I found it the other day, buried in my inbox beneath digital debris. By “it,” I mean the personal manifesto I created in my twenties.
Twelve years ago, a senior co-worker urged me to write one. She hounded me to pinpoint values and eventually pen this manifesto which, thankfully, lives forever in my inbox. The paper version ran away years ago.
As I opened the vintage email, I braced myself for a cringe-worthy read, one soaked in youthful optimism, void of relevance.
But I was pleasantly surprised. My aging eyes tumbled down the screen, delighted to catch up with the familiar words.
. . .
I remember life is a gift, something to be honored, maintained, and protected.
I fuel my body with proper nutrition, get ample rest, and sweat it out.
I communicate with honesty, integrity, and urgency.
I show love to people in relevant and tangible ways.
I live within my means.
I prize quality over quantity.
I make room for interruption.
I pursue excellence at work and play.
. . .
The simple statements sent icy shivers up and down my spine. My words, my priorities. Immediately, I felt grounded and focused.
In that moment, I understood why my colleague urged me write a manifesto and paste it where I’d see it on a daily basis.
Doing so etched my values on my heart and mind. That personal manifesto indirectly steered choices in the right direction when it was tempting to go with the flow. As a result, I didn’t pour my twenties down the drain.
I’m glad she bothered me. I’m glad I caved. She changed my life.
This is the power of a personal manifesto.
. . .
What exactly is a personal manifesto?
If “manifesto” evokes mugshots and malign headlines, you’re thinking of the other variety. Not all manifestos are created equal.
The word “manifesto” is derived from the Latin manifestum, meaning clear or obvious. Merriam-Webster calls it “a statement in which someone makes his or her intentions or views easy for people to ascertain.”
Personal manifestos are documents that spell out value-centered living according to the author. They vary greatly, just like the people who create them.
Some folks distill manifestos into a handful of sentences, like yours truly. Others dedicate pages to outlining how they intend to live in each area of their lives. Regardless of length, manifestos ought to be clearly articulated. Paper or pixels—it doesn’t matter (though we strongly suggest ink. You’ll see why in a moment.)
And important distinction
To be clear, writing a manifesto is different from living by a manifesto.
“The world has a habit of going on,” says Woodrow Wilson. Without forethought and determination, we easily go along with the dominant culture.
Award-winning author Frank Sonnenberg says that personal responsibility can’t be delegated. When it comes to walking the walk, grit and tenacity are two prerequisites. Living in line with a manifesto is a daily process and we never fully arrive.
How a personal manifesto simplifies life
Still, creating one and reviewing it on a regular basis is an enormous step in the right direction. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, right?
The gap between aspirations and reality diminishes.
A manifesto is the literary equivalent of a life coach. When read frequently, it influences us to choose well in our everyday lives. When we do, satisfaction abounds and strengthens our ability to make value-centered choices. Staying on the path to simplicity becomes almost habitual.
Breathing room emerges.
A good manifesto establishes clear priorities. If we choose to live accordingly, things like buyer’s remorse, needless clutter, relational stress, ruthless overtime, avoidable health issues, and regret in general are less likely to occur. Hello, breathing room.
Hard decisions become more straightforward.
Value-centered solutions emerge quickly when priorities are on paper. This doesn’t mean difficult decisions are easier—it’s one thing to write a manifesto and another to live it—but if you visit your manifesto regularly, you’ll likely identify solutions swiftly.
It’s important for each of us to identify how we want to live. If we don’t, the dominant culture—harder, better faster, stronger—will decide for us.
Choosing simplicity takes strength and courage. Stepping away from the noise isn’t easy but it’s straightforward when we own our identity and values. How? By writing a personal manifesto.
Creating a personal manifesto
People go about this task differently. Here’s our suggestion. Make it your own.
1. Grab a pen and journal. Studies show that writing taps into greater creativity and embeds thoughts in your memory more effectively than typing.
2. Identify your values. We suggest focusing on your top 5. We’ve included a list at the bottom to help you out.
3. Divide your life into categories. You might consider family, friends, work, health, digital life, your home, spirituality, alone time, finances and so forth.
4. Focus on one category a time. Ask yourself how you can I embody values in that particular area of your life?”
5. Jot down your beliefs and intentions. Write freely. Edit later.
Paul values integrity and relationships.
For the sake of the illustration, he divides his life into two categories: home and work.
Here’s how things play out for Paul:
Integrity – When I say I’ll be home, I’m fully home. I park devices at the door and leave work at the office.
Relationships – I schedule intentional time at home with my partner and friends.
Integrity – If I say I’ll meet a deadline, I do. If I can’t, I’ll reach out and reset expectations.
Relationships – I foster friendship by scheduling “just because” lunch or coffee breaks with colleagues.
. . .
As you go along, you’ll likely start to notice themes. Capture these in one or two sentences.
For Paul, he notices maintaining integrity with his words comes up several times. His manifesto might include a sentence like, “I am impeccable with my words.”
Notice it doesn’t say, “I try to be as honest as possible” or “I attempt to live up to my word.” Use strong language. Remember Yoda’s immortal words: There is no try.
Once you’ve worked through your values, take a step back. Read your sentences aloud. Do they give you goosebumps? Congratulations. If not, keep going.
Once you’re done, put the manifesto in a place where you’ll see it daily. Maybe it lives on a bedroom wall. Maybe you keep it at your desk. Maybe it becomes wallpaper on your phone. Whatever you do, just make sure you read it frequently.
One last thing: A manifesto is not a contract; it’s a living document. People evolve; so do manifestos.
This document shouldn’t defeat you. If it reeks of oppression, something’s off. Mix it up. Stay with it until it inspires you.
. . .
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
Despite neglecting my manifesto for almost a decade, its influencing power is evident. It left an indelible mark and promoted personal responsibility. In subtle ways, it continues to shape my life, like waves smoothing rocks along a rugged coastline. This is precisely what strong manifestos do when used effectively.
I whispered thank you to my former self after reading that old email. Washing my face that night was not a chore but an act of integrity and self-care. I went to bed centered and encouraged, not burdened by the day’s shortcomings. After all, each day is a new opportunity to get it right.
If your intention is to make space for simplicity and freedom, a personal manifesto is paramount. It clears a path for purpose. It helps shed needless burdens and gain strength to shoulder the ones we choose: investing in relationships, prioritizing health, thriving at work, raising strong children and so on.
When we live our manifestos one day at a time, clarity and strength grow. Ultimately, we earn the satisfaction that comes with spending our days well. Isn’t that what everyone wants?
Here’s to moving through life without regrets.
In case you need a refresher, check out our list of suggested values.