The best thing I’ve ever read about finding your mission in life was something I stumbled across while flicking through the appendix at the end of What Color Is Your Parachute? Parachute is a great manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers but tucked away in the back Richard Bolles has added his essay on solving the ultimate mystery – what is my mission in life?
One of my decisions with the book was whether to include anything about mission or meaning or ultimate purpose in a practical guide to knowing what you really want. In the end I decided not to, partly because Dick Bolles essay is so good but more because my experience as a coach is that most people I ask can’t even tell me what they want in the next 60 mins. To ask most people about their mission in life or even send them down that track is like shouting in Esperanto at your deaf Auntie. There is just no chance of any effective communication, not a shred.
In many ways we can only approach our mission in life or perhaps it’s wider meaning, backwards. Only when we are good at working out what we want the next hour to mean can we move onto to giving our day a meaning. And perhaps only then turn our thoughts towards the bigger picture. I’m not a believer in the top down approach, it’s impractical to ask people to define their mission and purpose if they struggle to agree an agenda before a meeting. Meaning and purpose for most of us is something we grope towards by working it out in practice. So I left it out of the book but I did want to return to it here, maybe as extra content for those who want to go a bit deeper. So here’s a summary of the essay in Parachute followed by a link and PDF copy.
For Dick Bolles, your mission in life has three distinct parts. He takes a robustly Christian approach but writes and explains it so skilfully that people of all faiths and no faith will also find it useful. I’m paraphrasing badly here but he suggests that…
- Your first mission in life is to pursue a relationship with the one who calls you. Mission implies both calling and vocation, two synonyms which presuppose someone who calls. It’s not something you decide to do because you fancy it, treating your mission as a purely personal pursuit makes no sense. In a very real sense it is something we are called to. The first job is our continuing mission to know the one who calls.
- Your second mission is to join everybody else in creating heaven on earth. Each day, all day we make straightforward choices between creating more of heaven or less of heaven, choices we make while driving, talking to others, living with our families etc. In a very real sense we are slowly becoming more of a beauty or more of a beast. This is a big mission, which we can only pull off together, but understanding it helps with hundreds of minor daily decisions – simply put, will what I’m about to do create more or less of heaven on earth?
- Your third mission is to understand the unique role that only you can play and it’s here that Bolles is the most helpful with those bigger decisions we face about what we want and what we should do. He argues that God has left us strong clues in the shape of what we love to do and what we are good at. Getting a very clear understanding of your passions and strengths is a major indicator of where you are supposed to spend your time and energy.
When I’m tempted to shout Esperanto at my Auntie (start asking clients about their mission in life) this three part structure is a good reminder to bring it down to a practical discussion of strengths and passions. And if you’re wondering about your mission in life then that is not a bad place to start.