Are you ever paralyzed by small decisions? Like you’re going to get some lunch, but you just can’t seem to pick somewhere and make it happen?
Try defining the mission.
It may seem silly, but getting lunch is a big theoretical idea. With no parameters, it’s a wide open box. You have a hundred options and a bunch of competing values. Cost, health, speed, taste, ecological impact—how will it look on Instagram?
But if you define the mission, everything changes.
“My mission is to eat a healthy lunch that won’t cost very much.” Boom. Eat at home.
“My mission is to impress this person I’m meeting.” Boom, you just narrowed your options significantly. Now you’re no longer answering a subjective question like, is it a good choice? (Who ever knows?) Now you’re answering a specific question, does this option accomplish that mission?
You know when you’re with somebody and nobody wants to pick where to go? Maybe on a date with your spouse, significant other, or even a friend. Try asking a different question—what’s the mission? I guarantee you’ll make a decision faster. When you agree on the mission, the choices become obvious.
I love mission statements. We have a mission statement for our family, for our company—I even develop mission statements for specific projects.
Mission statements are usually praised for their ability to bring a group of people together. They’re certainly valuable in that way. The mission statement says, We’re all here to [fill in the blank]. The mission statement orients the team around a specific goal.
But I find that mission statements have just as much value for the conversation happening in your own mind. When you’re a team of one, you can do anything. There are no rules. You need to know the mission better than anybody so you don’t get off the rails.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of a mission statement. A mission statement is actually really simple. As briefly as you can, simply answer the question, what are you here to do?
A mission statement is helpful because it defines boundaries for your project (or your life), and gives you an objective way to measure the decisions you’re considering. We live in a world of infinite variables and unpredictable outcomes, a mission statement decides ahead of time which variables and outcomes actually matter.
I have a book coming out this spring called The Novel Matrix. It’s a guide for organizing and executing a novel concept. I have so much experience in the world of writing and publishing, there are so many things I want to share! But of course they won’t all fit in the book. A mission statement helped me to determine what fits in this particular book and what doesn’t.
You already read most of the mission statement, which is to “create a succinct and relatable guide for organizing and executing a novel concept.”
After I had written the book, I went back to the mission statement to measure my results. Despite my best efforts, I had included some stuff that wasn’t on mission for this book.
I didn’t set out to just “write a book,” which I had done. Or even “write a good book,” which I had also (arguably) done. Rather, I had a particular mission in mind, and the mission statement gave me a standard. It showed me where the boundaries were.
Section by section of the manuscript, I could ask a real question, “Does this satisfy that mission statement?” It turned out that I had included some really good stuff about writing craft and project management strategies that just didn’t belong on this mission. As a result, I cut out a couple of chapters, and the book is stronger and more on target because of it.
Clearly articulating a mission statement will take some time, commensurate to the size and importance of the mission, but it can change everything. In the long run, the mission statement will protect your time and you will come out ahead.
Especially in those areas of your life where you feel like you’re wandering, take the time to develop a mission statement. Force yourself, in just one or two sentences, to define what you’re trying to accomplish.
This is an exercise that I often use with aspiring writers. “I want to be a writer” is too broad of a box.
What is it you’re trying to accomplish with your writing? Ten years from now, how will you look back on this and decide if your investment paid off? When we apply that lens and get really honest, suddenly the path forward becomes so much more obvious.
Do you want to make money? Do you want to inspire people? Do you want to be an artist and express yourself? What’s most important to you? And it’s necessary to be super honest with ourselves.
Your mission statement could be:
“To make a full-time income as a writer without sacrificing my Christian values.”
Great. This mission statement says as much by what it leaves out. You don’t necessarily have to write books. You don’t necessarily have to write Christian stuff, just so long as it doesn’t cross your moral boundary.
Ten years from now, you could end up as a blogger, a copy writer, or a technical writer and still satisfy this mission. Now you can go find the shortest path to that destination, without all the hand-wringing.
“To inspire Christians to walk more closely with Jesus through my storytelling, and to be able to live off of the income from the books that I write.”
This mission is narrower. But if these things are really important to you, it’s so good that you’ve articulated them! If an opportunity arises that would pull you away from books, or away from the Christian literature sphere, you have a standard to apply and say, “no.”
Part of my personal mission statement is to use my skills and experience to advance the Kingdom of God. That’s broadly stated on purpose. I’m constantly contacted by people who want help with various types of book and media projects. When I get a proposal that’s interesting, I can pray and with Jesus’s help decide if this project satisfies that mission. I state it broadly, because sometimes I even work with non-Christians because I see that God has a Kingdom purpose in that relationship. My mission statement is not that I will only work with Christians.
To write a mission statement, jot out the values or outcomes that are most important to you. Just make a list. Then put those things in order. Are any of them in conflict with each other? Sort that out. Then boil that down into a sentence or two that you can say easily and internalize. That’s all there is to it.
Take some time right now to prayerfully determine your mission. For your life, for your writing, for your lunch. By doing so, you’re going to simplify your decision making so much. You’ll be stronger and more focused because of it.
Do you already have a mission statement for your life or your writing (or your lunch)? I’d love to hear it! Share it in the comments below.
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