Winston Churchill was such a hero of ours that we named our second son after him. Jay Winston Jackson and I even traveled together to London on Jay’s twenty-first birthday to spend some time at Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home outside London. At Chartwell we enjoyed the pastoral setting of verdant green rolling hills and the peaceful grazing sheep. Churchill was the first person ever to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.
Of special interest to me, however, were the rooms inside the stately residence where the famous world traveler-Prime Minister-author wrote his many volumes of the history of Britain, India, Africa, and the world. He even wrote biographies and a novel. He had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. Churchill did not have just one desk where he sat and wrote at Chartwell. Rather, he had built writing desks around the perimeter of the room where he could stand and research and write while moving from one location to another in the room.
I took several “take-aways” with me as I left Chartwell. Some were quotes I gathered from Winston Churchill’s writings on display. Over the years the words have changed my personal world view. He is the one who said, “It is of no use saying ‘we are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
At first read through, that quote seems about as cute and innocuous as Yogi Berra saying, “I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary.” But, when studied, you find the innocent looking word package filled with explosive dynamite.
The poignancy of the statement is developed at the intersection of four interesting issues: Your perception of what is your best, your evaluation determining havingdone your best, your idea of success, and your perception of necessary. Success is only another name for failure if you don’t have your priorities figured out.
I recall the incident at the basketball game where, in the heat of excitement, the basketball gets loose on the floor. The excited team member shoulders his way into the players, grabs the basketball, and shouts aloud, “I’m goal oriented,” and heads toward the basket. He dribbles expertly, he runs fast, and his footwork and balance are something to behold. The crowd screams and the closer he gets to the basket the more the fans go crazy with excitement.
Little did the player realize that he was heading toward the wrong goal! But amid all the noise and clamor, the player with the ball hears the voice of his coach. He is not just calmly saying, “Oh, my, he’s going the wrong way.” But, with a thunderous voice and emotion that would spark a coronary meltdown, the coach hollers to the player, “Damn you, Jimmy! You are going the wrong way!” The player hears in time, drops to the floor and mutters, “I’ll be damned.”
Steven Covey says, “It's incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it's leaning against the wrong wall.” And the things that are so necessary should never be held hostage by the things we have, until now, perceived to be important.
There are three things that might help as we deal with the issue of “doing what is necessary.”
PASSION: There has to be a lot of dedicated passion involved in order to say, “We are doing our best.” A person who is serious enough to plan and carry out a strategy that would result in her doing her best has already encountered the cost involved in doing her best. That passion dare not be lost but transferred now to the achievement of the necessary.
PERCEPTION: How sad it is when we spend our passionate energies to climb the ladder of success only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall. How sad to run perfectly to the wrong end of the gymnasium floor and score a magnificent shot in the wrong basket. Our perception of the important, the crucial, the fundamental, the imperative, and the quintessential is worthy of the time it takes to determine against which wall our ladder is leaning
PRIORITIES: It is not a bad thing to go back and reevaluate what you had previously held as priority. Albert Einstein used to say, “What counts can't always be counted; what can be counted doesn't always count.” We need to make certain that the things we ultimately consider as our priorities are really the things that represent our heart’s desires and the goals for which we are willing to give our lives.
The things that are necessary should become our true heart’s desires, and they should dictate our priorities. Our priorities will then shape our choices, our choices will display our character, and our character will be reflected in our actions. So, the main thing is not just to prioritize the things on our schedule, but to overhaul the schedule of our priorities in order to accomplish what is truly necessary.
That clear thinking and resolve was what allowed Sir Winston Churchill, in the moments of crucial leadership, to courageously stand before the people of a ravaged Britain and say,
“. . . we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
. . . You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory inspite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
Winston Churchill certainly had it figured correctly when he said, “It is of no use saying ‘we are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”