FI Planning: You Need a Mission Statement!

Is touring a brewery actually working..?
Is touring a brewery actually working..?

Starting Off: The Brewery

A few days ago, I was on my side hustle at the brewery. Having mastered the job of pouring beer at the bar, I asked for some broadening. One such opportunity was to help the founder run his Saturday tour. Excited to network and learn more about the brewery, I jumped at the opportunity.

When my first day of “tank farming” finally arrived, I excitedly absorbed as much as I could. As part of setting up, I was allowed free reign of the brewing and packaging areas. Wandering around, I took time to study the equipment and enjoy my own unsupervised tour. As crowds arrived, I helped people cue up for the first of our three hourly tours. As the founder took us in, I sat in the back with a beer and tried to quietly answer any questions not broached by our guide. During my shift, I covered three tours, all guided by the brewery’s founder. Of course, all the tours were slightly different, depending on his mood or the size of the crowd, or the questions asked, he would take us into more special places. The last tour of the day was actually the smallest, and we were allowed to enter the climate-controlled barrel house. This was quite a treat, since normally this area was off-limits even to the full-time employees.

While there were many distinctions between each iteration, what really struck me were a few common themes. Obviously, he described his love of the craft, the geniality of the industry, his thankfulness at early-retiring from engineering many years prior, but even more importantly, he revealed some secrets about the way he ran his business. Most importantly, he began each and every tour (after his welcome and introduction, of course) by repeating his company’s mission statement. The statement basically summarized the purpose of the company. It was a justification of existence within the community, within the industry, and within his and his customer’s lives. It was simply, “to brew the best beer in the state and to be something the community could be proud of.” On one tour, he even commented how critical it was for a company to have a mission statement, not because you need a check box for some business plan, not even because it helps steer the direction of the company (which it certainly does), but because it justifies the ongoing existence of the business. Taking a look back, the brewery’s mission statement may seem paltry and inadequate, but really, it manages to cover all of these incredibly important aspects.

Other Businesses

Stop for a second and take a look at all the companies around you, all the companies you interact with on a daily basis. How aware are you of these companies? Do you realize that all of them have mission statements? Yes, some of them may not be obvious. Some companies may have even seemed to have lost their way from humble beginnings, but still, all companies will have at least some loose definition of a mission statement. Even a company as ubiquitous as McDonald’s still has a mission statement. As an individual, you may have an opinion about how well they fulfill their mission, but they still very much have one, and I guarantee, their managers drive it home in all their employees. As a customer, you build relationships with all these businesses. Depending on how large a role the relationships play in your life, it can be a good idea to research some of their mission statements.

Here’s some examples of a few more:

Apple

Microsoft

ExxonMobil

Whole Foods

REI

(Or MEC for our neighbors to the north)

Frugal hack: Companies are always looking for quality feedback and often willing to make small gestures of recompense for your time. Using a company’s mission statement in feedback shows you are a committed customer and can greatly improve what kind of free swag a customer service rep is willing to provide.

Blogs

Stepping back, let’s look at mission statements for blogs. All of your favorite blogs have taglines. These taglines are more than mottoes, they are the beginnings of loosely framed mission statements. After talking to Pete at Camp Mustache II, I got a better sense for his values and his driving purpose for MMM. The blog really is not about showing people how to retire at age 30; it aims to help people lead happier, more efficient lives (which coincidentally also has a more frugal impact on the environment).

My blog has its own tagline which is, “second nature saving and investing”. I’ve discussed the general identity of the blog previously, and you can always learn more from the About page (as I get around to revealing more about myself in the articles, I’ll continue to update the “About”).

What is a Mission Statement

I already touched on what a mission statement does for the brewery. Hopefully, you’ve taken some time to explore some other company mission statements. But what is a mission statement? Google defines a mission statement as “a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.” What does this mean? Well, for a business, it means defining purpose, what is it the company seeks to do and what core principles will guide it toward that accomplishment. In other words, it is a definition of self and a justification for existence.

Since a company is actually different things to different people, the mission statement actually sets forth to justify existence in all of these people’s lives. As this bplans.com link shows, all of those people (or “interests”) can be sorted into three groups. Those groups are

  1. Customers
  2. Employees
  3. Owners

A good mission statement must justify the business and provide core values within each of those three categories. The interests of each of those three parties partially, but don’t completely, align with the others. Because of this, a natural tension exists. The mission statement must seek to help guide where to strike the balance in such a way that the enterprise will be sustainable.

On a mission
On a mission

Ok, that’s nice, so why do I need one?

I’ve been in this same camp for a long time. When I took entrepreneurship in college, I thought, “This is dumb and unnecessary. Why does a company even need a mission statement?” I figured creating a startup was all about the idea: come up with a good enough idea and everything else will fall into place. I took that entrepreneurship class hoping to learn about how to develop ad grow ideas, not do busy-work writing fluff. I thought mission statements were a lot of mumbo jumbo marketing.

Although I’ve learned better since, my college student self wasn’t completely wrong. Mission statements can be completely useless, mumbo jumbo. When an incompetent management team writes one, then proceeds to completely ignore it, the mission statement really is little more than lip service. More commonly, when a company only advertises the part of its mission statement that applies to the customer, then yes, the “mission statement” really is little more than advertising. If a company tells you its mission, above all else, is to cater to the customer, and provide maximum quality, and guarantee customer satisfaction, blah blah, woof woof (0:32), how can this be anything more than marketing? So yes, as a young, naive college student, who had never really seen business from the inside, I was justifiably unimpressed with the idea of a mission statement.

After 10 years of employment at a half dozen Fortune 500 companies, I’m starting to learn better. The reality, of course, is that all companies, even the ones with great innovations and great products which seem to sell themselves, have mission statements. Companies have to. That’s because in the real world, things do not go perfectly. There will be moments of uncertainty for even the best management teams, and in those moments, managers will look to their mission statement for a reminder of purpose. A mission statement may not make the decision for a management team, but realigning with the company’s purpose and guiding vision can help frame problems and lead to a better decision.

And finally, here’s the key, all of these points about companies also apply to you, me, and every human on the planet. YOU need a mission statement, because you exist, you are ALIVE, and you need purpose. Even if your purpose is doing nothing, you need to search for and establish your life’s purpose. By establishing such a purpose formally, you are making an agreement with yourself as to how you will live your life, and what your priorities and values will be.

Purpose

General Stanley McChrystal US Army retired
General Stanley McChrystal, US Army retired

The purpose of life is a life of purpose.

-Robert Byrne (One of General McChrystal’s favorite quotes, and I’m not about to tell him he’s wrong.)

Recently, I’ve fallen into a weird position in my life. From a young age, I’ve always set personal goals. I learned that the key to achieving my goals was self-motivation and commitment, in other words, to make sure they were important to me. I learned pretty quickly that to know what was important to me, I needed to get to know myself, to get to know my strengths and weaknesses, my likes and dislikes. I spent a lot of time in my youth reflecting and trying as many new things as I could. Over time, I thought I developed a pretty good idea of who I was and who I wanted to be. I continued to set goals, and because I was successful in achieving many of them, I took this success as validation of my own self-alignment. Looking back, I would still agree that I was pretty aligned with who I was at that time. I really don’t have any regrets. However, I’m also starting to learn that making the right decisions as a kid is a lot easier than an adult because your life has so much more structure.

All throughout school, college, and even your career, you have teachers and bosses providing structure to your life and limiting the scope of your choices. It turns out, that the fewer your options, the easier it is to make choices. However, now that I’m fast approaching financial independence, I’m finding that the training wheels are really starting to come off. Also, I’m learning that setting goals is not the same thing as finding purpose. I set financial independence and early retirement as goals, but now that they’re fast approaching, I can see that achieving them won’t actually give my life purpose. I will have a new level of freedom soon. I can set tons of great goals, but even if I achieve them, again it’s not really the same thing as living a life with purpose. In short, I need a mission statement.

Write a mission statement

There are plenty of guides and articles for writing mission statements available. There are even online mission statement builders to help you go step-by-step. I won’t go into great detail here, just remember that if a mission statement establishes what you have to offer to yourself and those around you. Life hacks has a pretty good article on personal mission statements, but I’ve also found it sometimes helps to think about yourself from the standpoint of a business. What skills/product can you offer the world (the customers) around you? As the employee who has to grind it out and generate that product, what work culture, balance and skill development do you demand for yourself? As the owner/manager of your life, how do you balance all of these needs to finally create value for you, the shareholder? Keep your own statements brief, simple, and memorable. It doesn’t have to be all-encompassing. Most importantly, go back to your personal mission statement as a reminder of what’s important to you and revise it as you change.

Finally, here are some examples of personal mission statements, as well as my own…

Mission statement for this blog:

Easy Does It FI shares with readers a simplified path to FI so that they can tailor their own choices and efforts and make FI much more achievable. This approach is so simple and accessible that making the right financial decisions becomes second nature. As a writer (employee), my goal is to of course provide high-quality impactful, entertaining content for the reader, but also to step from behind any veils of marketing and develop an intimate, earnest relationship with the reader. Finally, as founder, this blog should be a thoughtful, even intellectual, outlet, providing value by diving deeper and focusing on my own story as well as topics of particular importance to me. And finally, this blog should always strive to be a positive voice and valued member of the online FI/PF community (among blogs and broader media).

Latest mission statement for me:

I will use my technical gifts, supportive personality, and value of personal freedom and control to create a balanced life, a balance I control, solving challenging problems, helping others learn to do the same, and pursuing personal enrichment through regular exercise, continued intellectual growth/new experiences, and shared experiences with friends/family.

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