Mission Possible

July 19, 2011

The organization for which I currently work has a very clear and well-communicated mission ... I respect the organization for not trying to do it all, but instead focusing on a single thing that they think they can do better than anyone else.

Forgive the cheesy title. I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of mission statements - kind of your reason for being. The organization for which I currently work has a very clear and well-communicated mission. Basically, it is to provide increasing healthcare value for decreasing cost. I can see how everything that we do both locally at our clinic and corporately serves this mission. I respect the organization for not trying to do it all, but instead focusing on a single thing that they think they can do better than anyone else.

In previous jobs, the mission statements were either ill-defined or so broad that it might as well have read “Our mission is to bring about world peace, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, put an end to world hunger, and create a patient-centered medical home.” In the military, the mission statement should have been extremely clear - after all, as an Army doctor the goal is to do what is needed to keep the soldiers healthy so they can do their jobs. Unfortunately, as a teaching physician in the Army, the mission included the above, plus teaching residents, plus seeing clinic, plus being efficient, plus implementing an electronic health record, and on and on.

More recently, as an academic physician at a large university, the mission was similarly both ambitious and massive. The mission was to teach residents, do research, advance the field of knowledge within family medicine, take care of patients, and be leaders of health care innovation in our community. This is less a mission statement and more a list of all the things you wish you could do with endless time and resources.

This is not to knock either the Army or the university for which I worked. Both organizations were filled with extraordinarily dedicated people who really strove to fulfill all of those missions on a daily basis. However, they are impossible missions. Inherently, they demand that everything is your first priority.

Unfortunately, we also can personally get sidetracked or bogged down pursuing a mission statement for ourselves that includes being the best doctor, spouse, parent, athlete, example of healthy living, and PTA/church board/volunteer organization member. While, it is admirable to try your hardest in all your endeavors, we are finite and therefore must pick those things that warrant our best efforts and those that can make do with “good enough.”

So, my challenge to you all in your pursuit of work-life balance is the same challenge that I seem to renew for myself daily. It is to develop your personal mission statement - be specific, be ambitious, but be kind to yourself. Create something that is actually possible.

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