If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?
When I was 15, I got my first job working at a golf course on the maintenance crew. We got to work at 6am, done at 2:30. My title at the time was “Grunt,” (official) because that’s the sound the work would cause you to make. After two years of grunt work, I was promoted to Mower — in particular mowing fairways. This was a big deal, I needed to mow straight lines that every patron could see, and if I screwed up, everyone would know. It shapes much of the user impression of the course.
After my first few days in the new role, my supervisor pulled me aside. The lines were not straight. It looked more like sound waves or a condensed heart-beat pattern. Instead of reprimanding or coming down on me, he asked me a question: “Where are you looking?”
This question caught me off-guard. Of course my eyes were down, looking at the mower blades to make sure I was on the line. I wanted to be able to react to everything in short time. He looked at me and said, “Look 30 feet ahead, see what happens.”
Don’t let the short-term get in the way of the long-term
We all have an urgency bias. We want to do the work that’s right in front of us. We want to be able to react in real time to real time needs. With so much information and so many responsibilities (emails, texts, social media, work challenges, family needs, etc.) we tend to do what’s right in front of us and lose sight of where we want to go. We get trapped in the rat race and before we know it, we feel overwhelmed and are spinning our wheels. If we have the fortitude to step out of the day-to-day and take a look at our life, it’s often hard to see how we got sucked in.
The challenge with our urgency bias is that we spend all of our energy focusing on the immediate and lose sight of the long-term. We’re keeping our eyes fixated on the mower blades hoping that if we react quickly enough the lines will be straight. They won’t. We can’t react quickly enough. And the truth is, keeping our eyes down only perpetuates the immediate challenges and urgency we face.
To move through this, it’s important to understand the difference between speed and velocity. It’s saying no to the non-essential. It’s putting our priorities first, knowing that the long-term is the filter in which we should determine short-term action. Does this matter right now? Is it helping me achieve the long-term goal?
When you look 30 feet ahead, the path gets much straighter. Where are you looking?