A Personal Mission Statement

Aug 16, 2013, 10:00 AM, Posted by

Clyde Evans, PhD, is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellows program and president of CE Consulting in Needham, Massachusetts.


In 1995 I was getting “media training” with another colleague, consisting mostly of being interviewed on camera and then critiquing the tape. At one point the consultant stopped the taping of my colleague (a medical school dean) and said “we know you’re smart; we want to know what you’re passionate about.”  Though I wasn’t asked at the time, I realized I couldn’t say (or didn’t know) what I was passionate about. I figured I’d better find out.

"It is not important what your particular mission is. It’s only important that you have one."

In pretty short order I came up with this: “I want to help ensure that every man, woman and child in the U.S. has a chance to live a healthy life.” That “personal mission statement” subsequently led me to the RWJF Health Policy Fellows program and guided me as a fellow, becoming a kind of “litmus test” for me: “How does (or could) X help to give people a shot at a healthy life?”  If I could see that connection, I could care about whatever X was. While this dynamic was admittedly personal and idiosyncratic, it still helped me navigate several key decisions during my fellowship year.

First, it led me to the Senate Health and Education Committee where I worked on the National Institutes of Health reauthorization, biomedical engineering, academic health centers, and cloning. Others with exactly the same mission statement might have chosen to work on Food and Drug Administration or Medicare issues.  But for me, I could see a compelling link between those topics and improving the health of millions of people. 

Secondly, my personal mission statement also helped me figure out what to do after the fellowship. In my position prior to the fellowship I was responsible for faculty development and institutional affiliations at Harvard Medical School. No matter how important and valuable that work was, it did not provide the scope and scale—and could not satisfy the longing—implicit in my recently realized personal mission statement. I wanted—and needed—to see a clearer, stronger connection between my work and the improved health of all Americans. As a result, I chose to remain in Washington, D.C. after the fellowship.

I suspect there have been as many different “personal mission statements” as there have been RWJF fellows over the years. It is not important what your particular mission is.  It’s only important that you have one.

I strongly encourage everyone—especially new RWJF Health Policy Fellows—to articulate your own “personal mission statement” by asking yourself: “at the deepest level, what is it that motivates, inspires and sustains me?”  If you don’t already have your own, one of my favorite quotes might help you discover it:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ― Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

Learn more about the new cohort of RWJF Health Policy Fellows.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.