A year and a half ago, Derek Sivers tweeted asking “What are you working on right now?”. This simple question spawned an entire website, nownownow.com, which focused on linking to a “now” page on different people’s websites displaying what they are focused on. It led me down a lot of internal conversations of my own to figure out what I’m working on and how to relates to my personal mission.
I loved the concept, and reading over various other users profiles was inspiring — as was writing my own at adamfortuna.com/now. When setting this up, Sivers asked one question that really stood out to me:
One-liner about what you do, at a fundamental level?
What do I do? Am I an engineer, a programmer, a developer, a product manager? A writer, a creator or a planner? Am I a husband or a Floridian? An employee at a company? A board gamer or a video gamer?
All of these felt like roles and interested, but none felt as though they answered this question. If I wasn’t any of these things, what would I want to do?
What You Do Is Not Who You Are
Separating the work you’re doing now from what you do at a fundamental level isn’t easy. To me, it feels like being a kid and hearing the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.
In order to answer the above prompt, there are a few questions that can help focus your mission.
What activities have brought you the most joy?
Thinking back weeks and years in the past, what things got you jump-up-and-down excited. What gave you butterflies in your stomach? What left you smiling for days.
What would your ideal job and role be?
If you were able to work in any industry what would it be? What fields are the most exciting and interesting to you? If this requires changing jobs or roles, understand why you want this change.
Who do you want to impact?
“Everyone” shouldn’t be an answer, unless you want to be President. Do you want to impact people of a certain age? A certain education level? Maybe skill level, or those interested in a specific thing?
How is this different from what other people are doing?
Why are you the one to do this rather than someone else? What can you bring to the table that others can’t?
Why do you want to do this?
What attracts you to this job role, or this activity or this group of people?
What outcome do you want to create?
If you were to describe the world in its ideal state with your contribution in it, what would the world look like? (note: I phrase all my monthly goals in this “outcome” phrasing.
Being honest with these questions may involve saying you don’t know. Some questions may have a very defined answer while some are foggier. Working through those unknowns was helpful for me to understand and know what questions to ask next.
Who Am I?
Ever since high school, there are two areas that I’ve most enjoyed — connecting people with each other and helping people learn. The connection side is what drew me to website development, creating websites for IRC channels and video games.
The teaching and connecting side converged when I started going to meetup.com groups and eventually starting a user group. The group was small, but we had fun, and it helped me understand how important it was for me to connect with others who loved learning.
Fast forward a few years of attending and speaking at user groups, and I was lucky enough to land a job at Code School, working towards helping people learn.
Looking back on this thread of connecting and teaching through my life and realizing it brought happiness helped me understand what to focus on for my mission.
My Guiding Mission
Even working on Code School, some activities were more fulfilling than others, and I wasn’t completely clear on why. Answering the above questions and writing a personal mission that spanned my private life and my professional helped clear up some of why. Here’s what I came up with:
I help empower people to transform their ideas into reality by enlivening education.
If you work at Code School, the word enliven will be familiar since we used it in our company mission. I loved the word, and what it conveyed:
Enliven: verb, to make (something) more interesting, lively, or enjoyable
I love this since it focuses on connecting with people and helping them realize their goals by teaching in new and exciting ways that people remember. It satisfies my personal need for an ever-evolving medium to grow in.
Turning off Autopilot
This personal mission doesn’t dictate how I go about it, but it turns off my autopilot. How I accomplish this is dependent more on who is in my life, what I can dream up, and what those I surround myself can imagine than my personal skills.
Having this personal mission also helped me tremendously when organizational changes occurred. In just over a year I had many different roles, from Course Author to Director of Engineering, to Product Director, to Product Manager —as well as changing managers 3 times. It was a bumpy ride, and without this personal north star to point to, I doubt I would’ve made it through.
Who Are You?
Do you have a personal mission that you’re working towards? Working towards it is the key. You won’t be able to focus on it every day — no one is that motivated — but having a north star to look towards in times of stress helps make clearer decisions in otherwise cloudy times.
Here’s my challenge to you: Write a personal mission this week. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it’s not set in stone. Starting this exercise was an unexpected way for me to understand what brings me happiness, and I hope it could be for you as well.