Begin with the end in mind.

I don’t know how many of you are like me on this one, but I find myself thinking about “my life” a lot. What am I doing and not doing to “make it happen”? What have I done that can’t be changed, for better or worse? What have I learned, and forgotten (again)? Can I get an amen?

And, really — what is the “it” that I’m chasing after/carrying on my shoulder/running from?

“It” is hard to really know because, frankly, “it” has changed a lot over the years. Some of “it” was youthful ways, some of “it” was the school of hard knocks, some of “it” was un/realized luck. And sometimes “it” is because I see something completely differently now, because sometimes “it” finds you. And, honestly I think it’s a good thing, but maybe it’s not. How can you really ever know?

It’s like the taoist parable…

 This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, “What makes you think it is so terrible?”

A month later, the horse came home–this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer’s good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, “What makes you think this is good fortune?”

The farmer’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, “What makes you think it is bad?”

A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer’s son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. “What makes you think this is good?” said the farmer.

Before Steven Covey died last week, he wrote a book that changed my life in a lot of ways, but the biggest lesson I learned was “begin with the end in mind.”

I try to use “begin with the end in mind” as my compass with pretty much everything in my life & work. Then, of course, there’s execution & the limitation of 24 hours in the day. Like I said earlier, what am I doing and not doing to make that “ending” happen? Why? And really — do I even see “it”? That’s the challenge — listening & staying aware enough — doing enough (and less) to see “it” — And staying tuned & disciplined enough to what “it” is that you want your life to be.

It’s like those 3D stereograms we’ve all stared at in the mall…

At first it’s just a sky full of stars, but when you look at “it” in just the right way — focused — but not too focused, that’s when the maze finally appears. The meaning of life, hiding in plain sight the whole time. And if you try too hard, you’ll never see it. Your closest friends may occasionally chuckle at your impotent ocular ability. Oh, sweet agony…

Or worse, what If I’m just messing with you and really there’s nothing more than a picture of stars? That’s the risk, that’s life — in good times and bad. Happy and sad. Pumped & punked. Look away just for a second  — and “it” is gone. Sometimes right after you saw “it” so clearly. Then there’s the moments when nothing can shake you from seeing “it”. Or did someone just tell you what you were going to see and all you really saw was their “it”? Either way, there’s no guarantee that even if you do see “it” — the end — that “it” will happen, because sometimes life decides for you. But you knew that already — especially since you began with the end in mind.

So, if you haven’t done it in a while — it might be a good time to reflect, write down, or revisit what you want your gravestone to say. “It” is easy, just begin with the end in mind… 🙂


One thought on “Begin with the end in mind.

  1. Louis David Marquet

    Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People profoundly affected me. After taking command of the USS Santa Fe I thought I might apply some of his lessons to running the nuclear powered submarine even though it was essentially a personal self-help book.

    One of the lessons we applied was the concept of Begin With the End in Mind (Habit 2).
    We would have weekly strategy sessions with each of the senior officers and Chief of the Boat. We rotated, one a day, 6 a week with Sunday off. During these sessions we practiced the discipline of only talking about long term issues and issues that involved people. Maintenance and operational planning discussions were forbidden. When we started most of the officers only had a vague notion about what they wanted to accomplish personally and with their departments during their tour on board so we developed this exercise: write the end of tour award (for 2-3 years hence) that you want to receive. Be specific about the accomplishments.

    During the first go-around many of the hypothetical award write ups included laudable but imprecise phrases about improving morale, performance, promotion, or the health of their men. With discussion and work, we were able to take these imprecise goals and work them into measurable objectives. “Help my people get promoted” for example, would become “Promote 10 first class petty officers to Chief Petty Officer.” Once we had precise descriptions we could measure our progress toward the goal.

    I particularly remember Dave Adams’ write up which he did in the spring of 1999. When he transferred from Santa Fe in the fall of 2001 the award my boss, the Commodore of Submarine Squadron Seven approved for him read almost word-for-word like his write up. Dave went on to command the NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost Province, Afghanistan and is currently in command of his own submarine.

    I thank Stephen for giving us this mechanism for achieving operational excellence and writing the foreword to Turn the Ship Around!

Comments are closed.