Personal Mission : A Veteran’s Perspective

by Kerry D. Kirk September 2019                

All veterans of military service know what it means to have a mission.  The concept of having a central and guiding purpose with deliberate striving at specific objectives is foundational to the military ethos.  You could say that when we wore the cloth of our country, we didn’t exactly have to wonder very much what we were about or aiming to do.

Veterans also know that the accomplishment of any mission is highly correlated with the clarity of the objectives and communication of it’s particulars. This is what enables all involved to understand properly, and thus, to act accordingly. 

But, what do we do when the battle is over, our service is completed and our beloved uniform has been replaced with civilian clothes? When a DD-214 is now stashed away in a desk drawer and a shadow-box of memorabilia hangs on our wall reminding of us of when “we were somebody” and things just mattered?

All of a sudden, life isn’t quite as cut and dried as it once was. In a way, mission and meaning had come to us pre-packaged.  It was easy and useful to identify ourselves with the group, with our “tribe”.  Now, we may find ourselves having to redefine mission and meaning in unfamiliar territory; such as the private sector, the neighborhood, even our own homes.  In short, many of us are faced for the first time with the task of defining mission personally.  As “I/me” not a member of the tribe.

It is in this personal realm that I share with you a simple acronym that I lit upon many years ago and found very powerful as a tool.  As you know, acronyms are ubiquitous in the military. They are very handy ways to call to mind a number of matters of significance (not to mention a few matters of humor and insignificance!) 

I decided to see what use I could make of the word mission itself. 

I picked the first four letters.  M-I-S-S.  MISS-ion.  In surprising short order, four words arose in my mind as useful categorical representatives for each letter:  Moral, Intellectual, Social, Spiritual. These words became the four foundation stones, the legs of the proverbial stool, to help guide my post-military personal growth and continued sense of purpose.

Each leg of the “mission stool” is summarized below at a very high level.

  • M- Moral development – How can I be a better person than I was yesterday?  What am I doing that I shouldn’t be?  What am I not doing that I should?
  • I – Intellectual development – How can I pursue fresh content to keep my mind sharp and renewing? What fields of knowledge have I never really examined that could serve my growth? What new tricks can the old dog learn? 
  • S – Social development – How can I better relate to my family, friends, new civilian colleagues and strangers?  Am I going through the routines of life without truly living in the present with others?  How can my own networking and social activity create and expand opportunities that serve me and others?
  • S – Spiritual development – How do I view and process personal value and purpose in light of matters of ultimate concern like certain death? Can I learn to embrace the ambiguity of my future path and live fully in the questions that daily present themselves, knowing that a benevolent spirit abides with me?

Naturally, the MISS-ion you develop will be your own.  The questions, the path and ultimate answers will be your own.  But this “personal MISS-ion” acronym provides a convenient and robust framework for pursuing this exercise. Give it a shot!

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