Before I retired, I was working, yes, it’s true, seems hard to believe but it’s a fact. One of my responsibilities, as a member of the Senior Leadership Team as it was grandly named, was to develop for the psychological service a mission statement. Very fashionable it was then to have a mission statement, I don’t know whether it still is. Whether it is or not, I have decided to start a new fashion – mission statements for retired people. Starting with my own. Read on for the significance of the bus image.
The reason I was given the job of developing a mission statement was because I was, and still am, a big fan of mission statements. Under certain conditions anyway. Schools always had mission statements – still do? But they were dull, dull, dull, dull and predictable and therefore uninspiring. I thought at the time that the idea of a mission statement was that it united all members of the school behind a simple but inspiring statement. A mantra if you like. To be inspiring it had to have a degree of originality. And, equally important, it needed to inform the day to day actions of the school. Schools typically had predictable mission statements about equality and / or treating all people the same (bullshit by the way – fairness does not mean treating everybody the same, God help us when teachers said I treat them all the same, boy, girl, black, white, old, young, and said it with pride – wrong, wrong, wrong, fairness is about getting everybody to the same place, it’s an equal outcomes issue not an equal opportunities issue, sorry, rant over), but because they were uninspiring nobody took much if any notice of them. If I asked members of the community, staff as well as pupils, typically they did not know their own mission statement. Not good.
As I have suggested, a mission statement is a kind of mantra. It’s handy as a guide for day to day decision-making because it is memorable. When a decision needed to be made and two equally plausible options present themselves, then the mission statement should provide the backdrop against which the most appropriate choice can be made. In its briefness the mission statement will be a short-hand version of a person’s or an organisation’s values. One of my favourite mission statements was seen on the side of a bus (as above) It said simply – frequent, fast and friendly. Says it all, it’s memorable, different, simple and hopefully true.
The idea of developing a mission statement for the team of psychologists was to increase the, what you might call, coherence of the service. Not an easy task with psychologists who could always think of a dozen very good reasons why they should do it a different (i.e. their own) way. Managing psychologists has been described as like herding cats. In my experience cats are easier and usually cuddlier. In order to increase the chances of my colleagues taking any notice of the mission statement when it had been developed, I asked them all to come up with a top three values applicable, in their opinion, to a psychological service. Then the whole service voted one value at a time until we had narrowed it down to just four values that I could make into a short and unique mission statement. One that we owned and was representative of our service. We came up with ‘the creative and efficient application of psychology to promote inclusion’. The four key values are in italics. And then with the easy bit done we tried to live by it, to use it to inform our day to day decisions. That was more problematic.
By now you may we wondering what this has to do with a retirement mission statement. Fair question. Obviously in this process – developing my own mission statement – there’s only me. So what I have done is to write out all the words / terms / descriptors that I could think of that I would want to have apply to my retirement. This process took several days. The broad question might generate some terms might be – what would an ideal retirement look like? The long list includes everything I could imagine without censure * – words like fulfilling, learning, creating, fun, original, balanced, varied, inclusive, spontaneous, structured, exciting, developmental, travel, financially sound, healthy, self-esteem, well-being, challenges, achievement, problem-solving, supportive to others. Some of the terms were contradictory but that’s OK because, as I wrote in an early blog, my retirement needs a balance of factors hence spontaneous and structured need to be balanced. So the word balanced is a key one so that’s got to be in there and this is the challenge to narrow the list down to three or four key concepts. It’s quite likely that all the words on the list have some meaning to me in my retirement but having them all does not make for an easily memorable guide to day to day action. So I looked again at the list and asked myself so what’s really important? I came up with the following, it’s not a forever statement and it’s not particularly zippy’, in fact it’s a bit Captain Sensible, but it will serve the purpose at this early stage. So let me end with my retirement mission statement:
I aim to develop a balanced retirement with challenge and achievement promoting my sense of well-being.
If you have one of your own I’d like to hear it.
*if you find this part difficult because few or no words spring to mind there are other ways of developing your list – bringing to mind somebody whose retirement you admire and asking what do they do? Or closing your eyes and picturing your perfect retirement, what would you be doing? Or standing in front of a rack of magazines and noting the ones that hold some interest for you, don’t worry about the practical or sensibleness of what you choose, just get your list.