I have often written and given workshops on writing Mission and Vision statements for school library programs.  I believe it is the bedrock on which all your planning rests.  What I haven’t discussed is your personal mission, which is your purpose in life.

Although identifying your purpose in life sounds a bit grandiose, it’s something all leaders know and have, even if they haven’t formally written it.  It’s your big “Why.”  Just like the Mission Statement for your library program provides your motivation, your life Mission is what gets you up in the morning (other than a paycheck).

I discovered my own purpose years ago thanks to working with a student.  She was a volunteer in my high school library and was extremely intelligent and diligent.  She was also overweight, not well-dressed, and was on the fringe of high school life.  I first thought of giving her some useful tips. Then I realized, she knew all that.  She didn’t need to hear it from me. What she didn’t know, and struggled to see, was how special she was. I concentrated on letting her know how I valued her and recognized her abilities. As she was finishing her senior year, her mother told me how much everything I said had meant to her.  She went on to become a librarian.

From that experience, I realized it was important to me to let people know what I see in them. Too many of us can find loads of reasons to disparage ourselves but rarely recognize how we are contributing to our world. That hampers a growth mindset and certainly stands in the way of an innovative mindset. (See my blog post It’s All in the Mind.)

By thinking about what I had learned about myself thought this experience, I identified my purpose: “To reflect back to others the greatness I see in them and, when appropriate, help them manifest it.”  It’s how I live in my personal life, and it’s how I am in my professional life.  Whether I am writing something or giving a presentation, meeting someone at a conference or teaching a class, I’m invariably trying to show school librarians how special they are and offer tools to showcase (and believe) it.

You may not have experienced an epiphany as I did, but whether you are aware of it or not, you do know your purpose. You just haven’t identified it yet. It doesn’t take long to craft one, and once you do, it will make you a better leader. You will likely discover that it impacts all the areas of your life, in and out of the library.

John Baldoni suggests asking yourself these three questions in his article: Putting My Purpose to Work for Me Now:

What do I most like to do? Make a list. You might start out with hobbies and family connections.  But don’t stop there.  What is it about those things that give you pleasure and make you feel good about yourself? What parts of your job as a librarian brings you joy?  What lights you up? What do you look forward to?

Why do I want to do it? Your purpose, like your library Mission, is your “Why.” In what way do you find it fulfilling. How does it connect to your sense of who you are? Identifying your Why grounds you and helps you get through days that are stressful – whether from the job or your personal life.

What is keeping me from doing it? It’s usually some form of fear from taking risks to feeling vulnerable to fear of failure.  This self-analysis may lead you in a new direction. Perhaps you want to be a bigger influence and need more schooling. Most of us will have have to step out of your comfort zone to live our purpose. In my case, it took a while to be willing to risk telling individuals how I saw them. It sometimes seemed as though I were intruding.  Perhaps they already knew. Now I even do this with the cashiers at my local supermarket and it feels wonderful for us both.

After going through these questions reflect on what you have discovered.  Put it into a few sentences.  As with your library Mission Statement, keep it brief, memorize it, and as often as you can put it into action. If it doesn’t feel quite right, give it a little time and see if that’s about leaving your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to tweak it until you’ve got it. When it’s right – you’ll know.

Being clear on your purpose gives you confidence and direction, both of which are invaluable to you as a leader. You may even be surprised by the ways this tool is useful. My purpose has become helpful in how I organize my life.  I make decisions based on my purpose, passions, and priorities.  If something comes along and doesn’t fit within one of these three, it’s easy for me to say no. Knowing your personal Why will allow you to live your life on purpose.

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