greenlightLast week, my wife and I made a quick trip to Annapolis, Maryland to attend a Navy ceremony. And by quick trip, I mean that we were there for all of 15 hours. Once the ceremony concluded, we enjoyed a quick lunch at one of our favorite establishments and boarded our vehicle, where my first order of business was programming our home address into the destination field of our GPS. After calculating the course, our navigator told us the trip would take precisely 4 hours and 17 minutes and that we should expect to pull into our driveway at exactly 8:00 PM. Me being me, I proudly announced to my bride that I would see our navigator’s calculation and raise it 15 minutes…we would arrive at 7:45 PM and I would have the air conditioning running, a glass of wine poured, the car emptied, and Kenny Chesney filling the airwaves in our living room by 8:00 PM. Considering how many variables there were between our departure and destination, not to mention the lack of influence I had on most of them, it was a rather bold (if not ill-advised) statement.

Per the plan, we stopped once for gas along the way and I maintained a responsible speed that may have been slightly above the posted limit. When we hit the 23 mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, signifying our home stretch, I muttered that we were closing the gap and our GPS now expects us to arrive at 7:49 PM. I wasn’t the least bit confident that I would achieve the goal shared a few hours earlier. By my calculations, we needed to shave off seven more minutes before we got off the highway and hit the suburban traffic likely prevalent during the last three miles leading to our driveway. I was able to shave off six of those minutes before taking our exit. Convinced that the one minute would make the difference, I began to acknowledge defeat as I looked at the tail lights ahead. To my amazement, the traffic cleared at the next intersection and all five of the remaining traffic lights between the highway and home turned green as we approached them. We pulled into the garage at 7:44 PM. Mission Accomplished!? Nope. I still had 16 minutes to complete all that I said I would. I’ll bear you the suspense. At 7:57 PM I was sitting on the couch (car emptied), enjoying some of the finest red wine a box can offer, and Kenny was singing “This is Our Time” in the background over the hum of the air conditioning.

As I unwound with Kenny and drifted off in thought, I realized that though I have more than a few quirks, the drive home highlighted three of my biggest…

  1. I like to try to turn much of the monotony life has to offer into games.
  2. I feel sick inside if I don’t do what I say I was going to do.
  3. I take great pride in achieving goals no matter how small they are.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with turning everyday occurrences into games and I am certain that many of the leaders I admire most take issue with any gap between what they say and what they do. However, the pursuit of goals that we have little influence over can be extremely unhealthy. Rather, it’s not the pursuit of such goals that is unhealthy, it’s the response of not achieving them that is. A traffic accident, a few more red lights, or some road construction and we would not have arrived before the designated time. The day we drove to Annapolis, my last order of business was giving a talk to fellow Naval Officers across town. During the Q&A, we spoke about career goals and many shared aspirations to serve as Commanding Officers someday. Odds were that 90% of the people in that room would never have the opportunity that most in the room aspired to. Goals can only happen if we work to achieve them. And even when we work hard we may fall short, no fault of our own. Traffic lights may turn red, detours may pop up without notice, and our GPS may give us an unexplained “Reroute”.

We may not achieve what we set out to, but we are no lesser because of the result; we  may not accomplish our stated goal, but we are more for our effort. On the flip side, we may be fortunate enough to reach our stated objective, but we can’t overlook the green lights that allowed it to happen. Achievement has an element of luck…don’t ever forget it.

  • How often do you assess your personal saying-doing gap?
  • What goals are you working to achieve?
  • How big of a factor has luck played in your life?