s sense of purpose often emerges from the positive (& negative) experiences one has. 

But in his book, Clifton offered this exercise as a way to get started: 

Answer the following question in writing:

“What is it that you believe you do that makes a difference to other people & humankind?”

Allow this question to settle in your mind over a few days. Then, set aside some time to write your response when you can be alone & undisturbed. 

Write fast & don’t worry about spelling, logic or grammar. The objective is to let your thoughts flow.

When you have finished, go back and look over your words & begin to edit them. 

What’s an example of a mission statement?

The essence of your mission will be simple. Clifton’s book provides the following examples:

  • Manager: to help people develop their capabilities
  • Parent: to educate my children
  • Life insurance agent: to provide financial security to families
  • Farmer: to provide food for the people of the world

Can you put your mission into a few simple words like that?

Is it possible to have more than one mission in life?

Clifton’s discussion focuses on mission in the workplace, but my own experience is that we all have multiple missions. There’s a purpose to what we do in each domain of life: as parents, spouses, sons, daughters, friends, workers, business owners, etc. We can consider what our mission is in relation to each role we have and reflect on how our strengths will help us to fulfil it. 

As Clifton noted, when mission is combined with strengths, it becomes the fuel for achievement. What would you like to achieve in your life? And how will your strengths contribute to that?


If you’d like to learn more about your strengths, please get in touch to arrange an initial chat.


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