Recently I’ve been thinking about Mission Statements.
What – you don’t?
No, really. See, a fellow author asked me for a favor. It wasn’t a big favor, but I was feeling cranky about being asked. I was annoyed with this person for other reasons, for an online gaffe that the other person probably never even thought of as being rude. I never said anything about it, just fumed a little and tried to let it go. You all know how it is – you can’t get all worked up about every little thing. And I do think intention matters. It’s one thing for someone to accidentally step on your foot and another for them to deliberately grind their heel in your instep.
So, I *thought* I let it go. Until this person asked me to do something for them and I didn’t want to. And I wasn’t sure of my reasons.
There’s another side of this “helping fellow authors” thing. Julia Quinn recently said at a conference that “No one ever ruined their career helping another author.” Brenda Novak says “A high tide floats all boats.” I believe in both of these things. I think it’s important to help people and, more, I enjoy it. But I think we all know that this can go bad. There are bad apples that will take your help and then abuse you for it. There are vampires who will drain you of everything you have to give. It’s the ugly face of what is supposed to be a good and lovely enterprise. We’ve all been stung by it, I think.
Sure, we have ways of dealing. Most of us know to never give a gift with the expectation of reciprocation or even gratitude. That way the gift is given freely and it’s easier to ignore any less-than-pleasant results.
Still, after this happens a few times, when someone asks you for a favor, you can’t help but weigh it. Especially if that same person recently stepped on your foot.
This is an emotional reaction and I wanted to separate out my emotional reaction.
Thus: a Mission Statement.
When I tweeted about this, someone suggested I pick “Eat Chocolate. Drink Coffee. Write a Lot of Words.”
Which was funny – and largely accurate – but not what I was getting at.
A few years back I did this retreat weekend with some other facilitators and a bunch of sorority and fraternity members from the local campus. They were primarily the presidents and vice-presidents of their chapters. The program proved to be a fascinating one, that worked to move these leaders into focusing on their sorority’s and fraternity’s open and secret mottoes – their Mission Statements, as it were. See, every fraternity and sorority has both. For my sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, our open motto is “Founded Upon a Rock.” The letters of the sorority are an acronym for our secret motto, known only to Gamma Phi initiates.
Despite the sometimes unsavory reputation of the Greek system, these organizations were all founded with bold ideals of integrity, learning, and honor. To help guide these chapter leaders to make decisions in sync with these ideals, the program helped them think about their founding ideals.
One thing we did was work through “hypothetical issues” in small groups, as if we were on the boards of the companies involved. For example, we were the board of a pharmaceutical company and someone dies taking one of our medications. What do we do?
What was cool – all of these turned out to have been actual events. The example above was taken directly from the Tylenol poisonings in the 1980s. Those of you old enough might remember that as one of the first massive product recalls in history. It set a firm precedent. The Johnson & Johnson board members said that, at the time, the decision was easy. They looked at their Credo, which guides them to “do the right thing and act honorably” and knew exactly what to do. You can read all about it here.
The goal of this program with fraternities and sororities was to help them use their founding principles to do the same. Thus the have a compass for making decisions. It’s timely to point out that the kids who participated in/witnessed the Steubenville rape could have used similar guiding principles.
At any rate, this has been a roundabout way of describing how I came to make my own Mission Statement. So, that I would have a compass besides my bruised feelings to guide me.
As I thought about what’s important to me, I recalled a conversation I had recently about an upcoming conference. Some first-timers were nervous and I was reassuring them on details and that they could always hang with me. I remember my very first RWA conference and how I knew not one person – and how lonely I felt eating by myself next to tables full of laughing people. So I declared “Anyone can sit at my lunch table!”
After all, high school is over and in the Cafeteria of Life, we’ve all had our share of eating alone.
Once that gelled, I replied to the author asking me for a favor that amounted to no more than sitting at my table – and said yes.
It was the right thing to do.