To help you stay strong over the long haul of a transformation effort, here’s something that can center you every day — a personal manifesto.
That may sound grand, and it is! Done well and done deeply, a manifesto can ignite (or reignite) your passion for the work you are doing. It’s like insurance that you won’t lose your way or forget why you’re doing this work.
A manifesto is not a mission statement, though if you’ve defined a mission for yourself, that should definitely be a part of this. Formal mission statements tend to be dry, over-engineered, excessively wordy, and hopelessly boring pronouncements that companies spend too much time and money on, and that rarely have a forward-going impact on a company. (Do you detect a bias here?)
A better way to think about a manifesto is that it’s like your own personal stake in the ground. It’s a declaration that This is what I stand for. This is why I’m here. And this is how I’m showing up in the world.
A manifesto is like insurance that you won’t lose your way or forget why you’re doing what’s really important to you.
A manifesto should establish the foundation of You, unequivocally. It should also express what drives you forward, so when you feel off-center, it will put you back on your chosen path and propel you forward.
There are tons of resources on the internet for how to create a manifesto. You’ll find some amazing examples and some drab ones. There are collections of heartfelt sincerity and also endless lists of quotes from Rumi, Ben Franklin, Sponge Bob, and more. It’s a real grab bag out there. Here’s my take: Think about who you’re creating this list for and why you’re doing it.
If you plan to post a list in a public place and declare loudly, “This is ME!”, you may not go as deep or as personal as you could. It’s safer to include “A penny saved is a penny earned. (Ben Franklin)” than it is to say, “I am careful with money, but I will spend whatever it takes for something truly important to me.” Do you get the different energy in those two examples?
It’s ultimately a question of inner focus v. outer focus. And forward action v. feel good platitudes.
When you have an inner focus, you will include things that express elemental qualities about you and convictions you hold. Something that, if you said it out loud, would come from a deep, resonant, unwavering part of your soul — something like “My love for my children is unconditional.” (*sniff* That one always gets to me.)
Not all your items have to move you to tears, but they should be things that are very specific to you. Okay, they don’t have to be; you can fill your list with whatever you want. But there is great power in including only those things that stir you in one way or another every time you read them.
A manifesto is your personal stake in the ground. It’s a declaration of This is what I stand for. This is why I'm here. And this is how I’m showing up in the world.
Now let’s talk about brevity. It’s your manifesto, so you can put in as much or as little as you want. You can include 30 items or more, with long descriptions for each; if that helps you, go for it. Just understand that the more things you include, the more noisy your manifesto becomes. You risk diluting the motivating power of your list because there are JUST. SO. MANY. ITEMS.
My suggestion: cap your list at 15 items. An enforced limit requires you to be ruthless in deciding what you will include and what you will leave off. It compels you to make strong choices about the things that must be included and those that may be elemental to you, but don’t need a place in your manifesto.
Here’s an example. Take my reaction above to thinking about my kids and how deeply important they are to me. That love is a core part of my being. But I don’t need to remind myself of my sons to help me move forward with my life; they are as basic to me as my skin. Thus I don’t need to use one of my 15 precious spots to remind myself about them.
Now, whether you share your manifesto with others or keep it to yourself is up to you. The more personal it is, the shorter is the list of people you’re likely to share it with. You don’t want to have to explain to others any of your items, and you definitely don’t want to get into a debate or, God forbid, wordsmithing about what you’ve included. You also don’t want to face “Why am I not in your manifesto?!” by a disgruntled spouse or partner.
So make it for you. Completely for you. Put a label of “Top Secret” over it, if you need to. But don’t miss this chance to create something that can really help guide and drive you.
Finally, review your manifesto regularly. It will really keep you on track. If you feel called to, tape a copy on your bathroom mirror or some other place where you will see it regularly. At first, you might read the items when you see the list; eventually, you will just see the paper, but the grounding quality of your list will be renewed just by taking notice of the paper.
To show what I’m proposing, here is my manifesto. There are 15 hard-fought items in this list; the order is irrelevant. It is very personal, but I’m sharing it because I care about you learning this. You will see that my wife and my kids are not mentioned; that is my choice and it says nothing about my undying love for them. (See how easy it is to get into explaining? I’m going to stop justifying myself now.)
1. I am, as I am, an example of what’s possible.
2. I am capable of so much more than I imagine.
3. Ask for help, John. Offer help, too. It’s a gift both ways.
4. Strive for excellence, not perfection.
5. It’s okay to be messy, imperfect, and unsure; that’s being human.
6. Vulnerability is irrelevant when you fully accept yourself.
7. Fear is a story you tell yourself. Choose better stories.
8. Being the victim is a story, too. Choose better stories.
9. Don’t insist on being right, and don’t make others wrong.
10. Others’ opinions and judgments are irrelevant.
(Also, stop your own judginess.)
11. Let people know you care.
12. We are all magnificent at birth. I help people recapture that.
13. I am at my best when I allow all of me to be present.
14. It’s okay to be crazy and eccentric. We have the most fun!
15. Eat smartly, prioritize sleep, smile and laugh every day. And floss.
Tips on Creating a Manifesto
1. Consider this to be a living document, capturing You at any given time. Add, edit, or delete items as you feel called. AND, don’t write it and then forget about it. Review it regularly as a way to reaffirm, This is who I am.
2. Take your time in developing it. At the moment of writing this, I have been tweaking my list above for three days, getting sharper and more refined in what I’m including, and weeding out things that I had put in that weren’t essential to my mission or “Me.”
3. Try to keep it as positive as you can. In my first pass, I had four different items that started with “Don’t.” Even if you like the idea behind a “Don’t” admonition, see if you can reframe it into something more uplifting. Research has shown that when we encounter a “Do not” statement, our minds often skip over the “not” part and turn it into a “Do” statement. That can negate the intention of what you’re going for.
4. Sometimes the first step is the hardest, so try this. On a sheet of paper or in a computer file, write the numbers 1 through 15. Then just write one item. Only one. Something that feels core to you. And maybe write it on the fourth or the twelfth line, just to reduce any importance attached to the first item.
When I began my manifesto, the first thing I wrote was “I am enough.” And that sat there for a while before other ideas popped into my head. That initial line has since been replaced, but it was a great starter idea to get me rolling. You can do the same. Just one step at a time.
5. Start today, even with just one item.
6. Review this regularly.
For more on manifestos
There are LOTS of resources on the internet. This post is a nice companion to what I offer above. If you’re looking for how others have designed their manifestos, it gives you links to some wonderful variations that can spark your creativity.