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What Strategic Planning Taught Me About Boundaries.

Avoid "mission creep" and you will shine.

We all deserve a clear-cut path to our North Star.

As part of a nonprofit Board of Trustees, I recently had the privilege of participating in a strategic planning workshop. Throughout the day, I reflected on the parallels between nonprofit management and personal life design. 

The biggest takeaway? Setting boundaries could be one of the most overlooked keys to success. 

We began the nonprofit workshop by defining the difference between mission and vision.

A mission statement captures the essence of who you are as an organization: what you do, why you do it, and for whom. 

A vision statement sheds light on exactly where you want to go.

Your mission and vision then give birth to goals and action steps, providing your organization with specific ways to deliver on the promise you have set forth in your mission statement. Yup. It’s that simple.

Of course, we were reminded of the tendency many nonprofits have to take on too much, and the importance of avoiding “mission creep”. Sound familiar? I bet it does! For organizations (and for us!), it comes from a good place – kind, open hearts and a desire to be all things to all people. But by straying from their mission, nonprofits may end up dealing with an identity crisis, employee burnout, funding challenges, and an inability to engage others in their cause. These are serious issues – and…yes…they mirror the crises we face if we veer too far away from our own personal missions.

I got to thinking about my own life, and how much time I am spending on activities at work and at home that are not aligned with who I really want to BE in this world. On the days when I am focused on those time-suckers (which, in many cases, I do out of sheer guilt or “can’t-say-no syndrome”), I feel depleted. On days when I am more focused on engaging in other activities that bring out the best in me, I come to life. Sitting in that workshop, I had an “a-ha” moment – it was a juncture for which I am grateful. I spent time that evening out on our screened porch as the crickets chirped and the warm September air filled my lungs with a journal in hand. I walked myself through the mission and vision exercises I do with my life coaching clients and discovered the importance of having some lines in my own world. Just writing it all down and solidifying everything has since allowed me to set boundaries, and to do things in context of my mission and vision. It’s exactly what my clients describe after they do this in coaching sessions.

Although some feel that boundaries can give us a “bad rep”, the truth is that we need boundaries if we are going to shine.

Consider this: our personal mission is like a “north star”. In order to reach it, we need a path. Like any other road we travel, this path needs lines that keep us on course. Yes…..BOUNDARIES drawn out of respect for that “north star” give us guides on how we use our time, our talent, and our treasure. They help us stay on a trail toward our mission, but serve another purpose too: they make our life’s mission crystal-clear to others. Those lines allow us to take our commitment to our mission seriously, infusing a sense of purpose into our days, and give others a real understanding of how serious we are about our life’s work. This often leads to greater support from those around us, which breeds greater productivity and happiness as we take steps toward that north star.

If we stray from those boundaries, we will face the challenges that come with “mission creep”. We may end up feeling that we are floating in space, which comes with some confusion or anxiety about why we seem to be floundering, and perhaps the same kind of identity crisis that a nonprofit faces when it tries to be all things to all people. Burnout follows as we float too far away from what we originally envisioned, and all of the sudden that north star seems so very far away. 

However, by staying focused on our personal mission and vision, our path is illuminated. We must own that path and its boundaries so that our sights can set on the desired focal point in the big open galaxy of possibility.

Want success in life? Find your north star. It’s your guiding light (your mission). Create a strategic plan for yourself, just as your favorite nonprofits probably do. Be proud of the mission and vision you craft, and the boundaries that must be developed in order to keep the path well-lit.

If you do this, you will undoubtedly shine.

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