Making Great Time — on the Wrong Road

wrong-way-red-sign     “Map? I don’t need no stinking map!”  Sound familiar? Or am I the only one?

I was driving to meet a client on the outskirts of a rural Seattle suburb. It was unfamiliar territory to me, but I had a pretty good sense of where I needed to go. So when I saw heavy traffic a quarter mile or so up ahead at the intersection where I was planning on turning left, I made a swift and perfectly (I thought) logical decision: I’ll turn left right here, a quarter mile before my intersection, and then I’ll make a right on the next available side street. It’s sure to connect with the road I need to be on.

This is where a map might have come in handy.

I didn’t do all that well in sophomore year geometry, but I do remember an interesting factoid about parallel lines: they never intersect…especially when they stop being parallel and gradually begin to diverge. Had I glanced at the map, I would have seen two important things. First, I would have noted with interest that the road I was on and the road I wanted did indeed run parallel for a mile or so before they began to separate imperceptibly but inexorably. Second, I would have perceived that, contrary to all the basic precepts of urban planning, there was no right-angle street connecting these two — at least, not in the state of Washington. Maybe had I driven to Idaho I could have found a road, but that seemed a tad extreme.

Nevertheless, in the confidence that can only come from fundamental ignorance of the facts, I pressed on. And on. And on. It was a sunny day and the scenery was lovely, but I was not, in fact, enjoying the drive — I was getting later and later for my appointment, and more and more frustrated at the growing awareness of the fatal flaw in my plan. I was making great time, but I was on the wrong road.

When that happens, we have two choices: change course now or change course later. I chose to keep driving for maybe 20 minutes before I realized the obvious, even though I suspected the truth about two minutes after I made that fateful, premature left turn. I finally did turn back, re-tracing my steps, and sheepishly arrived 40 minutes late for my appointment. And I learned a couple of things:

  • Get good advice. I could have asked the client for specific directions, or (gasp) stopped to ask someone else if I was on the right road, but in my ego-driven state I refused to do so.
  • Use all available resources. Common sense may be sensible, but it’s not always common! I could have used a map (or, today, MapQuest) but again I thought I had the route all figured out. The fact that my route was wrong made little difference, until it was too late.
  • Make corrections early. Enough said about this one. I needed to slay my ego and change course MUCH sooner than I eventually did.

Are you making good time? Super! But are you on the wrong road? Maybe it’s time for a thorough reevaluation…before you end up clear over in Idaho! If you need to turn around — and we all need to turn around from time to time — sooner is always better than later.

A Journey of 1,000 Miles Begins With…

Complete this sentence: “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with…”

With what? A prayer? A To Do list? A spreadsheet? The usual answer is “a single step,” and that’s probably true in a way. But for me the real sentence should read, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the decision to begin.”

Starting can be the hardest part. I can often find plenty of reasons not to begin the journey. I’m not really ready. I’m not sure that’s really where I want to go. I’m not sure what that fateful first step should look like. I’m not packed yet. And what if I try that first step only to trip at the starting line? (That’s one reason why I don’t golf, by the way — I hate teeing off in front of so many amused strangers.)

When it comes to beginning the journeys of life, two related quotes come to mind. The first is from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and it was on the bulletin board at the first radio station I ever worked at. The quote intimidated me at the time — I think it was really posted there by the Sales Manager to encourage me to make more cold calls — but after having spent three and a half decades in sales and fundraising I see the wisdom of it more clearly, and it still pops into my head from time to time. You’ve probably heard it: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

In other words, there is power in simply beginning. Some people say that God can’t steer a parked car. I say He can, but He simply chooses not to. You need to be moving!

The second quote comes from that wise sage, Dr. Phil. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but basically Dr. Phil says, You’ll never really make significant adjustments in your life until the pain of same outweighs the pain of change. I really like that. Sometimes the courage to begin the arduous and uncertain journey starts with the sheer discomfort of the status quo.

So what’s holding you back? Is it not knowing that first step? Or is it simply that you haven’t truly decided to begin? Maybe it’s time.

The Power of Course Corrections

Fundraising, like life, is typically more a marathon than a sprint. Building relationships and achieving organizational goals happens over time. Trouble is, the more we get bogged down in the daily slog, the more we can lose sight of the eventual goal. We need to stop from time to time, figure out where we are (as opposed to where we think we are) and make sure we’re on course. If we’re not, it may be time for a course correction.

(Navy Flashback Alert!) Let’s say you’re on a ship leaving San Diego and heading for Pearl Harbor. At 20 knots that trip should take a bit less than five days. So you leave San Diego, set your course toward Pearl Harbor, and then you sail happily across the eastern Pacific expecting that you’ll wake up on the morning of Day Five with Diamond Head on the horizon. Right? Wrong! It doesn’t work that way, as anyone knows who has spent any time on the open sea.

What will happen instead is that you’ll wake up on Day Five with Diamond Head nowhere to be seen. That’s because along every mile of your cruise the ship is being driven off course. Sometimes the causes are external: wind, waves, currents. Other causes can be internal: your compass is bad, your rudder is misaligned, your helmsman isn’t paying attention. If you just set your course and forget it you’ll probably discover on Day Five that you’re 100 miles or more off course, because the forces that drive you from your predetermined track are cumulative — that is, the longer you wait the greater the correction you’ll eventually have to make. The obvious answer, and what Navy ships do, is to take constant fixes to determine where you actually are. Then you make continual, minor corrections to stay on course. And on Day Five, voila — there’s Pearl Harbor, right where it belongs.

In my business (and also in my relationships — this definitely applies to marriage!), I may think I’m on track, but in fact I’m constantly being driven off course by outside and inside influences and distractions. I’d better get into the habit of taking continual fixes — a regular reality check! — and then making those small adjustments I need to make to keep myself on track toward my destination. The longer I wait and assume everything is fine, the bigger and harder the course correction I’ll have to make. It might even be too hard, or too late.

So…I can think of several course corrections I need to make. How about you?

Pick Up Five Things!

“You can accomplish anything if…”  How would you complete that sentence?

A business friend I always admired used to say it this way: “You can accomplish anything if you just know the next step.”

I like that idea. Sometimes the sheer size of a project can seem overwhelming. Daunting. Paralyzing. If I look at the whole enchilada it can stop me in my tracks. At times like that I’ve found that that the best question to ask myself is, “What should I do next?” I even find that notion helpful when I have a day or a week on my calendar without enough planned activity: instead of getting frustrated trying to figure out how to fill up the whole day or the entire week, I can often gain traction simply by focusing on the next 30 minutes!

When I was a kid and my room was messy, the sheer size of the mess was enough to paralyze my little brain. “Mom, I can’t do it, it’s too hard!” I would wail. Her calm reply was always the same: “Pick up five things.” She knew that if I reduced the task to a bite-sized Next Step, it would break the logjam and establish some momentum. Now when I get overwhelmed I often remind myself, “Just pick up five things.” And it doesn’t even matter which five things! The important thing is to begin. Take the next step.

Stephen Covey told us in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to “Begin with the end in mind.” I agree. But at those times when the end seems too far away and hard to reach, I may need to content myself with a baby step in the right direction. A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step — but it’s the next step after that, and the one after that, and the one after that — and so on and on — that will get you there.

Overwhelmed? You can accomplish anything if you just know the next step. So go pick up five things.

Is the Air Going Out of Your Balloon?

So here we are one week into 2014 and I sense…a little bit of a letdown. Maybe that’s just me, or maybe it’s inevitable.

After all, we in fundraising tend to push, push, push toward Calendar Year End. December! The Holy Grail of months! The make-or-break page on the calendar! So much is riding on these 31 days — we strategize, we plan, we execute, we measure, we compare. We watch the tally for this gift or that. We call, we ask, we match. Your gift doubled through the end of the year! The countdown has begun! The ball is about to drop!

And then…it’s done. The year is ended. Oh, sure, some gifts trickle in, maybe some important ones — but the build-up is over, the anticipation is behind us, the results are in. We sweep up the confetti, fill in the spreadsheet, and turn the page. It’s January. Suddenly the urgency is gone, but the importance remains. Much to do, but without the sharp clarity of a hard deadline, I feel I lack some of the energy I had only a few short days ago.

I know, it’s temporary. Some of the air may have gone out of the balloon for a few days, but we’ll get that sucker pumped up again! How about your balloon — is it a little bit flat? Or do you have a solid January Strategy to avoid the post-December slump? How do you give January some of that December punch? Love to hear your ideas!