Tag Archives: focus

Good vs the Goal

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” 

The oft-quoted adage conveys important wisdom. In our efforts to make something the best it can be, we might pour too much effort or time into a project when “good enough” would suffice. Perfection is notoriously impossible to obtain, especially when we rely on our subjective judgment to make determinations. Most of us are never so confident as to say something we do or create is perfect… but it’s what many of us strive for nonetheless.

Wise people recognize when “good” is good enough, and refocus their attention or resources to accomplish the next task instead of perfecting the first.

Yet I find a related lesson as I consider that first quote:

We must not let good become the enemy of our goal.

In life, if we’re open to new ideas and watching for new opportunities, there are always choices and options available which seem appealing or even ideal. It’s too easy to follow these rabbit trails into tangential tasks and irrelevant efforts that feel good but never satisfy our deeper desires.

Motivational speakers and writers issue a common refrain: if you’re going to succeed at the most important thing to you, it has to become the most important thing to you.

Sometimes that means getting up earlier. Working on the weekend. Putting in some hours working at your passion, after you’ve already put in a full day’s work on the job. Other times, it means forsaking what’s appealing for what you’re accomplishing. While friends party or catch a movie, you grind a little more today so you start tomorrow further along the path to the goal. When genuinely good commitments are asked of you, sometimes it means saying, “I can’t do that right now.”

Speaking of financial stability and living within one’s means, Dave Ramsey puts it this way:

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

His program applies this principle toward financial management, and participants cut unnecessary or excessive expenses while planning and monitoring their budgets down to the penny. The same concept applies to anyone who sets out to accomplish some difficult and demanding long-term goal–except it means cutting irrelevant activities and expenditures of energy, and focusing in on the actual priorities we claim mean so much.

I’m presuming you’ve already made some goals and decided certain activities are worth your effort–perhaps fitness achievements or weight loss, perhaps a career in writing or art or music, maybe some professional education or advancement with a clearly laid-out path and requirements.

Step one is to figure out what matters to you and commit to it, not as some hobby, thing on the side, or “personal interest.”  Of this you can be certain: Make such a decision, and those good temptations and worthwhile distractions will come out of the woodwork. So what’s the way forward?

Make the most of your time.

Sometimes we can kill two or three birds with one stone. As I type, I’m sitting on the bike, finishing an hour pedaling away. I’m knocking out my exercise for today while getting a blog post typed up while taking time for personal reflection while meeting today’s word count goal.

In a similar vein, while waiting in line at the post office or grocery store, I’ve typed up blogs or short stories, outlined D&D sessions or book ideas, coordinated events or meetings, and so on.

When I feel rushed, I consider my YouTube video history, the “hours played” on various video games, or the Netflix log of shows I’ve watched. We all have 24 hours a day, with probably 8 hours that we allocate as we see fit.

Long-term effort made of small steps and good decisions is the only path to success and accomplishing some of our goals. I can’t get fit in a week of high-intensity workouts and crash-diets. I won’t write a novel by sitting down and cranking out 80,000 words in a couple days. I’m not likely to see a million dollars drop into my bank account so I can pay off all my debts and save for retirement. Regular, disciplined effort is the only way forward.

Small steps add up to big results.

A few hundred words isn’t much, but when I write 500 in the half-hour before work, then 600 at lunch, then 250 while waiting to pay my groceries, then another 800 before bed… that’s how progress is made.

Paying an extra $50 or $100 on a bill until it’s gone means that I have that money plus the amount of the regular bill available to apply elsewhere in the budget. This is a big part of how Dave Ramsey’s program eliminates debt: small steps that build momentum.

Still, all too often there’s a whole gang of “good” calling for my attention.

I may have to learn to say no.

What about you? How do you balance pursuing your interests and passions with the demands of “real life” and other commitments? Got any tips for readers? (That really means please can I steal some good ideas because I’m desperate.) Let me know in a comment below.


A Stolen Moment

A few days every week, one to three of my older kids participate in a youth program on base. When I’m off, it’s a great excuse for me to park my butt at the nearby coffee shop and write. After all, I’m trying to finish off the draft of my NaNoWriMo project (50K words wasn’t enough for the story I had planned), and then I have fantasy book 2 to write…

Sometimes it feels like a constant “should” hanging over my head. I could be writing. I want to write more. I need to finish the next book, and the next one, and the one after that. I don’t want to waste my time flipping through Facebook and tapping through Twitter.

And yet, when I parked at the coffee shop yesterday, I noticed once again the stone benches placed between several banyan trees. I saw the sun shining through the clouds and the leaves. I heard the birds chirping out their warnings. I paused to sit and enjoy the moment, and then I tried to capture it in my journal.

On that page, I wrote these words, hoping to immortalize the memory for myself if no one else, and the moment of contemplation got me thinking about how many times I’ve passed that spot without stopping.

The things we want don’t come because we wish for them; they come because we work for them.

I recorded my thoughts and a reading of the text in my journal on YouTube here:

Here’s the text of my notes, in case the wind got in the way.

The branches and sections of trunk tangled and wound together like a four-year-old’s shoelaces…

roots like elephant trunks curling this way and that between octopus tentacles that poke through the waves of green grassy seas…

birds on all sides, singing the same few notes over and over, like someone with a song stuck in her head who can only remember one or two lines…

warm sunbeams cast long, cool shadows, and ants march across my pencil case in search of something edible…

cars drive by, carrying men and women on other business who will forever be oblivious to THIS moment, THIS time and space…

and I do not judge, for so often I have been likewise blind by necessity or obligation, forced to focus my attention on some other task, marching like these ants toward an unspecified but presumed-important goal…

All of us are pulled and twisted in many directions like the trunks and branches of these trees; all of us are motivated by unavoidable consequence to avoid “wasted” team and move with purpose to the next task…

But can I be cautious and conscious, careful to find here and there in life a moment and space like this?

Can I pause and be still, and listen to the world?

Though pulled and twisted by demands, can I sit like a tree, elegant in the pose like a dancer stretching upward?

Everyone Has a Story

There’s a story of a man watching a kid finding starfish trapped and doomed to die on the beach. One by one, the kid tosses them into the waves, saving their lives. “Kid, what are you doing?” the man asks. “There’s miles of beach, with hundreds, maybe thousands of starfish. You can’t save them all, so what does it even matter?”
The kid picks up another starfish, tosses it into the water, and says, “It mattered to that one.”

When General Welsh became the new Chief of Staff of the Air Force, an official letter went out to the troops: the typical “Proud to serve, excited about the future” letter new leaders always write. This one seemed particularly chipper and upbeat in tone. I looked at it with suspicion. “We’ll see.”

Then a friend posted a video of General Welsh speaking to the Air Force Academy. His message was simple: “Everyone has a story.” He walked through several scenes of various Air Force members’ lives, taking time to paint them as the heroes worthy of attention. Deeds of valor were proclaimed, followed by ‘mundane’ details about each individual.

General Welsh turned to the soon-to-be Officers and declared, “Everyone you lead has their own story, and you better get to know it.”

It burned a bit. My friend is a former subordinate against whom I committed a glaring faux pas. It was a simple question: Are you working on your degree? I should have known before our first performance feedback session. The information was available but I failed to prepare and showed I didn’t know him as well as I ought.

But that’s not the worst part.

The next feedback session, I asked the same question again.

He hasn’t let me live it down. Rightly so. That’s a chapter in his story I should have known.

I’d like to think I’m getting better at looking past my smartphone-induced ego-bubble.

I’m in the drive-through at Sonic when I run into Jack. He looks too old to be slinging burgers and blending up shakes. “Whataya think about that snow they’re forecasting?” I don’t know. I just want my wife’s sweet tea. But I have a choice to make: ignore him, because who’s this guy anyway, just some fry cook. Or look past myself for a minute and take an interest in someone else.

One day I show up in uniform. He notes my aircrew wings. “Well those look important! Do ya fly ’em and break ’em, or catch ’em and fix ’em?” Turns out he wanted to be a Air Force flyer once. Jack even scored 95 on the ASVAB–no easy feat.
“I wanted to play football through college and skip the Academy,” he tells me while I wait for a sandwich for my kids. “Had a plan to join the Air Force, become a Navigator, maybe fly for 25 years, then go to work as a meteorologist. Yeah, I went to Michigan State to play. Broke my neck in freshman year and spent two years in recovery. None of the services were willing to touch me when they saw that stack of medical records!”
Here’s a guy who’s just as willing to go put his life on the line for his country as I ever was, a guy who takes pride in his work even if it’s passing burgers and shakes out a drive-through window. Everyone has a story.

There’s Mike at Midas. I show up for a quick look under the hood since the minivan is running rough. I find a perfect gentleman in a car repair garage. Mike goes out of his way to make sure my wife and I are comfortable. He engages in small talk, gets us water and coffee, and carefully updates us on the expected wait time.
We go to pay the bill, and I tell him our address. Turns out almost 20 years ago, he lived down the street from my house on base. He’s retired enlisted Air Force; he served twenty-plus years. And he’s taking time to thank me instead of the other way around. I suppose he could’ve been “just a grease monkey” I ignored so I could get back to mindless Facebook browsing. But everyone has a story.

On a couple of recent visits to my wife’s favorite restaurant, we had the same waitress, Jessica. She doesn’t just serve food or wait tables, she connects with customers.
“Looking at the Carmelicious? Oh man, for a week or so I had to go on strike and stop getting Carmelicious every day. They’re that good.”
“Which muffin would you like? Oh, those are good. I have to be careful when I bring those home. My puppy sees the bag and as soon as my back is turned, she steals it.”
“No whipped cream for your coffee? But that’s the best part!”
Jessica could bring food out and fake a smile, then collect her check and tip. She could be just a waitress, easily ignored. But instead she shares her stories with us.

And that speaks to me. Because, to her, we could be just customers, one more table to deal with in the way of punching the clock and going home. But she chooses to treat us differently. Maybe she thinks we have a story worth hearing.

People all around us have experiences similar enough that we could connect, different enough that we might be surprised.

Hearing a story takes humility – we have to think less of ourselves so we think enough of the other to give them attention. When we know or perceive ourselves to be above the other party in whatever social ladder or pecking order, research shows we decrease our focused attention. Daniel Goldberg’s recent book, Focus, has a great chapter explaining how this social mechanism works. It’s our cultural tendency to express empathy and compassion only when it might benefit us, and to withhold it when we see someone as beneath us.

Sure, we live in a teeming swarm of bodies, each one with their own stories, hopes and dreams. We often encounter those who can do little for us, those we might easily ignore or look down on. After all, we’re busy people with important lives.
The cynic in me shouts, “Give me a break. Look at all those people. You can’t possibly have meaningful interaction with all of them. What good is it to try? It doesn’t matter.”

The little kid in me reaches out to connect to someone else and answers, “It mattered to that one.”

Branching Out

To the great friends, family, and strangers who have followed my writing on this site:

parkOne of the lessons I’ve taken from recent writing conferences and discussions with my fellow writers is the idea that a blog is usually meant to be focused on a few key topics. This allows the readers to easily discern what they’re going to get out of the site without slogging through a bunch of stuff that’s of no interest.

I’ve written about a lot of different subjects, and from the very start, I said I’ll just write about whatever I want here. Hey, it’s my blog. I can do that.

But what serves the readers is more important to me than getting “my” way.

With that in mind, I’m separating out some of the topics I normally write about here. What’s moving?


Most of the posts about spirituality and worship are going to move to a separate blog focused on the joys and challenges of pursuing God.

Creative Writing

The short stories and posts related to my long-term writing projects are going to move to a page specifically focused on prose, poetry, and inspiration for the craft of writing.


I’ve always made it clear I’m no fitness expert. I do have some formal instruction (former certified spin instructor), but more importantly, I have the experience of being a pudgy guy trying to get and stay fit. With my upcoming process of recovery from foot surgery, that journey is going to provide lots of fun and food for thought. I’ve set up a blog for sharing motivation and mutual commitment to fitness with readers interested in that material.

So what’s left?

This blog will stay active, with any of my posts about life and leadership in the military (most of which are the popular tirades), cultural and political commentary, and the quirky stuff my kids are doing to give me more grey hairs.

I sincerely value every click on the “Follow” button, every “Like” and every comment on any posts. But I understand that not everyone came to this page for the same reason, so I wanted to be clear about where to find the topics that may most interest you. This change should work out so that I’ll be writing as much as usual, but readers will be able to find more of what they’re looking for at the new pages.

Thanks for sharing these moments with me.