As an 8 year old, Sonia would leave her public housing project in the South Bronx to virtually join the high school sleuth Nancy Drew in uncovering mysteries. Her plan to become a police officer abruptly ended that year, when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Her parents were Puerto Rican immigrants. When Sonia was 9, her father who was a factory worker with a 3rd grade education died. Her mom, a nurse was left to raise Sonia and her younger brother. When Sonia was 10, she decided that her mission was to become a judge. She enjoyed “Perry Mason”, the television show with courtroom drama and well respected judges.
Sonia was an excellent student. She studied very hard demonstrating the enduring grit that is a key to most successful people. Sonia stay stayed 100% focused on her mission, other than occasions when she took the law into her own hands to beat up her brothers aggressors(1). She finished at the top of her class and was offered a full scholarship to Princeton University.
She was eventually nominated to be federal judge by President George H. W. Bush to Southern District of New York. In 2009, she became the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice of the United States.
Her mission became her solace and guide while growing up in the South Bronx. What is a mission? A mission is why we do things. It provides purpose. With a mission, the focus becomes about the beneficiary. In the case of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, she was the beneficiary. Yet she also inspired indirect beneficiaries: people living in public housing projects, Hispanics, women, people with chronic health conditions and young kids that lose a parent.
While a company cannot survive without making money, making money cannot be the mission. Companies that are too focused on profits lose sight of how they will improve the lives of the beneficiaries (customers and employees). When companies efficiently address the needs beneficiaries, profits typically follow. Here are examples of company missions:
Google – to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
Facebook – to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected
Coca Cola – to refresh the world, to inspire moments of optimism and happiness and to create value and make a difference
Pixar – to combine technology and world class creative talent to develop computer animated feature films with memorable characters and heartwarming stories that appeal to audiences of all ages
To successfully pursue a dream, big idea or breakthrough innovation, it helps to define the mission. The mission brings focus to what needs to be done for the beneficiary. Often times, the beneficiary is the aspirer like Justice Sotomayor. Whether it is earning a college degree or overcoming a life’s challenge. Here are examples of when the beneficiary is other than the aspirer:
Edward Jenner – to help his community that was ravaged by small pox. Jenner invented the small pox vaccine.
Muhammed Yunus – to help the world’s poor address their own unique needs with access to the right tools and information. Yunus invented microcredit and won the Noble Peace Prize.
Craig Venter – to sequence the first human genome and map the approximately 20,000 – 25,000 genes. Venter sequenced first human genome in 2000.
Tony Fadell – to make an MP3 player that is easy use, easy to manage music and easy to legally buy music online. Fadell invented the iPod.
A mission helps us focus when there are so many distractions. It can become the “N” on top of our life’s compass. It can help us feel confident that we have control over our futures and in achieving dreams (whether we pursue them or not).
When Sonia became a federal judge, she moved back to the Bronx to live within her district. Judge Sotomayor told Scott Pelly of “60 Minutes” that she wants to be called “Sonia from the Bronx”. She now lives in Washington, a city with a few distractions. She may want to stay grounded in her mission that began when she was 10. She may want to inspire in others that with a mission, you can make almost anything happen.
(1) 60 Minutes, broadcasted January 13,2013 on CBS