What’s your shadow mission?

“Watch out for your shadow mission,” Denise, my fabulous life coach, whispers into the phone.

It sounds quite mysterious.

“What’s that?” I whisper back, looking over my shoulder to see if anyone is watching.

“It’s something that looks and feels like your real mission–but it’s actually an imposter. It’s the good that can become the enemy of the best.”

I nod and tuck that tidbit away. I don’t know my shadow mission in that moment. But I want to find out.

The term comes from one of my favorite authors, John Ortberg. In Overcoming Your Shadow Mission he says this..

A shadow mission is an authentic mission that has been derailed, often in imperceptible ways. Part of what makes the shadow mission so tempting is that it’s usually so closely related to our gifts and passions. It’s not 180 degrees off track; it is just 10 degrees off track.

Long after that first conversation with Denise, I’m driving to an obligation. My heart feels heavy. My head is pounding, I want to pull over and take a nap and/or order ten hot fudge sundaes to go. Yes, ma’am.

I ask myself, “What is going on?”

And it hits me. The shadow mission.

My shadow mission is this: Doing things because people need me–and being needed proves my worth.

When I do things for that reason, it becomes about me. I imagine how appreciative people will be. I get resentful if I’m not properly affirmed. I feel exhausted even if my day hasn’t been especially busy.

In contrast, when I’m living my true mission {Which is encouraging women and helping turn God-sized dreams into reality} it feels very different. Yes, I’m blessed in the process but healing an insecurity through proving my worth isn’t the motivation. I serve out of love. I serve to bring joy to my Master. I’m energized and joyful instead of drained.

What’s your shadow mission? How do you know when you’re slipping into it? Here are some ways to tell…

  • A shadow mission exhausts you while a true mission energizes you
  • A shadow mission comes from guilt or insecurity while a true mission comes from freedom and love
  • A shadow mission is about you while a true mission involves you but also includes God and others
  • A shadow mission leads to resentment while a true mission lets you serve no matter the response
  • A shadow mission makes you feel more distant from God (even though you’re trying to earn his approval) while a true mission brings you closer to him

Most of all, there is just no joy in a shadow mission while a true mission leads to joy even though it may be hard.

So what do you do if you discover you’re living your shadow mission? Well, first you call Denise. Or if you’re not lucky enough to have her as your life coach yet, tell someone that you trust. Say, “I figured out my shadow mission and I need you to help me not fall into it. You have my permission to point out when I do.”

Because shadow missions are sneaky and we will all cross the line into them–many times. What matters is learning over time how to recognize when we do and get back on track quickly.

Let’s all step out of the shadow and in the light, friends. Again and again.

Because that’s where we truly belong.


P.S. As you think about your shadow mission, I want you to remember God’s Heart for YOU! If you leave a comment by midnight Thursday night you will be entered to win the daily calendar reminding you about truths of His love for you.


Until then, are you tired of trying to have it all by doing it all, alone? Stephanie Bryant and I recently shared with Kendra Tillman on her blogtalkradio program how you don’t have to anymore. Listen to the interview here.


About Holley

About Holley

Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author and Life Coach

I like humans, words, and good coffee. And I’d love to help you beat what’s holding you back, become all you’re created to be, and kick butt for the greater good.

Cheering you on,


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