Make 2017 the year of the mission statement

Teens (especially homeschooled teens) need to know where they are headed — and that they are in control

We all have mission statements, even when we haven’t set one on purpose. Are you slogging through the diapers and dishes every day? Or the commute? Or your evil mother-in-law’s passive-aggressive “suggestions?”

You might object to characterizing your daily slog as part of your mission statement. But even if you hate your every moment in the kitchen/office/classroom/car/etc., a non-decision is also a decision. If you haven’t yet thrown out the china and bought paper plates, or told your mother-in-law what she could do with her suggestions, you’ve made a choice. And when you decide to get deliberate about the choices you make, you’re taking power back into your hands, even if you can’t necessarily control the end result.

What’s important is that you are making friends with your process. Understanding the process helps us to see what lies in front of us, and helps us to start a conversation (with the people around us, or even with ourselves) about where we are headed.

Kids don’t have a lot of power. And mostly we don’t want them to have a lot of power. It’s not just about preventing them from blowing up things or burning down the house. Power means responsibility, and kids should not have to assume adult responsibilities. They’ve got other work to do.

But teens are in that space between kid and grownup, and they need practice at figuring out how to connect the things that they do every day with a bigger sense of purpose. This is especially tricky when you are homeschooling, because the framework of the brick-and-mortar school isn’t there, and the parent ends up being the major power holder.

Mission statements can help parents turn that power dynamic around. After all, you won’t always be there to wield the stick or offer the carrot.

Mission statements tend to be associated with business planning, executive retreats, and consultants and coaches who lead seminars meant to increase productivity in the workplace. But a personal mission statement is a slightly different type of intention. For one thing, a workplace mission statement will probably have its origins in company profitability, efficiency, or productivity. But a personal mission statement is a statement of your core values.

It’s not a list of goals. It’s not a New Year’s resolution. It’s not a competition with your neighbor’s kid or cousin Martha.

Core values? Yeah, right. Just the sort of conversation my teenager will remove her earbuds for. NOT.

Here’s a hint. As I said earlier, if you haven’t switched to paper plates yet, there’s a reason. Find the reason, and you’ll find your core values.

But my teenager wants to text, post on social media, and whine about schoolwork, I can hear you protest. How can those be core values?

Don’t worry, they’re not. Don’t judge your teens by the way they procrastinate. We all do it. It’s just that grownups are too polite to call each other on it. Let’s give our teens a bit of space and see if we can be helpful.

What does your teen do with her time (when she isn’t procrastinating)?

Would he rather design a robot or write a one-act play? Does she cook? Does she get under the hood of the car? A mission statement for a teen who is handy might include a declaration such as, “I need to understand how things work.” A person like that needs to take the time to actually do things rather than to sit in the library all the time. That’s a really important guideline for her future. If you know that about yourself, that’s huge.

What does he value?

For example, three of my four kids love being frugal. The fourth kid — well, she likes buying things. Being financially comfortable needs to play a role in her mission statement because her behavior expresses that value. Another teen might want a public platform. Someone else might crave silence and solitude. The teen who wants a public platform might be happy in law school, on stage, or leading a march in Washington, D.C. That same teen might be desperately unhappy working in a cubicle, even in a well-paying job. His mission statement might be, “I want people to pay attention to what I have to say.”

Again, that’s a helpful thing to know about yourself before you make large financial and other investments in education and employment. It’s also helpful to know if you do land the dream job but find yourself miserable because you are still at the bottom of the totem pole and stuck at a desk rather than making keynote speeches. Ask yourself: how is this job helping me to express what I value? Do I need to spend time in this position in order to get to that public platform?

Turn the mission statement around.

Ask your teen what gets in the way of him living his best version of himself. For example, someone who believes deeply in environmental causes may realize that his day-to-day lifestyle doesn’t actually support his values. What does it mean to truly live in an earth-friendly manner? The answers may surprise you, and the consequences of asking these questions may surprise you even more.

Someone who aspires to the life of a glamorous fashion model or movie star may change her mind when she realizes that looking beautiful all the time comes with practical effects on your day-to-day life. You can’t eat anything you want whenever you want, for example. Your teenager may change her mind about what she thinks she wants to do with her life when she realizes that she isn’t doing what she needs to do in order to get there — and that she doesn’t want to do the necessary in order to get there.

A student at a traditional school will have a lot of structure to help him set goals in the way that we’ve all been told to set goals. In other words, write down your goal and then break it apart into steps. Want to go to college? Take these classes. Want to sing on Broadway? Join the theater club. In other words, if you want X, then do Y.

Homeschooled students have different challenges because the whole world is open to them, but structure can be limited. I think this is an advantage, not a weakness, because life often provides limited structure. Unless you are in the military or another rigid system, you are going to have to create your own framework. Start with asking yourself what you truly believe in and whether what you are doing reflects that.

Help your teens to create personal mission statements that reflect who they are and that will grow and change as they do. Have them write it down, and make sure they reflect on it at the start of every month. Write down all the ways in which they are living that dream, and then write down a list of needed improvements. Best of all, when they realize that what they do doesn’t match their goal, change the goal.

Be real. Live real.

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