When setting goals, is time on your side?

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” – Admiral Jim Stockdale

We are all probably familiar with the above excerpt from Jim Collins’ book Good To Great when, in the chapter titled “Confront the brutal facts,” he shares with us the compelling story of Admiral Jim Stockdale.

Stockdale, who was the highest ranking U.S. officer to be held prisoner in the notorious Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam war, talked about the fact that those who did not make it out of that harrowing situation were the optimists.

The reason he gave is that they kept setting times for their hoped for release. When said times repeatedly came and went without their being freed, they eventually lost all hope and gave up on life.

Even though we may not, in setting our career goals, be facing the actual life or death situation that Stockdale and his fellow prisoners had faced, the same principle that saw the Admiral persevere and overcome is still very much relevant to our own dreams and aspirations.

In other words, your focus should not be on self-imposed time limits such as by the age of 30 I want earn X amount of dollars, or by 45 I want to be CEO. This is because there are always going to be circumstances beyond your control that can impose unexpected delays or a change in course.

This doesn’t mean that you should not set goals. What it does mean is that in setting goals you are aware of time, not driven by it.

What About Deadlines?

Now some of you might be thinking “that’s easy for Roz to say,” as she probably doesn’t have a boss who has given her a task that must be completed by a specific date.

As someone who has written many books and dealt with publishers and editors, I do understand deadlines. Especially the line drawn in the sand kind of expectations in which there is little if any flexibility.

However, this doesn’t change the applicability of Stockdale’s advice. Specifically, that while facing or acknowledging the “brutal fact” that you have a cast in stone deadline, you do not lose faith in your ability to deliver. This last point is the key!

If you make your assigned task about meeting a deadline, then you make time your enemy in that you will lose focus on what you need to do to be successful.

clock worry

Think about Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

As much as any other quarterback in NFL history, he has led his team from defeat to victory in the final two minutes of countless games.

While being aware of the clock, Brady did not focus on the time he had but, what he needed to do to drive his team down the field to score the winning points.

It was both his focus, and the faith that he would prevail, that enabled him to get the job done.

Urgency Is Not The Same As Desperation

In your everyday business life, you need to possess a sense of urgency as opposed to desperation.

With desperation, time becomes your enemy as opposed to your ally.

When you however pursue your goals and dreams with a sense of urgency, it drives you to focus on the individual steps and tasks that you must complete to get to where you want to go. Or to put it another way when you, with diligence and integrity, work towards achieving your goals, time is on your side.

Even though you might not attain the desired success within the time frame you had originally hoped, like Admiral Stockdale you will get there, and it will be no less satisfying.


Do you know the difference between the fear of success and the fear of failure?

My guide How To Make 2015 Your Breakout Year will not only help you to recognize the common obstacles that befall all of us, it will also enable you to take action within the framework of your own unique gifts and abilities to make this year your most successful ever.

2015 Guide Cover



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