Navigating NO with a Personal Mission Statement for Writers

ways I am serving my personal
mission statement at NCTE!
I'm just coming off a very busy year in which two books released and I've traveled to 11 different states -- some of them more than once! And soon, after NCTE, I will have three months off. Three glorious months of no travel, no book events. I'm positively giddy! But I still struggle.

Just the other day a writer friend and I were talking about a conference I love to attend. She asked if I'd like to join her for a proposal for 2017. My first impulse was excitement -- wouldn't that be fun? But then I remembered: NO. Stop. Think.

See, I'm trying really hard these days to only say YES to the things that serve my personal mission statement.

Don't have a personal mission statement?

Stephen Covey talks about the in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He says a mission statement is for "defining the personal, moral and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself."

There are all kinds of articles out there on how to create a mission statement. A quick way to get started is to ask yourself these three questions:

1. Who do you admire? What are they doing right? What qualities do you see in their way of living that you would like to incorporate into your own? Write down some descriptors of the ideal you.

2. What's most important to you? Think about your priorities. What is your purpose? When are you happiest/most fulfilled? If you only had one day, how would you spend it?

3. What would you like your legacy to be? What would you like to be known for? This is not a question for accomplishments, not an obituary question. Think about how you want people to feel when they remember you. Write down what you would like to give the world.

Okay, so once you've answered these questions, fashion them into a statement. Here's one I wrote in 2014.

And then, when you are faced with a decision -- attend conference or not? -- ask yourself: DOES IT FIT MY MISSION? And if it doesn't, say NO without apology. (Most often this involves setting aside ego, pride, fear of being left out/left behind....) And if it does fit your mission? YES! Go forth and change the world!
Irene Latham's first bits of writing were love poems – for her mother. An award winning author of two novels for children LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY, she was named the winner of the 2016 International Literary Association-Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. Her poetry titles for children include DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, FRESH DELICIOUS, and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA.


  1. The wonderful thing about NO is how it can change to yes as circumstances and "mission" changes. I like this idea Irene.

  2. How fun to find this here today. I just had this conversation last weekend with a group of yoga teacher friends. Sometimes we need more than one mission statement. Then again, maybe they will gel into one beautiful whole. Wouldn't that be wonderful?!

  3. I'm so glad we had a chat on Saturday about this very topic. I've just taken the time to write in my journal my answers to the questions before reading yours. I am somewhat surprised to find that I am doing what my passion wants me to do, to bring creativity into the world through teaching and writing. Thanks for this post and for pushing me to be the best me I can be. You do that by encouraging and loving who I already am. That's a gift!

  4. This makes so much sense! Appreciations, Irene.

  5. I agree with Darlene ("The wonderful thing about NO is how it can change to yes as circumstances and "mission" changes.")
    I once heard: "You can sit in the YES chair...and if that's not comfortable, stand up and sit in the NO chair."


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