If countries need one, we need one.
Several years ago, I read Dr. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a book I believe should be required reading for anyone interested in achieving success in both their personal life and their career.
Among all the valuable tips in that book, the one thing that struck me most was Covey’s recommendation to develop a “Personal Mission Statement.”
This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard the concept. It’s something often touted by other personal development and productivity thought leaders like Tony Robbins.
And while I completely agree with them on the benefits of this exercise, I recommend taking the process a step further and creating what I call a Personal Constitution.
What is a Personal Constitution?
When I say “personal constitution,” I’m being literal. I mean an actual constitution, like the constitution of the United States of America.
Much like the Constitution helped shape the future of America, your personal constitution will help shape your future. Do for yourself what the founding fathers did for this country.
While the entire process for the US Constitution spanned over 117 days in the heat of summer — in a time without air conditioning — I’m pretty certain you can get yours done in a much shorter timeframe (and in a much more comfortable environment).
Why You Need a Personal Constitution
So what’s the point of developing a personal constitution? There are many reasons why I recommend this exercise to my clients and friends, but one of the most important ones is that it gives you a pathway built on the values that you refuse to compromise on and it moves you in the clear direction you’ve chosen.
Think of it this way: To this day, the US Constitution is the one document that holds everything together. When other aspects of the law can’t figure something out, the Supreme Court will make their decision based on this foundational and hard-to-change document.
Imagine having something like this for your own life: A set of values and goals you hold yourself accountable to and cannot compromise on.
When you face the tough decisions we always run into as we manage our careers and develop our personal lives, you can always base your decisions on the contents of your personal constitution. Written well, it will help to guide you toward the right decision and ensure you don’t step off the right track.
Personal Constitutions in Action
To illustrate how this might work, here’s an example:
About 90% of the people I work with — myself included — would say family is the most important aspect of their life. And yet all of them are incredibly successful in their careers with an unmatched work ethic.
What this means is that they sometimes end up having to make sacrifices and compromises that lead them to make decisions that aren’t based on what’s actually important to them. In this case, their family.
Now imagine a decision like this arises: “Should I take this job that gives me a 20% raise but forces me to be away from my family 5 months out of the year?”
Although the pay raise might be tempting, they’d be able to use their personal constitution to make a decision that aligns with their long-term goals, values, and priorities.
The process to create personal constitution is simpler than you may think. Let me break it down for you:
Step one: Brainstorming
Set aside 20–30 minutes of time to brainstorm and write down your responses to the following questions:
- What is most important to you?
- What are some of the values you want to be defined by?
- What are the values that you would like others to describe you as having?
- If you were to look back on your life in 80 years, what are some of the things you want to be proud of being strong on?
- What parts of you are internally driven vs externally driven? And how much are you defined by the things important to you vs the things important to others?
- What are your long-term and short-term priorities?
Keep in mind what brainstorming is: Coming up with a lot of ideas without spending any time critiquing the ideas. It’s a brain dump; you want as many thoughts as possible before you move on to the next step.
Step two: Organization
Once your brainstorming session is over, it’s time to organize your thoughts into specific areas of importance. I recommend defining specific categories. For example:
- Social life,
- Physical health,
- Personal development, and
Step three: Composition
Once you’ve identified all of these categories, write the opening sentence to your personal constitution. It should sound something like this:
“I’m writing my personal constitution to guide me in difficult decisions and to keep me true to what is important to me.”
Then create a header for each of the categories you outlined in step two, and list a set of rules under each one. Keep in mind that the constitution shouldn’t be too long. It should be something you can print out on a single page, so think 3–4 bullets under each header.
The Most Important Thing You’ll Do All Year
As simple as this process is, it could be the most important work you’ll do this year. If done right, it will become the foundation on which you can firmly stand.
Most of us are driven by influences that aren’t quite internal but come from external sources like friends, family, and society as a whole.
Sometimes it’s easy to be pushed in a direction that isn’t right because someone said you something like:
- “You should be doing this,”
- “You’d be an in idiot not to take this opportunity,” or
- “Consider what others might think.”
These are things we often hear when making important decisions. However, if your ultimate quest in life is to seek happiness, these external influences are not what matter, nor what will get you where you want to go.
Unlock Your Full Potential as a Person and a Professional
One of the side benefits that I’ve seen is that you will appear to be a much more self-confident person. And very often, even if you’re going against the grain, people will respect you more for it.
In fact, if you stick to your path, it could very well be that you achieve more success than you or anyone else expected.
At the end of the day, your personal constitution will help you stay true to yourself when the winds of change are pushing you in a different direction. Can you imagine anything more powerful than that?