This past Tuesday I was happy to be invited to speak at The Marion County Conference on Re-Entry, an event of the Marion County Re-Entry Coalition. Our topic was "Is Your Helping Hurting? Trauma-Sensitive Service Provision." It has been my observation that as we talk more and more about trauma-informed care, we may not be doing the critical work on evaluating what intentions and spirit we bring to that work. So, we started, seemingly, simply. I asked the attendees to just quickly jot down their agency's mission statement. Predictably to me, and surprisingly to my attendees, many of them could not recall their agency's mission statement. Nervous laughter filled the room. “Even just some of the buzzwords or key concepts,” I said. “It doesn't need to be word-for-word.” Still, nervous faces peered down at tables, tapped pens, guzzled water. Two people event left. I'm not joking.
This was planned on my part--well, not scaring two people out of the session entirely! But I know most people can't rattle off the mission statement of their organization. And yet, organizations pay consultants like me for many hours of our time to help craft them. There are surveys, focus groups, and lunch ordered in. Why spend all of that time, energy, and money to create something you never revisit? Is your team upholding the mission if they can't even tell you what it is? Maybe they are, indirectly. But what would the work look like if your mission statement was a living, breathing thing?
In addition to my non-profit work, I am a yoga and meditation teacher. During many yoga and meditation practices, participants recite, aloud or silently, a phrase or word to help ground them and re-orient them. Some I have offered classes in the past week are “I am safe,” “I am enough,” and “I am capable.” And I gave this example to my conference attendees. What if our mission statement worked like a mantra? A centering call, a grounding reminder, and a call to action. A guidepost when the work gets tough and we need to remember just what the heck it is we're doing here. A way to prioritize our work. And, maybe in the best case scenario, an inspiration.
Walking the Talk
When I talk mission statements with folks, I challenge those in the room who are leaders in their organizations to model the mission for the teams they lead. Can their management decisions even fall in line with the mission, creating a healthier and more affirming workplace? Leaders have the opportunity to show their teams that the mission does not just matter in client-facing work, but amongst colleagues as well. As I've written about before, there are too many examples of hypocrisy in our field, and many reasons for it. Your agency's mission statement can be a good place to start when checking in about the environment of your team.
We hear all the time these days about our “personal brand,” managing our social media and image online, especially how it relates to our work. Whether or not we have an Instagram following, we can think of our professional life as having it's own brand, and it's own mission statement. If the mission of your current agency doesn't speak to the work you do there, or it feels dead, or others at that agency do not seem to do their work in it's spirit, can you find a personal mission statement through which to serve? Through which to approach not only your clients but you neighbor, the barista, and the parking garage attendant? When I started my training and consulting practice, I chose three words that spoke to what work I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it. Those words stay with me, guiding me when I debate whether or not to take a contract, apply for a conference, or develop a new curriculum. If it doesn't fit into my word list, it's a no. It keeps me focused, honest, and from straying from my intention.
The work we are called to do each day can be heavy. For some of us in the non-profit sector, our work is to sit with a person on the worst day of their life--and we do it each and every working day. It is easy to stray, letting our minds and hearts wander for self-protection from that vicarious trauma. But then we remember that word or phrase, that dim light in the back of our mind that grows brighter as we summon it forth. It is our "why." Our reason for coming back each day, for getting up this morning, for showing up to this work. It is our mission.
Could your organization use some training or consultation on this topic? Email Mary-Margaret, or check out the ways she is working with organizations to build more informed and more sustainable service providers!