(Personal) Mission Statements: Step Zero Point Five

Mission Statement
Why Do You Do What You Do?

Companies spend millions of dollars coming up with mission statements: often they suck.

Stephen R. Covey came up with the idea of having a person mission statement in The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People in 1989. Personal Mission Statements, which may also be called purpose statements or similar, are common today, a quarter century later.

You probably can’t affect your organizations mission statement if it is medium to large, but you can have your own personal mission statement. More below, but let’s discuss the more generic and traditional mission statement concept first.

A Mission Statement is the “Why”

A mission statement describes “the purpose of a company, organization or person, its reason for existing.” (ref: Wikipedia). It guides the actions and decision making of an organization.

Farber College’s (from the movie Animal House) mission statement was “Knowledge is Good” and Hersheys used to be “”Undisputed Marketplace Leadership.”

Let’s see, Farber’s is not actionable and not necessarily true (“Hey dude, your wife is banging the milkman” may or may not be a good thing to know, as just one somewhat silly example. I also wouldn’t want to know the exact date and time of my death. Don’t think that would improve anything!).

Hersheys (they changed it because they got picked on a lot) basically says “we exist to sell more of our shit than anyone else sells of their shit, and you are going to know it.” Yeah, no warm fuzzy or other good feeling here. Even a trivial change like “Undisputed Quality, Customer Satisfaction, and Market Leadership” is a massive improvement. Of course, maybe at the time quality and customers didn’t matter enough?

Compare this to Amazon which writes their mission is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices” or The Red Cross which simply has “To serve the most vulnerable.”

Amazon and The Red Cross do have actionable mission statements that absolutely can guide their strategy and decision making.

What About You?

Look, if you want to go to work from 9-5 for 5 days a week, come home, have a beer, watch TV, and take 2 vacations a year that is absolutely fine. But if THAT IS ALL YOU WANT TO DO, you simply are not Rock Star material (but it’s OK to coast for a while sometimes, just not too long).

Yeah, I know a “Personal Mission Statement” sounds touchy-feely, but actually having one written down works. Plenty of research has shown this. It’s not like Ouiji boards, séances, or palm reading (although knowing the basics of palm reading are pretty useful for amusing and attracting members of – errr, see the not yet completed section on Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll).

Mine is simple:

“Learn, Teach, Inspire”

Although clearly not a man of few words, my mission statement has few words.

  • I love to learn new things. That is certainly in part why I like infosec. Things keep changing and there is always a lot to learn. I am happiest when I learn new things.
  • When I learn new things, I love to share the knowledge. I love teaching, and as many of you know I both give lots of talks and teach longer courses on various security topics. There is also lots of knowledge transfer in my consulting gigs.
  • I don’t always inspire others or myself of course, but the new stuff I’m learning and spreading the knowledge of had better be pretty cool, stuff that can potentially inspire. I find Cyber Defense to be a pretty amazing field with plenty to find inspiration with.

Notice that my personal mission statement helps guide my decision making.

  • “Hey Ted, wanna do this <new cool security thing>”  – Oh yeah!
  • “Hey Ted, we can make lots of money polishing ball bearings!” – I like money a lot, trust me, but naaaaah!

Now mission statements may naturally change thorough your life. This is simply normal. Read the below.

I went through this in my own life. At one point I realized I was destined to be a large fish in a small pond, a leading authority in intrusion detection and network monitoring when there were only about 2,000 analysts that had that as a full time job on the planet. If I wanted to continue to grow, I needed to avoid being typecast for life as an IDS expert but, rather, as a general security expert. We see Tom Peters is right, our personal mission statement changes, we need to find the time to determine what it is, write it down, live it by checking on our progress weekly, and then review it to see if it is still accurate. If you are too busy to create, live and review your personal mission statement, you are too busy to develop a personal brand – and that is a sad thought.”

Stephen Northcutt and Ted Demopoulos, “Living Life on Purpose – Personal Branding

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    • Bradley
    • April 30, 2014

    I sometimes wonder “Why” – and there has to be a better reason than “they pay me” to make my work worthwhile.
    Now my pay is great, my work in forensics fascinating, but I’ve never thought about “why” in these terms before.

    • Ron
    • January 30, 2015

    My manager 5 years ago made us all (or highly encouraged us) to write a personal mission statement – and even gave us time to work on it. I found the thinking process and follow on planning process to be very valuable. Although mine was certainly imperfect, merely developing it and WRITING IT DOWN and SHARING IT was invaluable!

      • Ted Demopoulos
      • February 10, 2015

      Hi Ron,

      Sometimes there is amazing power to writing things down as you’ve found!

    • Michael Yannayon
    • March 18, 2015


    Very insightful. Never even thought about a “Personal Mission Statement” before this. I knew what I was about but never thought about writing it down and the “why”….now I understand why.



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