Why Writing a Mission Statement is So Hard

This is NOT the third post I planned to publish in my writing a mission statement series. Firstly, I didn’t intend to write a series at all. It was going to be one post about my personal mission, how I defined it and how it’s really helped give direction in my mothering, homeschooling, writing, etc. 

As I started to write about my mission the ideas grew and four thousand words later I realized this was going to be four or five posts. I’ve published the first two:

This third post was supposed to be the big unveil of my mission. But the timing isn’t right. Not yet. (PS. I've already unveiled my personal mission on my about page and in this post. It's not top secret or anything.)

I was all set to publish that third post but something happened to change my plans. I had one of those a-ha moments, a brief moment of insight (I scribbled notes fast before the insight was gone) into why writing a mission statement is so difficult. And I thought we should park here for a post before moving on.

From some of the comments and conversations I've been having with people it's apparent that writing a mission statement is not easy.

I get it.

Damien and I are struggling with this very thing right now - defining our mission. Our March crisis brought this on and in our usual iterative fashion we have circled back once again to the question - What is our family mission?

Five and a half years ago Damien and I went on fall weekend camping trip with the kids. We weren’t going hiking, we were going to Maine's Common Ground Fair. And we intended to do something else - have a mini-retreat where we could talk about who we were as a family and individuals and where we wanted to go with our lives. Maybe even write a mission statement.

Damien probably doesn’t even remember this. I know I had a piece of paper and it had some circles on it and I was trying to make the connections between all these parts of our life and weave them together somehow. I think I lost that sheet of paper or transferred the ideas to a different sheet of paper. Either way, the original is gone. Too bad. I like that kind of memorabilia.

We didn’t write a mission statement that weekend, or the next. We still haven't written a mission statement.

But we're getting closer. Real close now actually.

Around that time, five years ago, is when I started to codify (fancy speak for write down) our values. It was these values, the ones we actually live, not just write down, that have guided our decisions over the years. The same values that launched Life 3.0 and all our other crazy adventures - homebirth, communal living (you didn’t know about that one did you?), vegan eating, relaxed homeschooling, family backpacking, etc.

Why share all this? Because we've managed to live, quite well, this far without a family mission statement. This winter we even talked during one of our weekend skis that maybe written family mission statements were just a bunch of self-help hoopla.

That was until we reached our “what the heck are we doing with our life?” crisis this past March. And a crisis of “what is my purpose?” for Damien especially. Someday I’ll share more about this but for now it’s sufficient to say, we needed a little self-help hoopla to help us out.

We are currently back at the mission statement drawing board but we're getting closer to nailing it down. 

So I understand how writing a mission statement can be difficult. (Doubly so when you're integrating spouses and partners.)

Writing my personal mission statement was a bit different. It came easier but I think that was because I had been working out my mission statement for years at FIMBY, I just wasn’t aware of it. I had been working it out in my daily living also but sometimes our creative work helps us get a clearer picture of who we are.

That's the story but what you really want to know is why it's so hard. 

Here’s the answer:

It’s so hard to write a mission statement because we have a hard time believing we have a mission.

A specific mission. A made-just-for-us mission. A mission only we can fulfill.

Understand, when I talk about mission I don't mean vague and general, ie: my mission is to "love god, love others" type speak. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's part of my purpose in life. But my mission is much more specific than that. And it's at this stage, moving beyond vague purposes into specific mission, that I think many of us get bunged up. For the "simple" reason we don't believe we were made for a mission. 

Why do we have a hard time believing this? There's lots of reasons but I'm going to stick to three (for now).

We aren’t raised for a mission.

This is no criticism of our parents or family. It’s just that our society is not mission-minded.

We grow up being “educated” (“taught” stuff and asked to spit it back out) to fit a certain role, prepare for a career path, assume a certain job title. To fit into a box, cubicle or cul-de-sac.

Nothing wrong with any of these by the way. Jobs are good. Careers are good. Even cul-de-sacs are good.

But those aren’t the mission folks. Those are just the means.

So when we start to question our lives in terms of mission we get confused because we have a job title, so isn’t that what we do? Or we have a spouse and family so doesn’t that define our role?

Yes, those define maybe what you do, but not who you are. And a personal mission is intimately connected with, is dependent upon, who you are.

And that leads me to the second point.

We don’t know who we are.

When we aren’t raised, educated and otherwise nurtured in a mission-minded home life or society we lose touch with our ability to know ourselves.

If we have dreams as children we're not necessarily encouraged to nurture those. And we second guess our innate gifts because we wonder how those fit "in the real world".

We go to school so we can get a good job. Our studies are motivated by grades (to get to college, to get the job, to retire well) not because we want to become who we're meant to be. 

We have a job to feed our family. We chose that career or workplace for the benefits, work hours or because we've been trained to do that job not because that's the life work we're called to do.

There's nothing wrong with good jobs and feeding our family. I want both. And I want those for everyone. 

But so many of us lose touch with who we are and we end up doing work to simply "have a good job and feed our family", or "serve our family by taking care of our home."

Please hear me again, providing for our families is noble work. But what if your life work was an expression of your deepest dreams, your gifts, your talents, your values, who you are. What if your work was your life's mission?

A couple things have happened to our family over the past few years. First we rejected the notion that education was to prepare for a good job or even to prepare for college. Instead we embraced the belief and lifestyle that education was to be tailored to the individual to help them become who they are meant to be. I had not yet attached mission to this but the seeds were there.

Then we decided that what we wanted for our kids was what we wanted for us - the responsible adults wanted freedom to be be who we are. To dream and to use our gifts.

We didn't know what the mission was but we knew we were made for more than mundane. More than mediocre. More than middle of the road.

We were made for greatness. 

Which brings me to the last point. And the most important reason it's so hard to believe we actually have a mission. (And if you don't believe you have mission it sure is hard to write one, isn't it?)

We are afraid of our potential.

You were made to shine. I was made to shine. And this scares the living daylights out of us.

We're like shy school kids being called upon in class and we're hiding in our desks saying "oh, pick someone else" but deep down we want to be picked. We want to be chosen.

I have a secret to tell that little shy kid inside - You have been chosen to do great work.

Now before you all jump on me with, "well, isn't that a bit grandious Renee?" I'd like to share what I think greatness looks like.

Jesus' response to the question of greatness is something like this

whoever wants to become great must be a servant

Hum... maybe we don't want greatness. Well, even if you don't want it, you were made for it.

My dorky superhero pose

Some of us will be great in quiet ways, some of us in loud and rambunctious ways. How it's expressed is different but the truth of who we are is the same. We all have superpowers. (Believe it.)

We are made to shine.

We believe (I sure hope you do) our children are created and brought into this world to do amazing things. We name their gifts. We support them. Why don't we do the same for ourselves?

If you're in a place where you are operating hunky-dorey sans mission statement. That's ok. Obviously.

I'm not one of those "you must have a mission statement" folks. I've operated for years, quite successfully, without it. And our family has accomplished some pretty cool stuff without having a written Tougas Family mission statement.

Last winter though, I got to a point where I was moving, literally, far out of my comfort zone and I needed the direction a mission statement provided.

And now in our family life we have moved way out of the comfort zone. When we stripped away the job, the career path, the retirement account, the house, and the familiar routines (on purpose) we were left wondering, "ok, now what?"

What kind of work do we want to do (together)? How do we weave who we are with earning an income? The dreams we have for our family, how do those fit? All these decisions we've made and steps we've taken - where are we going exactly?

We need the direction a mission statement provides.

It's been hard work to figure that out, despite all we know about ourselves. And I think it's been difficult because of the reasons I've shared above.

Do you have a written mission statement? Can you identify with the difficulties in putting it all together on paper?
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  • Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds

    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds on May 10, 2012, 2:23 p.m.

    I am nowhere close to writing a mission statement right now, but I am still working toward living more intentionally. Our past few months have been very trying for our family and I have struggled to keep our heads above water in every area of our family's lives. I just realized that what I need during times like these are to set priorities and focus my attention, time and energy on those things that are most important. Those things are 1. Sleep 2.Making sure we are eating healthy 3.communicating and spending time with my husband 4.Laundry (in a family of 6 I really have to keep up on this or it gets overwhelming fast, I'm sure you can relate) 5.Getting the kids outside playtime everyday. My kids are now 2, 3, 4, and 6 so most days it takes all my efforts to just accomplish these things, I can't even think past the coming weekend, let alone writing a mission statement. LOL. I am adding this to one of my favorites though to come back to later, when I have time to think. You have expressed some wonderful ideas here.


    • renee

      renee on May 10, 2012, 2:55 p.m.

      I totally get it. I never even considered writing a mission statement till last year. But honestly, I see pieces of your mission in those tasks you listed on your most important things. My own mission statement includes nourishing, teaching, encouraging, sharing beauty and building relationships - I do this first and foremost in my home. They are what drive eating well, getting sleep, supporting my husband, time outdoors, homeschooling and even, laundry. I think taking care of laundry is part of creating beauty in our home (the beauty of organization and clean clothes!) My personal mission is very much grounded in home life. Our family mission however, the one Damien and I are working out right now, is very much about the work we do in the world (which I wasn't even ready to think much about till a few years ago). My personal mission carries over into that but defining that mission is freaking me out because I feel like we're being called to "big" work. Let out light shine, servant work.  Life work that is outside of roles and responsiblities and very much grounded in who we are and what our gifts are (visionaries, problem solvers, beauty makers, encouragers, etc). And it's a bit scary. All that to say... I hear you. Like I said, I operated years without a mission statement and was still very intentional about my life. I think you're living your personal mission right now (smile).


      • Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds

        Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds on May 11, 2012, 11:47 a.m.

        You know, I think you're right. It just seems "too simple" in this culture that tends to overcomplicate things. I can always stop by FIMBY to be reminded that it is ok to keep it simple (but intentional)

        Just remember when you are getting freaked out about defining your big mission that this isn't really "Your" plan, it's God's, and he has already given you the ablilities you need to do his work. Look at what you have already felt called to do and have accomplished in your life. God is good. :)


  • Kika

    Kika on May 10, 2012, 4:42 p.m.

    I do believe that we have lived out our mission to this point and it looked much like Becky's to this point: raising and loving our families -but also reaching out to our community. This is noble and so important. Strong families are the foundation of a strong society. Furthermomre, we cannot help our children grow to maturity and understanding of who they are and their own giftings if we do not build a solid foundation of relationship and security (as in laundry, food...) beneath them, you know? Then there comes a time - like presently in my life - where a shifting happens and I am in the process of clarifying who I am beyond mom, wife, homeschooler, friend and need (want) to solidify a mission statement beyond these incredibly important and satisfying roles. But this does not, in any way, diminish the significance of all these years of serving/loving people at home. For me, at least, I believe this is where the hard work of maturing and learning to serve and forgive and accept and loosen up (and on and on) takes place. And then, from here, I will be able to expand my circle of influence with more effectiveness. Wish I could discuss this whole concept for 8 hours :)


    • renee

      renee on May 10, 2012, 4:50 p.m.

      Totally!  You said "For me, at least, I believe this is where the hard work of maturing and learning to serve and forgive and accept and loosen up (and on and on) takes place. And then, from here, I will be able to expand my circle of influence with more effectiveness." Amen sister. I totally agree with this. My next post on mission is going to address this. The two spheres of influence, or "two towers" as I'm come to think of them since reading Leadership Education. And you're so right. Home is our training ground. Where we mature and learn and honestly prove our servant hearts and hands so that we can take that out into the world. Some women and mother's of young children manage to do this simultaneously. The work in their homes and their world. I couldn't and didn't. And like you Kika, I'm at the "now what" stage in mothering and homemaking.  And I can't emphasize enough how much I believe the loving and serving our families (which for moms of young children is super intense) IS the base for everything else and it's the foundation for what we offer the world.


      • Aimee

        Aimee on May 13, 2012, 6 p.m.

        The only thing I wonder about in regards to the statement you made about being in the "now what" stage is that we (my kids are the same ages as yours) haven't delved deeply into the teen years yet? From my observation/conversations of mothers of teens, those years take a tremendous amount of parenting/guiding/etc. It's as if the intense needs of toddlers/preschoolers circle their way back again in the teen years and that the ages of 9-12 are a bit of "calm before the storm". Thoughts?


        • renee

          renee on May 13, 2012, 10:26 p.m.

          Totally agree! This age is golden. My thoughts on being available for my young adults are that I now share a lot of the daily parenting and even homeschooling load with my husband. And this was part of our plan - for him to be very available during these important years and to play a more active role in our kid's education and even our daily home stuff.  Although the young adult years take a tremendous amount of effort, I don't believe they will take the same "always on demand" time that was required of me during the baby/toddler years, with sleep deprivation to boot! I can say to my kids - I am writing for the next 2 hours, you'll need to talk to your dad or wait till I'm done. I couldn't do that with my young children. I guess those are my initial, off the cuff remarks. In case I've given the impression that by turning my mind to my mission beyond motherhood (which actually comes out of who and what I do as a mother) I've turned my heart away from my home and my children's needs I want to say that's not the case. But I do believe I'm at this stage in my mothering, parenting and partnering journey that I can turn some of my energies to other things, because of my husband's support and the age of my kids.


          • Aimee

            Aimee on May 13, 2012, 11:48 p.m.

            yes! having your husband there to share in the parenting/homeschooling load makes a big difference. My sister (15 years older than me who homeschooled her children...all four are now grown and the oldest homeschools her children!) always says how much conversation happens during the teen years. Hours and hours of counseling, guiding, debating, listening, etc...being "present" to answer those fears, anxieties, insecurities, wonderings, ideas, dreams, etc. I think that you and your husband have a great situation with one of you always being able to be "present" and can't wait to watch the journey unfold!


  • kelsey

    kelsey on May 10, 2012, 7:25 p.m.

    Thank you for another insightful post renee. I feel strongly that in this season (mother of two under 3 yr) My mission or priorities are to nurture my family in all the ways we do as mothers. I am letting go of many grander expectations because life and time are short and I know that what I am doing now is what I dreamt of "being" since childhood. I dont know what the next season if my life will be for me but I am trying to live fully in this one and believing that I will find my next mission along the way (im not sure if that makes sense!) As far as family missions go - my husband and I talk a lot about things like this- about how we can fulfill the life we want for our family while still holding on to our values AND (unfortunately life hinges on money for us right now) keeping the bills payed. That will mean (like for your family) moving to a smaller community (away from the lower mainland for us!) and trying to have a little more time and maybe money to spend as a family. I am encouraged by your family - you are really doing it! hooray.
    It is a difficult process and I smiled about your notes circled on the paper comment. I think I have a notebook of ideas and hopes and dreams all circled and trying to connect them is really hard!! Having the guts to just do it is even harder.

    Thank you for giving me a little bit to think about and the reassurance that one day in a few years our family may be able to stretch out of this tight little circle of food and naps and debt and little sleep and maybe dream bigger or different dreams. together.



  • Jen @ anothergranolamom

    Jen @ anothergranolamom on May 10, 2012, 8:16 p.m.

    I especially liked your statement that, "we decided that what we want for our children, we want for ourselves." Exactly! And how can we expect our children to want big things for themselves if the example of the loving adults in their lives is to ignore their own personal mission, their own dreams. We can't live only for our children or through our children, we have to live our own dreams as well to be able to have happy, successful children. We call this "modeling," right? I am always thrilled to read about your family's adventures. I hope that I as a parent am able to set such a good example for my own kids.


  • Renée

    Renée on May 10, 2012, 8:46 p.m.


    I just stumbled across your blog in a search for "Canadian soapmaking supplies". I think if you and I met at the farmer's market, we would become fast friends. Would love to read more of your blog but I must get some work done while the baby is sleeping. I hope to read more of your blog soon!



  • RaisingZ

    RaisingZ on May 11, 2012, 12:50 a.m.

    This post brought tears to my very tired eyes. I am so struggling with our family mission right now. I wrote a family purpose two years ago but I don't think it truly embraces all that we are and want to be. As I struggle to figure out the schooling path for my children (5 and 2), parenting solo all week long and most of the weekend as my husband throws himself into starting his own business and living in a community where we feel that we don't fit in....we are feeling a bit lost to say the least. Each day I wake up, take a deep breath and try to make the best of every day and every situation. We have so many blessings in our life and are so grateful but I am still feeling lost. I always appreciate your honesty Renee and I am so glad I found you a few months ago. Thanks for all that you do!!


  • Barbara Tougas

    Barbara Tougas on May 11, 2012, 12:58 a.m.

    We never thought of having a 'mission statement' when raising our family. Our goal was to raise our children in a way as to prepare them to survive on their own when they left home. We wanted to teach them good values, ensure that they had enough education while in our care, so they could choose their further education if they indeed wanted to educate themselves further,show them how to live a good family life,and teach them to appreciate their natural environment.The goal is simple. All animals that raise young in the wild have the same goal. To keep the young safe, provide for their basic needs and teach them what they need to know to live on their own.



    • renee

      renee on May 11, 2012, 1:09 a.m.

      Sounds like a mission statement (smile). Our goals are the same for our family life. But we want the work we do, the very work we support these children with, to be an extension of who we are. To use our talents and gifts and contribute to the world in a meaningful way. That the work itself has meaning beyond simply putting food on the table. It's a lofty goal but we've never shied away from those (smile). We're actually raising our children to have a mission mindset. So that they know they have a unique contribution to make in the world and our job in raising them is to equip them for that. Part of their mission will probably be (I never want to make assumptions) to have their own families. And part of it will be bigger than that. To change the world. Oh yes, we're dreaming big. And it's a bit scary. But that's ok too.


  • Sarah

    Sarah on May 13, 2012, 9:24 p.m.

    Wow. That is one fabulous post :-)

    Every shaky and scary step you and your family takes in fulfilling your mission and dreams, you bring and encourage so many others to follow theirs.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah


  • Charity Johnson

    Charity Johnson on May 14, 2012, 1:09 p.m.

    Renee, once again I am so blessed by you sharing your story and insights into your family! I have been in a constant state of re-evaluating and figuring out who I am (as an individual) and who I want to be as a mom, wife, community member, etc. I told Alan the other day that I feel like I am hitting midlife crisis, but I am okay with it because I am seeing tremendous growth in myself. Most recently, I wrote my first "about the author" (which you know), and found it to be so difficult (thanks for your agreement on this). I think it was most difficult because I am still trying to figure out "About Charity." I know the basics...you know follower of Christ, passionate mom, homeschooler, etc. I have always been a dreamer, but I only embraced that this past year. I have many dreams/big ideas, but have yet to see the fulfilled (I am okay with this right now). I wanted to add a 4th reason to your list, though. Fear of accomplishment, fear of failure, and fear of what might happen. Right now, we are super comfortable so working to fulfill some of our dreams (and what we believe might be our mission) is scary because we know it will be uncomfortable for a season. Then what? What happens when we arrive? What happens if we fulfill it? What happens when we are living the mission or the dreams and no longer dreaming about them? These are all rhetorical questions; I don't need answers. But I know that is one more thing that keeps us from pursuing our mission. I think I commented on one of your earlier posts, "I feel like you are in my head or possibly my living room with some of the stuff you are writing lately." Thanks so much, Renee. You are a blessing!


    • renee

      renee on May 14, 2012, 1:51 p.m.

      I know you said they were rhetorical questions but I'm going to answer them anyway because Damien and I talk about this all the time. You don't arrive! You just keep moving forward. You set new goals and have new dreams. But you know that (smile). And fear - oh hon - walking through fear has been one of my life themes for the past year. Just comes with the territory of "missional living". I think if you are a dreamer you need to embrace this. You are also spontaneous and there is something to all of that. I listened to a podcast this weekend On Being with Krista Tippett and Gordon Hempton. In that podcast Gordon shares about coming to the realization, when he was 27, that he is a listener. Like, this is his gift. This is what he does, in this case listens to nature. He built a career out of that.  If he can build a livelihood out of listening, you can build something from being a dreamer. First, you dream big with your kids. You expand their horizons - oh, what a gift you have to give them Charity. And then from there, the sky's the limit! Oh, I wish we could get together for tea! Dream baby Dream! And I totally know how difficult it is to move beyond "Christ follower, mom, homeschooler, wife, etc" who am I uniquely in that? What makes me different from you? A sister on the same journey but obviously very different. I appreciate your questions Charity and thank you for commenting here. 


  • wesley

    wesley on May 14, 2012, 1:55 p.m.

    Thank you, as always, for your post.

    For me, one of the reasons I find it so difficult to write a mission statement (family or otherwise) is that I'm afraid of not living up to it and disappointing myself and my family. In the past, it seems, I make grand declarations for what I want in my life and what I am going to do and then I fall short. When I do, I get disappointed in myself. Perhaps that has been because those goals weren't really "me" or they weren't really in tune with who I am because I haven't understood myself well or I was trying to make myself into some image of who I wanted to be.

    Happily I am growing into a season of my life (I will be 44 in a couple of weeks) in which I do understand myself better and I am okay with who I am. So I'm thinking it's time to work on a personal (and family) mission.

    Or perhaps the real problem is--as you so eloquently said--I am afraid of my potential.

    I love how your blog has grown more thoughtful and introspective over the last year and I appreciate your sharing that with us. While we may have seemingly little in common (I am a work-outside-the-home, public schooling, carnivore mom living in rural North Carolina), you find a way to make a heart-to-heart connection by talking about your core self.


    • renee

      renee on May 18, 2012, 11:17 a.m.

      Wesley, This is the third time I have tried to respond to your comment. The first time I lost it to a bad internet connection during publish, the second time I lost it to funky key stokes and mouse pad movements which moved me from the screen. New computer woes. Ok, here goes. Third times a charm, right? I totally hear you not wanting to disappoint yourself or your family in setting your expectations too high. I am the same way. My personal mission statement then is actually very doable in my everyday work of cooking, homeschooling, writing, etc. It just gives me more reason for those things and a direction.  Ie: as much as I love local food I don't have part of my mission to only buy local food. But it is part of my mission to nourish my family (and I also value community and resource stewardship) so I try to do this with local food as much as possible. But if I set up an unrealistic ideal in my mission to buy only local I would fail miserably. But I do feel I can nourish my family everyday, even those days we go to Subway for supper, like we did last night. Because nourishing extends beyond food. That's just an example. Our together mission, the one Damien and I crafting, which was the topic more of this post sets the bar a bit higher because it's something we're working together on and are totally invested together in. (and really together we can accomplish so much) And so we're setting our expectations a bit higher, but yet again, not with specifics but with overall direction.  And that's the part that freaks me out. Committing ourselves to this direction, which is funny since we're already walking it! I do think, like you said, when we try to make ourselves into someone we're not (sometimes we don't know this until we try though) that it will feel like awkward to live our mission. Like the shoe doesn't fit, because it doesn't! Oh, I could talk about this stuff for a long time. I'll save it for the next post!  


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