Pieces of the Personal Effectiveness Puzzle, #2: Sacrifice Wisely

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 19, Issue No. 8b
December 15, 2020

By Dan Coughlin


Please repeat after me:

I can’t do it all.
I can’t have it all.
I can’t achieve it all.
I can’t be it all.

If you really buy into that, then you have a real opportunity to be effective.

One of the most important things that a highly effective person does is to say no over and over and over again. At any given moment you can literally do hundreds of different things. You have to sacrifice wisely in order to get down to the most essential items for you to live the life you want to live.

What do you want your artifacts to say in 20 years?

In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “artifact” is defined in one instance as “something characteristic of an individual.” Over the course of your lifetime you will collect artifacts that say something about you. What do you want them to say about you?

Today I dusted my office. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but in my office I have four bookshelves, a desk, and a small cabinet. There are over 75 artifacts spread out in my office. These cover a period of about 50 years. I have to take each of them off the shelves, desk, and cabinet, and dust them individually. Then I have to dust the surfaces. And then I have to put each artifact back in a carefully selected place.

There are framed photos, souvenirs, keepsakes from various vacations, items I received at business meetings, soccer balls, hats, and so on. There are also 12 small plastic crates in my closet filled with memories, articles, and letters. And, of course, I have about 150 books in my office. This is all packed into the smallest bedroom in my house.

Each artifact that I looked at told a story to me. My daughter, Sarah’s, 8th grade basketball season. The day I took my son, Ben, to a Cardinals baseball game when he was 7 years old. A day when I went fishing with my brother, Mick, and my Dad when I was about 6 years old. My parents’ wedding photos. Vacations that Barb and I took our kids on to Washington, D.C., New York City, and the Smoky Mountains. Books by Peter Drucker, and books about the Civil War, John Kennedy, and Walt Disney.

Altogether my artifacts reminded me of what is important in my life and what I chose not to sacrifice: family, involvement, learning, and contributing.

Then I started thinking about all the forks in the road where I made a choice to go in one direction rather than another direction. So many times I had to make a choice to say no to many, many other options so that I could say yes to the few options I wanted to pursue.

For example, I have taught 8th Grade Confirmation Class on Sunday mornings in my church for the last 16 years. That’s 18 Sunday mornings a year for 16 years at 8 AM class followed by 9 AM church. That meant saying no to many other things I could have done. In my office I have pictures of the two classes that my children were in. Looking back on those Sunday mornings, I think I sacrificed wisely.

Every day is like that. We have to choose wisely what we are NOT going to do so that we are left with the life that we want to live.

What will you sacrifice?

In terms of your career…

What paths will you not pursue?
What projects will you not take on?
What opportunities will you say no to?

In terms of your personal life…

What goals will you not set for yourself?
What activities will you stop or not start?
What relationships will you not invest time and energy into?

In terms of your family life…

What commitments will you say no to or not take on?
What things will you not buy?
What promises will you not make?

The Beauty of What Remains

By being remarkably selective in what you are not going to take on, you are like a sculptor who removes all the extra clay to be left with a true work of art, a true masterpiece. The life that remains after you sacrifice wisely will be the life you want to look back on in 20 years.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at dan@thecoughlincompany.com with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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